Today's homeschooling parents are provided with an abundance of curriculum to help educate their young children. But when it comes to college, they often wonder what requirements their student will have to meet. What do admissions officers look for when they review an application? How are unconventional students treated? Most importantly, how can a homeschooled high schooler prepare for continuing education?

The answers to these and a host of other questions lie undiscovered when one catches a glimpse of traditional college life. For many students, approaching an unknown college can be somewhat intimidating. But when a homeschooler digs deep enough into college admissions rules to come up with concrete answers, they often discover pure gold.

The Ideal College Candidate
Admissions officers look for many different characteristics when they review student applications. While requirements vary greatly from college to college, there are two main qualities that increase a student's chances of being accepted. Strangely enough, often these qualities have nothing to do with academics. Colleges are looking for students who have strong character and a determined drive to pursue their passions.

"We value independent learning at the college level and we expect students to do a lot of learning outside of the classroom setting," said Roscoe Smith, Director of Admissions at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. "Homeschoolers have learned to be independent learners and thinkers, so they fit in very well." In a TOS interview, Smith acknowledged the dedication shown by homeschoolers. "Homeschooled students are typically a very good fit with the kind of student that we're looking for at Cedarville," he said. "[We're looking for] someone who takes their personal faith very seriously but is also motivated academically."

According to Hannah Weiss, an admissions officer at Harvard University, a student's excellence in academics doesn't necessarily point to strong character. Speaking to TOS, Weiss made it clear that interest in extracurricular activity is a must. "We're looking for leadership, intellectual passion, all those qualities. Students who are exceptional in the classroom are great, but we want to see them feeling the need to be involved and passionate in something else as well."

A Class by Themselves, an article by Christine Foster in the November/December 2000 issue of Stanford Magazine, states that homeschoolers have an advantage over traditional students, since "they have consciously chosen and pursued an independent course of study." In 1999, Stanford University gave its highest internal ranking for intellectual variety to two homeschoolers. The highest rating for math – reserved for the top 1 to 2 percent of the school's applicants – was given to four homeschoolers. Why did the homeschooled students do so well? Officials at Stanford believe that the distinguishing factor is intellectual vitality. As one admissions officer put it, "These kids have [great intellect], and everything they do is responding to it."

Homeschooled? No Problem, Say Admissions Officers
While some colleges (like Stanford) keep separate or marked files for students who were homeschooled, others don't even bother to categorize these students on their own.

"We have, for quite a while, had homeschooled students," said Hannah Weiss. "We don't treat them any differently than a traditional student. We really don't keep track of how many homeschoolers we have, just because we don't have a separate admissions process." At Harvard, there is only a small difference allowed for homeschooled students, and it is found in the application process. Homeschoolers may submit lists of curriculum, reading lists, and other detailed descriptions of course study rather than a typical high school transcript. Otherwise, they're still required to submit teacher recommendations and standardized test results.