One of the big questions facing homeschoolers is, “What about college?” Even if you’ve just started your home education journey, already your next-door neighbor (after asking about socialization) will question whether your child will be able to get into college.

Rather than trying to convince you that home-educated students can and have done exceptionally well in traditional college settings—other resources have already done that1—I’d like to consider the relatively new concept of Accelerated Distance Learning and how it worked in my real-life experience.

What Is Distance Learning?

Distance learning simply means studying off-campus, often from home, via credit-by-exam (CLEPs, DSST, TECEPs, etc.), correspondence courses, online courses, portfolio assessment, or other methods. Accelerated Distance Learning specifically focuses on working faster and more efficiently than the traditional semester-by-semester approach.

Benefits of a Non-Traditional Approach

Some of the benefits of distance learning include greater flexibility for work or ministry, protection from the temptations or distractions of campus life, accountability to family and mentors while living at home, efficiency through individual instruction and time-saving methods, opportunity to intern or work in your field while earning a degree, and the cost-effectiveness of certain distance learning techniques.

As parents and young people begin thinking about life after high school, I would encourage them to make careful decisions—on purpose and with purpose. Avoid reaching conclusions by default! Well, everyone I know is doing this . . . I don’t know what else to do . . .  Of course my child has to go to college—otherwise how will they get a job, get married, or move out of my house?

An on-purpose decision is one that is made wisely, with prayer, thought, counsel, and research. A with-purpose decision is made for a reason, with a goal in mind and a specific aim in view. Have you sought God earnestly for His plan for you or your young person: as a child of God, as a man or a woman, as an individual with unique strengths and gifts? Would a degree be useful or perhaps necessary for the career or calling you hope to see ahead?

My Experience

After I graduated from high school in 2005, my parents and I knew I would be continuing my education in some way. I love learning, wanted to continue growing academically, and thought a credential could be useful in teaching my own children someday, Lord willing. I still wanted to be a significant part of my family’s work and ministry, though, and my parents and I didn’t feel that four years away at school would be the best use of my time or prepare me fully for the future.

At just the right time, the Lord introduced us to Accelerated Distance Learning through the CollegePlus! coaching program. I was blessed to be able to study from home while maintaining close relationships with my family, being involved in entrepreneurial endeavors, serving in my church and community, and developing vital practical skills.

Because I began college work right after high school, I was able to build immediately on my high school studies and make fairly quick progress. For instance, after completing Chemistry and Advanced Chemistry in high school, I was able to pass the Chemistry CLEP test and earn multiple college credits in that first-year science course. I loved studying many things, including literature, business, English, mathematics, and history, and I wrapped up my Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey for under $6,500 in about 18 months.

Following completion of my BA, I continued my distance-learning education with a one-year paralegal program through Oak Brook College of Law(OBCL), a Christian correspondence law school based in California, and passed a national paralegal certification test.

Now, let’s get practical and talk about some specific Accelerated Distance Learning methods.

Credit-by-Exam

Credit-by-exam is probably the most common way to speed up the degree process and move quickly past general education requirements. College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests are administered at hundreds of schools across the country and are available in 33 subject areas (see www.collegeboard.com/clep for official information). DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSSTs) were originally designed for the military but are now available for civilians as well (see www.getcollegecredit.com for more info). These tests come in 38 different subject areas, and, unlike CLEP tests, include some upper-level courses. In addition, some colleges will have their own credit-by-exam programs, including Thomas Edison State College and their TECEP exams. Oftentimes, these tests can be taken in high school, with a little extra study, after a student has completed a course in that subject.

Students will often study intensively for two–three weeks in one subject (such as U.S. History I) and then take the CLEP test, earning three–six college credits (depending on the exam) if they receive a passing score. This concentrated study method is different from the traditional college structure of studying five–six subjects simultaneously for a whole semester. One downside to the traditional model is that you have to continually switch gears from one subject to another, rather than focusing intently on certain material for a shorter period of time.

As a student who used the focused study method, I believe it allowed me to have better retention and comprehension than if I had fragmented my time between many different courses. What worked well for me, since I was traveling about an hour to the testing location, was to take four weeks to study for two tests and then take both on the same day with just a short break in between. I would usually work on an exam that required more active study/memorization, like U.S. History II, while brushing up on a test that came more easily to me, like Analyzing & Interpreting Literature.

Correspondence and Online Courses

Other distance-learning methods, like correspondence or online courses, sometimes follow a prescribed semester schedule, or they might be self-paced so students can work on their own schedules. The correspondence courses I took through OBCL were primarily textbook based, though supplemented by video or audio lectures. My assignments were submitted via e-mail for specified deadlines, and mid-term and final exams were administered through certain computer software.

Online classes are becoming more and more common, making use of technological advancements such as live video streaming, online classrooms, instant messaging, and many standard computer programs. As colleges are realizing there is a market for low-cost, flexible, efficient methods, many of them are rising to the challenge. Even with degrees that traditionally would require on-campus participation, like music or science, creative students can find ways to make distance learning work. Two of my sisters are currently commuting once a week to a university an hour away from us for applied piano lessons with an excellent, world-class professor while taking music theory, history, conducting, and aural skills classes online from a school in North Dakota. The online classes are live video streamed over the Internet, creating a very interactive, high-quality learning experience that has worked very well for our family.

How to Succeed

Distance learning requires a different mindset than the typical college classroom. While it may be true to some extent that the quality of every student’s education depends on him, it is likely even truer for students pursuing distance learning. Generally, there will be no teacher spoon-feeding information. It takes a high level of self-motivation, desire to learn, and personal responsibility to succeed in a non-traditional college environment. (In reality, those same attitudes are necessary for success and growth in any setting.)

As a homeschooled student, I was already accustomed to setting my own schedule, learning on my own, and figuring out what I needed to know when; however, as a distance learner, I had to adjust to working with specific deadlines and accommodating outside schedules. I had to reserve test dates a few months in advance with a local college and then plan out my study schedule so that I was prepared for the right CLEP tests at the scheduled time. During my paralegal correspondence studies, I learned to follow a strict quarterly schedule with assignment deadlines, specific weekly requirements, and mid-term and final exams.

Whether you’re doing distance learning on your own or using a coaching program likeCollegePlus!, you will need a plan in order to do well. As the saying goes, “Begin with the end in mind.” You don’t need a comprehensive, detailed strategy before you start taking CLEP tests as a high school student, but before you take dozens of classes or exams, it would be wise to have an understanding of what school you’re likely to choose, what your field of study will be, and what general purpose God has called you to. Obviously, you don’t want to earn 60 credits via credit-by-exam only to find out that the school you’ve applied to doesn’t accept CLEP credits!  Most colleges publish their credit-by-exam and transfer credit policies or can make them available as you are researching options.

True Education

I believe a student needs to be well-grounded and focused on the Lord in order to successfully navigate the temptations and distractions inherent in higher education. A strong biblical worldview and a vibrant, growing relationship with the Lord are prerequisites to college work, in my opinion. By homeschooling, you’re already laying the groundwork for these very things.

In all of this, we need to understand that it’s not simply going to college (or spending money on education) that will develop marketable skills or potential for earning. Nor is it only college that will make someone a more educated, articulate, or thoughtful person. Anyone who has a desire to do so can develop creativity, logic skills, academic knowledge, business acumen, networks, and relational connections through dedicated work and key mentoring relationships. The person behind the degree is really what determines how he or she relates to society as a whole, develops a fruitful career, follows a calling, and cultivates a world-changing passion.

A college degreecan be indicative of knowledge gained and is necessary in some professions. So, if it’s possible to earn the credential at a fraction of the financial cost, with less spiritual risk than encountered in other methods, while pouring your heart into what you’re passionate about, why not give it a try? Students can learn skills and develop relationships that will mold them into the people God wants them to be while getting a college education as a bonus. Accelerated Distance Learning is one way to accomplish this large task. Though it’s not for everyone, I would highly recommend that all parents and students at least consider looking into this option if higher education is on the horizon. 

Linnea Lewisis a homeschool graduate who used Accelerated Distance Learning to earn a BA and paralegal certification. In the Spring of 2011, she married Jonathan Lewis, another homeschool graduate and editor of Home School Enrichment Magazine, and is rejoicing in God’s gift of marriage. She loves to share about God’s faithfulness in her life, strives to be an example of joyful, purposeful, feminine womanhood, and besides enjoying her new role of wife and homemaker, also does freelance graphic design. Her design portfolio can be viewed at www.shownd.com/linnea, and she can be contacted by e-mail at linneabc@gmail.com.

1New Study Shows Homeschoolers Succeeding in College, www.hslda.org/docs/news/201008030.asp (accessed January 5, 2011)

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. To learn more, and to request a FREE sample copy, visit www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com