From Home High to College (or Vocational Training)
A help Article from the CHOC Board
Setting up Homeschool High School to support Your Child's College/Vocation Path
As homeschoolers we act as parent, principal, teacher, and guidance counselor. This is an advantage as many public schooled students receive very little guidance counseling. As homeschoolers, we have worked closely with our child and have observed his or her personality, talents and interests which gives us a uniquely qualified viewpoint.
Be sure to involve your child fully in this process as he or she will need to seek and feel God's personal guidance upon their life. Your child will also need to gain the practical knowledge of how to gather this kind of information to present it to a college or program administrator, afterall it is his or her future.
Also through this process, help your children remember that character development and a close, obedient relationship with God will always be the most important factors in their life. Their personal value will never be determined by what they "do for a living" or where or if they went to college. How we live our life before God, using the talents He has given us for His glory is all that really matters in the final sum of things.
In the middle school years, or as early as possible in the high school years, have your child prayerfully search for those areas of interest and abilities he/she believes God would have them develop more fully. Help your child prayerfully determine what his or her goals for higher education should be to develop these talents for life's future needs in the direction God is leading them. Be patient and encouraging with your child as this can be an awkward time of self-searching.
It can also be helpful to walk them through a "real life" scenario of personal finances so they get an idea of what it takes in your community for a family to be financially responsible such as the cost of rent, buying a house, insurance, food, transportation, tithing, etc. It can be eye-opening to then discuss the different roles each family member plays, and how each family member uses their talents to bless the family. Sum up with a discussion of how your child's talents could benefit their future family's needs and God's kingdom.
We personally took time to discuss with our daughters how their talents developed now could be used for a vocation or to bless their family should they be called to marriage and full-time homemaking. We discussed with our son his goals and how they might line up with responsibilites for provision of a family should he be called to marriage. A good dose of financial reality can help a child determine which talents might be best developed for ministry, hobby, career or vocation.
Reserach Career Choices
As they narrow down talents and fields of interests to develop, do a vocational/career search with books at the library, through the web, etc. Talk with people in that line of work or vocation and ask what kind of education and skills would be most helpful. Join (or start) clubs and activities that provide exposure and skills in their area of interest (ie a LegoRobotics Club for engineering, 4H photography club if your child is interested in journalism; Art classes for the artist, etc.).
A good place to start looking for career information is The Occupational Outlook Handbook
Another really helpful site is the Vocational Information Center. It gives lists of vocations, descriptions, schools, programs, and helpful links for career investigation.
There are some free online career tests. A number are listed in links in this About.com article.
Expose Them to a Career Field through Internship Type Programs.
To help your child narrow down his/her fields of choice, or to confirm a field is something he/she is truly interested in, have your child apply for a vocational or internship program offered at many local businesses. There are a number of local programs that introduce and expose students to different career fields.
For a list of programs that have been friendly to homeschoolers, please go to our Career and Development section. These internship experiences look great on the resume for college applications, and often internships lead to college scholarships!
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Next, help your child research the colleges and various institutions or organizations that carry programs which would fulfill their educational goals. Through books at the library and from the program websites determine what those programs require for preparation during the high school years, and in particular, what their admissions policies are for homeschoolers.
Don't be afraid to shop around for homeschool friendly colleges and programs! Many colleges and institutions have streamlined their admission process for homechoolers. The bottomline is do your research well ahead of time for the particular college or career path your child is likely to pursue so there are no unexpected hurdles later on. Talk with the program counselors and visit the campus or organization. (See our article "What About the Validity of the Home Diploma and Transcript" for information about how to overcome potential hurdles and unnecessary restrictions placed on homeschoolers by some colleges.)
College/career fairs occur frequently in the fall. There is a website by the National Association for College Admission Counseling which lists the schedules for major fairs (Portland is among the list), and the North American Coalition for Christian Admission Professionals which has a listing of fairs for Christian colleges.
A useful site for researching Oregon colleges, both public and private, is The Oregon College Directory A small list of colleges known to be especially homeschool friendly can be found at Homeschool Friendly Colleges and Homeschooling Parent Magazine. Learn in Freedom has a great article about colleges that admit homeschoolers together with lots of links for information on the homeschool to college process.
A listing of Christian Colleges can be found at http://www.college-scholarships.com/christian_colleges.htm
If your child is needing a vocational degree or certification, our local community college system, Portland Community College, PCC, can be an excellent way to get vocational training, a 2 year degree, or general credits done cheaply to transfer to a more expensive 4 year college. A number of local colleges have contractual agreements with PCC for automatic transfer of PCC credits. PCC has been very accessible to local homeschoolers (however with the caveat that is is a secular school and will have treatment of subjects that will not align with Christian perspectives.)
And, if your child is interested in pursuing a career through an apprenticeship program, the Vocational Information Center has an excellent help page entitled "Apprenticeship Training Resources" This site includes many links to learn about how apprenticeship programs work and how to find a program in your area.
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Shape your child's high school courses and electives so that his or her course of studies reflects those subjects needed for that college/institution and chosen field (lots of math and science for the engineer, lots of writing and literature with the addition of graphic publishing for the journalist major, a strong art portfolio for the art school student).
If your child is not sure of a specific career or vocation, then determine a solid foundation of subjects that reflect the level of academic rigor of the chosen college or institution so that your child will possess the required or expected level of general education (as well as be a "well-rounded" citizen for life in general).
For the undecided, a strong general high school background can save a LOT of make up time later--make up time at premium college dollars! Having a more specific direction in college from the start can save thousands of additional dollars and added time in college due to switching majors.
Typically 4 year colleges look for a high schooler to have completed:
4 years of English covering grammar, writing composition, American and British literature, all of which is spread over the 4 years--ie not all subjects are touched upon in every year, you might have 1 year grammar/composition in English 9, then 1 year American Lit, 1 year British Lit, etc.
1/2 yr to 1 yr Communications/Speech
2 to 4 years of math with preference for algebra I, II, geometry, and trigonometry
2 to 4 years of science with 2 courses including lab work usually physical science, biology and chemistry
1 year of Health Studies
1 year of Physical Education
3 years of social studies commonly a mix of 1 yr American history, 1 yr world history, 1/2 yr American government, and 1/2 yr economics, or 1/2 year geography
Plus the common electives such as the arts, music, drama, career development, computer skills and courses in your child's field of interest to give them a head start.
Most 4-year colleges require 2 years of the same foreign language and may require a SAT Subject test proficiency proof if there is doubt to the foreign language requirement having been met.
Community Service--often not awarded credits but most colleges like to see a well-rounded student who has been involved in the community through clubs, volunteer work, etc. (See our directory of Community Service and Volunteer Work Opportunities for our area.)
There is variation and flexibility of colleges' high school requirements. Different fields, colleges, and institutions have different foundational requirements, so a little research will help your child orchestrate his or her high school years to the best advantage.
"High School Credit Unit Planner" is our example of a planner with credit units laid out according to Basic Skills' New Covenant Academy's 2007 diploma requirements.
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It is very, very important that you keep some sort of organized record of your child's courses and grades during the high school years especially if your child plans on higher education. Even if he doesn't plan on college, it would still be helpful for later job applications, apprencticeships, etc.
Often at this point many choose to use a portfolio system--a file box with folders which hold the work for each subject done during each year of high school.
You will also need to keep track of grades and courses for the transcript whether you are planning on doing the transcript yourself (which is much easier to do if you have kept good records) or are working with an established diploma service.
As stated in the general introducation, there are a number of these diploma/transcript services such as our local Basic Skills or a national service like NARHS (North Atlantic Regional High School).
There are several software programs that provide good record keeping and transcripts such as Edu-Track, Homeschool Tracker, (If you are wondering, Homeschool Easy Records has discontinued sales indefinitely).
Exodus Books sells a number of the manual lesson planning systems and home schooling high school books that show how to set up transcripts.
To get an idea of what a transcript should look like, google "high school transcript" or "high school transcript template." Numerous examples should come up that will help give you an idea of the kind of transcript you'd like to develope. Covenant College in Georgia offers homeschool applicants an editable and printable transcript template together with a GPA calculator.
What constitutes a credit varies from state to state and institution to institution because of the different ways that the credits are figured (ie a Carnegie unit is often considered 150 clock hours, but that may be based upon a 45-50 minute class hour so it could only be 112.5 actual sixty minute hours). Oregon considers 130 fifty-minute class hours 1 credit which is 108 sixty minute hours and 54 sixty minute clock hours of effort 1/2 credit.
Award credit by minutes for courses that are based upon skill effort rather than a written curriculum (like music, community service, PE). Generally, if using a text book, it is easy to see what constitutes 1 credit...ie that a standard Algebra I textbook generally viewed as being done in 1 school year is 1 credit (see the teacher manual for alternative threads--like minimum vs. advanced/AP). If you take 2 years to do the Algebra textbook (but do not add additional areas), it is still just 1 credit. If you take 6 months to complete that textbook, it is still 1 credit.
Further, the Oregon Department of Education has broadened the method of awarding credits to allow "credits by proficiency" wherein credits can be awarded through a demonstration of performance to a certain proficiency level without the need for logging in a specified time in class. Demonstration is usually done through passing a course exam, portfolio assessment, or skill level demonstration. However, a general idea is needed for what the course would be worth if seat hours and curriculum materials had been completed in the normal manner. The idea is that if your student can pass the final cumulative exam on the Algebra I book without actually working through the book or working in class for the normal length of time, then 1 credit is awarded for Algebra I.
Track Volunteer Time
Don't forget to track the time your child spends in ministry and community service volunteer work. Most colleges want to see a listing of volunteer work on the application resume. (For a directory of locally available community volunteer outlets, please go to our Community Volunteer Work page.)
Often, volunteer time can count double for community service and for an elective, ie Lifeguarding preparation courses can count for community service preparation as well as health studies.
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Colleges have traditionally looked at certain standardized tests to determine if a student is ready for college level work and to award scholarships.
These tests are often referred to as the college board exams, and are known by their acronyms of the PSAT, SAT and ACT.
The SAT is further divided into the Basic SAT (formerly known as the SAT I) and the SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as the SAT II).
From the research of your child's college choices, you will have discovered if the college requires the basic SAT or ACT, or accepts either, for admissions. Also if it requires any SAT Subject Tests (see further discussion below).
Finding information about these exams is very easy. There are excellent helps at both the ACT and SAT websites. The Collegeboard site includes information about the PSAT too,
Registration for Exams
The SAT and ACT may be registered for online, and are taken only through public high schools and sometimes community colleges. The PSAT requires registration through a local public or private high school and is dependent upon availability of test packets pre-ordered, so contact the school early.
You can find which schools in your area are giving the exams through the College board website.
Registration deadlines are several months before the exam dates, and there are no exams given during the summer months. SAT/ACT exams are given mid-October through the first of June. The PSAT is given only once every year sometime in October.
Preparation for Exams
We at the CHOC Board highly recommended that your child use a prepatory material either from the exam boards or from outside publishers such as Kaplan or Princeton Review. However, there generally is no need to spend lots of money for test tutoring or special classes. A simple $20 booklet or $30 cd program, or the free helpsf rom the library or the College Board website, are more than adequate for most students.
You can also go to the Collegeboard website to see early results for the SAT or ACT. The official test scores are certified and mailed to the colleges your student indicated at registration. Most score results take 4 to 6 weeks. Allow time if taking the test in early 12th grade in order to meet admissions/financial aid deadlines.
Even if your child is going to start at an institution that does not require the SAT or ACT for admission, it may be a good idea to have him or her take the SAT or ACT anyway in order to not "close any doors" should your child change the institutional choice and need them later.
You will need Photo ID for the Exams...This may take time!
Be aware that your child must show appropriate photo id on the day of the test in order to take the test--NO EXCEPTIONS! Appropriate photo id is generally an official school photo id card or state/government photo id card such as a driver's permit or driver's license. Usually this turns out to be the driver's permit because of the age the PSAT is generally taken.
Getting an Oregon Driver's License or Permit for Photo ID: Requirements
1. A "Statement of Enrollment" is generally needed to apply for an Oregon first driver's privilege. The Oregon DMV requires all first-time applicants under the age of 18 years to provide proof of school enrollment to apply for a "first driver's privilege." Oregon's DMV website states homeschoolers need to contact their local ESD (Educational Service District) to obtain that form, but there are several ways to get a "Statement of Enrollment" or meet this requirement.
You can contact your local ESD office (see this chart by OCEANetwork for ESD offices in Oregon) and request a "Statement of Enrollment." To send the Statement of Enrollment, your ESD will likely require you to be in compliance with all homeschool laws (ESD notification to homeschool and having taken the state required tests for homeschoolers). The NW Regional Educational Service District (NWRESD) is currently enforcing this policy when a parent requests a "Statement of Enrollment" form and will ask for a certified copy of the last ending test to show compliance. This will be the ending 8th or 10th depending upon your child's age entering 1st grade and the age they are applying for the DMV driver's privilege.
UPDATED June 2011: If your child is registered with an umbrella school, you don't have to go to your local ESD for the "Statement of Enrollment." The umbrella school should be able to provide you with that form. Oregon allows a "Statement of Enrollment" from an umbrella school, even if the school is not based in the State of Oregon, . Therefore, you should simply contact your umbrella school for the form. Basic Skills which is a local extension school, can provide a "Statement of Enrollment" for those students which are enrolled in their diploman extension program. Be aware that if the sole interest in avoiding ESD is avoiding compliance in taking the required state tests, many umbrella schools require standardized testing for their students who are enrolled in their program. Talk with the counselors of the umbrella school to see if they are willing to accept a portfolio only student assessment.
Another reported way to avoid the "Statement of Enrollment" requirement is that there is a DMV affidavit you can fill out as a parent that states your child is above the age of compulsion (16) and no longer attending school. This might be tempting in a moment of panic due to time constraints, however, your child could be construed as "a drop out" student. We at the CHOC Board are not certain if that would impact anything other than this one-time affidavit to DMV, and thus never seen again, but it would create an ethical issue since the student is still attending school, homeschool. We would not recommmend taking that approach unless the student truly had graduated from home school at the age of 16 and was not pursuing any further education and the potential stigma of "drop out" was not an issue.
2. You will also need to have a certified copy of your child's birth certificate (not the hospital birth record--the cute one with the little inky feet--but a state certified copy from the Department of Vital Records.)
3. Further documentation for proof of residence will be needed. Study the current Oregon DMV requirements as they will need additional proof of residency in response to beefed up federal requirements from increased "home security" laws.
All this to say, it is very risky to wait until the last minute to try to gather up the necessary documentation to get a photo id if you don't have it on hand. Therefore be sure to allow about 4 weeks to acquire all the necessary paperwork and photo id.
Info About The PSAT
The PSAT (or the PSAT/NMSQT) is often taken in 10th grade as a practice for the regular SAT. It also determines eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship (but no college requires the PSAT for admission that I am aware of).
The PSAT must be taken in 11th grade if it is to be used for merit scholorship eligibility.
As stated earlier, you must contact a local high school to register for the PSAT. The PSAT is only offered on two days in October each year. If you miss it, and are interested in the scholarship, you'll have to contact the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to see if you are eligible for the alternative programs that might be offered--so don't miss that test date if you want to go for the NMSQT scholarship!
Info and Comparison of the Basic SAT and ACT
The SAT or ACT is generally taken sometime in the 11th grade and often in early 12th. It is wise to take the SAT or ACT at least once in the 11th grade, often in the winter or spring term, and again in the fall term of 12th grade if necessary. It is usually preferable to take the SAT or ACT no later than fall of the 12th grade due to timelines on the college admission paperwork.
The Basic SAT is an aptitude test. It attempts to test how a student thinks and figures out problems rather than what they know of a particular body of factual knowledge.
The ACT is an achievement test. It attempts to test what a student knows about a predetermined body of facts--those facts considered by the ACT test makers as normally covered within high school.
The Basic SAT has an essay section in its normal test. The ACT's written test is an additional exam that you must sign up for during the registration period. Check first to see if your college requires the written portion on the ACT. The ACT has a list of colleges and their stated requirements for the written portion--or check with the institution itself.
The SAT sends all scores to your chosen colleges. Most colleges merely take the highest score, some average them, some don't like to see a high score next to a low score.
The ACT allows you to choose which score to send and only sends that test score no matter how many times you took the ACT.
The SAT has a 25% penalty for any wrong answer; the ACT has no penalties for wrong answers (thus if a child missed 4 out of 20, it would be as if the SAT gave a score of 15/20 while the ACT would give a score at 16/20, but the tests are actually scored on different scales).
If your college of choice accepts either the SAT or ACT for admissions, choose the test that best fits your child's personality/learning style. Does he/she prefer to think on their feet and solve abstract/story problems but gets weighed down by fact minutia, or does he/she prefer to memorize lots of facts but sweats over story problems? Some have said that the SAT is best for engineer types and the ACT for more liberal arts/literary types.
SAT Subject Tests
The SAT II is now referred to as the SAT Subject Tests and should not be confused with the Basic SAT discussed above.
The SAT Subject Tests are a series of subject tests sometimes required by colleges for academic placement or admissions consideration, especially if they are a highly competitive top-tier school.
If a college requires any of the SAT Subject Tests, they will let you know which ones they require as there are many subjects to choose from.
Often colleges will recommend a foreign language subject test be taken to prove proficiency and fulfill the foreign language admissions pre-requisite.
Some colleges will try to require the Subject Tests for their homeschooled applicants if the college is confused about federal aid rules or doubts the homeschool transcript (which we would challenge if the requirement were aimed at only homeschooled applicants).
We've noted that a number of the main Oregon Colleges now list on their website that two SAT Subject tests are required for homeschooled applicants in addition to the basic SAT or ACT. These colleges further recommend that one of the SAT Subjects tests required of the homeschooler be a foreign language to fulfill the foreign language pre-requisite for entrance. We've also noted that these same colleges do not require this of other applicants and have even waived the basic SAT requirement for public school students if they are above a certain grade point average. Obviously some gracious advocacy may be in order on behalf of homeschoolers.
Be sure to check the college's policy on how they will use the SAT Subject Tests. Sometimes the college will use the SAT Subject test for more than an admittance requirement but also will offer Advance Placement or early college credit.
If a college doesn't require the SAT Subject tests, but is willing to use them for advance placement or college credit, it may be worthwhile to consider having your student take some of the Subject Tests to skip lower freshaman courses or to get a few general education requirements out of the way.
Many homeschoolers use the Advance Placement (AP) tests, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), or the SAT Subject Tests for advance placement or early college credit. Go to the College Board site for registration and detailed information on all those different tests.
Be sure you are clear about how your child's particular college will use any of the AP, CLEP or SAT Subject Test exams. Individual college policy determines if any of these tests will be accepted and how the tests will be used.
The Difference between Advance Placement and College Credit by Exam
Advance placement generally means that certain lower freshman classes are skipped and the student starts their education in upper level courses. However, the total number of credits for graduation is not reduced. This provides the student an opportunity to focus on courses not previously mastered and may open up some scheduling flexiblity, but generally does not reduce the cost or time spent in college. The Advance Placement (AP) Tests and the SAT Subject tests are generally used for this type of advance placement.
College credit by exam means the test is used to gain actual college credit that would apply toward's the college's total number of credits needed for graduation for that particular degree. This obviously reduces the number of courses taken at college tuition prices and can reduce the total amount of time in college. The CLEP is used for college credit by exam.
Many colleges use the Advance Placement (AP) and the SAT Subject Tests for both advance placement and college credit by exam, but never assume the college will do so.
Many colleges have CLEP/AP credit equivalency sheets posted on their websites. (Search the college website for CLEP or AP credits.)
Advance Placement vs. CLEP Tests vs. SAT Subject
The CLEP tests and SAT Subject tests are considered easier to prepare for and take than the AP tests.
The CLEP and SAT Subject Tests do not require specialized curriculum but test material generally covered by many normal high school or college courses.
The CLEP is offered throughout the year. Many testing centers offer the CLEP at regular office hours or through pre-arranged appointment since the material is on a computer station that can be accessed any time the center is open. Scores are given immediately.
The SAT Subject is usually given at the same time as the basic SAT, which means it is given at registered public high schools about 7 times during the school year spanning from October through June. You can register for the SAT Subject online at the College Board site. It is important to register early for your desired date to assure seating availability. Scores are reported in about 4 to 6 weeks.
The AP is a full year, specialized program that generally requires the purchase and use of AP specific curriculum to prepare for a particular AP subject test, however it does allow for individual study for homeschoolers. It also requires advanced registration and coordination with a participating school which is willing to order exam materials for homeschoolers to include them on their AP test day. The AP tests are given in May of each year. Scores are reported by July.
At the time of this writing in July 2009, the CLEP and SAT Subject Tests were somewhat cheaper than AP tests. The CLEP tests were $72 per test but may have an additional exam center administration fee, usually $20. The SAT Subject tests were $20 for registration and had a $9 test fee per subject, with additional potential fees for late registration or waiting list and a number of other things, so read carefully. The AP tests were $86 per subject.
Check the College Board website for free or relatively inexpensive preparation material. Most bookstores and Amazon.com sell a variety of CLEP, AP and SAT Subject prep materials.
Do prepare ahead and plan test taking wisely. Poor test scores usually can be witheld from desired colleges, but not always--the policy differs a bit between the tests types and circumstances. If your child should fail, there is a waiting period of 6 months to retake that same CLEP subject; your child would have to wait until the next open SAT Subject date and location; or your child would have to wait until the next May to retake the same AP subject test.
Cons of Advanced Placement and Early College Credit
While it often seems like a "no-brainer" to use exams for college credits or advance placement, there can be some disadvantages to this route.
Be aware that some colleges may determine a student is ineligible for freshman scholarships (often the most lucrative) if the student has too many CLEP, AP or community college credits, which might offset any financial gain.
Also, some children really stress over and do not perform well on these types of tests. It might be better to simply have them take those general subjects in the normal course of college, especially if they snag a good freshman scholarship.
Further, skipping the "easy" freshman classes to begin in upper level courses could make a student's first year of college more stressful. Your child will have a lot to adapt to already with a new learning, and often living, environment. Classes in familiar, previously mastered, subjects could help to reduce educational stress and thus make the transition easier for that freshman year (and provide an easy A for that first college grade point average).
Finally, preparing for these tests is time-consuming. Attempting to take all or most of them could engulf a lot of your homeschool time as you teach to the tests rather than pursuing other subjects your family and child might prefer or need.
See more information and our local tips about the CLEP and AP tests in our "Tips to Cut College Expense" section.
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Most colleges begin taking admissions paperwork in the fall of the senior high school year from generally September 1st onward, and some even have early deadlines such as November.
Gather and Submit Early
Therefore, you will want to get your admissions packet and the financial aid packet from the college or institution early so you can pour carefully through it to assure you can get everything in time for their deadlines.
Even though the college may take admission applications until late in the senior year (or even into the summer) be sure to get your admissions paperwork in early to snag the better financial aid packages and offerings which often have a deadline of February or March for a freshman entering in at fall term.
Obviously the more competitive the college or program, the more likely they will fill their available openings quickly.
Be aware that our local Portland Community College (PCC) has registration for next year's fall term classes sometime in mid-June, and your child will be required to take the new student placement tests and preview a student orientation BEFORE he/she can sign up for fall classes...so there isn't a whole lot of time to bask in the graduation glow before moving on to college duties.
PCC Insider Tip: the popular freshman classes, such as Biology 101 and Chemistry 100, fill very quickly. So if your child is trying to get certain pre-requisites done by a certain time in order to apply to one of PCC's technical programs by a certain term, you may run into difficulty.
To avoid this difficulty, enroll for a simple spring or summer class immediately after graduating from homeschool so that the student becomes matriculated into the system. This will allow them to register as a returning student earlier (for spring term enrollees that fall term, summer enrollees for winter term.)
Common Admission Packet Paperwork
Commonly college admission packets require a certified high school transcript which must be in a sealed, official envelope. Also check with the college to see how many quarters they prefer a senior to have completed before they will accept the transcript.
Further, admission packets include letters of reference (often in sealed envelopes); a student essay stating why the student desires to go to this college or study this field and what their goals are, etc.
Also included is a resume sheet listing special honors, jobs, community service, and extracurricular activities or interests--all of which is very important as most colleges like to see that students have done more than just the academics.
The SAT/ACT test scores are sent directly to the college by the exam boards. If you didn't choose a college at time of test registration, you can re-enter the exam board websites and request additional copies be sent to specific colleges, but it may cost more.
Don't forget to include any AP, CLEP or SAT Subject Test scores too if you desire to claim those for early college credit and didn't have the results pre-sent to the college.
If applying to several colleges, you may want to buy seperate expandable accordian folders to keep all the paperwork for that college together, which can surprisingly mushroom quickly.
Be sure to make enough copies of the paperwork that will be put in every packet (such as tax information) and keep copies of your application papers (except those in sealed envelopes which you can't open). Use an addressed catalog envelope to catch all the final documents as they become ready to send in before the deadline.
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When you picked up your admissions packet, you should have also picked up the institution's scholarship and financial aid materials. It is best to first look through the specific college's offerings and what their requirements and deadlines are for their merit or special scholarships (free money given to students determined by SAT/ACT scores, grade point average, and possibly specific activities such as sports or music, etc.).
Early in January of the senior year (as soon as you get or can recreate that previous year's tax records), if your family desires federal financial aid (which is based upon financial need), you should file the US Educational Department's FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) .
The FAFSA application determines how much federal grant (free) and low-interest student loan (required to be repaid) money your family is eligible for. The FAFSA determination is sent to your child's colleges of choice who use it to help determine their complete financial aid package. To estimate what your family might receive from federal aid, go to the estimator provided by Financial Aid.Org.
Be aware that many private scholarships offered at colleges, even private colleges, require that you file the FAFSA before they will award the private scholarship.
Also be aware that if your son is between the ages of 18 and 25 in order to qualify for any government aid money (student loans, grants, work study, etc.), he must file with the Selective Service. The FAFSA is officially linked to the Selective Service by Federal law. Hefty fines and penalties can be levied against a young man who has failed to file during the appropriate age range. For most US homeschoolers, that means your son has a 60-day window around his 18th birthday to register with the Selective Service. (See the Selective Service website for full details and to register.)
UPDATED Nov. 2010
A student who wishes to apply for Federal Student Aid (FSA) must have a high school diploma, GED, pass an “ability-to-benefit test” or must have “completed a secondary education in a home school setting that qualifies as an exemption from compulsory attendance requirements under State law.." (cited from HSLDA website.)
Beginning with the 2011 FAFSA applications, when filling out the FAFSA, be sure to check the box that indicates your student graduated from "homeschool." Prior to 2011, you could self-certify that your child has a legal diploma recognized by your state just as the public/private school students did, whether you were doing a home diploma or conserving paper and doing no official diploma at all . (Leaving the high school "diploma" box unchecked indicated your student did not graduate high school at all and would cause FAFSA delays and problems, so we recommended that homeschoolers always check the "diploma" box.)
The new FAFSA law, which will take full effect in 2011, will no longer accept diploma self-certification for public/private students due to problems with sub-par high schools and internet diploma scams. The government will now check if the student received a diploma from a high school that is considered "valid." Eventually students will be required to fill in what school they attended, and the government will cross-check with their school lists to ensure the school is considered a "valid" high school. By Law, Homeschoolers are exempt from this FAFSA diploma validation process, but only if you check "homeschool" on the FAFSA application! If you check the diploma box now as a homeschooler, then fill in the name of your homeschool, your school will not be recognized and therefore your child's FAFSA application will not be processed without further information and delay.
To read HSLDA's article on these new FAFSA changes, please go to "Colleges Now Required to Determine the "Validity" of High School Diplomas."
File the FAFSA Early
Although the deadline for the FAFSA is only July prior to the fall term for entering college (just 2 months before most colleges start in September), do not wait that long! Most of the money has been handed out long before then!
Because those that have their paperwork finished first get the dollars first, it is generally recommended to file the FAFSA as early as possible in January. The first step to filing is getting your student into the system and obtaining the FAFSA id and PIN. The PIN can take several weeks to receive as it is sent in the mail.
To be able to file early, people will use estimates from a prior tax year or from their current paystubs and bank statements. If you use estimated numbers, file your final tax returns as soon as possible because if any of the significant numbers change (such as the AGI figure), you will be required to file an amended FAFSA. FAFSA does check the numbers and will kick your application back after you file your final tax returns if numbers are different.
If your FAFSA needs amendement, your FAFSA application will be incomplete until the amendment is done. This amendment could also cause your file to be chosen for verification. That means you will have to provide all sorts of financial documents (final tax return, W-2, etc.) to the college institution to validate your numbers on the FAFSA--all the while your child's file is pending process due to incompletion. (Each FAFSA application has a certain percentage chance of being picked by random for verification, kicking a FAFSA through again on amendment increases your chances of having your application chosen for validation...ours was chosen for validation on a FAFSA required amendment for a $20 difference on our AGI, sigh. Thankfully we had filed our tax final early February and had time to rectify all this and still make the financial deadlines of our college.)
Personal Tip: A really helpful site is TaxAct , an online tax preparation service. TaxAct will automatically prepare a FAFSA worksheet based upon your Federal return (even before you file your Federal return). You could create a TaxAct account very early in January for estimation purposes and then print off the TaxAct FAFSA worksheet to help you complete your FAFSA application.
E-filing with TaxAct (or other such services) gets your tax returns accepted quickly further shortening the timeline for final acceptance of the FAFSA application.
If you pay for the upgraded TaxAct, there are also excellent helps and information about the Hope Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit, and the Federal Tuition and Fees Deduction as you try to recoup some of that college cost in tax refund or tax reduction. TaxAct will even run your return in all 3 ways to determine which education deduction or credit works best for your situation. (But we're not a tax accountant so we are not attempting to advise anyone regarding their taxes or how to treat educational costs! See your tax consultant!)
Don't forget to try for other scholarships too! Scholarships are FREE money that does not have to be repaid or given back (although often there are requirements for renewing scholarships like keeping a certain grade point average or staying in a certain major, etc.)
Numerous scholarships can be applied for in the junior year of high school, or earlier! Begin with local scholarships generally offered by the organizations your family or child is a member of (4H, FFA, Job's Daughters, Railroad workers, dad's employer, your church, etc.) then progress to the state and national ones which are harder to get but not impossible!
Several good organizations that can help you locate these state and national scholarships are: Oregon's Student Assistance Commission; Fastweb; Broke Scholar; Fund for Theological Education, and Student Aid (which helps with federally sponsored student aid as well as scholarships). Broke Scholar also offers helpful advice on writing the all important essays, gathering references, and doing interviews.
Other scholarship sites are:
Finally, be wary of scholarship scams. If you are told that: a scholarship broker wants money to find you a scholarship, or guarantees they will get you a scholarship, or they claim you can't get the information elsewhere, or they ask for your credit card number or bank account to hold the scholarship, or they tell you they'll do ALL the work, or you've been selected by a national foundation or contest that you never applied for or entered... IT IS A FRAUD. (Information provided by Broke Scholar and Rebecca Trelor at Multnomah Bible College seminar).
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By the spring term of your child's senior year hopefully all you have left to do is wait for the acceptance letters and financial aid offers to come in. (If you kept good records and completed the admissions processes carefully within the deadlines, your child's chances of being admitted are very good--almost a certainty with state colleges if their SAT/ACT minimum score level has been met or with the community college if you've met their application/placement deadlines).
However, if your family was not able to proceed in the pathway laid out above, or a favorite college or hoped for financial aid packet did not come through, remember God is in control of our lives and trust in His guidance and timing. Many of us ended up on completely different roads than those we first thought we'd be on, and there are many ways to achieve your academic purposes!
Here a reminder again--it is very important through this application process and during these college years that your child, and yourself as a parent, keep a God-centered and balanced perspective for their life. Don't toss out all the common sense principles your family held to during homeschooling just because your child has entered the college years.
While there are a number of helpful courses to be found in college, college academics are not what life's all about. The college campus and the degree it may bestow do not make up the center of the universe. True education is life-long, whole-life discipleship developing one's talents before God, in His Truths, for His Glory--and that does not require an institutional college program with a textbook (nor, gasp, even a college degree). Our lives should be patterned after our Lord and His Divine purpose for our life and talents. Also, many useful skills are learned outside of the college campus including many "real" job skills. (Most of us know it's not what we learned in college but what we learned afterwards that really taught us how to do a job or develop a talent--unfortunately in our society today a number of vocations require that piece of college paper called a degree).
Further, help your children remain committed to their family relationships (both their physical family and church family) during these passing college years. College friends mostly come and go, but their family relationships will remain.
Make sure your adult-child is still provided with a support team to help them remain steadfast in their commitment to God and His unfailing Word, especially if they are going to a secular institution that will challenge and attack their core values on a daily basis. We as Christians are "not to be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds." Be sure they have trusted, mature, spiritually-wise counselors to regularly discuss issues and pray with. Do not be afraid to remain close to your adult-children while they are at college as they will need your counsel more than ever--even, if able, remaining physically close. Students commuting to college while living at home can save a lot of money, avoid the questionable practices and distractions in many dormatories, and keep their most trusted support group in tact, which can anchor them during these years when they are emerging as young adults and internalizing His Truths as their own.
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For Further Information about Homeschoolers on the College/Career Path:
Debra Bell has written the "Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling" which contains chapters on high school and the "Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens.". You can get some useful tools on her site for high school preparation including scoping templates.
Dorothy Karman's articles at Oregon's Oceanetwork also discuss homeschooling high school and college preparation.
Also HSLDA (the Homeschool Legal Defense Association) has numerous articles in its Colleges and Universities site. HSLDA also has a Homeschooling Through Highschool Newsletter.
For a recap of the steps to vocational training or college, please go to our page of: The College-Vocational Steps Timeline
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