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The Truth about How to Look Good on College Applications

Talking to other homeschool moms about preparing for college can be intimidating. They are always doing so much more, aren't they? Their kid has a gazillion AP credits on their transcript or is doing dual enrollment with a 4.3 average (who knew such a thing existed?) or got a 35 on the ACT — and yours hates getting up in the morning and whines about Algebra.

Everybody wants to look good when applying to college. Don't be intimated by a long checklist! Read these tips and ideas from a veteran homeschool mom!

Guess what? Your kid is NORMAL.

I confess that I get really frustrated sometimes at how homeschooling high school is perceived out there. We all are scared of it, because we think we have to do all. the. things — and we are worried that our kid won't get into college because we just can't do all of them.

I need to remind y'all of something.

Please realize this: there are lots of schools out there. And not all of them require all. the. things.

It's time to take a good realistic look at your family and your child and decide if you want to try to keep up with the over-achieving Joneses of the world or if you want to just be you. Because while the Joneses may be striving to get their kid into an Ivy League school, you don't have to.

(And the truth is, the Joneses are probably not necessarily trying to get into a top school either; they just like bragging about their smart child. Or they are ignorant about what is really needed for homeschooling high school, and they've bought into the lie that they have to do SO MANY THINGS in order for their kid to be accepted into college. There are still lots of families like this out there, unfortunately — and they can be very vocal, lol.)

The fact is that there are only two things you MUST do to get your child into college.

(Maybe three if you count having them take the ACT or SAT. I'm considering that one a given at this point.)

The first is to meet the college requirements.

If you've ever looked at a random school's admissions page online and seen what they require of their applicants, you'll see that for the most part it's not a big deal. Usually they don't expect all core courses every year or Calculus or AP's or a gazillion volunteer hours or whatever else the Joneses try to tell you to do. Just look at the college(s) your kid is interested in, or the local ones, or your own alma mater. You can easily get a pretty good idea of what is REALLY necessary.

Just for kicks, go look at the requirements of an Ivy League (or other top tier) school. THERE you will find the list that says do all core subjects every year and umpteen years of foreign language and be the most amazing person ever before you turn 19. But at your more ordinary, middle tier, what-most-of-us-are-really-trying-to-get-our-kid-into school? NOT.

For more about checking college requirements, see How to Know What Your Teen NEEDS to Get into College. Or buy my book, which has a screencast showing you exactly how to do it, what to look for, and what to do with the information you find. AND helps you craft a complete plan for your kid's high school years so you are confident you are doing everything you need to. With gorgeous printable forms! (Just sayin'… :-) ) You can see it here: Cure the Fear of Homeschooling High School: How to Be SURE You're Not Missing Anything.

The second thing you need to do is follow your state's homeschool laws.

And for most states, these also are not super rigorous. Most states don't even have homeschool graduation requirements, for goodness' sake! (More about that here: What You Need to Know about Homeschool Graduation Requirements.)

If you follow your state's homeshool law and keep in mind what the colleges your kid is interested in require of their applicants, then chances are your kid will get in.

If you're reasonable about selecting ones to look at, of course. If you start looking at the top-tier schools, then yea, it might be more difficult than that.

Then you might need to jump through a lot of hoops — or have your kid jump through them, of course. My suggestion is not to aim for them if you don't have a top-tier kid.

DON'T YELL AT ME FOR SAYING THAT. We are all adults here; we need to be reasonable and realistic when it comes to our own kids. And the fact is that most of them are not top-tier material.

I'll never forget the kid in my graduating class who applied only to Ivy Leagues. He had not even been placed in the “smart kids” class grouping at school (you know they all do that, which is one more reason we homeschool) — but those were the only applications he sent in. And you guessed it, he didn't get accepted by a single one of them. Nice guy, don't get me wrong — but not Ivy League material.

Most of us have not borne Ivy League material kids, y'all. So there is no need to feel like we need to keep up with those who have.

Most of our kids will end up at other colleges and universities. And that's totally OK! Guess what? They'll still get a college degree.

“But the Ivy Leagues (or something similar) mean he'll get the best job possible after college!” you say. Well, maybe, and maybe not. My dad — definitely a man with opinions, lol — used to hire only graduates from state schools, because he said the Ivy League types were full of themselves and weren't teachable.

DON'T YELL AT ME FOR SAYING THAT, EITHER. I'm just passing it along because it proves my point that an Ivy League (or similar) education is not a guarantee for a job. I am NOT cutting down Ivy League students; I have FRIENDS who are Ivy League graduates, and they are all nice people.

But so are NON-Ivy League students! Ordinary is OK!! We don't all have to be at the top of the heap!

Especially if it means stressing ourselves and our kids out by expecting way too much of them, hello.

Related: Episode 54 – Preparing for College Academically

For long-term success, the person they are is much more important than the school they go to. They can learn a good work ethic and become well-rounded individuals without doing all those things the Joneses do.

And their college experience can still be WONDERFUL at a middle range (or even lower-tier) school. Your college selection process will ensure that. You're not going to send them just anywhere, after all.

“But doing all those things will improve my kid's chances for a good scholarship!” you exclaim. Well, I hate to burst your bubble… but these days the main factors (in my experience) in getting a good scholarship from the school your kid has applied to are 1) ACT/SAT scores and 2) the timing of when you apply (earlier is better). Not the mondo coursework they've done. Not their amazing homeschool transcript. Not the second lifetime they've spent doing good for society.

Daughter #3 was a homebody all through high school. Church was her only extra-curricular. She only did three credits of math. Ditto science and history. No AP's, no honors, no dual enrollment. She had an A-minus average. But she got a 31 on the ACT, and she applied to a small Christian school in September. She received an immediate acceptance and the largest scholarship the school offered. It wasn't about “all the things”! Sad but true!

Three of my four graduates (so far) went on to college, and all three got in to most of the places where they applied — WITH scholarships. And it was the colleges that were a good fit that gave the most money; it was the one that was a bit of a reach that the rejection came from (and that was not about academics but about musical skills).

One of my kids (the one that got our only rejection) is now in grad school on a full-tuition-plus-stipend scholarship (for music, incidentally — which just shows that one rejection does not mean ultimate failure). Another is headed to France this year to take business classes in French. The third decided college wasn't for her. She came home and worked for awhile but now has developed a new goal to strive for. All of them have learned lots, had wonderful experiences both in and out of school, and never felt like their education was inferior.

Related: Episode 64 – Dual Enrollment for Homeschoolers – is it right for YOU?

If you haven't figured this out about me by now, please know that I am always about reducing stress and “calming the chaos.”

Homeschooling high school truly does NOT have to be difficult. It can be relaxed and enjoyable — and still culminate in a college acceptance. The trick is to be realistic about what we can handle and to not buy into the Joneses' ideas. What works for their family is fine. You focus on what works for your family.

Most of the time that will mean aiming for a nearby private school or a state school. Or maybe a small Christian school or some other college/university that has reasonable admissions requirements. There is a school out there for just about every level of kid, no matter what their accomplishments. Find the ones that your kid will “look good” to. That's where the acceptance, and possibly even the money, will be!

Related: Should Your Teen Go to College? (how to tell if it's a good fit)

Hear me on this: Look for the colleges that are a good fit for your teen, rather than shouldering the burden of trying to turn your teen into a good fit (or to make them look like one) for the colleges.

Am I saying don't apply to a “reach” school? No, I'm not. Many say that is a valid strategy.

What I AM saying is don't bog yourself (and your kid) down NOW with a bunch of required courses and activities that only succeed in stressing everyone out. Don't make homeschooling high school a huge burden, because you think you have to do it that way to ensure college acceptances or scholarships.

Hey, if your kid truly is Ivy League material, then more power to you! Go for the gusto! But for most of us, we need to give up the idea that we have to do SO MANY THINGS and concentrate on just those things that are TRULY necessary.

Because you only have that ornery teen precious child with you for a short time, and it goes by FAST. Don't make it more difficult than it needs to be.

And next time you talk to Mrs. Jones, she won't intimidate you. You'll have your plan — and she can have hers.


Everybody wants to look good when applying to college. Don't be intimated by a long checklist! Read these tips and ideas from a veteran homeschool mom!
It's Not That Hard to Homeschool
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14 thoughts on “The Truth about How to Look Good on College Applications”

  1. We have a friend who is a top tier college advocate at a $$$ Christian school in some unnamed state (true story!). He says that now to get into an Ivy, one’s child now has to have fabulous scores, great grades, plenty of community service hours, AND have started a nonprofit organization. No lie. So basically, about a third of these kids actually start and run a small nonprofit, and the other two-thirds simply have parents start something through their connections, then put the student’s name on it. (Fractions are his estimates.) Semi-frustrating for my oldest, who is an ultra high-acheiver. BUT she ended up in a smaller regional Christian school, where her worldview is being reinforced, and she gets to be a big fish in a small pond, with incredible faculty encouragement. I think she’s right where she needs to be.

    1. I think there is a lot to be said for being a big fish in a small pond. Instead of feeling perpetually behind or inadequate, the individual can be a leader and learn how to make a difference. Love it! :-)

  2. I was listening to an audiobook recently and it referred to a study indicating that more science-oriented people starting out in science *graduated* in science (rather than switching to a less-challenging major or perhaps leaving altogether) in lower-tier schools than in “reach” schools. If the first weeks of the first semester take a person with confidence in his/her abilities, who views him/herself as a “science person” and beats that all out of him/her, it doesn’t really matter how great the program is – such a person is statistically unlikely to finish it. Something for me, personally very competitive but no longer the one applying, LOL, to bear in mind as my able kids come up to high school and approach college.

  3. THANK YOU for writing this article! I needed to be reminded of this TRUTH more than I care to admit. Please keep writing articles like this. I hear way too often (from others) your kid should do XYZ or basically make adult, life decisions at the age of 14. Unfortunately, I know adults who can’t even make life decisions and sadly our society has put so much pressure on kids to do what adults can’t do themselves. Your article is a great reminder to continue to do what interests my children and let them flourish in who God created them to be. HE won’t let our children fail!

  4. I just LOVE you Annie! If I had not found your blog and high school homeschool group on Facebook, I don’t think I would have jumped into the homeschool world in the middle of high school, but I am so glad I did. Thank you!

  5. Thank you so much for this post! I do struggle with thinking I’m never doing enough. I appreciate your thoughts and experiences from your own life.

  6. If my child wants to go to a school in a different state, do you follow that state’s homeschooling laws or the ones from where you live?

    1. Great question. You MUST follow the homeschooling laws of the state where you live. That is non-negotiable. That said, do research the colleges that your kid wants to go to and see what their requirements are. You can weave those in while at the same time following your own state’s laws. More about how to research college requirements here: How to KNOW What Your Homeschooled Teen NEEDS to Get Into College. You’ll find it’s not that difficult to meet them! :-)

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