Looking Back: a Homeschool Graduate’s Tips for College

Looking Back: a Homeschool Graduate’s Tips for College

I still remember that day in the fall of my junior year when I realized that college was actually approaching, and I had to make my own decision about a major step in my life. I felt unable to choose from all the options; being the introvert that I am I planned to be cautious by choosing a small Bible college close to home. It had nothing unique to what I was interested in, didn’t offer my chosen major, and was really just a cop-out because I wanted to attend college. However, my entire perspective on what college could be for me was changed when I attended a college fair and found out about Patrick Henry College.

Getting into a college like PHC

PHC is small (less than 300 students), classical, and (in my opinion) one of the few Christian colleges in the United States that still follows true Biblical doctrine. After finding my dream school back in 2016, the next step was the application process. I submitted the required materials and then spent two and a half hours on the phone with my admissions counselor discussing my spiritual life, high school classes, community involvement, life goals, and biggest failures. Next, my counselor committed to push for my acceptance. The day I was accepted is one of my favorites even now.

What do classical colleges look for?

When I visited the school, I learned from current students and my admissions counselor that PHC was looking for a specific type of person—not necessarily the person with the best SAT score or the longest list of AP classes. This was what I heard when I visited Grove City College in Pennsylvania as well. Private classical liberal arts schools often prioritize phone interviews over submitted work.

Patrick Henry was interested in the fact that I worked at Chick-fil-A, taught a kindergarten class at my church, and had a passion for classical education. They appreciated that I played the violin and participated in a couple mock trials. I realized that the team at PHC focused on the character of the students they accepted more than the standardized test scores they received. This became a new draw for me to attend the school because I knew that they valued full people, not just numbers.

Did my education equip me for life at PHC?

As a second-semester college freshman, I can’t say that I always fully appreciated my classical homeschooling journey back in high school. The hours I spent wrestling with Latin homework, digesting classic literature, and discussing philosophy were taken for granted when they passed by, but they are definitely paying off now. Instead of drowning in my first semester of college Latin, I was able to enjoy it most days.

Attending a classical academy one day each week equipped me to be comfortable with participating in class discussions at PHC. Reading many of the Great Books back in high school gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding in my second read here at PHC. My freshman year has still been the hardest venture I’ve ever attempted, but I can’t imagine going into it without the high school experience I had.

If I could send one message to high schoolers and their parents at this point, I think it’d be the cliché saying repeated to students all the time: fight the good fight. What you are doing now may seem mundane and insignificant. It may feel like you’re peddling only to come around a bend to more of the same.

However, one day you’ll sit down to reflect and realize that in those seasons of hustling to and from activities and squeezing schoolwork in between it all you were doing good, true, and beautiful work to further your earthly walk and, more importantly, to further the kingdom.hustling to and from activities and squeezing schoolwork in between it all you were doing good, true, and beautiful work to further your earthly walk and, more importantly, to further the kingdom.

Author bio:

Olivia, or Livvy, Dennison is an 18-year-old freshman at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA. A native of Mt. Hope, WV, she plans to major in History with a minor in Classics. When not working on school, Livvy loves reading, playing basketball, and living life with her two younger brothers and her dog, Amos. Livvy was always homeschooled by her mom and, for her last two years of high school, attended Appalachian Classical Academy, a Christian homeschool tutoring program that meets one day each week.

Are you wondering what life after homeschool may look like for your child?  Check out this former homeschool student's experience with a classical college.  #homeschool #lifeafterhomeschool #TrueNorthHomeschoolAcademy #classicallearning

The Jr High Brain

The Jr High Brain

If you are raising a middle school student, you might have this strange sense of deja vu.  You feel like you’ve been through this stage before…but somehow a little different. They were shorter…less smelly (most of the time)…and talked less (or at least less clearly).  Ok, maybe not quite. However, there are a lot of physical and mental changes that take place in toddlerhood that occur again at a different level in Jr High.

Brain Pruning

One of the big things that changes in middle school and toddlerhood is brain pruning.  In this process, the brain “cleans out” extra connections that aren’t being used. This can cause some different behaviors to occur during this time.  Sometimes kids seem to “not be in control” and make “bad decisions.” Part of this is expressing their ability to make decisions for themselves, and establish independence.  Part of this is due to the brain pruning process going on in their brains (not an excuse for bad decisions by any means, but if we understand what is going on, as parents we can be better prepared for it).
What can we do?
  1. Lend them part of our “decision making brain” meaning give choices, but only ones that are acceptable to you.
  2. Help keep sleep and meals as regular as possible.  Just like a toddler needed a schedule, so does your middle schooler.
  3. Pick your battles.  If your child does better with school in the afternoon and gets their work done, let them work in the afternoon.

Emotional Rollercoaster

Emotions can be very powerful.  Naming emotions can be even more difficult, and yet give so much power to us.  As a toddler, our children begin to discover they have emotions, and they can choose emotions.  As middle schoolers, hormones begin to change how our emotions affect us. Being open to your middle schooler to come and talk to will help with this process.  These are the years when your kids will start to build a different relationship with you. Foster that relationship. You still have to “parent,” but work to listen too.


As 3-year-olds, children tend to be all about “me.” MY feelings, MY toys, MY mommy/daddy/sister.  They do not see the world outside of “ME.” As they mature into 4-year-olds, they begin to realize there are other people around them.  Mommy and Daddy (and eventually siblings) have feelings and wants/needs too. They begin to realize they can do things to “help” others.  They start wanting to do things to please others, and to receive praise and possibly rewards.
Middle schoolers go through this process again but on a bigger level.  Elementary years are a lot about acceptance and building community (or at least that is what most elementary level schools are trying to do).  Middle school changes a lot of that. Suddenly there is a world out there full of other people’s opinions about what you eat, wear, and how you wear your hair!  It can be difficult to find your “place” during this phase of life. I’m reminded of my sister who became an “opinion shopper.” She would ask everyone their opinion on a decision she needed to make.  Eventually, she would hear the opinion she wanted to hear and go with that one!
What can we do?
  1. Allow for some self-expression.
  2. Give choices that are acceptable to you and allow your child to become more independent.
  3. Be there to listen when needed – without judging.
  4. Still set boundaries and “parent” when necessary.
  5. Make mistakes in front of your kids – and OWN THEM!  Our kids need to know no one is perfect.  Especially in Jr High, when they are trying so hard to be “grown up” and independent!

Growing and Changing Bodies

I hear a lot about middle school students/high school students and SLEEP.  Up all night. Sleep all day. Don’t shower until noon. Eat everything in sight.  Sounds a lot like my toddler. As kids enter the Jr High years, they often enter into growth spurts.  The body needs sleep for growth, moving information from short-term to long-term memory, and for all the hormone changes.  Stress can bring about a lack of sleep. Stress from the changing social relationships and dynamics mentioned above can create a lack of sleep.
At two distinct times in our child’s lives, we feel like we go through clothing sizes like tissues.  When they are toddlers and when they are teens (especially boys). For me, personally, I stopped growing when I entered middle school, at least in height.  But I grew in other ways that made clothing more challenging. This German/Irish mama has always had curves, and in Jr High, this was a challenge!! (Especially when it seemed most other girls did not yet!)  Finding clothes that fit right, and fit in with the crowds can be challenging for middle school students.
Some suggestions:
  1. Even if you use “second hand” clothes, find a way for your child to be able to pick some key pieces of clothing that are “just theirs.”
  2. Find ways for your child to express themselves through clothing in appropriate ways if this is important to them.
  3. Purchase clothes that fit comfortably (consider body type and sensory issues).
  4. Find a schedule that works for them – and work to stick with it!
  5. Find time to talk and connect – this can help with the stress they are experiencing.
  6. Teach about changing hygiene needs, and be sensitive to when their bodies change.  Everyone changes on a different schedule.
  7. Look for “samples” to try out different hygiene products to find the one your child likes best.  Different products work better for certain body types, and sensitivities can arise over time.


Homeschooling during the Jr. High years can be tricky, as you child questions your authority and understanding of my materials. Now is a perfect time to outsource some classes, resource your students growing interests and try new things together, be that food, places or experiences! If you are not sure where to start with this process, check out our Jr High Classes and Clubs– there is something for everyone!
Though the Jr High years can be challenging, they too will pass. Your child is transitioning from dependency to mature interdependency, from little to big. As with all transitions, it can be a tricky time to navigate, but take heart! Like toddlerhood, the Jr High years don’t last forever!

Amy Vickrey, MSE  is a mother of a seven-year-old and almost three-year-old. Her homeschool journey began over 20 years ago when she saw how homeschooling enabled her sister who had memory issues and fell through the crack at school, to graduate and go to college. Amy knew then she wanted to implement what she saw – the love and individual attention – into her own teaching. She now homeschools her two boys and loves every minute of it! Having completed the second year of their homeschool journey, she is looking forward to many more to come!

Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos.  Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning. Teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.

Amy Vickrey states, “My passion for learning and being a lifelong learner is something I want to pass on to the children I teach, as well as my own children.  Making learning fun and engaging is an important part of this process. My goal is to lift others up to help them achieve their own goals and dreams.”  Find out more about Amy and the classes she teaches here.

6 Steps to Prepare for Junior High Success

6 Steps to Prepare for Junior High Success

Junior high is a great time to get your child off to a great start. Don’t stress, the key to this stage is to focus on quality and not quantity. Actually, by focusing on just six easy areas, you can rest assured your child is ready to be successful in high school and beyond.
This method will prepare your student whether you’re coming from a lighter, unstructured approach in elementary school and early childhood or just beginning homeschooling from a brick and mortar classroom background. To create a well rounded middle school core just incorporate: foreign language, five paragraph essays, lab reports, math drills, drama, and social connections.

Foreign Language

Starting foreign language in junior high jump starts high school credits and make your child attractive to universities and open up additional scholarships when applying for colleges. Younger students picks up language vocabulary and structure easier than if they wait till high school. Foreign language credits in college can also be earned by CLEP or test out lightening the college class load and cost.
A fluent foreign language also increases chances of getting a competitive job when older. The experience of interacting in a foreign culture with a separate language is unparalleled. There are also strong health benefits to foreign language, including better cognitive abilities and slowing aging and memory loss.

5 Paragraph Essay

The most valuable principle of writing is the five paragraph essay format. This structure is simple enough to be grasped at a 6th grade level, yet versatile and adaptable to almost all college essay assignments. At a junior high level, all assignments should be simple and concrete. This will keep essays age appropriate and easy to write.
Teach a thesis as a statement related to your child’s interests. For example, ’Penguins are the strangest birds on earth’ or ‘Soccer is a very hard sport’. Once your child can give three reasons he believes this statement is true, he has the basic outline for his writing. Jensen’s Five Paragraph Essay book is an invaluable resource for teaching an excellent essay design. This will teach your student not only writing, but structured, reasoned thinking and communication.

Lab Science

STEM careers are both fashionable and practical, and junior high is not too early to begin encouraging exploration in this field. It’s important to strike a balance with unstructured, interest based study and academic rigor. Lab based science achieves this balance. A hands on curriculum is best, with minimal lectures and no textbooks. A library tour on each topic will suffice.
Activities can stimulate interest in each discipline. Consider introducing physics by building a trebuchet, biology through dissection, chemistry by pouring baking soda into a cup of vinegar. Afterwards, a formatted lab report should be prepared, a skill that will prepare your student for success in both high school and secondary education. For this age level, use structured outlines with pre-formatted purpose, method, results, and conclusion sections. Keep it simple and brief, allowing about 10-15 minutes to complete.

Math Drills

Math Drills. Simple enough. Your student cannot succeed on standardized tests without math, and speed is key on ACT. Junior high students should have mental math to score high on the standardized tests. This will also make more difficult math concepts easier to grasp. Percentages, fractions, and negative integers are much more understandable when mental addition, subtraction, and multiplication and division are fluent. Focusing on drills also gives the appropriate emphasis on this crucial subject. Not too much for the non mathematician but rigorous enough to support a potential STEM career.


One of the most valuable activities I did in junior high was participation in drama performances. Acting teaches an innumerable number of life skills and is fun at the same time.
Unexpectedly, I pulled from my drama experience more than any other subject. I realized I had learned techniques to control nerves, create presence, and connect with an audience. So much of both education and life presentation based, and the ability to present successfully doesn’t always come naturally. Must learn to control nervous habits, speak clearly, and maintain eye contact.
Acting teaches similar debate and speech in a subtler way.  A child can focus on a dynamic presentation without the stress of having to use their own words. Your child also will learn how to begin to manage pressure and stress as they prepare to perform onstage.


 A significant amount of time in junior high should be dedicated to setting up a healthy social structure. This is important in order to support your child’s good choices and morals as they mature. Peer pressure should not be underestimated, so it’s crucial that your child form deep relationships with good and trustworthy friends. This is even more challenging with the surging of influence social media has on friendships at this age.
Too much screen time in general can also change the nature of relationships that should be developed in person. The good news is that tech companies are aware of these dangers and struggles (computer developers and silicon valley families often opt for a technology free childhood) and are making child proof screen control apps available. Tools like these to structure and limit screen time will lead to lower social media mental health problems and improve the nature of friendships in real life.
Parents of junior high students are often tempted to stress about curriculum and subjects.  A simpler structure focusing on mainly these important points.  This approach leaves ample time for creativity, friendship, and still provides a strong base for high school and college. Pick a limited number of subjects to do hard core, music, math, and foreign language. If these get done everyday it will set the appropriate structure and learning routines for incredible success.
Are you looking for amazing junior high courses in your homeschool?  Check out our live, online courses at True North Homeschool Academy!
  Sarah Frederes is a homeschool graduate and a Dakota Corps Scholarship recipient, which allowed her to attend and graduate from college debt-free with a Summa Cum Laude and a BSN. She is the oldest of eleven children and has a love and passion for music, parrots, writing, gardening, and photography. You can find more of her writing and lovely photography on her personal blog All That is Gold.