A Homeschool Graduate’s Tips for College
Looking Back: a Homeschool Graduate’s Tips for College, while it’s still fresh in my memory! 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.
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.
(The following is a guest post from Erika Oppenheimer, an SAT and ACT test prep coach in New York City and the author of Acing It! A Mindful Guide to Maximum Results on Your College Admissions Test.)
The SAT and ACT preparation process is challenging, regardless of a student’s life or educational background. An independent education provides students with an incredible opportunity to learn in a way that fits into their lives and learning styles. Homeschooled students may have some advantages in the SAT and ACT prep process over their traditionally educated peers. For example, homeschooled students may have more experience directing long-term projects and self-motivating.
However, there may be some aspects of the SAT and ACT that homeschooled students initially experience as greater challenges than their peers who have spent more time in school settings. By paying attention to their individual strengths and limitations going into the prep process, students can achieve optimal results on their college admissions test.
Here are a few aspects of the SAT and ACT prep process that are important for all test takers, but which may be especially important to highlight for students who have been homeschooled in the years leading up to the SAT and ACT.
The SAT and ACT are administered over 3-4 hours, depending on whether students take the Essay Test, which many colleges require of applicants. The longest section on the SAT lasts 65 minutes; the longest section on the ACT lasts one hour. If your independent program includes frequent opportunities for the student to stand up, stretch, or dialogue (generally good practices for learning and wellbeing), then you may want to begin incorporating longer periods in which students must work independently and without a break. Building endurance for the test can happen both through taking SAT and ACT practice tests and through completing other coursework. Either way, it is important for students to be able to direct their attention for long periods of time in order to perform well throughout the SAT and ACT.
- Test Prep Action Step: Work independently and without interruption for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break to stretch or move around. Build up to one hour of focused productivity.
Working around Other People
Students without special testing accommodations will take the SAT or ACT at a local test center, surrounded by other test takers. If your homeschool program consists mostly of the student working alone in a room (supervised or unsupervised) or in small groups, then the student may want to gain experience focusing in less isolated or familiar settings. The public library is a great place to take SAT and ACT practice tests. The library is mostly quiet, but still has more activity than an empty room.
- Test Prep Action Step: Move your SAT/ACT practice test—or your homeschool or homework session—to a local library or other public space.
The SAT and ACT are, of course, timed tests. The element of time shouldn’t be thought of as an obstacle to top performance, but rather an aspect of this particular “game.” The challenge of the game is answering as many questions correctly as one can within the time limits.
There are three elements of this challenge: first, a willingness to adapt one’s approach to tasks such as reading passages so that time isn’t wasted rereading portions of the passage or reading for details that won’t later be covered in the test questions; second, developing a strong understanding of the concepts being tested; third, discovering an overall pacing strategy that balances the quality of a student’s answers (his or her accuracy) with the quantity of questions answered—disproportionately favoring one over the other will have a negative impact on a student’s scores.
- Test Prep Action Step: Rather than simply taking practice test after practice test, do an initial review of the concepts tested on the SAT or ACT and the format of the test for which you are preparing. After this review, apply your knowledge within the test through taking practice tests. See where you get stuck, and review those concepts in greater depth. At first, you may not finish a given section, but as you build comfort with unfamiliar topics and the test format, you’ll naturally begin to work more quickly. Within the Reading section of either test and the ACT’s Science section, which depend less on preexisting knowledge, you may not need to do an initial review, but you can spend time considering what approach to reading the passage will enable you to work most efficiently. You may also do timed drills, in which you break the section into smaller parts to get a better sense of your pacing and experiment with different approaches.
(Does your student need practice testing? Check out the Performance Series Tests from True North Homeschool Academy.)
Given that the tests are an important part of the college and scholarship application processes, they often bring up nerves for students. This stress is compounded for students who will take the test in unfamiliar settings. By exploring and adopting habits that help manage stress and nerves, students will be better able to apply what they know in the test room.
- Test Prep Action Step: Try taking a few full, conscious breaths breathing in for four counts, holding for two counts, and exhaling for four counts. Do you feel any different after than you felt before? A conscious breath is a habit that can be easily incorporated into test taking. Take a conscious breath in between test sections and halfway through each section or if you begin to feel overwhelmed by a test question.
If you feel overwhelmed within the test prep process, consider partnering with a tutor or coach (like me) who is an expert in navigating the test prep process. There’s a lot of information out there about the SAT and ACT, and the person with whom you work will help you determine the strategies that will work best for you. You may also use my book, Acing It! A Mindful Guide to Maximum Results on Your College Admissions Test, as a more complete resource for learning how to effectively navigate every step of the SAT and ACT process.
Erika Oppenheimer is an SAT and ACT test prep coach in New York City and the author of Acing It! A Mindful Guide to Maximum Results on Your College Admissions Test. In addition to teaching test content, she helps students manage the stress of the test prep process. Coaching sessions may take place in Manhattan or over Skype.
Learn more about Erika’s coaching programs at ErikaOppenheimer.com.
Receive a free chapter of Acing It! and her One Month SAT & ACT Prep Plans when you sign up for her email updates here.
At True North Homeschool Academy, we are all about launching our kid successfully as young adults. Ideally, we like this launch to be with little to no debt, and in a way that equips them to succeed vocationally, as well as in life. One of the ways we are doing this is by providing CLEP prep classes.
What is CLEP?
CLEP is College level Exam Program. There are over 33 exams available that are accepted by 2900 colleges and universities in the following areas:
- Literature & Composition
- World Languages
- History & Social Science
- Science & Mathematics
By taking a CLEP test, you can save “Hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars.” CLEP exams have been in existence for over 50 years and had over 1800 test centers. This program allows students to demonstrate mastery in college-level material and earn college credit through testing. There is no minimum age at which your kids can start taking CLEP exams and your test scores will “bank” for up to ten years!
Not every college accepts every CLEP exam, and if you know where your high school student plans to attend college, you can check with their admissions counselor or website. If it’s not stated on the website, and you are assured by someone on staff or faculty that the CLEP exam will be accepted for credit, get that in writing. In my state, the state college system will take up to 10 CLEP exams toward a degree, but it varies by major and school.
If you are interested in taking some CLEPs as upper-level high school courses, I would suggest starting with some basic general education requirements: College Algebra, English Comp I and II, Environmental or Natural Science, Psychology or World Religions or Government. Taking just 5 Clep exams totals 15 College Credits (and can go on a High School Transcript for one credit as well and can be counted for a higher weight, which affects the G.P.A.) which is an entire semester’s worth of college. Considering that even inexpensive school cost around $20,000 a year, half of that is significant savings!
If you are looking to earn you Associates degree or even entire undergraduate degree through Clepping, Dual Enrollment, and other less conventional methods, be sure to check out the “Big Three”; Thomas Edison State College, Excelsior State College, and Charter Oak State College. All of these consider life experiences, extensive CLEP exams, and dual enrollment creidts towards an Associate of Arts or a Bachelor’s Degree.
We have a friend who got their entire undergraduate degree in two years through Clepping and then went on to Medical School. Of course, he had terrific MCAT scores and references along with his degree, but it is doable to take an unconventionally earned Bachelor’s degree and go on to a competitive graduate program.
True North Homeschools Academy is committed to utilizing the freedom and unique opportunities we have as homeschoolers to bring classes to you that prepare your students to take CLEP exam.
This fall, for instance, we have an amazing group of young adults (10th-12th graders) meeting weekly for 90 minutes to study Psychology. This class has been challenging and thought-provoking, required a boatload of homework, reading, studying and learning vocabulary, provided great discussions and some good laughs and readied participants to take the CLEP exam at the end of the semester.
This class is offered for one semester (just like a college class would be) and uses Zoom and Moodle (also, like many college classes) and counts for 1 High School Credit. If the CLEP exam is taken and passed 3 College Credits under the General Education requirement of Social Science will be earned. Not only are our students receiving college credit for pennies on the dollar but they are avoiding the social indoctrination that is so prevalent on College campuses, especially in the area of Social Sciences.
Why pay for these classes when our kids can study and take a CLEP test on their own?
For the simple reason, that upper-level classes are challenging, and difficult things are often more exciting and enjoyable when done with others (Ecc 4:9), the teacher brings their experience and expertise to bear, and the kids have incentive to keep going even when the going gets tough!
If CLEP tests are not something you’ve considered before, I hope you take a look at them. We’d love to partner with you to guide your student through some fun and challenging High School classes that also prepare your students well for CLEP exams!
(This spring we will be offering Civics as well as Environmental Science– both count towards one credit of High School and are also CLEP prep classes. Check those out today!)