Homeschool: Plan the High School Career

graduateIn my years of advising and teaching, I have met some parents who seemed to be surprised that they had older teenagers who actually needed to finish high school with enough credits to enter college.

However, for as many poor planners I have met, I have encountered just as many parents who deliberately plotted out their students’ high school paths so that they would be ready for college.

It’s important to set out your student’s junior high and high school years, to know what is required for graduation in your state and for entrance to college. Some high schoolers do not intend to go to college, but isn’t it wise to aim them there, in case they change their minds? Better to be prepared than caught off guard.

Check with your state’s requirements for graduation. As a homeschool parent you should know these things, since your state may require reporting of you each year they are homeschooled. Go to HSLDA to find your state’s requirements.

Plan out those six years

While a transcript only needs to report the four years of high school, it’s best to start planning in junior high or earlier so that you know what to expect. Plot out the progression of math, science, English, history, and foreign language you want him to take. Carefully regard what is considered high school versus junior high curriculum.

For instance, Physical Science and General Science are not considered high school courses; they are for junior high. Colleges want to see high school science courses (some with labs) on the transcript. Those would be Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy & Physiology, and so forth. Plan accordingly.

Math, too, must be dealt with carefully. A transcript should show an upward progress in Math. Algebra 1, for example, is a junior high class, so make sure your student is aimed toward Algebra 1 then, not in high school.

On the reverse side, some parents want to give their children high school classes while in junior high. Be careful with this. You can cover some high school subjects earlier, such as Math, if your student has an aptitude for it. But there are some subjects, like science, English, and history, that require maturity in all areas of thinking and are therefore ill-advised for junior high. Let your child be a child for a while. I covered this in an earlier blog.

What does my child need to get into college?

Each year of study is one credit. A one-semester class is a half-credit. Meet the requirements  for your state, but also keep in mind that colleges may have more stringent demands. Contact the colleges of your choice or browse around at College Board to see what colleges are looking for.

My own polling of colleges–including military academies, Ivy League, state universities, and Christian colleges–shows that on average these are the credit requirements for entry:

  • English–4
  • Foreign Language–3
  • History/Social Science–3-4
  • Math–4
  • Science–3-4
  • Electives, including art–1 to 4.

Included in that Social Science category is 1/2 credit of Government and 1/2 credit of Economics. Those are usually taken at the junior or senior level of high school. Keep in mind that the college you’re looking for may have other numbers, so take a careful look for yourself.

A word about English, since it is a passion of mine. Don’t just think that a few books and a couple of essays a year will suffice for High School English. An English class must teach literature, grammar, and composition purposefully. (Grammar can be left behind on or about 9th grade if your student’s understanding is sufficient.)  One incredibly popular writing program used by many home schoolers is sufficient up toward junior high, but it will not do as college prep for high school. Its formulas help set the foundation for good writing, but your child needs to grow beyond that formula very soon. See my past blog on writing well. You do your child no favors if you try to take shortcuts with his writing.

In addition to a good transcript, colleges have their eye on a few other criteria. Of course they will look at your transcript. Then they will, in essence, say, “prove it to us.” They want to see if your student’s SAT and/or ACT scores match up to what you say he has taken on his transcript. Some colleges may also require some placement tests upon entry. I have known students who had to take a foreign language placement test on the first day of Freshman Orientation at college. Just because the transcript said there was a foreign language, didn’t mean the student had met their standards.

Colleges also want to see a few other things when looking at the transcript, application, recommendation letters, and college essays:college pennant

  • Excellent academics
  • Special talents
  • Community service
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Jobs held

I often recommend showing some of that by attaching an Appendix to a student’s transcripts, listing the curriculum and books read each year, as well as extracurricular activities, honors, sports, community involvement, and so forth, so that colleges can see your student is well-rounded.

What about CLEP, AP, and Dual Enrollment?

By all means have your student take the CLEP exam upon entering college if it is offered. The tests cost, but if a student earns credit you will save money in the end. AP exams are a good idea, if your child is prepared for them. Some homeschool programs offer AP courses. They are a lot of work, but they are excellent preparation for college. The growing trend these days is more toward AP in homeschoolers, and I welcome it; just make sure your child is well-prepared for the AP classes. Don’t pile them on; two a year is sufficient, and honestly, the junior and senior year is the time for those classes–no earlier. Again, we are talking about maturity of the student as well as maturity of the subject matter.

I have written about Dual Enrollment before. There are hazards inherent in such programs, including the fact that your little darling will be spending part of his day in the presence of countless adults on a college campus, while he may not be old enough to drive. Be sure your child has the maturity to be there. Also, be sure that the college he plans to attend will accept the dual credits he is earning.

Also understand that a college-semester math or science class will not cover everything that very same high school class covers. In essence, then, your child will not be learning the same amount as his peers. Whether that sets a strong foundation for college is up to you to decide. Sometimes the “free” tuition in some dual enrollment programs may not turn out to be so advantageous when looking at its down sides. Be wise in your decisions. Yes, Dual Credits seem like a good thing, but there seem to be some risks involved, so just be cautious.

Excellence is the key

In all you plan for your child, do not settle for less than excellence–in curriculum, in classroom opportunities, and in results. If your child is not headed to college, it doesn’t hurt to have a great transcript anyway, because in a few years your child may change his mind, or be required by his employer to take some classes, or just be ready to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive work force. Choose excellence for your child no matter what.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Classical Education, Education, Homeschooling, Parenting

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