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College Prep in High School: A Homeschoolers’ Guide

by David Engle | Aug 09, 2023 | 10 min read

If you have a high school student, let me tell you from experience that it is never too early to start preparing for college. (Especially the saving-money part.) From freshman orientation to graduation four years later, there is always something that you can be doing to help your homeschool student make the transition from high school to college and beyond. And whether this is your first year as the parent of a high schooler or you’re just months away from your child’s graduation, it’s time to think about college prep.

What, exactly, does “college prep” mean? It’s an all-encompassing term that covers not only the lengthy and sometimes-complicated process of actually applying for college but also life lessons that will prepare them to survive on their own for the first time (in most cases). Let’s take a comprehensive look at everything you and your student can do to get ready for college.

Do Some Basic Research

In this case, basic means having a serious talk with your son or daughter about:

  • What kind of career and/or interests they want to pursue and study in college.
  • How far away from home they want to be. If they even want to leave at all.
  • How seriously they are taking their high school education–after all, academic scholarships could be in play.

Let’s say you’ve had a discussion with your daughter, and she wants to major in medicine. Now you know where to focus your search–schools with reputable medical schools and programs. College Navigator has an excellent search engine that allows you to plug in a desired location, programs and majors of interest, and other more specific fields that can help you and your student narrow down the list.

Teach Some Survival Skills

That may sound dramatic, but teaching essential life skills is pretty important for survival. Some kids are just born with “street smarts”, aka common sense, and just know how to do certain tasks and how to figure things out on their own. Others, not so much. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t have the time or patience for those who lack basic survival skills. Fortunately, it’s not too late to teach your kids some life skills. And if you start early enough, they’ll be just fine at college.

  • LaundryEasy to do, yet kids still screw it up. Teach your teen how to sort and separate, how much detergent to use, what each wash cycle means, what goes in the dryer and at what temperature, and how to fold and iron if necessary. It’s also a good idea to teach some basic safety features. You know, like don’t overload the washer, make sure to clean the dryer vent before each use, etc.
  • Cooking: Your student doesn’t need to cook an eight-course meal. But he or she should know how to put together a pot of mac and cheese, grill a burger, and make scrambled eggs. Of course, there are some easy meal solutions like microwaveable dinners (or microwaveable anything) and soups. And the old college stand-bys like canned beef-a-roni and ramen noodles still do the trick. But knowing how to at least cook the basics gives your soon-to-be-college student a leg up.
  • Shopping: Being able to shop smart is an important life skill to have. And it’s also kind of fun…there’s a sense of accomplishment when you’re able to score an awesome deal. But shopping smart isn’t just about saving money, it’s also about knowing what to buy. No matter where your student lives, they will need sheets, blankets, pillows, toiletries, cleaning supplies (in hopes they’ll actually be used), and food. Off-campus housing, however, means they have an entire apartment to furnish too. This is where shopping smart comes in–looking for deals on furniture at consignment shops; bargain prices on marketplace websites; sales on kitchen gadgets, bathroom necessities, and similar items at discount stores like Walmart or Bed Bath & Beyond. Function over fashion, until you can afford otherwise.

Managing Their Time

No matter where your college student lives, they will have plenty to do. Classes, studying, extracurricular activities, newfound friends and socializing, and possibly a job. Not to mention, if they’re living on their own, there are chores to do. It’s like they’re…real adults! The problem is, they haven’t been living like adults because…well…they’re still kids, despite their age. But adulthood will sneak up on them quickly, and kids need to be prepared for all that it requires.

Even with all of these things to do, there is still only so much time to get it all done. Now’s the perfect time to teach time management. Give them extra jobs around the house, have them cook the occasional dinner, and make them responsible for buying groceries. Adding that to their school, homework, after-school activities, friends, family life, and work suddenly makes their days pretty adult-like. You’re an adult with real-life experience, so impart some parental wisdom upon your child by sharing a few of the tips and strategies you use every day. There are also some helpful websites that offer time management skills specifically for kids and teens. They’ll thank you later in life.

OK, now let’s fast-forward to when your high school senior starts getting serious about applying to colleges.

Applying to Colleges

The process of applying to colleges may seem daunting–and it can be, to a degree. But as long as you stay focused and organized, everything will fall into place nicely. Here are a few things to plan for at the beginning of the college application process.

  • SAT/ACT Exams: At this point, your student has probably already taken either the SAT or ACT standardized test. If not, sign them up as soon as possible (though many schools today are “test-optional”, meaning they don’t require SAT or ACT scores for admission) so they have the test results in time for application windows.
  • College Choices: By now, your child has probably created a list of colleges and universities to which they’d like to apply. Ideally, students should consider applying to anywhere between 5 and 10 schools. Some experts recommend applying to:
    • Two “reach” schools, colleges that they’d love to attend but might be a bit out of reach
    • Four “match” schools, colleges where they’ve got a real solid chance of getting accepted
    • Two “safety”, colleges that aren’t necessarily at the top of their list but where they’re very confident they’ll be accepted
  • College Visits: Once they’ve established a list of schools, go see them up close and personal! College visits are the best opportunities to explore the campus first-hand, speak to current students and faculty, tour class buildings, check out the living situation, and see what the surrounding area is like. Most colleges host open houses during the fall; they also are very amenable to separate personal tours.

Application Deadlines

Once you and your high school senior (or junior…never too early to get started!) visit schools and narrow down their choices, it’s time to apply! The first decision you need to make is…when you want a decision made! Meaning, does your child want an Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), regular decision, or rolling admission?

  • Early Decision: This is a binding decision, meaning that if your child is accepted into the school on an ED application, he or she must attend that college (unless the financial aid package is not sufficient). The deadline for applying for Early Decision is generally either November 1 or November 15, though many schools also offer a second ED period, which is usually in early to mid-January.
  • Early Action: Early Action, on the other hand, is not binding, and your child still has until May 1 to decide which college to attend. This buys a little bit more time in the decision-making and financial aid process. The deadline for applying for Early Action is also either November 1 or November 15.
  • Regular Decision: This is a standard application deadline for students not interested in any type of early action. Most college deadlines to apply for regular decisions span from mid-November through mid-March.
  • Rolling Admission: Some schools offer this as an option. This is a flexible six-month application window followed by a decision from the school between four and eight weeks later. Rolling admissions tend to benefit early applicants, however, because admission stops once the school has enough students accepted. This window lasts until around May 1.

Note: Be sure to send all your applications together in case your child is rejected from his or her top choice. That way, no deadlines are missed when applying to backup schools.

It sounds like a lot to cover, but you’ve done all of it yourself, so your son or daughter can definitely handle it as well. Bridgeway Academy can help your student get a bit of a head start, too. Our dual enrollment program gives high school students the opportunity to earn a full year’s worth of college credits while they’re still in high school! Bridgeway offers more than 40 fully accredited college-level courses, all taught by actual college professors, to give students a taste of college education–while they earn credits they can put toward college upon graduation. If your student starts our dual enrollment program during junior year, he or she can even earn an Associate degree upon high school graduation!

Prepping for college is an exciting time–not just for your child but for the whole family. Enjoy the experience while helping your freshman-to-be figure out where he or she wants to be and teaching them invaluable skills along the way.

Financial Aid

Since most colleges in America are quite expensive for the average working family, you may need to consider financial aid packages and scholarships before you and your child complete the college applications. The window to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) generally opens on October 1. The FAFSA, upon completion, will determine your family’s eligibility for loans, work study, and grants. [International students interested in financial aid should consult with the U.S. Department of Education.]

The benefits of FAFSA? It’s free, and it only takes about 20 minutes to complete online. And it will tell you approximately how much money you may be able to get to help pay for college–and believe it or not, most families are eligible for some type of financial aid. It’s definitely worth the little time it takes.

As for scholarships–there are literally thousands and thousands of them out there for the taking. You just need to know where to find them. Academic advisors, colleges, and various websites (, for instance) can provide lengthy lists of scholarships that can range from a couple of hundred dollars to tens of thousands and may only require an application and/or a brief essay for consideration. Keep applying for scholarships throughout your child’s senior year–you may be shocked at how much money your student can grab from these opportunities.

Time to Apply

Once you’ve taken care of financial aid applications, it’s time to apply to schools. There are a couple of ways to go about this. Your child can apply directly through individual schools’ websites or apps. Or they can use the popular and convenient Common app, which boasts more than 1,000 member universities and allows students to apply to multiple schools in one place while providing step-by-step guidance and advice.

Regardless of how your scholar applies, he or she will need some important information and materials before proceeding, such as:

  • Transcripts
  • Standardized test scores (if applicable)
  • Recommendation letters from teachers, advisors, counselors, coaches, employers, etc. (Pro tip: do NOT submit recommendation letters from family, even if they were instructors)
  • Essays
  • Personal information
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Awards

Request any documents that you need at least a few weeks ahead of any application deadlines.

Read This, Homeschoolers!

As a homeschooling family getting ready to apply to colleges, it’s worth noting that homeschoolers must be extra diligent and organized! Why? Because, as a homeschooling parent, you may not have the luxury of asking a guidance counselor to email a transcript or having a teacher write a letter of recommendation. Now, if you homeschool with Bridgeway Academy, it can be that simple, depending on whether you’re enrolled in a program that offers record-keeping and support. Our academic advisors are happy to provide you with transcripts and other records you need for the college admissions process.

That said, it’s up to you as the parent to keep detailed records for each class, assessment scores, writing samples, projects, progress reports, instructor information (whether that’s you or someone else), and other student work to be able to show what your child has learned.

Homeschoolers also must demonstrate more proof of readiness for college. Why? Because, due to the wide variety of homeschooling programs and curricula and assignments and assessments, there’s no actual measuring stick when it comes to determining how ready a homeschooled student is for college. While that may seem a bit unfair, it’s the way it is. So it’s critical that homeschoolers offer more context around their education than their public school peers do.

On the other hand, homeschooling often proves quite beneficial in the eyes of admissions officers at colleges and universities. Again, this will need context, but having successfully completed a homeschool education may demonstrate a strong sense of independence, experience in new and different environments and situations, and even a broader scope of knowledge.

While filling out applications, your student may encounter specific questions surrounding homeschooling, where they need to provide detail about the structure and goal of your specific homeschool program. Also, some colleges still require official standardized test scores such as the SAT or ACT. Check with your local school system to see where and when your child can take the test if his or her school choices require it. Additionally, colleges may want to better understand why your family opted to choose homeschooling–so, be prepared to explain.

Regardless of what schools ask you as a homeschooling family, this is where accreditation plays a huge role. If you enroll with Bridgeway Academy, you’re all set! Why? Because part of our mission is to ensure that our homeschool programs have the accreditation your child deserves. College-wise, accreditation may also open the door to potential NCAA funding and scholarships reserved for students attending an accredited school. Some universities and colleges won’t even consider homeschool classes as valid without accreditation. This not only may impact your child’s chance for a scholarship but also admission into the school. If you’re not enrolled in our homeschool academy, you can simply purchase our Homeschool Accreditation program. This provides accreditation as well as grade reporting, transcripts, credit tracking, and record-keeping.

Homeschoolers should also strongly consider community college courses while still in high school. Not only does this allow your student to earn both high school and college credits, but it also demonstrates how well they can handle college-level coursework. Bridgeway Academy offers dual enrollment that accomplishes this goal. And it even allows your child to earn an Associate degree while still in high school!

Bridgeway Has Your Back

If you’re homeschooling with Bridgeway Academy and preparing your child for the entire college process, you’re in good hands! Your child’s academic advisor is a valuable resource and will help you compile everything you need. This includes transcripts, grade support, record-keeping, and guidance. As mentioned previously, if you’re not enrolled in our academy, we offer a Homeschool Accreditation program, which includes:

  • Expert advisor support throughout the homeschool year
  • A complete year of record-keeping, including report cards, transcripts, permanent records, honor roll certificates, and other recognitions
  • Elite accreditation recognized by colleges and universities around the world
  • Placement testing
  • Homeschool resources such as tips and tools, homeschool updates, and parent training
  • And more!

Call Bridgeway Academy today at (888) 303-7512 to speak with a homeschool expert about our high school options and how to best prepare your student for life after graduation. Best of luck with all of your child’s college prep!

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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