How Should Non-traditional Homeschoolers Navigate the High School Years?

We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming about how to log Victoria’s high school years now that she’s in 9th grade.

There’s so much conflicting information out there about high school, homeschool and transcripts, especially when it comes to eclectic homeschoolers and unschoolers.

It’s absolutely important for homeschoolers to reproduce typical transcripts.

It’s absolutely unimportant for homeschoolers to reproduce typical transcripts.

You could go nuts trying to follow all of the advice out there.

Ultimately, I decided that it has always worked so well for us to homeschool in our own way that it made sense to handle the teen years and transcripts in our own way too.

I have compiled all sorts of links and quotes here that helped me solidify our goals.  I’m also sharing how we’re handling transcripts in case it helps others.

I’ve written about the various ways of compiling transcripts (such as traditional and narrative styles) and have compiled lots of links to free transcript templates and information from colleges here.

The first conclusion I’ve come to is that it is not necessary to try to suddenly pretend we’re traditional schoolers.

Here’s a wonderful point from an unschooling list archive about unschoolers and college:

Kelly Lovejoy’s response to this comment:

As I said earlier, I will be putting a transcript together (probably along with a narrative) for her and just wondering what I’ll put on it, if she doesn’t complete more “traditional” classes. I know, not very unschooly of me, but I just think that a more traditional route might be easier for school people to understand if she does decide to pursue college at some point.

So….your goal is have her unique learning experience look like every other traditional high school student’s in the US?*WHY* would that be appealing to a university? What about that would make the college stop and think, “Hmmm…maybe *this* student would be a good match?”

If her transcript looks like every other transcript that passes across the admissions desk, WHY would the admissions officer look twice? Why would he look once? It’s just the same ol’ same ol’—nothing new. Nothing inspired. Nothing diverse.

Colleges and universities are looking for students who SPARKLE! Make her transcript sparkle! SHOW that she’s different! Unique! An *honor* to have her as a student there!

They don’t NEED another “A” student cheerleader president of the student body. Seriously! Those are a dime a dozen.

What they want is diversity. What does *YOUR* child have to offer the school? What does *your* child have that NO other applicant has?

Submit THAT!

I talked to one unschooling mother on a public Facebook group about compiling transcripts, and she happily informed me that she’d pretty much made everything up on her daughter’s transcripts. She said she listed textbooks she found online, books that were in the house that her daughter had only browsed, and so on.  She was unapologetic, blaming colleges’ outdated system and their ignorance about real learning, and reported that her daughter was accepted with no problems.

I am so not comfortable with that — for so many reasons.  I value honesty and don’t don’t want to teach my kids to lie and cheat, for two.  And also:

I talked to the admissions officer at Stanford University. He told me that if an unschooled kid made up a transcript that made it look like they’d taken classes and gotten grades, and if he found out later that it was all made up, that they’d consider the kid had gotten in fraudulently and they’d evict him from the school. He said he wanted the truth about what the kid had been busy doing during those years, not something made up. He said that courses listed and graded by a homeschooling parent didn’t mean much to him anyway because ALL homeschooling parents pretty much give their kids all “A’s.”

AND he said he’d be FAR more likely to take a close look at a kid without a traditional transcript, too.

This wise mama went on to say:

When we chose to unschool, we chose to NOT school and that meant we don’t get the trappings of school. So – to later make up something that implies that we DID school, that is clearly dishonest. I’d far rather have my kid never go to college then to go based on a complete fabrication like that.

But it really is not a choice of “lie or miss out” – to create a transcript that describes what the child REALLY did, that is honest and can be pretty wonderful, is very possible. It doesn’t have to list courses he didn’t take with grades he didn’t earn and it doesn’t have to be done under the pretense that he “did school.”

If you ask them, colleges will say, “Yes, he must have a transcript.” But the transcript can very often be a narrative, not a course/grade listing. Even when they want it in a more traditional format, it can be without grades, just a list of subjects that the kid has spent time learning something about during the previous few years. It certainly does not have to be a course list divided into semesters with credits and grades EVEN if the college says that is what they want, when they actually get the application, they’ll review it. IF the student has high SAT or ACT scores, they will barely look at it.

There ARE universities that will not take homeschoolers based on coursework at all – unschoolers or otherwise. University of California is one of those. They have coursework that is required and it has to be pre-certified that it meets their requirements. This means they have to have, in advance, approved the textbooks and subject matter for the courses. Most public schools have had their courses approved and some private schools. But there is no way an unschooler is going to qualify based on “coursework”. Still, unschoolers get into UCLA and Berkeley and other UC’s all the time. They often do it based on high SAT scores and they also do it based on community college coursework. And all schools have a “special admissions” category.

When you step outside the mainstream, it is not honest to suddenly jump into the middle of the river and pretend you’ve been swimming along with everybody else all those years. And, it is the nonmainstream activities that will get a child noticed anyway – pretending to have done coursework just like everybody else makes the kid look just like everybody else. Not an advantage for getting into a prestigious university and not necessary.

-Pam Sorooshian

(emphasis mine)


So anyway…

What are we doing?  Well, we’re doing a mixture of everything.

My goals and considerations include:

  • Victoria is considering medical school and Harvard, and I don’t want to find out at the 11th hour that her particular high school path got in the way of whatever college path she decides on.
  • We have never been traditional school-at-home homeschoolers and none of us have any desire to change our lives now.
  • Eclectic, interest-led HSing in our family has led to kids who love to learn, have rich lives full of unique experiences, and consistently score miles higher on standardized tests in almost every subject.
  • Victoria will need some rigorous classes in order to get into med school or a school like Harvard.  That doesn’t mean they have to be taken in a boring, traditional way, though.

So what we’re doing, together, as a team:

  1. Victoria is continuing to read through the American Lit list of books, authors and short stories that we developed at the beginning of the year.
  2. She’s logging those books that she reads, in addition to logging the many fiction and non-fiction books she’s reading on her own for pleasure.
  3. I have started a google document where I am compiling lists of reading and activities she’s doing in various subjects.
  4. We are aiming for the basic subjects covered per year of: 4 years of assorted sciences (including chemistry, biology and a combination of half credits for others), 4 years of assorted math (starting with algebra), 4 years of foreign language (not all colleges require this much), 4 years of English, 4 years of social studies (world history, American history and the others will probably be half credits such as women’s studies and government).
  5. We are logging her many extracurricular activities like acting in the Wilder Pageant, volunteering at historic sites with the family, entering photography exhibits, etc.
  6. She is allowed to use whatever means she enjoys in order to fulfill the requirements.  For instance, she can use Khan Academy, CK-12 flexbooks, library books and iPod apps to cover the learning in Algebra.  Any combination of textbooks, living books, you-tube videos, games, apps, magazines, solid Wikipedia articles, etc. can be used.  Good mastery and enough hours of study are the only things that matter.
  7. She is planning on taking PSEO classes in her junior and senior years of high school at local colleges, which will provide additional transcript credits from an outside source.
  8. She is planning on taking some free college level classes through organizations like Coursera (see links below).
  9. She tends to test very well, so her SAT scores should also be very helpful on her applications.
  10. We are researching the specific requirements for each of the colleges that she is most interested in, to be sure we are on track for meeting their requirements.  I cannot recommend this step enough.

For the purpose of our records, I am assigning one credit for 150 hours of study on that subject and a thorough understanding of the topic. One half credit is assigned for 75 hours of study.

It is not enough to spend 150 hours reading about black holes (one of Toria’s fascinations) and then count it as a credit in basic astronomy, for instance.  If she rounds that out with reading through a basic astronomy textbook or reads a good assortment of general astronomy books so she has really mastered astronomy in general and then supplements that with lots of reading about black holes, that definitely counts.

I feel pretty confident that we can easily satisfy both her need for a rigorous high school education with her desire to continue being in charge of her own education.

This is a kid who got a blood typing kit for Christmas and considered it one of her favorite presents, after all.  😉

So far, this is working remarkably well.

I’ve found that my lifelong learner reads so much and educates herself so well that it is not a problem to come up with the requirement of minimum hours and mastery.

If anything, I’m worried about the appearance that we’ll be padding her transcript, since she will easily earn many credits in the arts and sciences every year with her interests in psychology, astronomy, anatomy, photography, visual arts and more, not to mention her fascination with American government, world issues, women’s issues and social justice.  Careful documentation of her resources and her own application and test scores should show that she has earned every credit and more, though.

She is not as enthusiastic about the math portion of her studies, but she understands the need to do it to attain her goals.  She doesn’t mind math so much via Khan Academy and she’s willing to do the work because there’s a reason to.

Obviously, this is a very individualized plan. What works best for every student will vary.  We may go with a slightly different plan for Anna, then Jack, Alex and eventually Fiona.

I hope it shows just how flexible we homeschoolers can be in navigating the homeschool high school years, though.

As nontraditional homeschoolers, our choices are not merely to adopt some sort of traditional high school model or to make everything up, and our kids don’t have to sacrifice scholarships or college choices because of the way they learn in their high school years.

These articles may also be of interest:

Free homeschool diploma forms online

Design your own curriculum: 9th grade language arts

Free 76-page grammar guide available from Capella University

18 Ways to help your teen test well

CK12 Foundation offers complete math and science textbooks online — free

50 Fabulous electives for homeschooled high schoolers

Coursera offers hundreds of the world’s best college courses free

“Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe unveils anti-college scholarship program

Cursive now required on the PSAT and SAT

100 Fantastic college scholarships that are open to homeschoolers: 1-10

Free science DVD’s for educators

Survive Bio offers free biology games, flashcards, videos, tests and more

Free 52-week Western history video course offered online

Teens can win $500 helping to end childhood hunger

IHA offers free U.S. History textbook online

Crash Courses use fun free videos to teach kids about science and history

Purdue offering high school level computer programming course online (FREE)

Free algebra games, lesson plans and curricula for all ages

Teens can win $10,000 in Feed the World competition

32 Science books that are free on Kindle

21 History books and documents that are free on Kindle

21 American Literature classics that are free on Kindle

Over 4,000 science books now free online

21 American Literature classics that are free on Kindle

A Montessori education for high school years

10 Fabulous free educational apps for kids

New teen writing network launches

Homeschoolers are eligible for Duck Tape’s “Stuck at Prom” $5,000 scholarship

Teens can hone English and math skills with the SAT question of the day

Fabulous FREE resources for Spanish language learning for all ages

Free Japanese lessons offered online

Authors write letters to their teen selves in moving new site

Homeschool 101: Where can I find standards and skills lists for every grade?

Homeschool 101: What tests can I use for standardized testing?

Homeschool 101: How do I teach my older kids with little ones around?

Absolutely free curricula for science, math, history and more!

Over 100 free psychology classes and textbooks online

Free guide helps autistic students prepare for college life

Excellent free astronomy classes and lesson plans online

Homeschool 101: But how will you teach Calculus?

New chemistry kit caters to homeschoolers

Class rings for homeschoolers

Students can use free public domain classes to learn over 40 languages

More than mowing the lawn: Chores help teens prepare for life

Also see my Homeschooling High School Pinterest board for lots more.

What about you?  What are you doing to compile transcripts?  Have you changed the way you homeschool to appeal to colleges?

13 thoughts on “How Should Non-traditional Homeschoolers Navigate the High School Years?

  1. Wow! I enjoyed reading that even though my kids are just 7 and 8. One wants to be an engineer at this stage.

    We’re in Australia and things are different here, but there is a lot in your article to help Aussie parents see that they can continue unschooling, natural learning, project based learning, delight directed studies etc. throughout highschool. And have an honest, unique transcript to show for it.

    Thanks for sharing your thought process and decisions, I think it will help a few people I know.


  2. I think that I was meant to see this today. I have been struggling with the idea of homeschooling through high school. I know that it is the right thing to do, but I was afraid. I was afraid that my eclectic, relaxed, non-traditional ways would ruin it. I was afraid to stay the same. Thank you, for giving me the confidence to keep going. Thank you for the wonderful links. I look forward to looking through them in the coming weeks.


  3. We’re in New Zealand so , like Vanessa, a different system again. I have two in university now and it is so good to see the message getting out that homeschoolers don’t have to sell out to get into university. Yes, you do need to be aware of admission requirements (but there are usually lots of ways of meeting those) and record keeping is more important during the high school years. The other thing to consider is that getting admitted to university is only half the battle. Doing well there and actually learning are certainly important. My two have both been amazed at how many of their traditonally schooled peers seem to have burnt out or can’t be bothered. They don’t regularly attend classes, don’t bother reading the assigned material (let alone anything for interest), only start essays the night before they are due, go out drinking heavily the night before tests etc etc. Once they are in the door at university a work ethic and a little common sense go a long way 🙂


  4. Thanks for putting this all together, Alicia. I emailed it to myself, so as I put together the next Ambleside study year for my daughter, I’ll have something to come back to to help fill in the blanks. 🙂


  5. Lots of food for thought. I struggle with how much to stay true to our eclectic bent and how much to tweak what we normally do so it will follow at least a little of the trodden path but I am also tempted to take a complete detour and just go completely non-traditional too because it’s so much more appealing! 🙂 Thank you for writing this.


  6. Hi Alicia!

    Great article! Thank you for writing it!
    I have an 8th grader this year and transcripts are heavy on my mind.
    Is there a way I can e-mail it or Pin it?
    I’d like to save it as a resource.

    Blair Loder


    • Thanks Blair! As for pinning it, I have the pinterest toolbar so I just pin articles as I find them. I don’t have a pin button on the blog but if you go to my Pinterest high school board (in the article), I do have this article pinned there and you can repin it from there.

      I should add a pin button I suppose, but with a hubby recovering from hip replacement surgery, a case of the flu and five kids with cabin fever, it’s way on the back burner for now! 🙂


  7. Pingback: Non-Traditional Homeschoolers and High School

  8. Discovered your blog and am reading backwards. Thanks for sharing – we are starting our homeschool journey.

    One thought to add PATIENT CARE Experience! Volunteer at nursing homes, PSEO an EMT class and then ride along, shadow drs and PAs. Good luck to you.


  9. Thank you so much for sharing! We began home schooling about 10 years ago and followed a somewhat traditional/classical pattern. Just recently, I noticed my oldest was becoming apathetic and it was due to a lack of interest and motivation. This has led us to a child-led learning/delight driven/ unschooling way of life.

    I gave my two high schoolers the state requirements for graduation (we live in the “wonderfully regulated” state of PA) and told them they can meet those requirements however they wanted to. They are taking a Coursera chemistry class, one is doing VideoText’s complete algebra because she wants to be finished it in one year and earn 2 credits for both Alg I and II. The oldest is rediscovering his passion for reading and they are both determining their own weekly schedule which they email to me.

    It’s been both exciting and scary! We have 6 children, all unschooling for the most part. Balancing my day between all of their interests can be wearisome IF they don’t have any structure, therefore I cannot say we are “radical unschoolers.” Anywho, thanks for allowing me to ramble. Not too many folks I can share with. All my home schooling friends are still traditionally h’schooing and look at me as if I’ve stepped into the darkside 😐


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