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Educational Settings — Homeschooling

Gifted Homeschoolers & College
(excerpted and adapted from Creative Home Schooling:
A Resource Guide for Smart Families
by Lisa Rivero, Great Potential Press, 2002)

Once your homeschooled child begins to do high-school level work (at any age), you'll need to be even more diligent about keeping the records necessary for when and if your child applies to college. The definitive guides for homeschoolers preparing for college are Cafi Cohen's "And What About College?" How Homeschooling Leads to Admissions to the Best Colleges and Universities, second edition, and, also by Cafi Cohen, Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook: Preparing 12- to 18-Year-Olds for Success in the College of Their Choice. Cohen suggests that homeschooling families begin early to build a "database" of letters of recommendation, information about workshops and courses taken, reading lists, learning logs, work samples and other materials that can later be used to form either a portfolio or "home-brewed" transcript.

While many homeschool guides reassure parents that homeschooled children can attend college, few acknowledge the fact that what college or university a child wants to attend has a big impact on the kinds of preparation and records that will be necessary. If your child has specific colleges in mind, he can make a project of contacting the schools to see how many homeschoolers they admit each year, what their requirements are (including standardized tests) and perhaps even the names of current students who were homeschooled for your child to interview. This gives your child an important start in feeling a sense of ownership for his decisions regarding higher educational choices, and may prevent unforeseen difficulties or anxiety.

Many homeschooled children enter college a year or two early. Highly and profoundly gifted children and their families often must consider the possibility of much earlier college entrance. Some exceptionally gifted homeschool students are ready and eager to delve into high-school-level work before middle-school age. Such students often progress rapidly through a high-school-level curriculum and have completed their secondary education by age fifteen or even younger. Parents are then faced with the question, "What next?"

Home for High School

Although parents may think college is the only logical next step for a child who has completed high-school-level work, there are many other options. Internships in possible career areas, a year abroad as an exchange student, self-study of specific interests and extensive family travel may fill the early teen years with as much challenge as a college classroom. Part-time classes at a local community college or university may be better suited to a fifteen-year-old than full-time college life.

Linda, a homeschool mother of six children, found that waiting to enter college was the answer for her son:

We are very glad that we kept our son at home until he was eighteen before sending him off to college. We are also very glad that we homeschooled him. Homeschooling allowed him the freedom to study what he was ready to study, without having to worry about what the school offered at this age, or how he fit in with the other students.

Since we homeschooled high school, we didn't have to deal with the social aspects of "entering high school" as much as we did with entering college. When you start high school, of course, has a direct effect on when you start college. Social readiness for university life is a complicated issue. Our son was what I would consider a pretty mature young man. He never had the rebellion problems that many teens go through. He related well to older students and adults, although he was somewhat shy. How do you decide when he is ready to "leave the nest" and go on to full-time college? A student entering college early will have to deal with a society of "peers" who are all a few years older. What will they think of him? Will he be a normal part of their social groups, or will he be "the little smart kid" who doesn't really fit in?

As we considered all of these issues, I think we started out with the idea that we should go as fast as we could. By going to college early, he would finish early and have a few years' "jump" on life. This attitude changed over time. Down the road, what difference does it make if you are 25 or 27, 34 or 36? We decided that there are advantages to having a child at home longer, with greater educational options. Over the last few years, we watched him grow and mature and become solid in who he is. Instead of going off to college, as many do, with many questions about his own identity and what is important in life, he is now a confident young man who knows who he is and what he believes.

— Linda, homeschool parent

In the above example, we can note the following advantages of homeschooling a gifted child until "normal" college age:

  • Avoidance of being socially out of sync with older students

  • More freedom of study

  • More time for maturity before leaving home

  • More time spent with family

Possible disadvantages of not seeking early college admission are these:

  • Lack of like-ability/like-interest learning groups

  • Difficulty in meeting high-level learning needs

  • Delay in beginning advanced study and career

  • Avoidance of healthy risk-taking, both academically and socially

In Re-Forming Gifted Education: Matching the Program to the Child, Karen Rogers (Great Potential Press, 2002) offers explanations of several education options, such as early college entrance, grade skipping, moving fast through a curriculum for a specific subject, and the use of Talent Search Programs and other enrichment opportunities. The book also provides research findings on the effectiveness of each option, describes the kind of child who is the best candidate for each option, and advises how to monitor educational choices to ensure that they are working as they should. Karen Rogers recommends that parents consider carefully the pros and cons of early college entrance and other educational decisions for their children.

Early College

Some homeschool families find that early college entrance, either part-time or full-time, helps their child to learn at an appropriate level of challenge and interest. Loren began homeschooling midway through his third-grade year, and continued to learn at home until the end of seventh grade. His mother writes that at that point, she didn't feel she could teach him fast enough or at the level he needed. "I'm smart," she writes, "but he's very, very smart":

Loren started at the community college two miles from our house when he was thirteen, taking a class or two at a time. At college, he was never bored. There was never a hint that he needed Ritalin, as had been suggested before by institutional school personnel. The college pace and higher level learning were just what he needed.

We're undecided about Loren's future educational plans. He may get a two-year degree from the community college, then go on to a state college. At age fifteen, he has still not been exposed to enough fields that suit his interest and temperament. He needs to be exposed to higher-level math, more physics, higher-level astronomy, philosophy, and theology before he makes any sort of career choices.

My advice for a homeschool parent who thinks that early college may be an option for a gifted child is to go for it! Don't be intimidated. The beginning undergraduate level is often like a fast-paced high school.

— Paula, homeschool parent

Early college entrance allows Loren to broaden his field of study, offering him a fuller understanding of some of the careers and disciplines that will be available to him. For other students, like Kerri, age fifteen, early college entrance allows them to focus on a specific area of strength in greater depth. Kerri's mother explains:

Ever since she read The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How To Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education [Lowry House, 1998] by Grace Llewyllen, at age ten, our oldest daughter, Kerri, had been asking us to allow her to leave school so that she could have more time to focus on her writing projects. We finally agreed at the end of her sixth grade year. Working at home, she was happily engaged, but she also yearned for a peer writing workshop so she could grow as a writer.

We began to look around for "free university" and adult school classes, and Kerri selected a six-week Personal Essay course taught by a writer friend of mine in the noncredit division of the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach. The other students in the class, all middle-aged professionals, were kind and not at all condescending to Kerri, but she was hoping for something more rigorous.

On the morning of the last Personal Essay class, I happened to see the director of the non-credit division in the hallway outside the classroom. When I explained that my daughter was enrolled in a noncredit class, she suggested that Kerri apply to Penn's Young Scholar Program, which enables talented high school students to take university classes for credit. She didn't seem fazed when I told her that my daughter, who looked older, was in seventh grade, and that she was a homeschooled. "We've had exceptional students in the past," she said, and introduced me to the program director.

The application was daunting: a call for SAT scores, a GPA transcript, letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors. I e-mailed the director, explaining that Kerri had not taken the SATs, and that we had no guidance counselor or GPA. Again I was told not to worry, so we set about creating a narrative transcript that explained and described her work in all subjects. We included work samples and got a few extra recommendation letters, including one from her choir director, who emphasized Kerri's maturity.

That fall Kerri was admitted to the program, which came with some great perks, including a student ID card that admits her to the library and other university facilities, and an e-mail account with server space for a web page. For her first class she selected "Creative Writing" from a list of Freshman English offerings. It was my idea that she should take the lowest level writing class first, just to be safe.

As it turned out, I'd had little to worry about in terms of her ability to perform on a college level. She was disappointed at the caliber of writing put forth by the other students, mostly non-English majors who were taking it as an introduction to writing. But she had a wonderful time getting to know the director of the Kelly Writers' House, an accomplished young poet, and meeting dozens of the visiting poets and novelists who do readings and residencies at the House.

Some of Kerri's work in that class won honorable mention in the university's annual poetry competition and was published by the student literary magazine, as well as an independent literary magazine recommended by her teacher.

The following semester she chose a course called, "Women in 20th Century Fiction." It was a rigorous class, well-taught by a graduate student in the English Department. Students were required to write three drafts of each paper, do a class presentation with a partner, and post a weekly series of comments to the class listserv. She loved it, and thrived, but she also worked harder than she's ever had to in her life.

At the end of the semester, emboldened by her 4.0 GPA, we petitioned the university to allow her to take two classes. (The official policy is that students may take only one.) Our request was approved, and next semester Kerri will take an upper-level poetry writing course and a linguistics course.

Although she is succeeding and really enjoying her life as a part-time college student, neither we nor Kerri have any plans for her to matriculate early. We want her to have time to enjoy the rest of her childhood and to pursue her many interests at her own pace.

— Maggie, homeschool parent

Is Kerri a homeschooled high school student taking concurrent college classes, or is she a part-time college student who just happens to be fifteen? The answer is probably somewhere in between, as her family, like other homeschool families, seek creative solutions to the needs of atypical learners.

Kerri's story shows that parents can start with personal contacts as ways to find out about college courses and programs for young students. Parents who do not have an affiliation with a college or university can ask their friends with college-age children for names of professors or college officials who may be willing to discuss early entrance options. Parents can also call the admissions department of local colleges for more information on policies for early admission.

Some colleges and universities offer full-time early entrance programs for young students. These programs offer support for the transition to higher level education as well as a chance for gifted students to learn and interact with a true peer group. The Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC) offers information on early entrance college programs. For an updated listing of such programs, see ERIC's publication, "Early Entrance to College" (http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/faq/gt-early.html.).