Homeschool College Prep: Have a 4-year Plan
What is Homeschool College Prep?
There are two main components of preparing for college as a homeschooler. Homeschool college prep involves:
- Studying the things you are “supposed to know” before entering college
- Passing a college entrance exam
What is a 4-year Plan?
We are talking about what your learner does, academically, during the “high school” years. Grades 9-12.
Colleges look at your high school transcript and what happened during these 4 years. What happened before high school won’t be seen on your college application.
We recommend using the younger years (K-8) to figure out what your learner likes and what they are good at. Then use this information to put together a plan for high school (grades 9-12). Don’t just continue to explore random interests during high school. Make a plan, follow it as best you can, and change the plan when it stops working. Learners headed to college will need to fit in to that school’s particular system, and they need experience with learning the system of being educated, in addition to being educated. Education and education systems are very different things. Your homeschool can and should have a system for the high school years: it’s called a 4-year plan.
What is a Homeschool 4-year Plan for Homeschool College Prep?
It’s not about what you do. It’s about what you say you do!
Make a 4-year plan and follow it. Change it. Fine. Whatever happens, happens.
The important thing is that you, the parent, need to keep track of what happens. Colleges are expecting a transcript of what happens during high school. Not a perfect student. It’s not good enough to just know everything and be brilliant! It’s totally good enough to have a transcript showing that your child has done the basic requirements.
Most parents are shocked that they can create a transcript. I remember my first business, I made a sale of a chemical product, and I wanted to be paid. The customer said, “Well, send me an invoice.” So I typed their name and address, my name and address, and an amount due into the computer. I drew some boxes around the information. I put the word INVOICE at the top. It looked like and invoice, and therefore it was. I sent it out, and the customer paid promptly. It had never previously occurred to me that I could just make up an invoice and have it be “official.” Guess what? All forms are just made up by some person, much like you, who probably isn’t any more official than you are.
That being said, just get a free, online template for a high school transcript. It’s a popular web search these days.
How Do I Get Started?
Start with blank paper and pen!
Make a list of the subjects you are considering. Math, science, history, writing, reading, art, economics, musical instruments, etc. All the traditional and nontraditional learning activities that will be called courses on the transcript. It’s fine to be really general at this point. For example, does your learner love math and science? Or does your learner tolerate math and science only under certain circumstances? Are they a history buff? An artist? Into creative writing, creating poetry, or web blogging?
Make a grid or list of which courses you might take each semester or quarter over the 4 years of high school. Again, you can be general. Math every semester for 4 years is a good answer. Math just sometimes only because you know it’s good for you in the long run is also a good answer. Be realistic. Make a plan of the courses your learner would actually enjoy taking.
Just do it. A bad plan is better than no plan. Because you can always make a bad plan better.
Now Comes the Reality Check
Do a time check. How much time might you estimate spending on each subject per week? Over how many weeks? Does it add up? Don’t cram a year of subjects into a semester. Make sure you have enough subjects to occupy your learner’s time.
Do a college prep check. Are the courses you have planned in line with the reading, writing, and arithmetic expected for college entrance? Check with local school regulations (Common Core vs NGSS in the USA), a local school district, the NCAA (core requirements), and nearby community colleges admissions offices as to what types of courses are normally expected from high school graduates.
Add or remove classes from your list as appropriate. Make sure it times out right. Make sure you have the types of classes normally taken before college. Other things may have to be deleted from the plan to make it all fit.
You may repeat this process a few times, and certainly you will make updates as you progress. Have a plan, yet be flexible. You can always change the plan. Having a plan is the important part, not completing it.
What About Entrance Exams?
Do you plan on your learner getting into college to apply all they learned in high school? Did you allow time to prepare for college entrance exams? It’s much different than learning the things you are “supposed to know,” and you should start with some basic SAT or ACT prep the first year of high school. College entrance exams are more about strategy than knowledge, and they require a totally different type of preparation.
Preparing for entrance exams is a must-have in your 4-year plan. But it probably won’t appear on your transcript. This is maybe the one major difference between a 4-year plan and your 4-year transcript. For example, my geometry teacher always spent 15 minutes on Tuesdays doing SAT math prep. This was some of the best spent time of my entire week, yet my high school transcript just said that I passed a geometry class.
Basically, there is no “credit” for entrance exam prep, per se. But you can totally work it into other subjects for which you do get “credit” on your transcript. Start early, do just a little bit at a time, and your learner will be way ahead of the class in preparing for entrance exams. Be clever. Two birds, one stone.
When Do I Get Started?
Early. Before the high school years start, if that hasn’t happened already.
Make your 4-year plan before the 4 years of high school starts. Then update it every year or more oftern.
Does it Look Like a Transcript?
Periodically convert your 4 year plan into a “mock” transcript. In addition to what you have done, type in to your transcript the remaining classes you intend to take.
Does it look like a transcript? Ask a friend or survey your family. Does it appear reasonably official?
Now check closely like a college admissions officer. Does it have all the basic requirements? Did you totally forget to list your math classes? Oops. Revise it. Be sure to work out a complete mock transcript, years before the classes are actually completed.
Give Me a Specific Plan, Please!
Let’s talk about a specific plan for high school math and science. Sounds scary! Don’t go there, and don’t get lost in the details. Focus on the big picture, let whatever happens happen, and be sure to document it in your ever-changing 4-year plan and the transcript.
Here’s what to consider in 8th grade, the year before high school begins.
A 4-year Math Plan
To algebra, or not to algebra so much? It’s a Shakespeare quote, I think.
Is your learner going to attack algebra with vigor the first year of high school? Or perhaps he or she has already done some algebra in 8th grade. If so, plan on taking algebra 1 and algebra 2 as early as it fits into your schedule, probably 9th and 10th grades or earlier. Keep math blocks open in your 4-year plan for the future years. Don’t over plan, just progress. After algebra 2, your learner will know if they want to pursue advanced topics like geometry, trig, stats, and/or calculus. Don’t force these advanced subjects, yet rather flow into them because you finished algebra earlier than most. This path might suggest your learner could go to college to get a BS (Bachelor’s in Science), engineering, or pre-med degree. Plan your other science classes accordingly.
Does your learner fear math? They do need to know math, yet it’s totally fine if they never get past the arithmetic and pre-algebra stage of the game. It’s not for everybody. Don’t give up on math, though. You really do need to have solid arithmetic for college.
When I went to college, I had lots of friends that were really good at math. We were in the engineering school. I had lots of friends who weren’t very good at math. They took business math courses. We all did fine. College-level math means drastically different things for different people. We are not all born to be engineers. Fortunately.
Example of engineering math: “I built a canoe out of concrete. You* business students couldn’t do that”
Example of business math: “I need 90 credits to graduate. You* engineers need 136.”
*Note the extreme judgement found in the word “you.” We call this college humor.
A 4-year Science Plan
Is your learner interested in science? Might they go to college to get a BS (Bachelor’s in Science), engineering, or pre-med degree? They will need a solid science background. Not into science? You can go to community college, business school, get a BA (Bachelor’s in Art), or many, many other things.
There are two basic questions. Hard sciences? How hard??
First, is your learner going to enjoy studying things like biology. chemistry and physics? If they don’t like it, it won’t work out. Please save your learner, the teacher, and yourself loads of frustration. Learning science requires oodles of self study, which requires motivation. It’s fine to not be motivated for science… just don’t plan to study much science in college. If your learner is motivated, consider taking more of these hard science courses. If not, don’t.
If your learner is into science, the next question is whether or not they like math mixed with science. Chemistry and physics is science with math. If your learner likes science and math, they will love these courses. Biology is for those that like science but not math. So pick an advanced science (choose 1) that you can study for 2 or even 3 years. This will add “depth of study” to your transcript. College admissions officers like depth. But you do have to pick, as there isn’t enough time to take a deep dive into all the science subjects during high school.
Want More Info About College Prep for Homeschoolers?
Check out the 1-hour interview of Dr Scott by Jenn Miller, a homeschool mom, teacher, and writer.
The link to the recording of the interview is here. You’ll have to be logged in to Facebook to watch. Skip ahead to about the 18 minute mark when it really begins. There were a few technical issues at the beginning.