Colleges Noticing Home Schooled Students

Home-schooling advocate Karl Bunday used to get a lot of blank looks when he visited college fairs in his native Minnesota and pitched the virtues of students educated around the kitchen table.

Nearly a decade later, things have changed. "It seems like this time, everybody has heard of home schooling," said Bunday, who operates the Web site about "taking responsibility for your own learning."

Until recently, educators say, home-schooled students mostly gravitated to small, primarily religious colleges. Now, as the movement keeps gaining in popularity, they can be found on many — even most — campuses nationwide.

"As the numbers (of home schooled) have increased, and there have also been more admitted to college, they've actually performed quite well," said Barmak Nassirian, a policy analyst with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

While exact figures are not available, the number of middle and high school students educated at home is now estimated at between 1 million and 2 million.

Such young people have grown up academically with a greater emphasis on learning — rather than testing — compared with conventionally educated students, said Laura Derrick of the Home Education Network.

Derrick thinks colleges are starting to recognize that. Schools are "looking at kids as human beings and as people who bring a specific experience to their school rather than just a grade or a grade point average," she said from her home in Austin, Texas.

Educated at home from kindergarten through high school, Holly Porter said the flexibility of home schooling made the transition to university life easy.

"It prepared me better than going to a regular high school would have because I was independently motivated," said Porter, now a graduate student at the University of Denver.

Asher Albertson was home schooled until age 16, when he started attending classes at a community college.

Now a junior at the University of Wyoming, Albertson said finding his way to classrooms was the most difficult adjustment to college life. "Before, it was the dining room table," he joked.

Academically, Albertson added, the move to campus was nearly seamless.

"In college, you go to class, but you spend most of your time studying outside of class getting ready for tests, so it wasn't much different from what I was doing before," he said.

Beyond academics, the uptick in home schooled students on college campuses has helped them overcome the stereotype that they're socially maladjusted, said Mark Hegener, the publisher of Home Education magazine.

When Porter moved into her first undergraduate residence hall at Denver five years ago, she felt like it was the conventionally schooled freshmen who had trouble adjusting.

"It was kind of a shock," she recalled.

"I had been given a lot of independence and a lot of freedom inside my parent's home. And I kind of got the feeling that there were all these girls that had never been away from their families before and they just went hog wild."

Within a week, Porter transferred to a dormitory that emphasized academics.

Porter and others say the home-schooled develop their social skills through volunteerism and other networks that allow them to join in as many or more extracurricular activities than conventional students.

Texas State University admissions director Christie Kangas said home schooled applicants almost always list more community service than those conventional students.

Nassirian said the barriers that once discouraged the home schooled from attending secular colleges began to fall five years ago after the schools overcame "fundamental misgivings" about applications who lacked grade transcripts and report cards.

Porter encountered some of those obstacles.

"On paper, I looked like a high school dropout," she said.

"I had a (high school equivalency diploma) but I didn't do an accredited high school curriculum. So I had to explain that I'm not a high school dropout — that I have had a lot of unique experiences that a regular high school student doesn't have."

Tom Bear, dean of admissions at the University of Evansville, credits home-schooled students' strong performances on standardized tests for changing their image.

Additionally, applicants to Evansville — a private institution in southern Indiana — must submit a reference from a coach, minister or another source.

"We have some checks and balances in place," Bear said. "But the home schooled kids who are here have done well."