Applying to college as a homeschooled student gets easier each year as more colleges recruit and offer admission to qualified homeschooled applicants. Understanding the college admissions process from the homeschool perspective prepares you and your teen to approach this season with confidence!
The Big Picture: Your Teen’s College Application Timeline
Every college has an online application form that is usually available in August. Typically, students apply to college in the fall of the senior year. Students who plan to take a gap year or delay college for a year or more for other reasons should apply in the fall one year prior to enrollment.
How much time will it take for your teen to complete an application? You’ll want to plan at least a two- to four-week window to complete each application. This gives your teen plenty of time to request recommendation letters, write polished essays, and determine how best to showcase interests and extracurricular activities.
One college admissions officer suggested that parents back up the college application deadline by one month, so that there is enough time to gather the required information. (And that’s a great suggestion, because in our experience, rushing through an application rarely produces desired results.)
To make your job easier, you can download our free College Application Timeline and Checklist, linked below.
For best results, we strongly recommend starting early, saving forms and documents frequently as your teen progresses through an application, and printing completed forms as backups. Your teen should simply answer all questions to the best of their ability—you can always contact the admissions office if you have questions about any of the questions! (And try to avoid leaving any required questions blank: incomplete information will delay the application process.)
Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Application: What’s the Difference?
There are usually three ways to apply to a college, and each has pros and cons.
- Submitting an early decision application (usually not later than November 1) means your student is obligated to attend the college if granted acceptance. So your teen should probably apply for early decision only if they are certain a college is their top choice. Students are usually notified as early as December of their admission status. Consider this method for “stretch” colleges. (Click here for an explanation of safe, possible, and stretch colleges.)
- Early action means students submit their applications early and are usually notified of admission decisions by January. However, teens need not commit until the spring deadline. Nothing is binding on either side. This strongly benefits students applying to colleges with rolling applications.
- Regular application follows the stated deadlines for application submission (typically by January), and students receive acceptance or rejection letters in the spring.
Early action and regular application deadlines are suitable for both “possible” and “safe” colleges.
If you have a junior or senior who is college bound, now is the best time to get serious about the college admissions process!
However, if your student is still in the early years of high school, doing a little recordkeeping, research, and preparation each year as you move forward will make for a less stressful senior year, when college applications must be sent out the door.
To help you keep on track during the senior year, you can download the college application timeline at the bottom of this page.
The Sections of an Application
Did you know that more than 800 colleges accept the Common App? Your student can use this application form to apply to one or more of the participating colleges. And the Common App tutorial provides helpful instruction and explanations to help your teen complete all the sections. You may also want to check out the Common App FAQs.
Whether your student is completing the Common Application or the application of a specific college, you can make the process go smoother and easier by having on hand a copy of their academic transcript and extracurricular activities sheet to reference.
A college application usually includes these sections:
- Personal information
- Educational information
Schools attended in 9th–12th grade include homeschooling; private, public, charter, and online schools; and college (dual enrollment).
- Extracurricular activities
- College entrance and placement test scores
Official test score reports need to be requested from the testing company and sent directly to the college.
- Recommendation letters
If recommendation letters are required, request them from instructors who know your teen’s academic abilities well. The College Board provides helpful tips for letter writers. Some colleges may accept recommendation letters from parents; however, check with each college to verify. In addition, follow the college’s directions regarding submission protocol.
If essays are required, your student should carefully plan, write, and edit their essays according to the given prompts. A thoughtful, well-written essay reveals your teen’s character and interests. The College Board offers guidance to students on the importance of application essays. Writing about extracurricular activities is a good choice for one or more of these essays.
- Guidance counselor information
Some college applications, as well as the Common Application, require a guidance counselor letter of recommendation. As a homeschool parent, you may complete this section.
- School profile
Some colleges, as well as the Common Application, require a school profile. For a homeschooled applicant, this profile may cover educational approach and philosophy, significant academic and extracurricular achievements, rigor of courses offered, and educational opportunities such as travel, internships, job shadowing, and special projects.
- Medical records
These may include documentation of vaccinations, allergies, and learning difficulties.
- Application fee
Application fees vary by college. Students who have qualified for SAT fee waivers can receive four free college applications if they apply to any of 2,000 participating colleges. See the College Board’s fee waiver FAQ.
The Final Steps
Once the online application is complete, the next step is for you as the homeschool parent to send an official copy of your teen’s high school transcript to the college.
To give the college the best impression of your student and their homeschool education, all documentation you submit should be professionally presented. You can boost the professional appearance of your teen’s application by using your computer to print address labels for the college and return addresses. It’s essential that you sign and date the transcript, seal the envelope, and write your signature over the seal. You’ll want to mail the transcript by certified mail or request a return receipt. (Unless a specific college requests that you email the transcript as a PDF document.) You can learn all about filling out transcripts and even download free sample homeschool transcripts.
If a college requires additional information about your student’s homeschool courses, then compile an academic summary, which may include a transcript, summary of extracurricular activities, and course descriptions.
So . . . to wrap up: There’s lots to do when applying to college, but an organized approach (like using the checklist below) will simplify the task! As an HSLDA member, you’re welcome to call or email us with any questions as you walk through the application process with your teen.
Is your teen considering community college or alternative ways to earn college credit? The last post in this series is for you—read on!