Some Thoughts About College Admission

Harvard Ends Early Admission Policy

By Wes Beach

Gaining College Admission: Discard assumptions. College admission is not in general a highly competitive process, the path to college need not include any of the usual preparatory work, and early admission is very possible. Some colleges admit virtually everyone who applies. Others allow for admission in the basis of test scores alone or other indicators of ability and achievement. Most colleges look favorably on a record of engagement in a nontraditional mix of some or all of these elements:

  • classes at schools and colleges
  • distance learning
  • tutorials
  • independent learning
  • community activities
  • volunteer work
  • travel
  • employment

Readiness: Focus on personal qualities. Mastery of basic skills is essential for success in college, but, since many young people have done quite well after skipping all of high school, it's apparent that in many cases extensive academic preparation is not necessary. Assessments for readiness available from sources such as counselors, testing, and talent searches can provide very valuable information. Parents are in an excellent position to make judgments arrived at through careful listening, observation, and interaction with their sons and daughters. Kids themselves, if they understand what attendance at college would be like, possibly from visiting a college campus and classes, can tell you a lot about whether or not they're ready. Kids' sincere and firm statements about what they want to do and their confidence in moving ahead provide possibly the best evidence of readiness for college.

Preparation: Nurture personal traits. These traits are some of the ones that underlie success in college and beyond.

  • confidence
  • curiosity
  • enthusiasm
  • capacity for wholehearted engagement
  • ability to persevere
  • realistic self-knowledge
  • a sense of autonomy

Support genuine engagement. Regardless of whether they're traditional or not, endeavors that allow a teen (or pre-teen) to utilize and develop her interests, strengths, and talents are most likely to lead to genuine engagement, which in turn encourages development of personal qualities.

Include essential academics. If a kid begins college at a school where there are no subject requirements for admission, academics can be a minimal part of his preparation. California community colleges that have open admissions policies often have the advantage of being the closest schools, and offer programs leading to transfer admission at four-year colleges and universities. If direct admission to a selective four-year college or university is the goal, academics must be part of the preparatory work, but formal coursework need not be relied on exclusively or even primarily. Admissions committees will recognize independent learning and work with parents if it is well documented.

Setting: Consider all homeschooling options. Public, private, and charter schools may offer suitable programs. If you cannot find an existing homeschooling program that will work for your teen, consider taking the do-it-yourself route possible through independent homeschooling. You can obtain all the basic information you need at GHF's Resources: Homeschooling page or by contacting your local homeschool assocation. Homeschooling does not necessarily mean that parents become the primary source of instruction. In the role of facilitator you can arrange for a wide variety of learning in many settings where others are teachers, tutors, and mentors.

Documentation: Substance, not form, matters. You can choose to document your adolescent's learning and write an inclusive transcript or create a record that supplements records from schools. There is no universally expected format for a high school transcript. What's important is to create an easily understood document that clearly shows what your kid has learned and how she went about it. Coursework from schools can simply be transcribed from the schools' transcripts or grade reports. Experts such as college professors can validate independent achievement by means of test scores and/or evaluation. Narratives, reading lists, work samples, and qualifications of tutors and mentors provide important details about both academic work and other endeavors. Include enough detail to be convincing, if you have minimal documentation from recognized sources such as schools and testing programs, provide a considerable amount of detail.

College Choice: Look at the fit, not the school. Choosing a top-ranked and highly selective college or university will not guarantee that there will be a good fit between your teen and the school. There is little evidence that attendance at one of the "best" colleges confers significant advantages. Obviously an appropriate school will provide programs in fields your child is in interested in, but beyond this consideration the most important one is his comfort level at the school, and this will depend in large measure on his temperament, personality, and preferences. Geographic location, climate, size of the campus, student diversity, extracurricular activities, and nature of the community are all important.

Gathering Information: Get specific information from its source. While it is possible to make general statements about college admission, many aspects of colleges' policies and procedures vary wildly. After you have decided which colleges are of interest, gather information from each of them. They will differ in their rate of acceptance, both for freshman and transfer admission. Schools may or may not require SAT or ACT scores (some schools require test scores for freshman but not transfer applicants). Some colleges will expect a specified set of courses to be part of an applicant's preparation; others are flexible to one degree or another. There are different policies regarding the acceptance of AP and CLEP exam scores. These are only some of the policies and procedures that vary. College admission officials will almost always be helpful in discussing any aspect of their procedures or your kid's situation. Beware of statements from secondary sources, especially when they're prefaced with something like, "I've heard that...."

Taking Charge: Believe you can do it. You will need to confer with knowledgeable people, ask lots of questions, confirm important facts, build your knowledge over time, and change course when necessary. In moving ahead you must always do so without knowing everything. If you focus on providing caring support and a rich array of fitting opportunities for your son or daughter, everything else will fall into place.

Copyright © 2005 by Wes Beach.


Wes Beach is Teen Advisor to Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. He has served on the Board of Directors of the HomeSchool Association of California (HSC) and is currently that organization's Teen Advisor as well. Find out more by reading his book, Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling.

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