How to Graduate a Homeschooler

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As your teen nears high school age, many homeschooling parents start worrying about how to graduate a homeschooler. Great news! It doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating.

how to graduate a homeschooler - graduates throwing caps

How to Graduate a Homeschooler

Once your kids hit middle school or so, the Homeschool Inquisition usually shifts from the age-old socialization question to inquiries such as “How are your homeschoolers going to graduate high school?” Or, “What about college?” 

The big difference between those is that the socialization question is usually a non-issue, but graduation and secondary education are vital considerations for families homeschooling high school

So, what do you need to know about how to graduate a homeschooler? Following are some essentials based on my experience.

Know the Homeschooling Law

Most important in figuring out how to graduate a homeschooler is this: make sure you understand the homeschool laws governing your state. My go-to sites for a breakdown of homeschool laws are HSLDA and the statewide homeschool support website, GHEA, for where I live. If you’re not sure where to find your state’s homeschool support group, HSLDA maintains a listing of homeschool support groups by state

The majority of states don’t maintain specific guidelines for how to graduate a homeschooler. In most cases, you, the homeschooling parent, determine the graduation requirements for your student. Upon completion of those requirements, you issue your graduate a high school diploma. Some notable exceptions are Pennsylvania, New York, and North Dakota. These states do have specific course requirements. Be sure that you understand your state’s laws so that you and your student don’t encounter any unpleasant surprises. 

Other states, such as Tennessee, offer the option to be a part of an umbrella school. The umbrella school operates as a private school and has its own graduation requirements. They maintain records and transcripts based on the information submitted by the teaching parent. When the student satisfies the graduation requirements, the umbrella school issues a high school diploma. 

Both parent-issued and umbrella school diplomas are usually non-accredited. However, most colleges accept them if homeschooled students meet the school’s entrance requirements. Check your student’s top choice schools’ homeschool admissions policies on their websites.

Consider Your High School Student’s Plans

One smart piece of advice for parents planning to homeschool through high school is this: consider your student’s post-graduate plans and choose courses accordingly. If your student has a specific school in mind, check the school’s admissions requirements before your student’s 9th-grade year, and ensure that she is on track to meet them. You don’t want your student to be halfway through 12th grade and realize it’s a little too late to figure out how to graduate a homeschooler. Thankfully, you do have graduation options for a homeschooler

Most colleges and universities require high school course basics, such as four years each of English and math; three to four years of science; three years of social studies/history; and two years of foreign language, along with several elective credits

One helpful resource for homeschooling through high school and determining how to graduate a homeschooler was The Homescholar Guide to College Admissions and Scholarships by Lee Binz. I know many homeschooling parents find this book too intense, but I think it’s worth reading and gleaning the tidbits that work for your family. 

The best piece of advice that I took from Lee was this: Even if your student doesn’t plan to attend college, give him a college prep high school education. Teenagers change their minds. And, if your student doesn’t change his mind, the high school education you provide will be the highest level of education he receives. 

Even if your student’s plans include a college alternative, such as trade or vocational school, an apprenticeship, or going into the workforce, you want to provide him with a solid high school education. Also, keep in mind these four skills every homeschool graduate needs.

However, it is essential to realize that you should still tailor a college prep education to your student. Your student’s transcript does not need to look just like a public school student’s for him to get into college or qualify for scholarships. You’re free to offer alternatives to traditional high school courses.

Keep High School Transcripts

In working on how to graduate a homeschooler, remember thatkeeping transcripts is a must for college-bound teens. And, you may be surprised to find that other post-secondary education options may ask for transcripts

My oldest attended a private cosmetology school. They only teach cosmetology, so it’s a trade school. We still had to provide a copy of her transcript because the school is in a neighboring state. Their homeschool laws are different from those in Georgia, so they wanted to see what courses she’d taken. 

If you’re not part of an umbrella school or other organization that supplies one, there are several options for creating a high school transcript.

  • Covenant College offers an excellent – and FREE – high school transcript form. Just scroll down to the “Homeschool Resources” tab for the link to the PDF or editable version.
  • Total Transcript Solution is excellent and takes the fear and confusion out of keeping transcripts.

In the past, I used the original grades and attendance forms from Donna Young’s site to keep track of my kids’ grades for each high school year. Then, I’d transfer their grades to their high school transcripts at the end of each school year. You really don’t want to forget to update the transcripts at the end of each school year. Trust me on this.

Complete Standardized Testing

If your high school student plans to attend college after graduation, he’ll most likely need to complete the ACT or SAT. If nothing else, he’ll have to take an entrance exam for the specific school he’ll be attending. 

But what about kids who will be going into the workforce, an apprenticeship, or a trade school? I chose to have my oldest take the ACT even though she didn’t plan to go to college.

How to Graduate a Homeschooler - Student completing standardized test

People may question my “mommy grades,” but they can’t challenge a standardized test score. Even if they suspect that my kids spent their four years of high school playing video games and posting Facebook status updates (not the case), they can’t argue with their score on a test that most high school graduates take. 

Some students perform better on the SAT, while others perform better on the ACT. Depending on your student’s plans, it may be wise to have them take both tests and go with the one on which they score better. 

Also, some schools accept the highest grade in each category of the ACT, not just the composite score. Check with the schools your student is considering to decide if it would be worthwhile for them to take the test more than once.

Apply for Scholarships for Homeschoolers

Guess what. Homeschooled students can get college scholarships just like public and private school students.

For example, homeschoolers are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, based on PSAT and NMSQT scores, as long as they take the qualifying test at an approved testing location. 

Homeschooled athletes should check out scholarships offered by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NCIA). Other scholarships for which homeschoolers are eligible include:

how to graduate a homeschooler - cap and diploma

Plan a Homeschool Graduation Ceremony

Graduating a homeschooled teen really is as simple as keeping records of their coursework, creating a transcript, and issuing a diploma. You decide when they’ve completed the requirements for graduation (with the exception of states listed above) and you issue them a diploma.

I ordered each of my kids a diploma from HomeschoolDiploma.com. We also ordered their caps, gowns, and tassels. Each of them had a different type of graduation. We chose not to participate in the area homeschooling group’s large ceremony, but that might be something that interests your family so check with your local group.

How to Graduate a Homescooler - parents presenting graduate with flowers

My oldest joined with a few other teens from our small local homeschooling group for an intimate ceremony for family and friends at a local church. We had a World War II veteran give the graduation address and each family presented their student with their diplomas.

My son had a small ceremony for just family and friends. I played the graduation commencement song on my phone, said a few words, and presented his diploma. And, there was a pool party!

My youngest graduated during COVID-19. We discussed doing a ceremony of some sort, but she really just wanted to quietly receive her diploma and go on her way. I did make her take cap and gown pictures, though. For her mama.

Even though each had a difficult graduation experience, they all graduated with a mom-signed high school diploma that I issued when I was satisfied that they had met their high school graduation requirements as determined by me. 

All three of them are gainfully employed. None have ever had any issues with employers over their homeschool diplomas. Although my kids chose not to attend college, many of my friends’ kids have done so with no issues, using their own mom-issued diplomas and transcripts. 

For many seasoned homeschool parents, the high school years bring back all the fear and trepidation of the first year of homeschooling. However, by educating yourself and developing a plan, you can successfully navigate the high school years and graduate your homeschooled student. 

If you have learned by experience how to graduate a homeschooler, what tips would you add?

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. This is great information Kris. I’m not there yet, but we are about to round the corner to being middle schoolers and I want to be prepared for high school. I’ve been saving a lot of your posts and starting to do more research on homeschooling high school. Lee Binz is on my list too. Thanks again!

  2. “Also, it is my understanding that schools accept the highest grade in each category of the ACT, not just the composite score.” That absolutely depends college to college, but most colleges look at the composite, not the individual scores. Some universities, usually state schools, will do what is called “super scoring,” which is when they take the highest score in each category and total that for the final score. So, for example, if a students gets a 24 in math one time and a 20 the next time, they’ll take the 24. I love that idea and wish more colleges did it– but it’s quite unusual in our state except for some state universities (TN).

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. That’s very helpful. I wish I could remember where I read that. It may have been on the website of a specific school that we looked at when considering Brianna’s post-graduate options. I’ve edited the post to read “some schools accept…” That’s why it’s so important for parents and teens to research the specific schools they’re interested in. That’s such a good option if it’s available for the school a student may be considering. Brianna took the ACT two or three times (I can’t remember now…I know it was at least two) and we saw some really big differences in a couple of categories of her scores.

    1. There are several online sites where you can order a diploma. We ordered ours from HSDLA. A couple of the girls who participated in our homeschool group’s graduation ceremonies had ordered theirs from HomeschoolDiploma.com. Once your student has met your (or your state’s) requirements for graduation, you can order a diploma, sign it, and present it with as much ceremony as you and your student desire. Hope that helps!

  3. I have graduated two with a third to graduate this spring. This is a thorough article — I love the point that states do not generally have requirements for homeschooled students. We don’t have to get anyone’s approval to graduate them! 🙂 The only thing I would add would be to be sure to plan far enough ahead to have the child take the standardized test(s) TWICE. The difference of a point or two better score on the ACT, for example, can mean a sizable difference in a merit scholarship. I learned that the hard way… :-/

    1. That’s a great point, Ann. I know my oldest did the ACT at least twice. I’d have to look back through our paperwork to see if she took it a third time. She was much more relaxed after she had the first test out of the way.

    2. I currently have a high senior that has graduated; however the school isn’t sure if all she needs is the state test in order to graduate. We live in New York. Help!

      1. Hi, Tammy. I’m not familiar with the homeschooling laws in New York. My suggestion would be to contact your local or state homeschool support group. You might also find someone who can help in the WUHS Facebook Community. I hope that helps!

    3. Our daughter wasn’t homeschooled, but she really wanted to attend a private boarding school for high school. I think between practice and actual tests, she took the SAT 11 times! Her final scores were impressive, to say the least. It’s a game where you need to know the rules. Ps, most of her classmates had done the same.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I am going to save it so that I can look back at these resources. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. My oldest will be starting high school next year and I am growing nervous about the record keeping side of things. I check in on your posts several times a week and refer back to your curriculum choices. It is very helpful. It seems that around middle school,a mass exodus happens and esp when highschool comes- many people stop homeschooling. However, I still feel like it works for us and I am determined to hang in there. More than that, I want us to thrive. Thanks again

  5. Great post Kris – you covered it all 🙂 I am right there with you on making sure to plan ahead even if your teen doesn’t think they want to go to college – it’s like being overdressed for a party – better to have more in their pocket by graduation time than to be stuck without all that awesome college prep that we can provide at the highest level at home! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I am not a homeschooler but have many friends that are. I was a math/science professor at a junior college for 5 years. In regards to the ACT scores, some colleges will use the indiv scores (math, reading, composition) to determine any remedial courses required. We were an open enrollment school so this helped us determine if a student went into College Algebra vs. Intermediate or Concepts, etc. Remedial classes still cost money but dont count towards degree credits, so indiv ACT scores could help your students save some steps. As others have said, every school is different so find out the details and work with the counseling departments!
    And my own two cents – the more initiative your teen takes in exploring their post-secondary options, the more ownership and confidence they feel and the higher the rate of success and completion (based on my experience). Best of luck!!

  7. My daughter is just getting ready to start her Junior year of (homeschooled) highschool. Last fall she tested in to college algebra and English. Our county has a program that pays for her to go to çollege part time while she is still in highschool. So as a sophomore she completed the only math she will need to get her associates degree. This fall she will be finished with all the English she needs. If colleges require 4 years of each subject so I still have to do more of each at home to graduate her?

    1. What you choose to require for graduation may be up to you, depending on your state’s homeschool laws, or it may be determined by the state. Check your state’s homeschool laws. If it’s up to you, I’d recommend checking with potential colleges to see what they require for admission. What I’ve suggested here are just general guidelines based on what is commonly required for college admission. Hope that helps!

  8. My personal experience with colleges is that they do NOT talk at all to the parent. I am in SoCal, and the community college and all Universities in my experience do NOT talk to the parent, even if the child is a minor. Ever. An office worker named Mark DeLaGarza and a female co-worker at Pierce actually laughed out loud in my face at the counter when I told them I had some serious concerns with the fact that they issued my son two identification numbers – I feared this would delay or complicate any future transcript requests.

    This wall between the parent and the school includes all information.

    Yet, I was asked to co-sign for any financial aide. I laughed back.

  9. you should be aware that the U.S military will not take a parent-provided homeschool diploma. Which has been a big problem for me, and may result in me having to get a G.E.D to get in

    1. Do you have a high school transcript with course descriptions to back up your parent-issued diploma? If so, and the military is still giving you trouble, I would suggest contacting Homeschool Legal Defense. My resources tell me that a transcript should suffice as proof of the validity of your diploma with the military.

  10. What a great article Kris! I would add that parents homeschooling high school should know that you can offer AP (Advanced Placement) classes in your homeschool if you get course approval from the College Board and meet their requirements. You are then able to list the class on your student’s transcript as AP. In addition, if your student takes the AP exam for the course(s) and meets minimum score requirements (set by colleges) then they receive college credit for the class(es). My son entered college with 42 credits, making him almost a second semester sophomore. Those credits can equal dollars not spent for those classes and dollars not spent on dual enrollment or online AP classes too. Just an FYI for anyone interested.

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