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How to Spot a Homeschooler by Our College Applications

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For many high schoolers, the words “college applications” loom like a dark cloud over senior year. These words, while possibly exciting, often hint at things foreign and unknown–the college experience. *Dun. DUn. DUN.*

Back in “my day” as a homeschooling highschooler, I remember feeling that the pressure was doubled when it came to college applications. Why? Well, looking back on it, the fear wasn’t super logical. I made great grades and was involved in plenty of extracurricular activities. Plus, my mom had enrolled me in a hybrid/homeschool-private school for my junior and senior year, specifically so that record-keeping would be entirely above-board for our state guidelines. The hybrid school emphasized independent study skills and even advertised itself as “university model,” so you’d think that would have made me feel more prepared for college, right?


Despite all these things, I had this hidden fear that I would not be enough somehow. That I’d be too different (*cough* weirder) than everyone else, or that my homeschooling background wouldn’t be taken seriously. Maybe it was my Imposter Syndrome getting started at an early age. (I don’t think this is uncommon in homeschoolers at all). Maybe it’s just that I’ve always been kind an overly conscientious person (again, seems fairly typical of homeschoolers that I’ve known.) At any rate, as a homeschooling high-schooler, I felt like The College Application was actually a high-stakes test of:  “Had I done enough?”  I saw the same attitude among many of my other homeschooled friends.

As I look back on that time, on the college essays I wrote and the applications I discussed with my close friends, I see some things that probably did (as we’d all feared) stand out on our college applications.

Today, in this series on “How to Spot a Homeschooler,” I’m going to be talking about how you can spot a homeschooler by our college applications (not including, of course, the detail that we attended “____________ Homeschool Academy.”)

1. Our Extracurricular Activities are Extra-interesting.

It’s no secret that homeschoolers do a lot of stuff. Despite the fact that we are rumored to be “unsocialized,” the fact of the matter is that you can frequently spot us out in the wild, dominating the world of extracurricular activities.  More than that, homeschoolers have the added perk that most homeschooling parents view extracurricular involvement as part of school. (This isn’t as much the case for public schoolers who take required extracurricular classes—anything they do after school that’s “extra” doesn’t really count as “school”).

But what does this mean in terms of how you can spot a homeschooler based on college applications? Well, it means a couple of things.

Firstly, it means that homeschooled college applications may stand out because they feature a dazzling array of extracurriculars. Ju-jitsu, Horseback Riding, 4H club, Babysitter’s Club, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. This may cause College-Application-Looker-Overs (official terminology) to scratch their heads in wonder, musing: “How in the world does he/she do it all?” Then: “Oh. I see. Homeschooler.”

Secondly, it means that you can spot a homeschooler by our extra-interesting extracurriculars. Probably because so many homeschooling parents are into at least some degree of self-led learning, and because we do a little more time to invest in our interests and hobbies, homeschoolers get into some super niche and eye-catching and (okay, so maybe the word I’ve been carefully avoiding is “weird”) extracurriculars.

We have the time and support to dive deep into the things that interest us, even if they are outside of the realm of typical highschooler activities. That’s why homeschooler college applications sometimes feature extracurriculars like:  Teen Survivalists’ Society, Civil War Re-enacting, Woodworking and Carpentry, Robotics Club, Costuming, Small Businesses Ownership, etc….

(These kinds of extracurriculars stand out just a little bit.)

2.  Our References Are Double-Take Inducing

And then homeschoolers also have the eye-catching references to go with those interesting extracurricular activities. We often reference teachers, bosses and mentors, not just teachers found in an academic classroom. For example, when I applied to college as a high schooling homeschooler, I did have references from my hybrid homeschool high school (for some homeschoolers, the equivalent might be co-op instructors), but I also had letters of reference from other leaders and mentors who had shaped me as a longtime homeschooler. I had a reference from my ballet teacher of 15+ years, whom I’d also taught classes for as my first job. I had character references from people in my church, who had worked on service projects with me and who knew about me as a person (not just a student.)

I think the variety of references that homeschoolers can call upon does make our college applications stand out. Because we have the opportunity to learn from different kinds of people, we give a variety of people the chance to learn and mentor different sides of us (not just the academic side).

3.  Our Essays are Our Magnum Opus

Okay, I’ve talked to some other homeschoolers/former homeschoolers about this one and I don’t think it’s just me. When it came to the college essay, I felt like Hamilton, under pressure, pouring out his soul (“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”)  Maybe I felt like I had to explain myself more than the average student, because I was coming from someplace different than the the average public schooler.

However, I also just feel like the fact that I was determined to make my college application essays into masterpieces reflects a conscientious side of my personality that was, at least to some degree, fostered by my homeschooled background. I wanted to write the best essay I could. I wanted it to be above average, but I didn’t know where the “average” bar was set, so spent more time and put in more effort in than I probably needed to. I felt that the essay was my main opportunity to shine, so I didn’t want to– um — “throw away my shot.”

(And if you haven’t seen Hamilton, I apologize for all the references. But seriously, watch Hamilton.)

4. We Overthink Everything…(and Maybe it Shows? )

And that last point brings me to another way that I think you can spot a homeschooler by our college applications, which is that we overthink everything about them. My experience in the world of homeschoolers (this is not based on hard data, so don’t sue me) has shown me that most homeschoolers will stress and strive to do their best. And when homeschoolers aren’t sure (as I mentioned earlier) where the bar or expectation is set, they’ll agonize extra over doing a really good job,  always wondering if it was enough (even though it is often way more than enough.)

I mean, in terms of personality traits, I’m not 100% sure if this is a pro, con or double-edged sword (I suspect it’s the later).  Regardless, I will say that the extra attention to detail, the extra time spent on applications, and (probably) the extra words, are all indicative of a homeschooler college application. The College-Application-Looker-Overs will notice the tears, blood, and wrinkles on those perfectly legible, cursive-written college applications, and they’ll know: this application belongs to a homeschooler.

If you’re a high-schooling homeschooler facing the daunting world of college applications, and you’re worried about your application being weird. I have to tell you that it probably will be.

It probably will be weird.

However, I do have some encouragement that will hopefully make you feel better about this. You ready?

In the world of college applications, sticking out is what you want, especially if it’s for the right reasons. The College-Application-Looker-Overs are on the search for unique individuals who work hard, who are engaged with the real world, and who are motivated to learn. So if your college application is “weird” because it shows that you have made a self-study of a special interest (AKA extra-interesting extracurriculars), or that you made a positive impression on people in your community, or that you put extra effort into that essay or application. . .all of these things are good. Weird? Maybe. Good? Totally.

So don’t stress, homeschooler, just do your best.

P.S. It may help you to know that, though I didn’t apply to many colleges (because I spent so long on each application that I ran out of time), I did get acceptance letters to the ones that I did apply to, and that was in the days before homeschoolers were more widely accepted by colleges.

P.P.S. Did I get the music from Hamilton stuck in your head? It’s in mine now and it’s not leaving. #sorrynotsorry #notthrowingawaymyshot

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Katie Gustafson has been a member of the world of “weird, unsocialized homeschoolers” for a long time–first as an alumnus and now as a homeschooling mom to a fiercely fun little girl! She’s very into anything creative, especially writing, dancing, and painting. She’s also particularly passionate about literature and owns more books than she will probably ever be able to read. However, she reassures herself with the belief that, in the event of a digital apocalypse, she’s cultivating a much-needed physical library for future generations. Katie is happy to contribute articles to Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers, Hip Homeschool Moms and Sparketh. She also has a personal blog on writewhereuare.com.

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    1. Aw yay, Conscientious Perfectionists Unite! I’m inclined to think that standing out for these reasons is even better now than it used to be for today’s homeschooled high schoolers.

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