Detour: Applying to College as a Homeschooled Student – On Reading, Writing, and Communication: Lessons from an Interview

Happy Sunday!

I apologize for acting rather erratic with my posts – finals have descended ⛈ upon me and I hate to say this, but it’s a do-or-die situation in one of my classes so I am busy. Despite this, I’ve begun receiving 📨 a couple of decisions from colleges and this reminded me of an three important topics I wanted to discuss: Reading, Writing, and Communication.

If you’re a homeschooled student, chances are the humanities are an important component of your education. Perhaps your textbooks 📚 have been steeped in the Great Books and you’ve been reading the classics ever since you’ve been able to comprehend complex sentences. Even if this isn’t the case, I’m sure you’ve had a unique relationship with reading and writing ✍ and I urge you to strengthen it. If I have picked up anything from my experiences with applying to colleges, I’ve learned that your skills in the humanities are of immeasurable worth. But it’s not enough to be well-read and to be able to employ rhetorical devices in every sentence you compose; you must be able to speak and communicate with others just as proficiently.

When I decided to attend some of the classes offered at my local high school 🏫 , I also had the ability to join school clubs. My mother insisted that I join debate every year and every year I slunk out  🙎 of actually doing it. In my junior year, however, I, in an especially inspired moment, decided to try it out and attended a meeting. That one meeting turned into many, many more and I found myself a part of my school’s Lincoln-Douglas debate team. I didn’t realize the importance of debate – how truly essential it was – until I was invited to interview at one of the universities to which I had applied.

As homeschoolers, it’s recommended that we interview with someone from the admissions office or committee just so that we are able to better express ourselves and share our journey, so I was thrilled that this institution was interested in meeting with me. I was unsure of what to expect as I drove down to the office, but when I first sat down with the director of admissions in a small conference room, I realized only one thing was important: articulation. It didn’t matter if I had received a 36 on my ACT and 5’s on all of my AP’s and some sort of award for composing an epic that resembled The Aeneid – the only thing that the admissions office was curious about was how I expressed myself and communicated my passions on a one-on-one basis. I could write pages and pages on my hobbies and what I hoped to accomplish in the future, but being able to articulate those goals was a much more important component to my application. One of the first things the director told me was that he preferred to interview prospective homeschooled students because he wanted to see how they interacted in real life. I wanted to feel a little offended when he said this, but it was actually difficult and I stopped trying. To be honest, I kind of understood why this was important to him – and to many other institutions. Throughout my life, I’ve met many homeschooled kids, and I’d be lying if I told you they were all exceptional communicators. The ability to articulate oneself has nothing to do with whether one was homeschooled or not – in actuality, homeschooled kids should be exceptionally eloquent because they tend to value a more classical education – but since homeschooled kids have had a unique education, colleges are simply curious. We have a slightly bad rep in the world of college admissions, and if we want to wipe that away, we all have to be remarkable speakers, readers, and writers.

The director of admissions and I continued talking and he was very pleased 😃 to hear that I was a member of my local debate team. At first he assumed that I was simply part of a homeschool debate team, then, when he realized that it was a public school team and that I had competed on a state level successfully, I feel as though some cogs started shifting in his mind. Internally, I was drowning in gratitude for my mother’s constant push for me to join the debate team. I couldn’t stand debate when I first started it, but then I realized that I had begun to pick up some crucial articulation skills. I learned to speak concisely and deliberately through debate and these skills are priceless.

The second thing he commented on was my reading list. If you have not yet applied, I beg you, please compile a reading list. And if you’re in your freshman year or have some time before you apply, read books of a caliber worthy enough to put on a reading list. I’ve been reading books recommended by family friends who are in academia for the past few years and it resulted in a nice list of sturdy titles. The director of admissions hadn’t really studied my transcript, nor had he read my essay, and he had just barely perused my resume. But his eyes had landed on my reading list and it most definitely appeared to have caught his attention enough for him to have read all of it. He was extremely impressed – he commented on it twice – and now I feel as though it is a crucial component to our applications as homeschooled students.

Highlights

This one interview taught me more than any prep-book or blog post. It conveyed to me the importance of effective articulation and the fruits a well-read, well-written individual can reap. I encourage everyone to pepper their time in high school with the classics. And when I say this, I don’t simply mean Lord of the Flies or The Great Gatsby. To really pull off a well-rounded reading list – and to be well-read in general – you’ll want to read the Greek tragedies (I just finished Antigone), English and American romantics, poets from around the world, and myths from ancient traditions. If you’re interested, I could put together a post dedicated to books I read during high schools and books I wish I’d read. Putting together the reading list itself is simple. Throughout my high school years, I kept a tiny notebook and would jot down any books I read or movies I watched, placing little stars next to books that I thought were list-worthy. In my junior year, I created a GoogleDoc and typed all the titles out along with the authors. I didn’t put a date on any of the books, I just arranged them in alphabetical order and numbered them. Then, I placed the list on my transcript so that it wouldn’t be overlooked.

If you’re a homeschooler with a public high school nearby, call them up and ask if you can join their debate team. What I think is really important is that homeschooled students take a few classes at their local high school so that colleges have a general understanding of where they lie in comparison to regular students. But if you don’t want to do this, the least you can do is join a debate team. High school debate teams are excellent because they are typically well funded. The debate team at my local school had the opportunity to attend national tournaments, which is quite expensive due to travel and judge costs. ‘Private’ debate teams are probably fine, but I haven’t been in one so I wouldn’t know how they compare. During the summer, its worth a try for you to contact your local community college and ask if they have any summer debate programs for highschoolers. There’s a low chance that you will be able to compete at an actual tournament – most tournaments run during the typical school year – but you would still be able to debate with other students and pick up some extra speaking skills.

During my interview, the topic of writing didn’t come up. This university didn’t want a writing sample from me, but I did submit essays everywhere else. Though I haven’t received any feedback from admissions officers on my writing, I would think that your essays are also crucial pieces of your application. If you’ve finished your essays and aren’t 100% comfortable with them, have others read them. If you’d like more feedback, you could try CollegeVine’s Essay Editing Program. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve really appreciated some of the advice on their blog posts and think they offer some extremely beneficial insight. 📔 And if you have a few free moments this winter break, I’d recommend that you order The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This tiny book is a comprehensive guide of proper writing and can be useful in anything from a college application essay to a letter to a friend.

If you’re curious about any other aspects of this first interview, let me know and I’d love to share!

Have a wonderful winter break!

Happy Day!

Sara ☃

2 thoughts on “Detour: Applying to College as a Homeschooled Student – On Reading, Writing, and Communication: Lessons from an Interview

  1. Maryam says:

    My mom is constantly saying that homeschoolers have their reading down pat and only recently have I realized how true that is. A lot of of my friends who go to school read, but they either don’t like reading because it was forced upon them or they don’t necessarily read books that are classified as good literature. Whereas, being homeschooled let me enjoy my reading and I was actually able to read good books that a lot of people my age don’t even look at, let alone read. I know this doesn’t entirely relate to your post, but I just wanted to put it out there. Great read! 🙂

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