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[Book Excerpt] Senior Year Step-By-Step

~ A word from our founder, The HomeScholar Emeritus, Lee Binz ~

This is a chapter from my book, Senior Year Step-by-Step: Simple Instructions for Busy Homeschool Parents. You can get your own copy in print or Kindle version here.

Summer Before Senior Year 

Evaluate Your Situation

The first day of senior year is when you will start filling out applications. During the summer prior, look over colleges where your student will apply. Evaluate your situation and determine what your child has accomplished and what they still need to do.

Are there classes your child still needs for university admission? You have plenty of time — the whole year. If they are missing economics or art, you have all senior year to fill in the gaps.

Are there any tests your child needs to take? Perhaps one of the colleges where your child plans to apply requires subject tests or a certain number of AP® exams. By looking at your situation the summer before senior year, you can plan to meet individual college requirements.

Update Your Records

During the summer before senior year, make sure your homeschool records are up to date. Your child's transcript and course descriptions should be completely ready to send to colleges.

Creating a transcript is extremely important. You don't want to be that parent who forgets to include something important on the official high school record! You don't want to be that parent who puts it off until senior year and becomes the weakest link, when your child misses out on college admission and scholarships.

You may be wondering why transcripts are important. In senior year, you need the transcript to complete your homeschool records that the colleges will want to see. But even beyond 12th grade, your transcript remains very important. Your homeschool transcript may be used later on, after your children enter the work force when an employer wants to see that record. It may become important after college, when your child wants to attend graduate school or land a special job. Just because your child doesn't need a transcript today, doesn't mean they will never need the transcript.

I encourage all parents who homeschool high school to complete a high school transcript every year of high school (including a final one during senior year) and keep it safe forever. As the school of record, it's our job to preserve these important records. You may need a transcript even if…

  • your child is joining the military
  • your child is attending community college
  • your child is completing college credits by exam
  • your child is enrolled in an online degree program
  • your child was accepted into college without a homeschool transcript
  • your child has an advanced degree after college

Life is funny, and strange and unexpected things can happen. Even if you don't think you need a transcript right now, your child may still need one later, for graduate school or employment. Every year I get calls from panicky parents desperate to complete their transcripts and course descriptions for their adult children. It may seem a daunting task for summer before senior year but believe me it's easier to do it now than it will be five or ten years from now! So please, please, please make a homeschool transcript for your children! No matter what, don't skip this important responsibility of homeschool parents! Be ready.

Colleges go through a lengthy and arduous process looking over senior year students to admit. They typically have only a couple of minutes to make a thumbs-up or thumbs-down decision on an applicant. For that reason, the transcript might be the only section of information they utilize for that determination. It's a single, one-page summary of the student that conveys essential information. Is the student qualified? Do they satisfy the minimum requirements? The less difficult the transcript is to decipher, the more they will desire to pay attention to information regarding your child.

Along with the transcript, be ready to provide a comprehensive record during senior year. Are your high school records organized in a neat, easily digestible format that colleges will understand and appreciate? Comprehensive records can include:

  • transcript
  • course descriptions
  • reading list
  • awards and activity list
  • samples of work

 There are a few situations in particular when course descriptions can be extremely important:

  • when applying to a very selective college
  • when parents can't afford the full cost of college without scholarship money
  • when your college asks for, prefers, or requires course information
  • when the child wants to go to only one college

In each of these situations, providing detailed homeschool records during senior year can significantly improve your child's chances of earning college admission and scholarships.

It's difficult, although not impossible, to pull together records for the entire four years of high school during the summer before senior year, or worse yet, during the first few weeks of senior year. Parents in this situation can feel overwhelmed to the point of being immobilized. The easy way is to ensure you update all your homeschool records every spring, so they're always ready to go.

If you need help, I have great resources for both transcripts and course descriptions available on my website: Total Transcript Solution and Comprehensive Record Solution

Prepare for the National Merit Scholarship

If your child tends to score well on standardized tests (in the 90th percentile and above), you may hear back about the National Merit Scholarship at the end of summer before senior year after your child takes the PSAT® in 11th grade. Records are especially important if you have a child who may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. Your completed records are going to be extremely helpful for filling out all the paperwork involved!

As a homeschool parent, you are the school and need to fill out the paperwork. For the National Merit Scholarship, you don't want to be the weakest link so make sure your records are ready. Students are notified about their level of scholarship (commended or semi-finalist) in September. This quick turn-around time can make life difficult if you don't already have information prepared and organized. In October, parents will need to submit a very detailed application. In November, you need to send SAT® scores to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Make sure if your child missed the SAT® in junior year, they take it first thing in senior year.

In March of senior year, finalists will be notified that they are in fact National Merit Scholarship finalists. Monetary awards are given out later in the spring.

Collect College Information

By senior year, you should have already chosen some colleges to apply to with your child. Make sure those colleges include a reach, a fit, and a safety school.

A "reach" school means your child meets all requirements, but their test scores don't quite measure up. It would be unusual if the college admitted your child but you're going to give it a try. Ivy League schools and military academies are always reach schools no matter how smart and well-rounded your child.

A "fit" school is one for which your child meets all requirements and expectations and their SAT® or ACT® score is a perfect fit. There's a high likelihood they will gain admission to a fit school.

A "safety" school is one for which your child exceeds requirements and has better scores than most of the students who apply. They are almost certain to get into a safety school. Safety schools are just in case all the other schools say "no." They are your backup plan for a place your child can attend in the fall after senior year.

During this information collection phase before senior year starts, request applications and put deadlines on the calendar. You can request a fee waiver, particularly if you have visited the college. Each application can cost $50 or more. Avoid paying that fee by simply asking for a fee waiver on your campus visit.

Remember to apply well in advance of the deadline. It's like dealing with the federal government - you don't want to mess up those federal deadlines. The due dates may also be much earlier than expected, so closely watch all deadlines. Missing one deadline may eliminate the chance for scholarships. One of my Gold Care Club members applied to a school with an early decision in July or August. This is a little detail you want to know well before September! Collecting this information in the summer before senior year will help.

Read the details on each application from each school. Every college you apply to is unique and they will each have their own criteria. You do not want to be surprised by the fine print.

Summer Activities for Teens

During this final summer prior to senior year of high school, seek meaningful activities for your teen. You want some activities that will look good on your child's activity list. Include activities displaying leadership skills. For example, they might teach a chess class or work at a summer camp. Your child can do some volunteer work or gain valuable employment experience, whether or not it's in the field they are considering as a career.

All these activities show socialization skills and character. They can demonstrate self-motivation, which is important because colleges don't always assume homeschoolers have great social skills!

Make sure your child reads books over the summer before senior year. They don't have to be "great books"; just encourage your child to choose some books to read. These books can be added to the reading list you submit to colleges. My children found the books they read from college-bound reading lists were often studied in college as well. This gave them a bit of an edge. You can find a great college-bound reading list on our site:

High School Reading List for College-Bound Students

For more summer activities, consider having your child take CLEP® tests for dual credit. First, find out whether earning college credit through CLEP® tests would be of benefit to the colleges where your child is applying. Some colleges accept credits earned through CLEP®, and some don't.

You might consider starting to work on college applications during the summer before year, especially if your fall schedule tends to be very busy. This might be something to consider if your child is taking dual credit courses at a community college in the fall. If you know that's going to be the case, you may want to start on those applications in the summer.

Remember as teenagers get older, we as parents get to the stage when we can't always tell them what to do. We start moving towards the friend stage and sometimes teenagers are just not very cooperative. When my son was 2 years old, he would sometimes get tired and just sit on the grocery store floor refusing to move. When senior year comes around, our children can have moments like that, too. That's one of the reasons I recommend practicing on applications during junior year, in case your child just flat out refuses to in senior year – at least they did some work in junior year they can submit!

Senior Year Step-by-Step is one of my Coffee Break Books. What are Coffee Break Books? These are books designed for YOU - a busy homeschool parent feeling frustrated by something, and needing information NOW - all put together in an easy-to-read, short, simple format. Coffee Break Books are perfect for overwhelmed, sleep-deprived moms with a baby on their hip. Simple, large font makes them easy to read even when distracted or pulled in a million directions. They are designed to help parents tackle just ONE issue of homeschooling during just ONE coffee break! Each book combines a practical and friendly approach with detailed, easy-to-digest information. Never overwhelming, always accessible and manageable, each book in the series will give you the tools you need to tackle the tasks of homeschooling high school, one warm sip at a time.

Learn more about planning senior year in my video review below!

This is a chapter from my book, Senior Year Step-by-Step: Simple Instructions for Busy Homeschool Parents. You can get your own copy in print or Kindle version here.

PSAT/NMSQT® is a registered trademark of the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

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