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Death, Taxes, and Course Descriptions - Only Two are Inevitable

When you think about writing high school course descriptions do your palms feel sweaty? Do you break out in hives? If so, I need to let you in on a secret. Not everyone has to write course descriptions for their high school students. Let me explain how to avoid this dreaded task.

Are Course Descriptions Really Necessary?

First, depending on your state law, you may not need course descriptions to graduate your student from high school. If your student will not be continuing to college, and your state doesn't require course descriptions for graduation, then you don't need to bother with it. But be careful! Sometimes (and I know this will come as a shock) teenagers will change their minds about things. Even if a student says "no way" to college now, they may say they want to go to college later. The moral to the story is BE PREPARED! If and when your little "flip-flopper" finally flip-flops (this always happens at the MOST inconvenient time) you will be glad you know there are still ways to make it to college without writing course descriptions.
The good news is that not every college requires course descriptions. Investigate the colleges that interest you and ask about their homeschool admission policy. Some colleges want only a transcript. If you ask the right questions, you can find out if your college is one that doesn't want the extra paperwork or the hassle of reading course descriptions. Paula Wasley writes about the rise of homeschooled applicants. She says on the California State University website:

"But sifting through homemade transcripts, extensive book lists, and portfolios can be unusually time-consuming for admissions officers. Eddie K. Tallent, director of admissions at George Mason University, recently received one application that contained a page of explanation for each class listed on the transcript. 'That was a bit much,' he says."
In contrast, the University of Washington Admission policy is to request a short course description: "Homeschooled applicants must present a homeschool transcript that includes course titles of each subject studied, duration of study, a short description of content, and grade or assessment of performance." Other schools prefer much longer descriptions. An article from Harvard describes one applicant's experience: "My mom wrote out exhaustive transcripts for us. Every class we took and what the class consisted of. It wouldn't just say 'English.' It was what texts we used and how the grade was determined."
If you don't want to write course descriptions, look for a college that doesn't WANT course descriptions. Without investigating, it's hard to know which college would be a great match. Some large, public universities say they don't have the time to read long applications, and they don't want pages of documentation. Other large, public universities distrust homeschool education, and may ask for course descriptions as "proof." On the other hand, a small private college may say they have no need for course descriptions because they base decisions on a transcript or SAT®/ACT® tests alone. Other small private schools may feel they need to determine academic rigor and want comprehensive documentation as evidence of college preparation. My point is that you just don't know what a college will want with an application unless you ask. Not only that, but their policy may change over time as they grow accustomed to homeschooling applicants.

Use Grocery List Course Descriptions

If your child really wants to go to a college that requires course descriptions, what then? Before you speak to your lawyer about early emancipation options, rest assured! There are still ways to avoid writing them! Instead of enrolling in a crash course in "educationalese" (a foreign language that few understand) you can hire someone to translate. There are people who can help write course descriptions for those who "don't speak the language." I know they're out there, because I'm one of them! If you want to explore what a successful comprehensive record looks like, you can check out my website. The Comprehensive Records Solution has all you need to succeed. Note to the uninitiated: a flock of individual course descriptions is what I call a "comprehensive record."

If you want to do it yourself (homeschoolers do tend to be independent) but you don't speak the language, then consider scrapping the course descriptions and simply write a course list instead. It's like a shopping list of what you have done in your homeschool. And like a shopping list, you don't have to use complete sentences! Write a list of experiences or curriculum that you used for each class. Look at this idea:

Economics in One Lesson by Hazlitt
Basic Economics audio course by The Teaching Company
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard Maybury
Personal experience buying and selling on eBay

That wasn't hard, and it was in English, right? Something like this may make an acceptable alternative to full-blown course descriptions. If you use mostly books, then list the books. Try this, for example:

English Literature

English Literature by (choose a curriculum supplier)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Notice that this looks a lot like a normal high school reading list. Many colleges will say they don't need course descriptions, but they will ask for a transcript and reading list. I often wonder if those "reading list" colleges are just looking for a course description in list format. It's certainly easier to both write and read. No punctuation or grammar required!

Sneak in through the "Back Door"

Another strategy for getting into colleges without writing course descriptions is to go through the "back door." Instead of going to college as high school students usually do, you can go to college the way adults do who continue their education after being in the work force. Your student can document that they have a general high school education by passing the GED® test. That may eliminate the need for course descriptions. Students can also take college courses at a community college, giving them a foot in the door. Once they have proven themselves capable of college work, with adequate grades in a variety of classes, they can move into a university setting. Obtaining an associate degree (AA or AS) from a community college will document the educational level of your student, instead of your homeschool transcript and course descriptions. Community college has its pros and cons, but it's certainly a viable method of avoiding intimidating homeschool paperwork.

Plan Ahead Just in Case

If your student is young or just beginning high school, you might want to think about training yourself to write course descriptions. In my experience, it seems like there are three kinds of colleges; those who only want a transcript, those who want a transcript plus a reading list, and those that want a transcript with reading list and course descriptions. You can be prepared for ANY kind of college admission if you simply keep high school records (see my article, "Get Organized! - Record Keeping for Butterfingers" and "Help for Tubbies, Cubbies, and Binder Queens"). Keep track of what books you use and what great homeschool experiences you've had. Save them, and later you will have the information necessary to create course descriptions. Plan ahead by keeping records. Even if you keep everything in a box, you can still go back later and document what is needed.

Don't be fearful of college! There are many viable ways of getting in. Most colleges love homeschoolers, and you can find the perfect college that will love your student and appreciate your homeschool.

Course Description Resources

For more information on homeschool high school course descriptions read my book, Setting the Records Straight: How to Craft Homeschool Transcripts and Course Descriptions for College Admission and Scholarships!

For parental training on how to create a transcript, count credits and grades, and make it look professional, take a look at my FREE webinar, A Homeschool Parent's Guide to Grades, Credits, and Transcripts.

The Comprehensive Record Solution provides what you need to create homeschool records to amaze and impress the colleges. You get training and templates and real-life examples of successful high school records; including my own which resulted in full-tuition scholarships to our first-choice university. Get the guidance and coaching you need to finish the job with confidence. Create Records that Open Doors!
I make a great effort to choose rigorous, quality curriculum for my children. I consider the worldview of each curriculum, its goals, how easy it is to learn from, and the amount of time and effort it will demand from me. As a reviewer, I love to evaluate curricula, and I'm excited when something exceptionally good crosses my path. Of course, we want to use these excellent resources to provide the best individualized education for our teens.

We don't want to settle for public school standards and values just to be able to get into university.

And that's why I love the Comprehensive Record Solution. It gives me both the confidence and the tools for keeping track of my teens' high school learning. It's clear, organized, effective, and professional looking. It helps me translate my "mommy courses" and "mommy marks" into something admissions officers can understand and get excited about.

~Annie Kate
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