One Uncommonly Challenging Struggle

One Common Application: One Uncommonly Challenging Struggle @TheHomeScholar #Homeschool November 2015
By Lee Binz

The HomeScholar

You've reached senior year and you're contemplating the Common Application, used by over 600 colleges and universities. How can one application possibly fit all the possible combinations of students and colleges? To be honest, it’s a perfect fit for almost nobody. Not all colleges require the Common Application, though. Some universities have their own, smaller application forms that may be more manageable to complete, and certainly more personally tailored to each college. On the other hand, using the Common Application can allow your child to apply to many colleges at once.

The Common Application allows students to apply to a diverse group of colleges (public, private, large, small, religious, and secular), inside the United States and within 14 other countries around the world. Over 800,000 students submitted a Common Application last year. Those students attended public, private, charter, and home schools, and ranged from gifted Ivy League applicants to struggling learners hoping to enter their neighborhood safety school.

As a homeschooler, you will experience the Common App the same way any new guidance counselor would experience it their first year on the job. It may be confusing, challenging, and require excessive amounts of concentration, but if you go into the experience knowing the forms are a perfect fit for very few, you can learn to lighten up and stress less. Most questions can be answered with your best guess. Others can be answered with simple facts, such as grade point average and number of credits. However, many questions don’t have a right or wrong answer, and will require you to give what you think may be a good response, without being sure.

Your child’s Common Application will be received the same way it is received from any other student. A real person will eventually see the application – an admission office representative who has seen it all. The admissions representative knows how challenging the application is, and is familiar with a range of responses. Homeschoolers have an advantage. Your students are genuinely well educated and literate in a tangible way. You are a genuinely caring parent who is involved in the process and deeply motivated to help your child succeed in earning college admission.

If you look at the big picture, the Common Application has a goal to serve both student and college. The college wants to get to know your student, your school, and the level of your student’s education. The Common Application attempts to collect enough information so 600 different colleges can understand the educational background of over 800,000 students. Each section includes specific forms or requirements to help colleges understand your child.   

Throughout the application process, I want you to feel confident. You are the homeschool parent and the perfect educator for your child. Your job title is “Guidance Counselor” or “Home Educator” or “Homeschool Parent.” Because this is your job, you can provide certification that your records are official school records. You can check the box labeled “transcript affirmation.” And you will communicate as the “school” on behalf of your child.
One Common Application: One Uncommonly Challenging Struggle @TheHomeScholar #Homeschool
School Profile
The Common Application requires information on your homeschool, like it requires information on each public or private school. The School profile includes many questions about your school’s statistics and socio-economic details. These seem like such strange questions for a homeschooler to answer! But again, they are just trying to figure out what the applicant’s high school is like.  Your job is to complete this section as best you can, because you are the guidance counselor. After filling out information about your school, the next step will be to fill out your child’s educational record.

School Report
As the homeschool parent, you are the school. You have kept your homeschool private long enough, and now is the time to share your school with the world. The Common Application requests your student’s official records directly from your homeschool. You need to have homeschool documents ready to submit. Records are needed by the fall of senior year, or “NOW” for parents of seniors. This is why I suggest updating your records yearly, to avoid last-minute panic.

The School Report section is where you will upload or include your official homeschool records, including transcript, course descriptions, reading list, and activity list. Because files are often quite large, the Common Application limits the size of each file you upload. Even if your comprehensive homeschool record is 2 MB, it will only allow you to upload documents in 500 KB chunks. No worries! Simply divide your records into pieces that can be uploaded. For example, upload one document that includes only course descriptions or only descriptions of your core classes. Another document can include the transcript plus activity list, and yet another can consist of the reading list.

Some questions are cut and dried, such as, “Has the applicant committed a felony?” Other questions may be confusing, but if you don’t recognize the words, chances are the answer is no. For example, one question is, “Is the applicant an IB Diploma Candidate?” Don’t waste time wondering what an IB is, or feeling inadequate because your child doesn't sound so elite. Instead, simply answer, “No.”

You will also be asked to “rate this applicant.” You can do so as your school guidance counselor. There will be an open-ended question toward the end for final thoughts, “Please provide any information you believe would be helpful to the reader.” Any information that is outside the box can go in this section, so you might provide information on your school philosophy or reasons for homeschooling here.
One Common Application: One Uncommonly Challenging Struggle @TheHomeScholar #Homeschool
Student Recommendations
After providing educational information about the student, the next step is to fill out what the student is like as an individual. A recommendation letter from the guidance counselor is required.  A homeschooler will be tempted to explain every wonderful thing that has happened to your child, from losing their first tooth to their first overnight college visit. But now is not the time to go tripping down memory lane! Instead, be careful to write your recommendation only about the student, and not about you or your feelings. Write only about high school, with no mention of grade school or junior high. Be professional, ensure it is perfectly edited, and doesn’t sound like Mommy or Daddy wrote it.

The counselor letter should include a header and salutation, your signature and title. You can give your title as Guidance Counselor, Home Educator, or Homeschool Parent. It should include enough information about the student to fill a page or two. It may be difficult for the college to read in the short amount of time they allot for each application if it's any longer. Your goal is to make the letter short and clear. Don't write about what the student did NOT do, but focus on what they DID do. Don't mention what was lacking, what you should have done better, or imply it was luck or an accident that your child did well, or failed to do well. This is a letter about what was done, written in the most positive light possible.

After you have written the letter, go through and edit it yourself. Remove all references to anything that happened before high school. Delete all stories about parents or siblings, unless they are directly related to the child. Remove details about yourself and the process you have gone through, and focus only on the child and their experience. Add strong descriptive words about your child’s character. As you read through the letter, remember you are trying to describe who your child is right now, so most of the descriptive words will be about the child. I know it's a difficult writing assignment for any counselor, but especially for a mom or dad! Hang in there!

The Common App also requires recommendations from the teacher, the guidance counselor, and outside sources. It is preferable to have a Teacher Evaluation completed by a teacher from outside the home, if possible. It could be from a co-op teacher, tutor, or dual enrollment community college professor.  Other recommendations the student submits may come from a pastor, supervisor, employer, or adult friend.
One Common Application: One Uncommonly Challenging Struggle @TheHomeScholar #Homeschool
Prepare for Battle
The challenge of the Common Application is made easier with preparation. If you have already written comprehensive homeschool records, you will be better able to complete the application seamlessly. You can't avoid filling out their forms, but being prepared does help you complete each section more easily. Comprehensive records can provide the memory prompt you need, so you won’t forget key pieces of information during the stressful application season.

My goal is to help alleviate the stress of completing the common application. Yes, it is hard. Yes, the questions don’t always make sense for homeschoolers. But guess what? Colleges understand and have been translating homeschool applications for years. They know the form doesn’t fit everyone perfectly. They are expert at “reading between the lines.” If they have a follow-up question, they will reach out to you and ask.

I understand exactly how important it is to you. I know you want to give your child the best chance, and not put them at a disadvantage in the application process. For the most part, colleges view homeschoolers favorably. They have had experience with how successful these students are at the university level and are unlikely to judge harshly based on a slightly different interpretation of part of the Common Application.

Sit back and take a deep breath. You’ve got this! But if you would like more personalized support during this part of your journey, consider joining my Gold Care Club. Your membership includes 20 minutes of email or phone support one-on-one with me each week and you will be amazed at how much we can get done in that time. You can start and stop your membership at any time. This is the season you will most benefit from the one-on-one support and encouragement I provide to my members.

One Common Application: One Uncommonly Challenging Struggle @TheHomeScholar #Homeschool

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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com.

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