Although I’d home-schooled my two kids from day one of kindergarten, a distinct sense of trepidation (OK, fear!) crept in as they approached high school. Homeschool record keeping in particular felt intimidating. How could I prepare professional-looking records containing all the documentation that my homeschooled kids will need for college admission?
Of course, I had kept files of my children’s progress throughout each grade level. But now, as my students took this next step, my documents had to parallel those of traditional high schools. While overwhelming at first, I quickly realized this process could become a team effort. My husband and I kept school records and empowered our teens to take responsibility for presenting themselves as viable candidates for college admission.
HOMESCHOOL RECORD KEEPING FOR PARENTS: Guide the Process
When my first child entered high school, I joined a homeschool support group that focused on the teen years. Not knowing where to start with homeschool record keeping, I reasoned that these seasoned parents would have all the answers. But some of their homeschooled kids weren’t planning to apply to four-year colleges, and others had different goals. I discovered that there wasn’t a universal “right way” to proceed.
So our family blazed our own trail toward college admission. I had the essential task of translating “home-schoolese” into “college-admissionese” as I chronicled our children’s home-education journeys. Here are the records I put together for my homeschooled kids during their high school years.
1. Describe Courses
Just as traditional schools do, I gave each homeschool course a name and description — often guided by typical wording found in course catalogs. As I planned each course and pulled together a description of objectives and assignments, I searched online for examples of similar courses and occasionally reached out to others for help. For example, I rejoiced when an English teacher at the local Christian high school gave me detailed course descriptions for all four years of her honors English classes. I even called my high school math teacher to ask how to document an honors geometry course.
I also preserved photos or scans of textbook covers and tables of contents to jog my memory as I documented course topics. After gathering these raw materials, all I had to do was polish and organize the document, creating a clear, attractive format.
Drafting course descriptions year by year, not last minute, was a lifesaver. This exercise in documentation also proved helpful when my kids applied for scholarships and summer programs.
2. Document Learning Experiences
In addition to book learning, some courses stemmed from my children’s individual passions. Our daughter loved researching historical events surrounding plagues and pandemics, while our son designed and coded countless websites. Deep-dive studies like these are perfect for the home environment, but they had to be clearly documented.
While I kept a simple spreadsheet to loosely record hours, I primarily tracked the learning that my children immersed themselves in — essays written, books read, websites perused or created, art and music enjoyed or composed, projects crafted, performances viewed, and debates held. You may also want to guide your teens in doing some of their own tracking, too. This skill will help them as they become college students and responsible for their learning.
This creative format was acceptable to colleges, as were traditional courses, since I’d matched the learning experience with corresponding course titles and descriptions that clearly communicated the content.
3. Prepare the Transcript
Initially, I felt uneasy about creating official high school transcripts for my kids. But a transcript is simply a one-page summary of a student’s high school courses, credits, grades, and GPA. It’s an essential tool for admission as colleges evaluate applicants.
There’s no need for fancy school seals and logos. Clear and concise triumphs over flashy and fussy. In fact, it was quite easy to craft a professional-looking transcript. As you prepare transcripts for your children, you might even consider compiling the home-school report card that Focus on the Family has made available for families here.
Since I’d already created descriptive but succinct course titles, I only had to add numerical credits aligned with those of traditional schools and letter grades that accurately reflected my students’ learning. At the bottom of the transcript, I included each child’s SAT and AP exam scores.
Then I calculated the grade-point average by assigning a point value to each letter grade (A=4, B=3, etc.). I multiplied each course’s point value by the number of credits the course was worth. After adding these up, I divided this sum by the total number of credits earned.
I was glad I’d started drafting the transcript during my older child’s ninth-grade year. From there, I simply updated and edited it at the end of each school year. As a bonus, the document was available for other needs, such as providing proof for good-student auto insurance discounts and satisfying prerequisites for community college courses.
4. Create a School Profile
Within the Common Application (described in the “For Students” section below), parents who home-school can build a short document describing their “school” and methods of teaching. I conveniently harvested those course descriptions I’d created, making sure to include textbook titles and reading lists as appropriate. I briefly described assignments and methods of evaluation — essays, tests, projects, quizzes, presentations — to provide a clear description of our home-school setup.
Other portions of our school profile were made up of a few well-thought-out sentences communicating our educational philosophy, teaching style and outside courses. Though this information was not required for all institutions, organizing it proactively and thoughtfully meant we were prepared.
HOMESCHOOL RECORD KEEPING FOR STUDENTS: Applying to Colleges
Once teens are ready to apply for college, the basic documentation you’ve already assembled will provide the raw materials they need. The next leg of the journey encourages your student to take the lead in preparing materials for college admission as well as becoming an advocate for their own learning. They will develop a sense of ownership and responsibility — and they’ll gain necessary skills as they embark on the college years.
1. The Common Application
My homeschooled kids became familiar with the Common Application, or Common App, early on. More than 900 colleges and universities use this online master application, allowing students to streamline the admissions process by submitting just one application. My children were able to create an account, browse college requirements, and get a sneak peek at the overall process. While not all colleges use this tool, asking each of my kids to complete their applications and keep them up to date offered a major head start in their journeys to organize what they would need to write, fill in and gather to apply for college.
2. Personal Statements
One crucial element of the process involves preparing essays and personal statements. The summer before senior year, my students began in earnest to gather all required prompts, brainstorm ideas and draft early versions of essays, and personalized responses. Then came the whirlwind of numerous edits to crystallize their experiences.
Each of my children created another strategic document: a student resume. On this one-page document, they highlighted academic achievements, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, awards, honors, employment, volunteer experience and personal interests.
Resumes are not only important when students are applying for jobs, but they can also be helpful for college and scholarship applications. They can also be helpful in providing students with concise descriptions for filling in activities sections on college apps. Some college applications even allow students to upload their resumes. Examining a few resume samples online provided an overview of the format. As with other resources, I was glad this helpful tool was ready to go by their junior year. It came in handy for summer research programs and job opportunities.
4. Personal Recommendations
My students solicited recommendations from non-relative adults who could speak to their accomplishments and character. Excellent sources included teachers outside the home, employers, and volunteer coordinators. To find the right references, my husband and I guided our children to intentionally take note of other people’s comments regarding their skills and character. This included academy teachers complimenting their innate curiosity and ministry leaders commending their sense of responsibility. Building relationships early on helped each child identify strategic sources for recommendations.
Record keeping is certainly not glamorous. But with your guidance, your high schoolers can produce documents they can proudly display for any admissions department.
5. Other Important Resources for Homeschool Record Keeping
SAT or ACT
Depending on college test-score policies, students will need to register for a standardized test, such as the SAT or ACT. This test is a critical component of the application process. Your homeschooled kids should be prepared to take it during the second semester of their junior year in high school. Then if a test needs to be retaken to achieve a higher score, the student has time before applications are due.
This resource offers a variety of college search and prep resources. It’s the first stop for SAT, PSAT, and Advanced Placement test information.
Advanced Placement (AP)
High school AP work (including exam scores), coupled with transcripts and syllabi from community college courses, can be helpful for clearing university prerequisites or transferring previous community college courses.
College professor and author Alex Chediak offers advice to parents on guiding their teens and homeschooled kids toward academic and career success.