by Michelle Curren
In my pursuit to encourage homeschooling parents, I thought it would be interesting to get an idea of how homeschool graduates perform in college as experienced by the professors. I made an appeal to professors through Facebook posts, and with the responses that I received I’m going to give you some insight into what they’ve seen in homeschooled college students.
This is not meant to be scientific, in that I didn’t poll hundreds of professors. I was looking more for personal experience, and an idea of their overall attitude towards homeschoolers. In fact, I received only seven responses. I could have pursued more, but I felt like this was a good sampling, and that by being a small number I could present their answers in their entirety. They are employed by both public and private institutions and teach a variety of subjects. I know one of them personally, but he didn’t teach either of my children. For scientific research on homeschoolers, I’ll refer you to Dr. Brian Ray of NHERI, the National Home Education Research Institute, who has done extensive polling, and compiling of that information. His reports, especially “Strengths of Their Own,” were very encouraging to me when I was raising our children – they gave me a vision, and courage that helped me face the mountainous task of homeschooling through high school.
Most of the professors preferred to remain anonymous, so I will honor that. However, one respondent specifically asked me to share his identity. When I publicly asked for college professors who might be willing to answer a short survey, someone suggested that I contact Dr. Jay Wile. In case you aren’t familiar with him, he writes science textbooks especially for homeschoolers, published by Apologia and Berean Builders. I consider Dr. Wile to be somewhat of a celebrity, so I have to admit that I was amused by that suggestion when I first read it, but then I thought, “Why not?” Not only did he agree to answer my questions, his response was the first one I got back. I was so excited, that I told my daughter about it. I asked her if she remembered using his textbooks for science and she replied, “Yep! Especially animal science, that’s what started my love for science.” Dr. Wile suggested that I add that he “experienced homeschooled students at two different universities: a secular one and a Christian one. In both cases, they were (on average) my best students.” If you would like to learn more about Dr. Wile, you can visit his website at www.drwile.com.
I’m grateful to all of the professors who took time to respond, especially since I hit them up right during finals. They all gave such great responses that I’m going to relay them verbatim. This really is everything that they said – I didn’t leave anything out.
My survey consisted of four simple questions:
1) What are homeschooled college students’ strengths in college classes?
2) What are homeschooled college students’ weaknesses in college classes?
3) What suggestions would you give homeschooling parents who want to prepare their students for the demands
of college classes?
4) Is there any other information that you would like to offer?
I’m going to restate each of these questions as a sub-heading and then follow them with the professors’ responses. Dr. Wile’s will appear at the end of each section.
WHAT ARE HOMESCHOOLED STUDENTS’ STRENGTHS IN COLLEGE CLASSES?
“Most are respectful of me as the instructor and of what I am trying to teach them. Most see the value in what I have to share with them rather than seeing my classes as something they “have to” take.”
“I teach English, and I have noticed most of the homeschool students I have had are better prepared for writing assignments than the typical public schooled student is. This is obviously related to the curriculum used at home, but I think most were still exposed to grammar and mechanics in their middle school years when most public schools don’t emphasize this as much in middle school.”
“Generally speaking it’s been my experience that homeschoolers take the assignments seriously and are willing to actually work on them, and to persist working on them until they’re finished. They are also not afraid to ask for help when it’s needed and/or to work with peers and/or adults. They are also much more respectful.”
“Although home schooled students’ abilities are varied, my impression is that homeschooled students generally have good reading skills, can think critically, solve problems, and have independent ideas. They seem to be good at project based learning as well. In general, their effort and work ethic is better than average. They seem eager to learn. I have had a 16-year-old homeschooler that never had any science class before in my plant biology class (for biology majors) that was by far the best student in the class.”
“Homeschooled students have several strengths. Academically, they are more prepared for college studies. They have better English skills than government educated students, in terms of both spelling and grammar skills. They communicate better both written and orally. They are also better prepared mathematically. There seems to be a big difference between homeschooled and government educated students in both attitude and perspective. Homeschooled students are less likely to expect things to be given to them for little effort. They also tend to be more respectful, mature, and open-minded.”
“In my experience, homeschooled students are hard-working, polite, engaged students. They are not afraid to ask questions and engage with the instructor.”
“They usually can read the text and gather information from it.”
Dr. Wile: “They are the most serious about class. They always attend, ask questions, and respond when asked questions. Outside of class, they learn better on their own. When I ask questions that are covered in the reading but not in class, they are the ones most likely to answer the question correctly.”
WHAT ARE HOMESCHOOLED STUDENTS’ WEAKNESSES IN COLLEGE?
“I wouldn’t necessarily call this a weakness, but some are so used to quick grading and feedback from parents that they forget that it takes time for instructors to get work graded. (This is also an issue with public schooled students, too, but homeschool students seem to expect essays back the same week they are turned in.) Sometimes the lack of immediate feedback can become a de-motivator.”
“Sort of a funny issue – but I get several homeschool students who forget to put their names on their work. They just forget that this is something I need from them.”
“Yes, I have had the awkward student who hasn’t been socialized much, but this is the rarity. Most are some of my best communicators because they were exposed to adults through volunteering, traveling, projects, 4H, Scouts, church, etc. Those who are reserved typically come around soon enough and find their niche.”
“Some of them (surprisingly to me, a homeschool mom myself who’s learning what she needs to be sure to incorporate in her own “academy”) don’t seem to have much experience taking notes in a class setting where the instructor just keeps moving along. At least one of them didn’t even realize he should copy down the examples we worked in our college algebra math class.”
“It is hard for me to identify weaknesses, especially when I compare homeschooled students to government school peers. Academically, they always do well in my courses in comparison to government school students.”
“In my experience, a great deal of homeschooled students do not know how to properly research, using electronic databases. This means they depend mostly on the internet for research, which is not where real research can be found. This also means they do not know how to properly format a bibliography in MLA or APA style. In fact, those terms are foreign to them.”
“I didn’t really see many weaknesses that differed from other students. Perhaps they were not as used to exams.”
Dr. Wile: “A perfection syndrome. Homeschool graduates are less likely to understand that there is an appropriate trade-off between efficiency and 100% accuracy. They tend to work on assignments too long in order to make them perfect.”
WHAT SUGGESTIONS WOULD YOU GIVE HOMESCHOOLING PARENTS WHO WANT TO PREPARE
THEIR STUDENT FOR THE DEMANDS OF COLLEGE CLASSES?
“If their child is already working independently most of the time, their son or daughter is on the right track. If not, try to help the student to be as independent as possible. Let the student follow a schedule and only intervene for help. Put off grading for awhile to see how motivated the student can be without immediate gratification of feedback.”
“Do they know how to study and manage their time? Most students (both homeschool and public school) struggle here. Many students do not learn how to study for a test or know how to juggle “fun” with the time required to get homework assignments finished. Again, I see this more with public school students because they are given multiple choice tests and they often don’t do much homework. However, some homeschool students are not expecting the load they are given in college and expect it to be not much different than what they are used to doing at home. Again, this depends on the student and the curriculum used at home.”
“Read, read, read, read…encourage lots of reading. College success comes from lots of reading and independent studying.”
“Help them learn to manage their time well. In our Tuesday-Thursday math class, waiting all the way through the weekend until Monday night to start the homework discussed during Thursday’s class is too long. Waiting until the one-month mark to start studying for a unit test it too late. Math (and foreign language and music and sports, to make an abbreviated list) is better learned and longer retained when it is practiced every day. Every day. Daily. Even if/when they don’t like it. It will be incredibly, exponentially more difficult if they don’t. Schedule a time to do at least a little bit of it, new stuff, old stuff, something, every day.”
“Prepare them to strictly follow schedules, manage their time for study, and get them up to speed on academic literacy. Make sure they have their student take advantage of all of the orientation sessions, especially those designed just for homeschoolers.”
“Obviously, make sure they are academically prepared for the demands of college study. I think it is also imperative students be prepared spiritually for what they will experience. They will be exposed to atheistic/humanistic worldviews and all kinds of evils on a college campus. Parents need to make sure their child has a sound Biblical worldview that will enable them to stand strong in the faith. Students must know truth from a Biblical perspective.”
“Homeschooled students must know how to use electronic databases, have regular access to them, learn how to properly document their research, and utilize critical thinking skills in assessing whether research is credible/quality or not.”
“Work on math, writing, and reading comprehension skills.”
Dr. Wile: “Give them rigorous courses, and do not fill their days with homeschool co-ops and online classes. The strength of homeschool graduates is their ability to learn without a teacher. They can have some classroom experience, but most of their learning should be done on their own, especially in high school.”
IS THERE ANY OTHER INFORMATION THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO OFFER?
“I have been so impressed by my homeschool students that I pulled my son from public school. He started in 7th grade and is now in 8th. We have joined a once-a-week group, but we mainly did this to offer him additional socialization. Most of my homeschool students are in similar groups that we have in the area.”
“My homeschool students are some of my “favorite” students. I hate to put it that way, but they are well- mannered, respectful, almost always have their work done, are attentive and ready for class, and typically have a good work ethic. I find them to be ready to learn in a way that I don’t see with public school students. I don’t know if this is because they are excited to be in the college classroom, or if it is something else. In fact, I had a student this semester tell me she enjoyed my writing class and that she liked being in a classroom. She was nervous about it, but it turned out to be fun to hear so many points of view on various topics.”
“Another thing I think worth mentioning is that I also like it when students who are homeschooled let others in the class know. I don’t share this information with the other students, so sometimes they go through a class without anyone knowing. However, I like it when the students say something about being homeschooled. This often becomes a teaching moment for the other students who have preconceived stereotypes about homeschooling. I enjoy seeing their attitudes and ideas shift to see homeschooling in a new, different way.”
“I have always said, even as a young, public high school teacher, before I had my now-teenage kids, that “those homeschool students make the best students.”
“Most of the time, we don’t know which students are homeschooled or not. It only comes up if the student volunteers the information. It will sometimes come up in an introduction session at the beginning of class, but not always. Therefore, my observations are only about the students that I know were homeschooled.”
“I encourage homeschooled students to connect with others who are like-minded in the faith when they arrive at college. These like-minded others may be students, but may also be university faculty and staff. If a student will get connected to like-minded others, this will serve as a source of support for them.”
“I have taught at the college level for over 20 years, and I can honestly say that homeschool students are now much more prepared for college than ever before. I really enjoy having them in my classroom.”
“I could also see the importance of working on note-taking skills. Be able to write down the important discussion points from a lecture.”
Dr. Wile: “I started working with homeschoolers specifically because my very best students at the university level were homeschool graduates. That’s still the case today. Generally speaking, I can tell if a student is a homeschool graduate by the middle of the semester, because he or she is serious about class, interactive in class, and does very well, especially on those things not explicitly covered in class. I wish I could fill my classes with homeschool graduates.”
ON A MORE PERSONAL NOTE
The professors’ comments reminded me of some of my own children’s experiences. Here are a few that I can share:
In one of our daughter’s first college classes, the teacher was addressing the students and said, “someone in our class has already taken the next test, even though we haven’t covered the material yet.” And then, looking at my daughter, she asked, “Was it you?” After Margaret sheepishly nodded her head, the teacher continued with, “Well, you did pretty well, so I guess that’s okay.”
When our son took an English Composition class, the professor asked if he could keep one of his essays to share with future classes.
Both of these examples are from when they were taking dual-enrollment classes at a community college to finish their high school requirements.
When I was a new Homeschool Mom reading about homeschool graduates, I was amazed at the unique paths that they took, and the things they accomplished. Their stories encouraged me and that was what I wanted to do for you. I hope that by reading what these professors had to say about their experiences with homeschoolers that you hold your head a little higher and feel confident that homeschooling really works!
Michelle Curren is a retired Homeschool Mom. She homeschooled her two children for fourteen years and they are now both high school graduates. Her twenty-two-year-old son is a small business owner, and her eighteen-year-old daughter is a Freshman at Harding University. She now writes at Mid-Life Blogger where she hopes to encourage the next generation of homeschooling families. Her blog can be found at http://midlifeblogger.com. This blog post originally appeared on her blog page.