As a homeschooler, you will most likely have the opportunity to write your own course descriptions when your high school student applies to college. Some parents don’t realize they have this task coming. Others are stressed out when they think about it. We want to help you prepare and also relax. We help families with this part of the college application process all the time. It really is an opportunity, not a burden!
This is an update of one of our most popular posts, which you can still find here, and still has all kinds of good information. But we wanted to give you more models and a simpler set of guidelines to follow.
Step 1. Are they necessary?
Not every homeschool student will need course descriptions. Most community colleges and some less competitive schools may not require them. Check the individual schools your student wants to attend. You might be off the hook if you student has a clear path. Definitely keep notes through high school in case their plans change! Also, don’t get defensive if it turns out you need them. Brick and mortar schools typically do provide this information to colleges so you’re not being asked for anything extra. Plus, it’s an opportunity.
If your student is applying to a school that wants to see your course descriptions, you definitely want to do them. These are one of the best ways to help your student stand out and showcase all the unique and interesting things they did academically in high school. As a homeschooler, the course descriptions, transcript, and counselor letter are all ways you can help highlight your student’s strengths.
Step 2. Start Early!
The best time to start your course descriptions is when your student starts high school. While it probably wouldn’t be a disaster, no one wants to be facing a Common App deadline in senior year while trying to figure out which Geometry book was “the one with the orange cover” that you used or recreate a missing 10th grade literature list. If your student did dual enrollment or online courses, the original descriptions may be gone by the time you go to do the course descriptions if you don’t save them. Keeping records all along is the best way. At the end of each high school year, you should write up the course descriptions, or at least all the key data. Put it in a central file on your computer or back it up somewhere you won’t forget. You can always tweak them later on.
Step 3. Think about your goals.
There’s not one single way that your course descriptions have to look. As a homeschool parent, you have flexibility to combine outside experiences and coursework done at home into a single credit. Or, you can break up different studies into half or even quarter credit classes. You can name things “English 9” or “Literature of the Middle Ages.” You have the freedom to make it clear that your student had a solid, traditional education, or to make it clear that your student had a very unique high school education or something in between. If your student is going into a particular course of study, having course descriptions that show off their devotion to that area or study or their thorough preparation in the basics, may be important to some competitive schools.
4. Look at models.
Seek out different models for course descriptions. You can look at online providers, your local public and private schools, and other homeschoolers. You can make your descriptions look professional and sleek by putting them in a table format or by using clear headers and different font sizes to draw readers’ eyes to the most important places first.
Here are a couple of very different examples. The first one is basic but hits all the important points. The second one is more descriptive, but also gives basic information.
Geometry, Mrs. Math Tutor
Text: Geometry by Ray C. Jurgensen, Richard G. Brown, and John W. Jurgensen (Houghton Mifflin, 1997).
Topics: Euclidean geometry including definitions, postulates, theorems, angles, parallel lines, congruent and similar triangles, polygons, circles and arcs, and area and volume. Note: In addition to standard homework load, the student was assigned the most difficult, proof-based, problem sets.
Grade: A; Credit: 1
Coming of Age in America (Homeschool Classes Online Course)
This year-long course examined the theme of coming of age in American literature. Students’ critical writing skills were developed through prewriting, writing, editing, and revision. Students practiced and refined their analysis skills through close reading and literary analysis as well as through creative assignments and personal reflections. They read a selection of short stories, poems, non‐fiction, and more than a dozen full novels, including Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Other texts included Coming of Age in America: A Multicultural Anthology by Mary Froesh (New Press, 2007). This was an honors which required students to work independently and undertake challenging writing and reading assignments.
5. List your key information.
Once you have a sense of what you’re hoping to present on behalf of your student’s work and what individual course descriptions can look like, we suggest compiling all the key information. This includes:
- Course Title
- Course provider, if you used an outside resource
- Course delivery method, such as live online or at home course
- Course description from the provider, if you used an outside resource
- Textbook or spine for the course, including the edition and author
- Other resources used for the course, such as a book list
- Topics covered by the course
- Important assignments or projects for the class
- How many credits are awarded for the course
- The grade for the course
If the student completed an outside course, you should usually use the course description for that course without changes. However, if the course description does not include the text or books, you can add those. If you are combining outside classes with home experiences, such as a co-op Chemistry class with a textbook and video approach at home, you should write the course description. It does not need to include every single book or assignment. Assignments that are typically part of a course, don’t need to be included. An English class focused on literary analysis can be assumed to have papers. A math class can be assumed to have math problems. However, if there was a culminating research paper or a math art installation as part of those classes, you might include that.
For these notes, just get the information down so you’re ready to write a distilled description that may not include absolutely every piece of information. We suggest doing that in a separate document. Keep the notes! You may need to go back and tweak your descriptions according to what a specific school wants. You might also not write the descriptions until later, just before sending them off. If you have these notes from freshman and sophomore years, you’ll thank yourself!
Step 6. Write the descriptions and format your document.
Finally, bring it together and write the descriptions. Keep your format the same throughout. Use a basic, readable font. Organize your descriptions by subject with headings (or by year, though we recommend by subject). Check over your work for typos by using a spelling and grammar checker or, better yet, by having someone look over them. When you finish, you can save your document and upload it as part of your documents in the Common App or another college application.
If you’re still stuck, please reach out! We’d love to give you individual pointers about your tricky situations.