Many of these things won’t hurt a student who is applying for less selective schools! And no student’s transcript is perfect. Everyone will make some choices that weren’t the best options in hindsight. Plus, you have to plan thinking about the kid you have and what they need, not just what colleges might want. Sometimes you should do some of these things in order to support your student more effectively. The kid’s total needs have to come first, before some imagined college strategy.
However, these are some mistakes I’ve seen multiple times over as parents plan and document their student’s high school coursework. Many of them are made not out of a desire to do the best thing for a student, but because parents are unaware or hesitant to do it differently for some reason.
Decades ago, students commonly started high school with physical science, a class that combines chemistry and physics (and sometimes a bit of earth science). While different schools have different tracks, this can now look remedial on transcripts for college track kids. Any course that comes before or is clearly a prerequisite to the core biology, chemistry, and physics courses is a course that puts your student at a disadvantage.
Babyish Sounding Course Titles
It’s great if your student does something light, fun, or quirky for high school credit. But be sure you don’t give the class a title that makes it sound immature or like it doesn’t have much substance. For example, “Crafting for Fun!” is not a great title. “Crafts I” or “Mixed Media Arts” is much stronger. Imagine you’re titling courses for a college catalog and not for the rec center.
Underselling Your Student
I’ve seen a lot of families with students doing high level work whose families underplay it. Or students who do two or three credits worth of work for a single course whose families give them a single credit. Or who title a course as “basic” when it was actually extremely advanced for the level. It can be hard to fully get a handle on this, which is why it can be good to check in with others and compare with what your local schools are doing. Sometimes a supersized credit is a good thing on a transcript. However, you don’t want to downplay your student to their detriment.
Too Many Padded Credits
Not everything needs to be a credit. Look at your packed transcript. Some kids really have earned 40 or 50 credits in high school. But many times, more credits, especially in light electives, just looks padded and undermines your kid in the college application process.
Just Doing the Minimum
Many homeschoolers look at the requirements or recommended course of study at different universities to get a sense of what courses they need. That’s a great start! But most students will have gone above and beyond that coursework. I’ve seen families who get to senior year and have their kids doing just a couple of courses because they “finished everything else.” And then they’re applying to competitive colleges. Most of the other candidates won’t be taking just a couple of courses senior year! You have to go above and beyond and not just excel at the minimum requirements.
Courses with No Texts
Not every course needs books. Sometimes an art or experiential course can be great. However, if your student is taking lots of core courses without any listable texts, then that’s a problem in college applications for any school that wants to see the course descriptions or plan of study. Some colleges even specifically ask to see textbooks listed for homeschoolers. And that includes courses that are from accredited providers. Note that a video text, such as a Great Courses lecture series, can be a text for your home based course. However, a course, such as State Virtual High’s Physics I, is usually not considered a text.
Middle Grades Books for English Class
Not every book that your student reads for English needs to be high literature and sometimes reading a YA book or two can be a good idea. But a lot of YA books can really undermine the quality of a course. Having middle grades books, intended for students even younger, can look very bad. It can look especially bad when a student is reading difficult older classics, but a children’s book is chosen as the “diverse” or “modern” title on a list that’s otherwise all older, white-authored classics. It’s also just not great preparation for college. Students won’t get to read a book for 12 year-olds in a college course. They’ll be expected to tackle harder texts.
Not Giving Key Writing Feedback
There’s nothing more key in helping a student’s writing grow than feedback. Writing feedback can be really individual. Expectations of writing in classes can also be very individual. At least occasionally in your student’s high school experience, they should get solid feedback from a different voice, whether that’s yours or another teacher’s.
No Outside Instructors
Most homeschoolers these days outsource some of their teaching for high school, but it’s specifically important to have some teachers who actually get to know your student so they can write a letter of recommendation. It’s frustrating for students to get to senior year and realize that they need those letters of rec and that colleges prefer they be from an academic teacher, but they’ve only had online asynchronous courses with teachers who don’t actually know them.
Not Standardizing Your Credits
High schools use different credit systems. Colleges use another. If your student started high school in public school, where they award 10 credits for a yearlong high school course, then took an online course from a provider that awards 1 credit for a yearlong high school course, and finally took a dual enrollment class from a community college for 3 college credits, then you have to standardize those into a single system! Otherwise colleges are going to be very confused. Because the 1 year = 1 credit and 3 or 4 college credits = 1 high school credit system is most common, that’s what I would recommend using.
Financial Literacy and Life Skills
It’s so key for kids to have basic financial education and basic life skills. However, be careful about these if you choose to require them as courses. Financial literacy is not a great senior year math course for a college bound student, even if they’ve already done a high level math course beforehand. Basic home economics courses also can’t take the place of key senior year academics for kids with high college aspirations. These are better as a lighter elective in addition to a solid schedule and not in place of one. If they replace something, replace health class.
If your student studied religion as part of their home education, then you can include it. Often church, temple, or mosque related activities such as service work or social groups are better listed as an activity. However, I’ve seen many families of all different religious backgrounds leave off studious, academic studies of religion from their transcripts. This is part of a picture of your homeschool. Students coming from Catholic, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim schools would all have a religious course of study. It’s completely normal and won’t disadvantage them. Don’t leave it off if your student did the work.
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