Homeschooling High School

by Laurel Griffiths

More and more students are deciding to educate themselves outside the traditional education system. There many names for this (each with some philosophical differences): homeschooling, unschooling, autodidacticism, life learning, worldschooling, and others.

It also seems that this becomes more acceptable every year. But there is still a stumbling block when a child reaches high school age.

The shadow of college prep and the admission process looms large. How will a student get into college without a traditional transcript? How will a student be prepared for college-level work without a plethora of honors and AP classes? What about the SAT and ACT? And, if a student does get accepted to a college, how will s/he ever cope with being in classrooms with other people?

As one my favorite infographics shows (the one over there <==), these concerns are blown out of proportion.

Homeschoolers do just fine — and usually better than their public school counterparts.

They do very well on standardized tests. Once in college, they have higher GPAs and graduation rates than public school students.

I’m not saying that homeschool students are better than public school students. (I was a public school student my whole life.) I’m saying that we don’t need to worry so much about homeschooling high school age students.

One of the benefits of homeschooling in high school is that students are far more independent. They can seek out individual opportunities to take advantage of.

I’m an education consultant at Dunce Labs, and I love working with students to design their own education — whether that’s whole-hog homeschooling or thinking outside of the box for opportunities to supplement a traditional high school experience. Here are some of my favorite opportunities to introduce to the students I work with:

Traditional Classes. Homeschoolers aren’t allergic to classrooms. Unlike a traditional student, they do have more flexibility in when it comes to the ‘when’, ‘where’, and length of their classes. Many K-12 school districts allow homeschoolers to take a specific number of classes at public schools. Homeschoolers can also take college classes at local community colleges or universities, online classes, and MOOCs.

Community Education. Homeschoolers often participate in educational opportunities outside of traditional educational institutions. For example, they could take a design class at an art museum, a beekeeping workshop at a farm, a coding class at a co-working space, or a welding workshop at a makerspace. Here, in Reno, a young taxidermist, Emily Felch of Natural Selection, has just started offer classes in bug pinning (what better way to learn entomology?). The Historic Reno Preservation Society regularly offers walking tours and lectures on local history. Sundance Books and Music, 0ur independent bookstore, brings in authors for readings and talks.

Clubs and Sports. Many homeschoolers participate in after-school clubs and sports teams through their local K-12 school district. Others join community leagues and organizations. The wider community usually offers some things that you just can’t get in high school. You won’t find many roller derby teams in the halls of high schools, but there may be a Junior Roller Derby Association club in your area. And, of course, many (public, private, and homeschooled) high school students participate in dance, martial arts, community choirs, and other activities outside of the regular school day.

Semester Schools and Exchange Programs. Semester schools offer (as you may have guessed) semester-long, accredited education programs for high school students. Students study away at these residential programs and get an immersive, in-depth educational experience in specific subjects. One semester school I love is the Woolman Semester. During their term at Woolman, students study global thinking, peace studies, non-violent communication, environmental science, and food studies. (Check out other programs at the Semester School Network site.)

Students can also go abroad in high school. One of the oldest and best respected program is Rotary International’s Youth Exchange. Students can spend a full year in another country living with a host family.

Volunteer Opportunities, Internships, and Work Experience. With their flexible schedules, homeschoolers have lots of opportunities to get hands-on experience in different fields and careers. They can work during regular business hours, during the regular business week.

Summer and Other Break Programs. Some of the most diverse, richest options are available to all students during the summer and other traditional school break times. There are wilderness programs (like Outward Bound), international programs (like the Experiment in International Living), language immersion programs (like the Middlebury Monterey Language Academy), field work opportunities (like at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center), and lab work experience (like at the University of California-Santa Barbara). Rustic Pathways has specific spring break programs.

Gap Year Programs. Traditionally gap year programs take place directly after a student’s senior year before they enter college. Homeschoolers can take advantage of these semester- and year-long opportunities when they want (provided they meet admission requirements — some programs require students to be a certain age). Some gap year programs emphasize hard skills and work experience (like UnCollege and Dynamy). Some focus on global travel and international understanding (like LeapNow and Where There Be Dragons). Some focus on adventure (like the National Outdoor Leadership School and Sea|mester). Learn more and discover even more gap programs at the American Gap Association and USA Gap Year Fairs.

Start College Before 18. Homeschoolers really decide when they are ready to graduate. They can apply to colleges at any time. Some colleges are more open to this than others. Bard College at Simon’s Rock is specifically set up for students to begin college after their sophomore or junior year, and they welcome applications from homeschool students.


These days there are just so many great options when it comes to learning outside the classroom. And, as I mentioned before, none of these programs or opportunities are exclusively for homeschool students. But I think that even more families would jump on the homeschooling band wagon (especially during high school) if good information was more readily accessible and if there were more open discussions about homeschooling. Here are a few FAQs on homeschooling high school to spark that discussion:

Is it difficult to apply to college as a homeschooler? The college admission process is hard. Period. Yes, it will look a little different when you are applying as a homeschooler, but it’s not necessarily harder. The best thing to do if this question is pestering you is to look at the admission pages for a variety of schools.

In general, if you’re homeschooling in high school, you want to keep good records of everything you do. When it’s time for admission season, I always recommend that homeschooled students do an on-campus, phone, or alumni interview.

Are homeschoolers eligible for financial aid? Yes. The Home School Legal Defense Association published a great document on this in 2010.

Will I have to break the bank to homeschool? No. As the infographic above shows, the amount of money that a family spends on homeschooling does not affect a student’s success. Regardless of income, a homeschool student can be successful. Most summer, break, gap, and other programs have extensive financial aid and some have merit-based scholarships. Some programs are free. Students can study abroad and learn a language for free under the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. Students can spend a summer away from home volunteering in national, state, and regional parks and forests through the Student Conversation Association for free (no room and board fees; students can apply to have travel expenses covered).

Are homeschoolers weird? No more than the rest of us. In fact, they may be less weird. In “Socialization: Homeschoolers Are in the Real World,” Chris Klicka points out,

Public school children are confined to a classroom for at least 180 days each year with little opportunity to be exposed to the workplace or to go on field trips. The children are trapped with a group of children their own age with little chance to relate to children of other ages or adults. They learn in a vacuum where there are no absolute standards. They are given little to no responsibility, and everything is provided for them. The opportunity to pursue their interests and to apply their unique talents is stifled. Actions by public students rarely have consequences, as discipline is lax and passing from grade to grade is automatic. The students are not really prepared to operate in the home (family) or the workplace, which comprise a major part of the “real world” after graduation.

Socialization is the process of learning the practices, values, and ways of life in our society. That’s hard to do if you’re isolated and locked away from the rest of society for 180 days a year.

Another great introduction to this topic is “The Best Kind of Socialization” by J. Michael Smith.

Wow. Homeschooling sounds amazing. So all homeschooled students know everything and are well-socialized? Uh… no. Just like there is great variety in public and private school students, there is a great variety of homeschooled students. Do all homeschooled students know calculus? Nope. Do all public school students know calculus? Nope. Are there awkward homeschooled students? Yup. Are there awkward public school students? Yup.

If I’m ready to do this, am I alone? No.

  • Most communities have a homeschooling network. Search the web and community boards to see if there is one in your area.
  • The Home School Legal Defense Association has a wonderful resource page for homeschooling in high school. Make sure to also check out your state’s regulations.
  • Attend a homeschooling conference or meetup. Students can attend homeschool camps like Not Back to School Camp (specifically for unschooled teens). These are nice because parents and students can build a strong support network and learn from each other.

Dig a little. I guarantee that you will find some awesome stuff for homeschooling during high school. Good luck!


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