Elite colleges ask more of homeschoolers

Are Elite Colleges and Universities Discriminating Against Homeschoolers? asks Paula Bolyard, a recently “retired” homeschooler, on PJ Lifestyle.
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Homeschooled student “enter college with significantly higher test scores than their public (and even private) school peers,” she writes. “They graduate from college at a higher rate­—66.7 percent compared to 57.5 percent—and earn higher grade point averages while in school, according to one study.”

Princeton seems to get it, she writes. Applicants who can’t supply a traditional transcript can submit an outline of the homeschool curriculum.

Yale wants to make sure homeschooled kids are not socially awkward:

We look for evidence of social maturity from all our applicants and especially from home-schooled students. Your personal statement, interests and activities, and letters of recommendation should speak to your ability to integrate well with other students and tell us about your non-academic interests.

But elsewhere Yale says “academic strength” is the “first consideration” with “motivation, curiosity, energy, leadership ability, and distinctive talents” in second place.

“We’re going to want to know what the reason for homeschooling is,” a Dartmouth admissions official told Lindsay Cross at the Mommyish blog.

“Was the student busy with another demanding pursuit, like playing music? Were they traveling with their family? Was there a lack of resources in their area? Somewhere in the application, they’re going to need to explain.”

Private school students aren’t asked to explain why they didn’t attend public school, Bolyard points out.

Some elite colleges ask homeschooled students to submit additional SAT II test scores. That strikes me as reasonable. A straight-A student who’s been graded by Mom will need objective evidence of achievement.

But what about a teacher’s recommendation when Mom is the teacher?

In addition to a “not-so-subtle interrogation about the family’s choice to opt out of public education,” Brown also asks for “letters of recommendation from instructors who have taught you in a traditional classroom setting and who can speak to your abilities and potential in an objective way.”

Brown “would prefer not to receive letters of recommendation from your parents, immediate relatives, or from academic tutors in the paid employ of your family,” unless the applicant has no classroom instructors to ask.

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  1. “We look for evidence of social maturity from all our applicants and especially from home-schooled students.”

    Sounds like discrimination against autistics to me. Lots of us homeschool. Why don’t they ask for evidence of athletic prowess from students who dared opt out of public school PE while they’re at it? And nevermind if that student is in a wheelchair.


    The SAT/ACT is reasonable. Asking for course outlines is also reasonable. It would also be reasonable to ask to meet the student or to accept the student provisionally for a semester.

  2. cranberry says:

    Nonsense on roller skates. The Yale admissions department does require applicants from public and private schools to submit proof of social maturity. That proof is found in the recommendations from the school counselor and the two teacher recommendations. On the Yale admissions website, they write:

    “High school teachers can provide extremely helpful information in their evaluations. Not only do they discuss your performance in their particular class or classes, but they may also write about your motivation, intellectual curiosity, energy, relationships with classmates, and impact on the classroom environment.”

    The single study cited by Ms. Bolyard seems to concern one private, Catholic university of about 10,000 students. There were only 70 or so homeschooled students, in a much larger population. (to judge from the power point.) Such a small study could well mean that the admissions department at the Catholic institution did a good job admitting homeschooled students who would do well at the school. Depending on the university’s location, the population of homeschooled applicants could have an unusually high concentration of students who homeschooled because they outstripped the curriculum.

    Private school students aren’t asked to explain why they don’t attend public school because the admissions departments take care to nourish ties with all schools. Homeschools don’t have college counselors, other than mom & dad. There is no history of students admitted from the school.

    Brown knows the value of a B+ (or the equivalent) in physics from the Wheeler School. It does not have any means of judging the value of a B+ from Mom, or from the tutor hired to teach the subject.

    Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Dartmouth reject at least 9 out of 10 applicants. They have no need to provisionally admit anyone–and it’s not discrimination against homeschoolers to not admit any provisionally.

  3. cranberry says:

    If the student’s a reasonable candidate for admission to Yale, Princeton, Brown, the University of Chicago, Emory, etc., requiring SAT II subject tests should not be a big deal. Many colleges require such tests of all candidates, unless they take the ACT with writing. A student can take up to 3 SAT II subject tests at the same sitting. It’s perhaps an hour more of their time.

    I gather that math instruction is one area in which the schools need independent confirmation of achievement from homeschooled students.

  4. Crimson Wife says:

    Private school students are attractive to colleges because the ability to afford $30+k per year per child K-12 signals that the family will be able to afford $50+k per year per child for college. Homeschooled students tend to be from less affluent families and therefore are far more likely to need financial aid to attend college.

    The Ivies may claim to be “need blind” in their admissions but they can estimate with a fairly high degree of accuracy the student’s familial income simply by the high school attended.

    • cranberry says:

      There’s no need to rely on school type to signal income. The FAFSA and PROFILE draw from income tax returns.

      Between 45% and 60% of Ivy League students receive financial aid. http://www.admissionsconsultants.com/college/ivy_league_financial_aid.asp

      Do colleges impute an income to at-home parents?

      • Crimson Wife says:

        The Ivies claim to separate out financial aid decisions from admissions decisions. So the admissions officers deciding which students to admit wouldn’t see the individual student’s FAFSA or PROFILE. However, attending an expensive prep school or a public school located in an affluent neighborhood is a pretty reliable indication that the student probably won’t need much in the way of financial aid. Not 100% accurate, but reliable enough to maintain the facade of “need blind” admissions without causing too big a drain on the university’s resources.

    • I hear this a lot that homeschooled families are “less affluent,” and I always wonder about it. The homeschooled families I have known (admittedly a handful) have had a mom or dad who could afford stay at home and be the teacher, placing them squarely in the “more affluent” category. How does home schooling work for the “less affluent,” where all the adults in the family have to work? Does the kid stay home alone during the day and take class at night? Does a parent have do a swing shift? ( and before I get jumped on, that’s an honest question, I’m sincerely listening to your answers).

      • My husband makes under 50K a year… so with 6 kids, that puts us in the decidedly less affluent category. I work about 10 hours a week from home to bring in a bit extra to cover activities for the kids and the like, but, how we (and the other families we know, who all make in this range– which is free tuition at the Ivies territory is) do it is:

        1. We don’t pay through the nose for a house in a good school district.

        2. We don’t drive much– we walk whenever possible

        3. We embrace hand-me downs. And our kids share bedrooms

        4. We don’t go on big, fancy, vacations every year. And when we do go on vacation, it involves camping, the off-season, and careful budgeting.

        5. We seldom eat out. Fast food is a ‘few times a year luxury’, not a regular event. Nice restaurants are a once a year thing.

        6. We shop at discount grocers (Hooray for Aldis), garden, shop the sales, and stay within a strict grocery budget. If we feel like steak and pork is on sale, dinner is pork. We cook from scratch.

        7. We barter with other homeschooling families, and help each other out. Strong social networks reduce costs.

        8. We don’t tend to have cable TV.

        9. We keep a close watch on utility bills.

        10. We buy things used. Thrift stores, consignment shops, rich people yard sales. We never, ever even DREAM of buying a new car– who’d spend close to a year’s salary on a vehicle? A crazy person, that’s who!

        11. We budget carefully. We leave room for treats and splurges, but… it’s “Ice Cream at the Root beer Stand!” not “Mommy’s taking you on a shopping spree!” We do our own lawncare, decorating, painting, gutter cleaning… etc. etc. etc.

        12. Because we earn so little, we pay almost nothing in taxes. We only have one person who commutes, and we pack lunches for our husbands… none of this eating out every day stuff. We make out coffee at home instead of buying it out. If we want a luxury good and don’t have the cash for it, we save up until we can afford it. We don;t run up debt. (We still have student loans at about $300/month. If we didn’t have those, we’d be fabulously wealthy by our standards!)

        In short, we live like Americans did in the 1970s… but with AC and Dishwashers… and high speed internet.

        With one parent at home, it’s POSSIBLE to do a lot of things ourselves… so we do. And so our kids are never deprived (Even wealthier homeschoolers tend to eschew designer clothes and lots of gadgets, so the peer pressure goes more toward “Look at this cool paper airplane I designed myself!” than “Look at my new jeans!”), but we don’t have a lot of extra fluff.

        Once you take ‘paying for a house in a decent school district’ or ‘paying for a private school’ out of the equation, you’d be surprised at how much time you free up and how much less money you need to live.

        (And we live in a very nice neighborhood in a small town, where the schools are not bad. Just not amazing. (40% pass rate on a lot of the APs, and they have freshman taking AP classes, for instance. So you know that the “AP” classes aren’t really… AP. Elementary schools that give second graders 15 minutes of recess but 4 hours of homework. “Everyday Math.” Every Edufad of the last decade. You know the drill).

        So it’s not like we’re living in a crack den. It’s just that to get the education I want for my kids, we’d either have to live in the most expensive district in the state, or pay 120K or more a year in school tuitions once all 6 are in school.

        • Basically, a ‘less affluent’ 2 parent home is on a completely different level than a ‘less affluent’ single parent home, because we have a lot more HUMAN capital. Especially as the kids get older and can help out more.

        • tax professional says:

          Based on your description, it also sounds like your husband’s income is supplemented by the earned income tax credit, child tax credit, WIC, and other government assistance programs. I have also seen people in your position who routinely receive assistance from family, or at least generous gifts or family vacations.

          • EITC was actually almost nothing this year b/c 45K puts you on the other end of the curve, and once you pass 3 kids it maxes out. We do get the additional child tax credit. We don’t take WIC, because we don’t need it.

      • Crimson Wife says:

        We’d lose money if I resumed full-time employment even if we used public rather than private schools. I made a decent salary at my last paid position, but not enough to cover taxes, daycare for my 4 y.o. and afterschool care for my 7 & 10 y.o.’s, a 2nd car with all the associated costs, a professional-looking wardrobe, etc.

        When people wonder how moms can afford to be full-time homemakers, I wonder how moms can afford to be employed full-time outside the home.

        • CW: I went through that analysis when #2 was on the way. I was teaching at the time and even in the Masters + 90 lane I’d have cleared about $1.25 an hour after incremental taxes, daycare and expenses.

          I wonder how many two income couples out there have a second (marginal in the economic sense) earner who is actually cashflow (maybe even NPV too) negative? And know it? Would choose different if they knew?

          • Thanks for the answers. As always, I guess it’s all relative. I figure that anyone who earns enough money to support a household would be considered affluent, regardless of how they choose to spend that money, since that is a dream that seems unattainable by so many. But I guess it depends what circles you travel in – if you’re comparing yourselves to even more affluent people who don’t have to bargain shop I can see how you might feel “less affluent.” Makes sense. Thanks for explaining.

          • And for what it’s worth, I respect that you all are willing to make financial decisions based on what you think is best for your kids. We probably disagree on a lot politically and educationally but that is one thing we have in common, and it may be the most important thing. Something to remember in all the educational debates – at heart, we are all just parents looking out for our kids.

          • Anna– Again, most of the homeschool families I know tend to fall in the 30-50K range. So below the Median income… and with more than 2 kids. So most of us would actually qualify for free lunch if we put our kids in school. (If my family cared, we could go on WIC and Food stamps. But we don’t NEED them because we have a strict budget and live within it.)

            The families I see earning 35K-50K with one kid where both parents NEED to work all the time:
            1. Often support one or two pack-a-day smokers
            2. Have $100/month cable plans
            3. Go on vacation to places like Disney
            4. Have massive credit card debt
            5. Rent homes instead of owning
            6. Buy new Televisions (we get ours hand me down)
            7. Buy or lease new cars
            8. Buy new clothes not on sale, even when they don;t NEED new clothes.
            9. Drink regularly (for us, beer/wine is a rare treat b/c it has no nutritional value)
            10. Go out to movies, bars, restaurants..

            A lot of people who ‘need’ two full time incomes really need financial education and a different atttitude.

            Basically, the issue is that SES is a lot more than pure income. If you grew up in a home that emphasized education, thrift, savings, etc., then you’re hardwired to make the sort of choices that give you the freedom to lose an income.

            If you grew up in a ‘spend right away,’ ‘buy on credit,’ ‘spend the tax return on a cruise instead of on car repairs’ environment, then you’ll find yourself falling behind even with a good job.

            So, in a sense, one income homeschoolers ARE wealthy– not because we have a lot of economic capital, but because we have a lot of SOCIAL and INTELLECTUAL capital. And those probably double our effective incomes.

            Again, a big factor is that these homeschoolers are two-parent homes in stable marriages.

            A woman living with her boyfriend who has several children by several fathers HAS to work, even if his income is the same as my husband’s, because she has no stability and he has no reason to stick around.

            Meanwhile, I can assume that, barring a death, my husband will play an active role in the family for decades and decades. If he got laid off, I could go to work until he found something new. We have stability and economic capital that the woman who lives with the latest baby-daddy doesn’t have, even if he has a good job with regular hours.

            It’s back to Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart”– the problem these people face isn’t ECONOMIC breakdown, it’s SOCIAL breakdown. Stable families cost less money, even when they have more kids.

      • Also, on the ‘bargain shopping’ thing… that’s another ‘middle class value.’ The people from less stable social backgrounds actually DO buy prepared food and name brands. Again, not income, but socialization. It’s whether you can expect stability, or whether you see life as ‘feast or famine.’

        As Megan McArdle pointed out ages ago, the lower SES people are making very rational choices based on their life experience– they’ve never HAD stability, so they don’t live like those of us who take it for granted. But the ‘stable people’ behaviors like marriage, thriftiness, church, community connections— actually create more stability.

        So the very inability to imagine stability makes it impossible to engage in the sort of stable-people behaviors that make living on one income possible.

        • For instance, at his first job, my husband was bringing home 20K a year (about 10 years ago.) I didn’t even work at that point, and we had a new baby. But we owned a small house (it was cheaper than renting), we had everything we needed, and we knew this was just ‘starting out.’

          We lived in a neighborhood with people who made about the same that we did. But while we ate beans and rice for dinner, they had pizza delivered. They bought lottery tickets, ciggarettes and beer every day. They had cable TV and leased cars.

          We used the library and got all our entertainment for free. We walked if it was under a mile. They drove. etc. etc.

          It’s not an income problem, it’s a consumption problem. If you don’t have a ‘future orientation’, there’s no point in putting off pleasure until later.

          This (circling back to actual blog topic) is actually a big problem for TEACHERS too. Middle class kids understand the idea of ‘sacrifice and struggle NOW for a big pay-off later.’ So even if they whine while they do it, they’ll grind through the boring stuff to get to the cool stuff later on.

          A lot of lower SES kids see that most of their peers are dead or in jail by age 20– so why work hard now for a future payoff that will never come? A logical decision based on their experiences, but one that simply traps them in the same cycle.

  5. The reality is that all highly selective schools are demanding of applicants from public and private school as well. Everyone has to show high grades, test scores, extracurricular involvement, recommendations, etc. The big difference is that colleges know public and private schools have already put in foundational work to insure courses meet state and accreditation requirements. Their students may not be aware of the background work that has gone into setting up course and credit requirements but colleges are. In contrast, the homeschool applicant can’t just rely that this background has done for them so they have to be mindful about how they will explain their approach and provide support for their student’s record. This doesn’t reflect a special set of standards for homeschoolers. The difference is that homeschoolers are doing it all on our own. But, everybody public, private, or homeschooled has to be prepared to put their best foot forward and demonstrate they are a strong candidate.