Category Archives: Question of the Day

Question of the Day – Letters of Recommendation

Today’s question of the day comes from Heidi. She asks:

“I am working on writing my son’s counselor recommendation letter (required by the colleges he’s applying to), and am really struggling to even get started. Any suggestions? “

Great question Heidi, here’s a couple tips. You want to use the letter to expand upon what the school has already learned about your son, or maybe even inform them of something entirely new. It shouldn’t be a checklist of what he’s accomplished, but should expound upon his accomplishments. Do your best to “wow” them with it. Letters of recommendation should really “sell” the school on your son and make them realize what an asset he’ll be to their institution.

All that being said, it’s usually better if letters of recommendation come from a non-family member, as there is a general bias towards family writing them because of the perceived lack of objectivity, warranted or not. If possible, send two additional letters, written by an adult he has worked with, volunteered for, taken lessons under, etc. This will give an element of “social proof” from someone other than yourself as his parent.

Since every school differs in their requirements, one letter from you might be plenty, but a good majority have more stringent requirements. In my experience, it’s better to be over prepared than under.

Some schools requires that the letter come from a guidance counselor, namely you. This is a tough position to be in, as it’s a challenge to separate your feelings as a parent from those you feel as your son’s teacher. Even so, it can be done well.

I’ve reviewed numerous letters over the years, and every one has been different and unique. The letters which were the most impressive were those in which the author was brutally honest and passionate. Knowing this, and faced with this decision, make sure you do the same. Be extremely honest in your letter. Don’t shy away from the fact that you’re both parent, teacher, counselor, etc. Use this to your advantage. You know your son better than anyone else, so you can tell his story better than anyone else can. Mention the activities he has been involved in and how you’ve seen him grow and mature through the years because of it. Be yourself. Don’t try and write what you think the admissions staff wants to hear, but write from the heart.

Hope that helps, let me know if you need further clarification!

Does anyone else have suggestions for Heidi on what you’ve done in the past when asked for recommendation letters?

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Questions of the Day – Scholarships and Visiting Colleges

Sorry for the absence guys, been working on a new blogging setup and it’s taking a lot more work then anticipated. Hopefully it’ll be up and rolling by the middle of the week, along with the 10 step guide to college prep. But for now, here’s the latest round of questions.

How do I go about finding scholarships for my child?

First thing to do is go to FastWeb.com and create a profile. See what your student qualifies for. Do the same at ScholarshipExperts.com. These sites list outside scholarships given out by companies and organizations which don’t come from the individual colleges your son or daughter is applying to. It’s quite possible that your student will not meet the requirements for a good majority of these non-institutional scholarships. Even so, with the thousands that are available, he or she will most likely be in qualification for several. The requirements are all different. Some are academic based. Others are need based. Still others required you to be a female of french decent living in Oklahoma. These obscure ones can be hit or miss. It never hurts to apply for any of them, sometimes the committee who decides who to reward them to will choose someone who doesn’t meet all the requirements, but only if no one else does either.

Your local public library is another good resource. Most libraries have numerous books on scholarships.

Make sure to fill out the FAFSA form to see what federal and state aid you qualify for. Although not technically “scholarships,” there are many grants available that don’t need to be paid back. Usually these are based upon academic merit or need.

Lastly, check with each school your student is interested in applying to. They will usually have a scholarship list on their website or course catalog. Look into this and see what you qualify for. You never know, you just might get the whole thing paid for!

When should we start visiting colleges?

Although it’s never too early to begin visiting colleges, I probably wouldn’t start until at least freshman year of high school. Make a list, along with your student, of the potential schools interested in, and try to attend as many open houses or preview days as possible at these schools. If you’re going to be vacationing or traveling somewhere near one of your potential universities, stop by to check out the campus. Meet with the admissions office to take a tour. make a list of your likes and dislikes. By senior year, hopefully the list will be narrowed down enough to be able to make a good decision.

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Questions of the Day – Transcripts & College Applications

“If a child completes a college level course in 8th grade can it go on their high school transcript?

As the head of your own home school, you get to choose what goes on the transcript. That’s the great thing about homeschooling, the flexibility. Just make sure that all the activities you are counting for credit actually are relevant to the particular subject, and will help increase your student’s test scores in that area as well.
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When you say a college level course completed in 8th grade, are you referring to a dual enrollment class? Although I’m unfamiliar with any university allowing a student that young to take college courses, if it did so happen, by all means, count it on the transcript. The age or “grade” of the student when the course work is completed is not nearly as important as the level of course work completed.

“What should my 10th grader be doing right now to prepare for college applications?

10th grade is a little early to begin applying for college, but there are several steps that can be taken to best prepare your student for those applications come senior year.

Make sure she is taking a rigorous curriculum of courses that will challenge her. Keep the grades up. Test preparation is also crucial here as well. If she hasn’t taken the PSAT yet, look into taking that this year. Keep solid and accurate academic records that can be added into her transcript and/or portfolio. If she’s involved in sports or extra-curriculars, make sure she is consistent with these. Leadership roles are good. Begin looking at potential colleges she might want to attend. If those schools are located relatively close, attend their open house/preview days. Lastly, make sure her writing is steadily improving. This can be a huge factor for the entrance essay that most colleges require. (Not to mention scholarships as well!)

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Questions of the Day – Dual Enrollment & Service Projects

How do dual enrollment classes work and are they worth taking?

Dual enrollment courses are a great way for homeschooled students to take college classes while still in high school. Many colleges offer them for high school students, including homeschoolers. Check with your local college or university to see if they offer a dual enrollment program. I wrote an entire article on the dual enrollment process last week. You can view it here.

How important are service projects to colleges?

Local community colleges and some state schools will not expect or require service projects. However, most private colleges and state universities will want to see that your student has been “giving back.” I would recommend that you document any service projects your son or daughter has been involved. If you keep a portfolio, this would definitely go in there.

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Question of the Day – What are the Best HS Courses to take?

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Today’s question of the day comes from Cindy, who asks:

“My boys are just now in 6th grade, but I would say that my biggest question is what courses and how much of each should they have in high school in order to best prepare them for college? I am not worried about SAT/ACTs, but more just the best foundation in the liberal arts so that they will not feel like they are “catching up” in college.”

Cindy, great question, and one that many parents are unsure of. I’m glad to hear you’re interested in giving your sons a solid liberal arts education. The liberal arts truly are the foundation upon which all other education is built. Now, to answer your question. In order to best prepare your sons for college, whether they plan on attending an Ivy League school or a small Christian liberal arts college next door, you need to make sure they have the following subjects:

  • 4 units of English, including: Grammar, American Literature, World Literature, and Advanced Composition.
  • 4 units of Math, including: Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and Calculus.
  • 4 units of Natural Science, including: Physical Science, Biology w/lab, Chemistry w/lab, and Physics.
  • 4 units of Social Studies/Social Science, including: American History, World History/Western Civilization, Economics & Government, Philosophy, Psychology, etc.
  • 2 units of Foreign Language, consisting of Spanish, French, Latin, Greek, etc.  (It’s best if the same language is taken throughout.)

Lastly, I would suggest your sons keep a list of all the books they’re reading throughout high school. This can be very impressive when applying to liberal arts or great books colleges.

These sample course listings should give your sons a strong enough foundation that not only will they score highly on their standardized test scores, but they’ll be setting the pace in their college classes so that their public school counterparts will be the ones who need to “catch up.”

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Questions of the Day – Diploma vs. GED

Great questions today from Kristen on diploma vs. GED and naming your home school.

Can my child earn a diploma of some sort, or is the only option to have a certificate stating that he passed the GED?

If you decide to use a 3rd-party curriculum, they will most likely award a high school graduation diploma. Many of these “schools” are fully accredited, so the college or university chosen should accept this without issue. Since practically every school now requires the ACT or SAT to be taken, the need for an accredited curriculum has been greatly diminished. You may even choose to award your own “home-made” diploma. Nothing wrong with this at all. Many parents do this and have no problems.

Taking the GED is an option, but one I would only recommend as a last resort. There is a stigma attached to it that will probably never change. Someone with a GED as their only credential screams “high school dropout.” If the college in question lists the GED as a requirement for homeschool admissions, I would look for another school.

We have named our Home School. Is it fine to use this name on any documents asking for school name, or is it best to include that it is a Home School?

By all means, use the name which you have given your home school, as it adds an element of credibility. Depending upon the state in which you live, by doing this, you may actually be considered a “private school,” and this tends to make the reviewing university more lenient.

Kristen, thanks for the great questions!

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Questions of the Day – Record-keeping and Grading Scales

Questions the next two days come from Kristen, a mom who’s son is currently in kindergarten, but really likes the idea of getting a head start on college preparation.

I’ve heard that it is good to use a sort of “school” for homeschoolers that the parent pays to keep homeschooling records for validity in transcripts sent to colleges. What options are there?

Record keeping is very important in high school, as most every college or university will require some sort of transcript to review for admission. Since organization is key in this regard, those parents who feel they lack the ability to keep accurate records may opt to use a 3rd party home school curriculum who will keep track of courses taken, grades, etc. There are many excellent home school curriculums out there, and their prices very by product and service. For some, this may seem to defeat the whole purpose of homeschooling, the creative, design-your-own-curriculum or unschooling mentality. If you fall in this category, make sure you keep copious records of activities, tests, grades, etc. As with many things in homeschooling, there is no hard and fast answer. It will greatly be determined by your own teaching style and your son or daughter’s needs.

I’ve heard that these “schools” sometimes use a different grading scale than local public schools (i.e. 93%-100% is an A, 85-92% is a B, etc.) which would appear on a graded transcript that the child in home school who scored a 91%, earning a B, did worse than the public schooled equivalent who earned an A- for his 91%. Is this the case? If so, what can be done about it?

Many private schools have more rigorous grading standards than do public schools, and the same can be true for homeschool curriculum providers. The key here is to make sure the grading scale used is documented, so the the college or university reviewing it can see the quality and make their own determinations. This is another reason why standardized test scores are weighed so heavily in the admissions process, they tend to be more objective than a student’s GPA, which could potentially vary depending upon the school attended or curriculum used.

Anyone else have suggestions for Kristen?

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