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Common App question: Is son a homeschooler, or not?

lgreenlgreen Posts: 247Registered User Junior Member
My son, a rising senior, has not been a full-time student at a traditional bricks-and-mortar school since third grade. However, I'm not sure whether he would be considered "home schooled" for the Common Application.

He is enrolled in a umbrella school as required by our state. This school has a CEEB code and would be considered a private school under state law. The umbrella school will issue his transcript and has an official who will sign paperwork as the school's "guidance counselor." He will receive a state-recognized diploma from this school. However, he has never attended any actual classes at this school (there aren't any), and the "guidance counselor" doesn't know him at all. The school assigns a class rank based on a combination of parent-assigned grades, ACT scores and class load, but it does not provide a school profile and would be only minimally involved in helping with any college applications. Essentially it is a recordkeeping service for home schoolers.

He is also enrolled in American School, a distance learning program, so that if any of his future pursuits require a fully accredited high school diploma, he will have one. American School has a separate CEEB code and will also issue a transcript, but it will include only the courses taken toward its diploma, which make up only a small slice of his full high school program. It does not rank; its employees do not know him personally; it is hundreds of miles from our home, in a different state; he has never set foot in the place; and truly I would not expect this school to be involved at all with his college apps, other than by issuing a transcript.

Now we are not sure what to pick when faced with the choice between "home school" and "independent" on the Common App. It appears that this choice will affect the rest of the online application -- i.e., if we choose "home school," it will ask for the home school supplement.

Both choices seem disingenuous. He isn't "really" a homeschooler - he will have a fully accredited high school diploma, plus a separate state-recognized diploma, and is legally considered to be enrolled in a private school. About 90% of his high school course work will have been taken outside the home or under the supervision of outside instructors.

On the other hand, he isn't "really" a private school student - he has not attended a traditional high school except for an occasional class, and his educational path has been directed by his family, not by an institution.

Does it make sense to choose "home school" and then use the name and CEEB code of the umbrella school, which is technically a private school? If we're using the name and CEEB code of the umbrella school, do we need to list its employee as "guidance counselor," or should I list myself?

On the other hand, if we choose "independent," will it look odd to upload the school profile (written by me) that describes his home-directed education, and a statement "in lieu of narrative comments by a guidance counselor"?

I apologize for this long and rambling post, but I hope some of you have been through this experience before and can offer suggestions. When my daughter finished high school several years ago, all of her prospective colleges offered their own application forms, on paper, giving us more flexibility to convey what she had done. Since then, most of the schools have switched to the Common App exclusively. I haven't dealt with the Common App before, but my initial impression is that it feels more rigid, and I'm not sure of the best way to explain my son's situation.
Post edited by lgreen on
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Replies to: Common App question: Is son a homeschooler, or not?

  • pualalalapualalala Posts: 81Registered User Junior Member
    I'd have to say go with declaring homeschool - otherwise, I think not having a school profile, counselor who knows you, etc, would make it more difficult to get in as you would not rank up against students from private schools. Compared to them (which, if you declared yourself as one, that is who they would have to compare you to) you would probably end up ranking lower due to the (non-private-school) structure of his schooling.

    On the other hand, it might be harder to get in as a homeschooler, but you'd be nearer the top/middle (depending on his scores) of that pack with two objective transcripts.
  • PlantMomPlantMom Posts: 707Registered User Junior Member
    Well, I'm not sure I can offer advice, but I can share that we have been down a similar route--kind of, sort of...

    We homeschooled through an umbrella school for most of our homeschooling years. We never took a single class at the umbrella school; essentially they were there as a transcript service and to keep us in compliance with school attendance laws. Our kids did an ecclectic blend of online schooling (both public and private), community courses, and genuine kitchen table type self study. When our first child applied to college, she was instructed by the school to apply as a private school student on the Common App. They, in turn, were supposed to provide the transcript, school profile, secondary school report, and guidance counselor letter. The bottom line is that they were totally unprepared to submit these formal documents and really botched the application process. The transcript they came up with was full of errors, they had no school profile, and the guidance counselor seemed incapable of writing grammatically correct sentences--never mind a full letter of recommendation. When they refused to issue a timely mid-term report and updated mid-term transcript, and tried to prevent our child from divulging details about the school (private meant private according to the school) in support of her non-traditional schooling, we quit. DD notified (midstream in the applications) all of her colleges that she was reclassifying herself as a homeschooler. Everything worked out, although she received a few more waitlists than we thought based on her test scores, etc., but I decided that for my next two kids, they would apply as homeschoolers.

    This year our second child applied, as a homeschooler. Like yours, he is really more of a non-traditional student than a homeschooler. His mix of schoolwork included public and private online schools, community college dual enrollment, and the truly homeschooled independent work. Actually, this seems to be pretty typical of the homeschooled applicant: they have a truly ecclectic mix of stuff on the transcript. I had no trouble checking the homeschool box on the application. In my guidance letters to the colleges, I tried to elaborate on the highlights of the non-traditional parts of son's schooling, and how they would suit him at college X. Likewise, in the school profile, I described all of the pieces of son's schooling including descriptions of outside learning institutions (a section called partners in education). I was able to highlight what we had required of him to be done with high school (graduate :-) as compared to state standards. The homeschool supplement was pretty easy. Much of it had notes referring to the school profile, transcript, course descriptions we submitted, etc. Although I created a master transcript, we did request transcripts from all of the other institutions son had taken classes from. Overall, I was much, much happier presenting this kid as a homeschooler.

    So, sorry for my rambling response--but you touched on something that was a huge deal for me over the past two college application seasons. The only advice based on my experience that I can offer is that if you are confident that your umbrella school can do a good job of providing accurate, timely documents to colleges that truly reflect your child's achievements and differences, then go for it. Otherwise, IF your umbrella school will allow it, don't hesitate to call yourself a homeschooler, and have fun creating a unique and personalized application package for and with your child.
  • 'rentof2'rentof2 Posts: 4,327Registered User Senior Member
    I agree with PlantMom. We didn't deal with any unbrella schools, nor did my kids seek to graduate or get a diploma from any institution, so I can't speak to that aspect. However, my first reaction to reading your situation was that I would have my kid apply as a homeschooler, I would drop the private umbrella school completely out of the picture. If they're just sending a transcript based on homeschool grades, then I'd just send my homeschool grades directly, have the test scores sent directly from SAT/ACT, write the counselor evaluation myself and basically just not involve the umbrella school in the application at all. You don't need anything from them. Homeschooled applicants don't generally have a class rank, colleges are used to this. (In all the class rank questions on the Secondary School Report I just wrote "N/A".)

    I would have a transcript sent from American School, just as a supplement or to reinforce those grades you reported on your Master Transcript that were issued by them, but I'd treat it (in terms of the whole picture you'd be creating with the application) as just a single element of his whole, wider ranging program of education.

    And I would use the CEEB code for homeschooling, not the others.

    My son was doing very little actual homeschooling when he was in those high school years. He took classes at the local high school part-time, classes from the local univ., classes from the homeschooling center (sponsored by the school district, but they did not issue grades or keep transcripts) and he also did a few things at home on his own or with me. We used the CEEB for homeschoolers on the Common App, and made a master transcript and wrote up course descriptions for those subjects done independently or at the homeschool center. I had transcripts sent from the college and the high school, and of course test scores from the College Board.
  • lgreenlgreen Posts: 247Registered User Junior Member
    The bottom line is that they were totally unprepared to submit these formal documents

    I would expect a similar result from our umbrella school. Most of its students go to in-state public colleges, which don't require much beyond a transcript. When I asked about a school profile, the "guidance counselor" didn't appear to know what I was talking about. After I explained, she said no, they didn't have any document like that.

    When my dd graduated, I must have gone back and forth with them at least a half dozen times to get errors corrected on her transcript. At least they showed me a copy and asked for my approval before sending it to the colleges, so we were finally able to get it right.

    I have no doubt that I would create a much stronger application than the umbrella school would, and I'm intrigued by 'rent's suggestion of not involving the umbrella school at all.

    PlantMom, when your son applied as a homeschooler, is that the way you handled it? Did you keep him enrolled with the umbrella school to meet state requirements, but just not involve the umbrella school in the college application process? Or did you actually withdraw him from the umbrella school?
    His mix of schoolwork included public and private online schools, community college dual enrollment, and the truly homeschooled independent work.

    This situation is very similar to ours. I think we will end up with five transcripts - one from a community college with about 15 courses, one from American School with a similar number, one from a four-year university with a couple of courses, one from a local public school where he took a single class, and then a "master transcript" (from either me or the umbrella school) that lists them all, along with a few "truly homeschooled" courses, on a single document.

    I hope this level of outside validation, along with standardized test scores, will help overcome colleges' possible skepticism of homeschooling.
  • 'rentof2'rentof2 Posts: 4,327Registered User Senior Member
    That's a lot of outside validation! I don't think you need to worry at all about that.
  • PlantMomPlantMom Posts: 707Registered User Junior Member
    When we quit the umbrella school after the fiasco with my daughter's applications, we quit it completely, forever...It was a very happy day :-) We have several options that meet our state's compulsory school attendance requirements. Private schools (the umbrellas) are one option; I thought it was best all those years ago but it was so wrong for us in the end.

    We pursued another option we have in our state: enrollment of our students in our county school district's home education program. We receive no state issued diploma (as we would from the umbrella) but that hasn't mattered at all. We must submit an annual evaluation (done by a grade appropriate certified teacher) to the county, but that is easy. In the eyes of our state government, we are now homeschoolers by their definition--we have complete freedom to put together our own curriculum and set our own graduation requirements. We can use our state's public virtual school and dual enroll at the local CC with no fees.

    For our son's college applications, we used the homeschool CEEB codes. In fact, we completely eliminated all reference to the umbrella school. Yes, it sounds like your master transcript would look a lot like ours. You will have plenty of validation of your schoolwork, especially with the other transcripts. On the school profile, under our learning partners section, I listed any accredidation held by the other institutions. I know everyone doesn;t do this, but in our course descriptions, I also listed the outside teachers name, texts used in those courses, and general course content. I wanted it all together on one master document.
  • lgreenlgreen Posts: 247Registered User Junior Member
    Hmm. I like the idea of doing my own "master transcript," but now I am wondering whether I would be required to submit a transcript from the umbrella school anyway. Aren't students required to submit transcripts from all the schools where they have been enrolled? And he has been enrolled there since freshman year.

    However, the umbrella school's transcript would simply duplicate what I could create on my own, and I would have to pay the umbrella school for each copy sent.
  • 'rentof2'rentof2 Posts: 4,327Registered User Senior Member
    Lgreen, the point of students submitting transcripts from all schools attended is to keep people from selectively submitting only records that are favorable to them and "hiding" those which are not. In your case the umbrella school is only transcribing the homeschool classes and grades, and outside classes and grades that you submit to them. It's a duplication of your transcript, in fact.

    It depends on your personality how you deal with "letter of law" requirements that are not applicable to you (you're not hiding anything), and that not only don't have any basis in common sense, but that might undercut you in the sense that you could put together a much better, more informative application by doing it on your own.

    It sounds like the umbrella school is just an educationally meaningless go-around to satisfy a pesky state regulation anyway, and is not in fact a "school" of any kind at all.

    I'd just blow it off as it pertains to college apps, but that's my personality.
  • PlantMomPlantMom Posts: 707Registered User Junior Member
    Yes, as 'rentof2 said, the umbrella is not an attended school. In our case (and it sounds like yours) enrollment at an umbrella is a formal way to comply with state specific school attendance laws. They (the umbrellas that offer no classes) maintain records based on documents you send to them. Colleges seem to be able to look beyond the host of hoops we homeschoolers must jump through to remain legitimate in our respective states. The admissions people I have spoken with want to verify what the homeschooled student has accomplished, get an idea of how your student compares to the others in the applicant pool, and make a prediction about whether or not that student will be successful at their institution. They are not interested in splitting hairs about each state's homeschool record-keeping practices.

    If you are truthfully representing the origin of each course on the master transcript, I don't see that the umbrella, especially one that's only a record keeping, non-course offering school, requires any space on the college application.

    Are you considering leaving the umbrella? Do you have a way in your state to homeschool without them while remaining in compliance with state law? The ability to abandon our umbrella school and switch to homeschooling status under the county school district made our move possible.
  • lgreenlgreen Posts: 247Registered User Junior Member
    Are you considering leaving the umbrella? Do you have a way in your state to homeschool without them while remaining in compliance with state law?

    Legally I think we could register with the local school board as an independent homeschooler. However, changing paths at this point would likely create problems. For example, my son would probably become ineligible for some state-sponsored scholarship money that he's guaranteed to get if we continue on the current path. So we will probably stay registered with the umbrella school.

    However, I can still see a couple of options:

    (1) Fill out the Common App as a homeschooler, do my own transcript, and just don't get the umbrella school involved, even though he's still registered with them.

    (2) Fill out the Common App as a homeschooler, but get the *transcript only* from the umbrella school. All the other documents, including school profile, guidance counselor letter, mid-year update, etc., would be created and submitted by me. But I could get an official sealed transcript from the umbrella school and include it with the package.

    Thoughts on these two options?
  • shawbridgeshawbridge Posts: 3,886Registered User Senior Member
    Our situation was different as my son was partially high schooled and partially homeschooled. Over time, the high school granted credit for a number of the home school courses -- sometimes months after telling us that they would not. When I asked colleges, they said to check send both the high school transcript and the home school transcript. The home school transcript had detailed course descriptions and I footnoted each course that was effectively double-listed. I also got Harvard to submit a transcript for the one course he'd taken at their summer school. In the home school philosophy, I had a longish essay explaining why we'd done it. Some schools asked for my recommendation. Others did not.

    In your case, I'd describe as home school so that you could explain the situation and have the umbrella school and the American school submit transcripts for whatever he'd done there. If there is anything else could be on your home school transcript. That way, they'd get a clear description of what your son has actually done.

    I asked several schools and all told me to submit both. The school that he is going to attend (where 'rentof2's son also goes) gave me detailed instructions for what they wanted. You might try asking.
  • PlantMomPlantMom Posts: 707Registered User Junior Member
    If you are not leaving the umbrella, perhap doing what Shawbridge did is best. Create your own master transcript and add in the umbrella school's transcript as a supporting document. When you submit the guidance part of the application, you will submit your master transcript, course descriptions, the school profile, the secondary school report, the homeschool supplement, the and the guidance form. I also wrote a separate guidance letter in which I explained our homeschool philosophy. Perhaps on your homeschool profile, you could include the umbrella as one of your learning partners and explain its function as a transcript service and/or a way to fulfill the state's compulsory school attendance requirements.

    You are fortunate in that it sounds like you will have some flexibility with your umbrella. Ours would never have gone along with this plan. They wanted to appear as though their school was comparable with all other private schools--even the most elite prep schools--in the area. They didn't think far enough ahead to understand that colleges would figure this out when key documents--like the profile--were missing.

    We also have a two year requirement for our state sponsored scholarship. When we pulled our kids out of the umbrella, we sacrificed her opportunity to receive those monies. Fortunately, even though she was accepted to the state's flagship in the honors program, she had decided that she would be going out of state where the scholarship money could not follow. Actually, it would have been much easier to apply for the scholarship money as a private schooler where the umbrella did the work.
  • lgreenlgreen Posts: 247Registered User Junior Member
    Thanks to all of you for your wonderful advice. After reading about your experiences, I feel very comfortable with the idea of applying as a homeschooler, creating my own transcript, and possibly sending the umbrella school's transcript as a supporting document.

    It's reassuring to hear from those who have already been down this path.
  • lgreenlgreen Posts: 247Registered User Junior Member
    Follow-up question: What is the best way to submit these multiple transcripts with the Common Application?

    It appears that the Common App wants all transcripts and other school reports to be submitted online, or else all of them to be submitted on paper - no mixing and matching.

    My initial thought is that I would prefer to submit everything online. However, I am not the one officially issuing any of the transcripts, except for my master transcript.

    Would it be acceptable to get one copy of each transcript sent to me, then scan it in, PDF it and submit all of them online? It doesn't seem that they'll be very "official" this way.

    Alternatively, if I need to submit those other transcripts on paper, does that mean I will be required to submit all my documents on paper?

    I had thought the best option would be to submit my own documents electronically, and then have official transcripts sent directly from the other schools. However, if I'm reading the Common App instructions correctly, I believe this may be unacceptable.

    Does anyone have any experience with this?
  • 'rentof2'rentof2 Posts: 4,327Registered User Senior Member
    We submitted the basic Common App and the Amherst Supplement electronically, and then the Secondary School Report, the Homeschool Supplement, our own transcript, and course decscriptions on paper. At the time they also said they wanted everything either on paper or electronic, but there wasn't really a way for me to do it with the way the forms were structured online ... you know, as homeschoolers we need to re-design the forms frequently to make them work for us. ;)

    The teachers who wrote recs sent them directly (on paper), and we ordered test scores and institutional transcripts in the usual way. (I assume the test scores were submitted electronically by the College Board and the institutional transcripts arrived on paper.)

    Anyway, it worked out okay for us. That was a couple years ago, so things may have changed now. In general, I'd probably say submit what you can electronically, and what you can't just send it in. But you can always call the admissions office at each school and ask them. That's the safest thing to do. Lots of times they're more flexible then their websites (or the Common Apps website) would suggest ... and with homeschoolers things are always a bit irregular. :)
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