Please note: "College," in American terminology, is the early years of what is called elsewhere (and in the U.S., too, interchangeably) "university."

College Considerations for Unschoolers

In 2020, I'm bringing this. It's an old story, but worth considering.

By Sandra Lynn Dodd (Sandradodd) on Tuesday, January 23, 2001 - 01:01 pm:

My sister dropped out of high school. She likes to say that. When she was about five feet from the office, the principal zoomed out the door on his way to find her to throw her out! She NEARLY had the luxury of dropping out.

She was 15. I was 18 and in college. My parents knew zip about college. I had figured out some, being in my second year there.

I figured out how to get her into a state college two towns away from her (New Mexico Highlands University, for those in our neighborhood who are curious), because University of New Mexico wouldn't take her until she was old enough to have graduated. She did two trimesters pretty well, and then wandered away. But even then, she was 16/17 and could say she had X# of hours of college credit. So at that point she was a COLLEGE dropout, which is a step beyond being a high school dropout!

I did that before the internet, using the telephone, and requesting paperwork and a class catalog by mail.

When a parent says it can't be done, I know for sure that it can be done.

I also no longer see as much value in going to university young our early as there once was. Things have changed, and continue to change.

Don't worship university education, and don't think of it as mysteriously beyond approach.

Sandra Dodd, March 2020

(Click here to see the original, in the internet archives; I made one correction.)

Pam Sorooshian, on her daughters' three different college graduations in 2012: Unschoolers in College

Amy Childs on her son's move from the couch toward an MBA: Jobs or College?

An article on Kirby Dodd turning 18

Tales of teens taking their first college-level classes (and other teen-related things): Unschooling Teens

We're NOT Off to See the Wizard:
March 9, 2001
I hadn't read that until September 2004, and it's very cool.

Alison McKee Q&A format information on unschoolers getting into college

Pam Sorooshian, April 30, 2009:
I know a lot of unschooled kids who have gone to college - each has done it in their own way. Some took college entrance exams and did so well that they were accepted and even given scholarships based on test scores. Some created portfolios or narrative transcripts and were able to get interviews and were accepted on that basis. Some applied to schools that are looking particularly for nontraditional students. Some went to community colleges to get a college transcript and used that in their transfer application. Some took extension courses at the college and then applied with that as their transcript.

The same year, Pam was interviewed at the HSC conference. She spoke about what she observed in her college-level students in economics and statistics, compared to what she has seen of homeschooled students.

Response by April Morris, on the Unschooling Basics list in 2012, to a mom who was worried about college admission:
As with most things in life....there isn't any one right answer. One thing is for sure though...no one can undo the past. So really, wondering if you did the "right" thing or not doesn't matter. What matters is how to go from where you are now. And the reality is, lots of kids at 17 feel what your son is feeling, regardless of how they were schooled. Lots of kids get to his age going through public schools, private schools, homeschooled...and feel overwhelmed at how to get from 'here' to 'there'. So on that count, take a deep breath, relax and realize the feelings and fears are not uncommon. As far as where to go...there are a lot of options...and I'm sure you will hear them, so I will just share what has worked in our family.

From my experience, I would not worry a single little bit about a highschool diploma. If he is interested in college, go to the local community college and take their placement tests. His results will probably surprise him. Community colleges usually don't require a diploma and are usually equipped to handle young people who are "behind" in some areas. In our area, you can test into algebra, pre-algebra, pre-pre algebra or even remedial math. There are a lot of kids who graduate with a diploma that test into remedial math. A diploma doesn't mean a kid is ready for college. And not having one doesn't mean they are not ready. Getting an associates degree makes a high school diploma unnecessary.

My 20 year old always unschooled son started with pre algebra and had to take composition 1 twice is now taking math classes I can't pronounce and is taking engineering physics. He will be transferring to University of Michigan within the year. He has talked with advisers at UofM and they could care less if he has a high school diploma. All they are interested in is his Associates degree and his grade point average. And his clubs. and his job experience. All of it makes him a good fit for U of M. Karl did not read until he was 13. He never took a math class. Never used a math curriculum. He never wrote a paper. He never did a book report. He lived life and explored his interests. None of it looked schooly. When he was ready for community college he jumped in at 16 and loved it. He didn't need to do high school first. It has taken him a little longer perhaps, but he wasn't in a hurry. He had to take comp 1 twice (failed it the first time, aced it the second). He started off at a lower math class and a lower chemistry class (full of kids with high school diplomas). But he was ready and eager and loved it.

My current 16 year old son is also taking a class at the community college without any problem. My girls took classes there, too. They didn't enjoy it and have found jobs that suit them better than college did. Also fine choices.

So my bottom line is, skip the whole highschool thing and take advantage of what community college has to offer. If he is wanting to work towards a career goal, he'll be ready and do fine.

If anyone is interested, I have an amusing story about my oldest daughter and the results of her placement tests at Community College when she was 16....

~April Morris
Mom to Kate-25, Lisa-22, Willis-22, Karl-20, & Ben-16.

Accepted to School of Art, but...

Daughter got accepted last February at age 16 into The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in spite of poor SAT math scores. It was the strength of her portfolio, other SAT scores, and an essay that she didn't even let me read. So, take that, all ye who bug us unschoolers about gaps in our child's education and wonder how our kids will ever get into a good college. And also, take that, you economic machine of "Pay us money and we'll help get your child into a good college." The same kind of people who tell kids they can't learn without a trained teacher also tell parents their children can't get into college without buying the books, guides, coaching, countless extracurricular activities, and stellar grades in every subjuect to round out their application. My daughter had/did none of that. She just took the SAT, and sent in her portfolio, and wrote an essay. She has no extra-curricular activities, fancy or otherwise. She a quiet artist/thinker.

But she has declined SAIC because she feels Chicago and the school are too big. She can't get in the school of her choice this fall, Pacific Northwest College of Art (in Portland), because their dorms require you to be 18 to sign a contract. She interviewed at Reed in Portland last fall and plans to apply there as well for next fall. She is not really interested in driving, and Portland has wonderful, efficient mass transit.

We do tell people we're unschoolers, because it has worked like "you" said it would (you, Sandra, in addition to the rest of the unschooling universe). And a happy, confident, capable, intelligent, curious, "socialized" young adult is the proof standing right before them. What's to argue?

About community college: She took a class at age 13.5 in a subject she knew very well and loved. Apparently, a paragraph in the syllabus is now necessary a some schools to instruct students on how to address the professor, with unacceptable examples given - street lingo, dude language like "Yo, Prof" and "Hey, Dude-man". The syllabus also promised class discussion, but the only things the students ever said were variations on "Will this be on the test? Do I have to write this down?". She refuses to ever go back to a community college. The students acted like they were in grade 13 and had to be there. There was no passion or love of learning, just a "what do I have to do to get a passing grade" mentality.

When others ask how unschoolers will get along in the real world, I want to turn it around and wonder why unschoolers would even WANT to be IN the real world. Of course, that is silly and unrealistic. That real world often seems full of schooled kids who hate learning, act immature, and won't willingly speak to adults or others not their age. And the adults don't respect children or teens, use them as the butt of jokes, order them around like servants and trivialize their problems and very existence. It's hard to feel comfortable around those kinds of behaviors when you know what nice lives unschoolers enjoy. We try to model behaviors that, hopefully, others will notice, and stick up for kids who are getting verbally slammed.

Priscilla Sanstead
by e-mail, September 2010

WUE (Western States Undergraduate Exchange) Program

Hi all,

We just got back from a trip to Colorado. Amanda wants to attend the Community College in Lamar which provides an Associates of Applied Science in Equine Management.

During our visit with the school admissions staff we discussed the WUE(Western States Undergraduate Exchange) Program and I thought that I would post a little about it as until we started the research we weren't aware of it. The Wooee(WUE) as it is known is an understanding between several western states to give students a lower tuition so that they will not be paying the outrageous Out-of-State tuition. And there is also a Reciprocity program where some of the Western states provide In-State Tuition for Out-of-State students.

This particular school maybe able to offer the reciprocity and a discount on dorm costs.

So....if your older teens don't want to hang out in NM for some reason or there's a program they are interested in in a Western State check it out.

I may be the only one who didn't know this but I thought I'd throw it out!

Sheila (posted on NewMexicoHomeschooling, June 2003, a yahoogroups e-mail list)


Kelly Lovejoy's response to the boxed comment is below:

As I said earlier, I will be putting a transcript together (probably along with a narrative) for her and just wondering what I'll put on it, if she doesn't complete more "traditional" classes. I know, not very unschooly of me, but I just think that a more traditional route might be easier for school people to understand if she does decide to pursue college at some point.
So....your goal is have her unique learning experience look like every other traditional high school student's in the US?

*WHY* would that be appealing to a university? What about that would make the college stop and think, "Hmmm...maybe *this* student would be a good match?"

If her transcript looks like every other transcript that passes across the admissions desk, WHY would the admissions officer look twice? Why would he look once? It's just the same ol' same ol'—nothing new. Nothing inspired. Nothing diverse.

Colleges and universities are looking for students who SPARKLE! Make her transcript sparkle! SHOW that she's different! Unique! An *honor* to have her as a student there!

They don't NEED another "A" student cheerleader president of the student body. Seriously! Those are a dime a dozen.

What they want is diversity. What does *YOUR* child have to offer the school? What does *your* child have that NO other applicant has?

Submit THAT!

—Kelly Lovejoy

Responses to a question on Unschooling Discussion about transcripts:

Pam Sorooshian:

I have three teenage daughters, 13, 16, and 19. The older two have extensive college credits from the local community college and plan to go on to transfer to universities as juniors.

We kept no records of any kind at all.

The National Home Education Network website has some good information for High School and Beyond and I think there is helpful information about transcripts there, if you search around a bit.

I have a suggestion for a place for you to get some great information about transcripts of all kinds, including samples. It is a California resource and some of it pertains specifically to California colleges, but the transcript information is absolutely wonderful, it includes actual transcripts of various kinds.

This is SUCH an unschooling-friendly resource (Wes Beach, the author, is very much an unschooling advocate) ... [outdated info removed in 2022]

(Wes Beach's book, titled Opportunities After "High School": Thoughts, Documents, Resources doesn't seem to be available anymore.)

It includes a number of transcripts he has written for his students; these transcripts can be used as models for homeschool transcripts. This book also discusses community college enrollment; preparing for, choosing, and applying to four-year colleges; and opportunities other than formal academic study. A number of resource books are described in Opportunities After "High School". [2018 note, I took out some dollar amounts and addresses, for being past date, but info on Wes's books is here: Wes Beach. There are two books now.].


More by Wes Beach on college (or on confidently NOT attending, in some cases). Self-Direction, Engagement, and Success by Wes Beach

He doesn't necessarily need a transcript. If he had gone to high school they would want the transcript of that, but there are other ways to get into college than the high school route. Really.

And he's only 13. Don't rush.


With a portfolio and good SAT scores, your son doesn't need a transcript to go to most colleges.


[Regarding the suggestion that a transcript could just be faked up...]

Deb Lewis:
[F]ind a solution that maintains the integrity of the unschooling philosophy and helps future unschoolers in the process.

. . . . People who've stepped away from mainstream ideas about kids and learning aren't going to find it easier or acceptable to lie and compromise their beliefs.

Deb L

more from Deb:

I'm suggesting unschoolers are smart enough and creative enough to get what they want without compromising their principles. If faking transcripts isn't one of the things an unschooler on this list would find compromising, then my opinion won't mean diddly squat.

Pam Sorooshian:
I talked to the admissions officer at Stanford University. He told me that if an unschooled kid made up a transcript that made it look like they'd taken classes and gotten grades, and if he found out later that it was all made up, that they'd consider the kid had gotten in fraudulently and they'd evict him from the school. He said he wanted the truth about what the kid had been busy doing during those years, not something made up. He said that courses listed and graded by a homeschooling parent didn't mean much to him anyway because ALL homeschooling parents pretty much give their kids all "A's."

AND he said he'd be FAR more likely to take a close look at a kid without a traditional transcript, too.

When we chose to unschool, we chose to NOT school and that meant we don't get the trappings of school. So - to later make up something that implies that we DID school, that is clearly dishonest. I'd far rather have my kid never go to college then to go based on a complete fabrication like that.

But it really is not a choice of "lie or miss out" - to create a transcript that describes what the child REALLY did, that is honest and can be pretty wonderful, is very possible. It doesn't have to list courses he didn't take with grades he didn't earn and it doesn't have to be done under the pretense that he "did school."

If you ask them, colleges will say, "Yes, he must have a transcript." But the transcript can very often be a narrative, not a course/grade listing. Even when they want it in a more traditional format, it can be without grades, just a list of subjects that the kid has spent time learning something about during the previous few years. It certainly does not have to be a course list divided into semesters with credits and grades EVEN if the college says that is what they want, when they actually get the application, they'll review it. IF the student has high SAT or ACT scores, they will barely look at it.

There ARE universities that will not take homeschoolers based on coursework at all - unschoolers or otherwise. University of California is one of those. They have coursework that is required and it has to be pre-certified that it meets their requirements. This means they have to have, in advance, approved the textbooks and subject matter for the courses. Most public schools have had their courses approved and some private schools. But there is no way an unschooler is going to qualify based on "coursework". Still, unschoolers get into UCLA and Berkeley and other UC's all the time. They often do it based on high SAT scores and they also do it based on community college coursework. And all schools have a "special admissions" category.

When you step outside the mainstream, it is not honest to suddenly jump into the middle of the river and pretend you've been swimming along with everybody else all those years. And, it is the nonmainstream activities that will get a child noticed anyway - pretending to have done coursework just like everybody else makes the kid look just like everybody else. Not an advantage for getting into a prestigious university and not necessary.


Homeschooling the Teen Years: Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the 13- to 18-Year-Old by Cafi Cohen

Also at the same link:
And What About College? by Cafi Cohen
Wes Beach's book, titled Opportunities After "High School": Thoughts, Documents, Resources, (The book is described up above, in Pam Sorooshian's first post.)
Alison McKee: From Homeschool to College and Work : TurningYour Homeschooled Experiences into College and Job Portfolios

Who resists learning?

Pam Sorooshian, on her daughters' experiences in college:

Unschooling seemed to have given them HUGE advantages in college. They were, frankly, shocked at the poor preparation and attitudes of most other students. Other students seemed to them to be "going through the motions," but were not really interested in learning.

It is hard to explain, but all three of my kids and all of their unschooled friends who have gone to college have repeatedly tried to articulate that there seemed to be "something wrong" with so many of the other students and that they seemed actually resistant to learning. The unschooled kids were there because they wanted to be there, first of all. They knew they had a choice and that makes a big difference. A sense of coercion leads to either outright rebellion, passive resistance, or apathy and my kids saw all of those playing out among the majority of their fellow students.

That quote is the middle of something longer that's here:

The photo is of Roya Sorooshian, and I don't know who took it.


1) Pam Sorooshian hasd then been a college economics professor longer than she had been a mother.

2) "College," in American terminology, is the early years of what is called elsewhere "university." Sorry for the difference in English-speaking-countries' disconnect on this. In the British system, "college" is what would be our last two years of high school, in a way, sort of; sorry. We're talking about 18-year-olds and older, generally.

More on teens or parenting unschoolers.