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Day 37 – Unschooling Part Two: What About College?

Today I’ll begin answering common questions people have about Unschooling. Keep in mind that I’m not an expert, just a parent who likes to research and who is eager and willing to share what I’ve found. Also keep in mind that I’m not trying to persuade anyone to Unschool. The purpose of this blog is to encourage others like me who are new to Unschooling. I hope that as you read through the research and resources you gain confidence in the educational path you have chosen.

I have already covered Why we Homeschool,  Unschooling: Part One, and the story that led us to that particular method. I am going to limit the post to one to three questions per week to really be able to dig in to each one.  I hope this format works; in the future I may compile all these posts into one, but for now, the “series” concept is what works best (I think).

QUESTION #1 – What About College?

It may seem odd to begin with this question, the “College Question.” It is huge. It is the question I am always asked. I almost placed it at the end of the series. After all, isn’t college what all that primary, middle, and secondary education is supposed to prepare someone for? I think it is important to begin the series this way, and to understand that YES, usnchoolers can and do go to college–because for many people, it makes it much easier to accept the basics and practices of unschooling if they know that for those who seek higher education, it really works. 

 I remind you that many of us Unschoolers have decided to adopt this philosophy as a learning lifestyle, not a replacement for “regular” school. So even from the beginning, the goal isn’t to learn math or to learn reading in order to “get good grades so you can get into college,” but instead, “to find what you are passionate about and skilled in, and foster those strengths.” It is a difference in perspective. We are switching gears from the dangling-carrot of external motivation, to the driving force of internal motivation. 

Early on, I asked the college question myself, and the best answer I found was not a statistic or an argument, but rather, the testimonies of parents like me, and other kids like mine who had Unschooled and gone to college. I found such a treasury of stories during my own research. How exactly does one “Un”school her way into college? Here are a few of the “answers.”

  • College Considerations for Unschoolers – Sandra Dodd is AMAZING. Her website is not (sorry Sandra). However, PLEASE don’t let this turn you off. The information is so valuable. She is an Unschooling guru and has a lot of helpful links and resources throughout her website.
  • Kate and Molly Go to College - A story from a mother’s perspective. I LOVED this quote:

The advice is the same as it’s been all along: Keep trusting your children. Don’t let cultural messages about future success and what your teen “should” be doing to prepare for college lead you to make fear-based decisions that could end up wasting your time and jeopardizing your relationship. Non-stressed-out, non-coerced teens who have been allowed to be self-directed and have been supported in all their interests will bring their whole selves to bear on whatever challenges they face. And maybe they’ll even end up doing what you hoped they would!

  • Can (and should) Unschoolers go to College? – This piece by Leo Babauta touches on some of the basics of college entry, like SAT scores and transcripts. More importantly, he links to a book that has been recommended by just about every veteran Unschooling parent I have ever read or talked to: “College Without High School: A Teenager’s Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College.” Pretty straightforward!
  • Pam Sorooshian’s Story – Another post on Sandra Dodd’s site featuring the story of a woman’s three Unschooled daughters and their post-secondary journeys.
  • Land Your Dream Job: Ditch School and get a Library Card  - The cost of education is rising, but so is the need for free-thinking entrepreneurs. Perhaps college is not even necessary for your child. I know, this is revolutionary–offensive even–to so many who have championed for the cause of education, but consider this: What if our kids went to college when they were ready (this could be “early” or “late” compared to the typical model)? What if they learned to gain expertise and to craft a skill, and not strictly to obtain a degree? What if we valued the trades as much as we valued technology or academia? What if we stopped posting articles about which degrees are the most valuable or the most worthless? I am not concerned about my child obtaining the most financially rewarding degree. I am concerned about my child loving others, helping the poor, making a difference in the world, and finding a meaningful vocation.
  • Astra Taylor – Geeze Louise. Astra is AMAZING. She is a writer and a documentary film-maker. She attended Brown University for a year, and also holds an MA in Liberal Studies from New York’s New School. She wrote this wonderful article about growing up as an Unschooler and also discusses her life in this excellent video. She begins talking about higher education at 16:17 and talks about colleges seeking out homeschoolers at 18:09:

“…And when we weren’t that inspired (which was quite often) we did nothing. We were allowed to just do nothing. And for our family, Unschooling worked. We are all literate, we can all balance a checkbook, and we have all had he opportunity (whether we have taken it or not) to pursue higher education. For the last 6 years I’ve worked as a film maker and a writer with a focus on philosophy, and I don’t have degrees in creating writing, film making, or philosophy.”

“Ivy League colleges hunt out homeschoolers, even those who stayed self-taught through the crucial high school years. So, for example, Stanford has a special part of its website geared toward recruiting homeschoolers. A few years ago, in Brown University’s Alumni Magazine, a dean declared homeschoolers to be, ‘the epitome’ of Brown’s students. ‘They are self directed, they take risks, and they don’t back off.’”

Primarily, we expect that you have successfully undertaken a serious, rigorous course of study distributed across the humanities, sciences, math, social studies and languages. An obvious difficulty you may face in the admission process is the lack of a conventional high school transcript. As a result, you should provide a detailed description of your curriculum, but it is not necessary to follow a prescribed or approved home-schooling program. The central issue for us is the manner in which you have gone about the learning process, not how many courses you have completed.

Wait, WHAAA? Let’s read that again:

“…it is not necessary to follow a prescribed or approved home-schooling program. The central issue for us is the manner in which you have gone about the learning process, not how many courses you have completed.”

Obviously, every college is different. UC Davis requires proof of more rigorous study. But am I trying to prepare my child to get into EVERY college?

Last year my (then) 6 year old began gymnastics. We were asked on the first day to join the team. She had obvious talent. However, I knew she loved (and still loves) ballet and would eventually have to choose between the two. I knew what she was thinking “TEAM! OLYMPICS!” And do you know what I told my sweet, hopeful, flexible (and short) daughter? “You are not going to the olympics.” 

I know that sounds harsh in our culture where everyone is special, and we tell our children they can be anything they want to be. But sometimes they can’t–not for lack of talent, but because we are not going to revolve three members of our family around one. We are not going to change our lives, move, or spend obscene amounts of money for a shot at one moment. Academia can be much the same. However, Unschoolers are motivated to study and to prepare for what they need. If they wish to attend an Ivy League school or to obtain a specialized degree, they can plan ahead and study those things during the high school years.

With the myriad of choices in schools,I have no doubts that my kids will be able to attend a fine community college or university and get a decent education–if they want to. As self-motivated learners, I know that “education” is already theirs.

In Short:

  • You can create your own transcripts/diploma depending on what your child has studied
  • You can go through an umbrella school and use their transcript/diploma
  • You can create a portfolio featuring the student’s work, interests, awards, etc.
  • Your high school student can take community college courses
  • Your student can prepare for and take ACT/SAT tests as needed
  • Your student can attend trade school
  • Your student can opt out of college altogether, and still be “successful”

This is me, age 32, at my community college graduation. I am now taking university courses online–not because I need a degree for what I do, but because I want to learn.

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