Highly Selective College Admissions

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Yale.  Columbia. Princeton. Harvard. MIT. Stanford.   The common bond between all six of these colleges is that they are top-ranked universities.   

While there are many homeschoolers, including unschoolers, who are successful in gaining admission to top-notch colleges, including Ivy League colleges, the fact a student is homeschooled is not enough.  

Homeschoolers who are admitted to highly selective colleges typically have worked exceptionally hard at developing their talents and have very strong academic and extracurricular profiles.   If you child has a highly selective school in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Admissions Competition is Fierce

Remember all the advice you were given when you were in high school about getting into a top college? Got it? Okay, now forget it. In today’s world, there is a whole new set of rules that apply to college admissions.

Homeschoolers interested in top colleges often begin their plan WAY before they enter high school.  Yes, they start thinking about this in early middle school. No, seriously. This is not a joke. Competition is that stiff.  

Successful homeschoolers not only have performed well in challenging courses and have very high-test scores; but they also have developed extracurricular talents.  Notice I didn’t say “activities” – I said “talents.” This means they have focused on something for more than four years – bring this “talent” as far as they can. They have dedicated hundreds of hours to develop this.  

Nonetheless, students with all three of these attributes are often rejected. Why? Simply put, there are just too few slots. To make matters worse, Admission officers often report that the majority of the rejected candidates would likely have been successful at said school.  

The rate of acceptance continues to go down annually.  According to US News & World Report, here are the overall acceptance rates for the 2017 – 2018 admission cycle (The Class of 2022).

  • Princeton 5.4%
  • Brown 7.2%
  • Harvard 4.5%
  • MIT 6.7%
  • Duke 8.3%
  • Stanford 4.3%
  • Swarthmore 9.1%
  • Columbia 5.5%
  • Northwestern 8.3%
  • Pomona 6.9%
  • Vanderbilt 9.2%
  • Williams 12%
  • Bowdoin 10.3%
  • USC 12%
  • University of Pennsylvania 8.3%
  • Washington University in St. Louis 15%
  • Cornell 10.3%
  • University of Chicago 7.3%
  • Barnard, 13.7%
  • NYU 20.9%
  • Princeton 5.9%

APs and Dual Enrollment

Homeschoolers interested in highly selected colleges will want to take AP or dual enrollment college level courses in several subject areas during the four years prior (not earlier*) to applying to college.   

Thank goodness today’s homeschoolers have many ways of taking AP courses.  First and most importantly, you need to make sure the course is certified via college board.  Although self-studying for an AP course is certainly one way to take the AP Test, most highly selective colleges want to see a College Board certified class.

Additionally, homeschoolers have the advantage of flexibility to depart from the traditional calendar, if needed, to allow for more in-depth studies in areas of interest.

Finally, most homeschoolers, who have been admitted to a top school, have been able to present clear documentation of their learning.  Typically, colleges wish to see more than just a parent’s endorsement, and this is where “outside validation” comes into play. Outside validation can take many forms including grades from community colleges, SAT subject test scores, SAT scores, ACT scores, AP scores, recommendations from professors, winning national level contest or awards, participation in well-known summer programs, gap-year programs, and more!  

* Please note that taking AP courses as a 7th or 8th grader will NOT benefit your child’s high school transcript for college.  Additionally, without taking the AP exam, taking an AP Course (except for pleasure) will not help your child’s high school transcript.

Do Colleges Love Homeschoolers?

There seems to be a lot of buzz in the homeschooling circles that college admission offices love homeschoolers.  This is a bit of a myth. What colleges are looking for are students who have developed their talents in the best way possible given their individual circumstance.

Homeschoolers accepted to highly selective colleges are truly exceptional. These homeschoolers manage to compete with traditionally schooled students by developing a well-documented academic record with challenging courses and high-test scores; however, they have more than that.  Most students who receive acceptances utilize the flexibility afforded by homeschooling to develop some special area of talent or extra-curricular interest. With this said, there is, in all honesty, no “one size fits all” approach.

Students who would like to attend a highly selective college are strongly encouraged to begin early and make decisions carefully.

How are you going to pay for this?

Obviously, highly selective colleges have an astonishingly high sticker price. With that said, these colleges typically have huge endowments and offer generous financial aid.  Additionally, many of the nation’s top college have pledged that if you gain admission you will not take out any student loans.

Homeschoolers may find if they work very hard in high school to build a strong academic profile and if they gain admission to the nation’s top universities it often costs them less than the price tag of their state university.  

I always strongly encourage parents to be up front and honest with their student about the cost of college, the family’s contribution and what the student will be responsible for.

The Bottom Line

It is absolutely possible for homeschoolers to be competitive for top colleges. Every single year there are many homeschoolers who are accepted into the nation’s top colleges.  If your homeschooler has these ambitions, it is best to plan early and help them prepare a competitive academic profile.

EvaEva Goldstein-Meola is not only co-founder of Open Tent Academy, but an instructor as well as a former homeschooling mother. She has lived in New Jersey, Florida, Western Massachusetts, Northern Virginia and now resides just outside of Jerusalem. Eva holds a Master’s Degree as a Consulting Teacher of Reading and Writing, IEW certification and a Bachelor’s Degree as an Elementary Teacher. She has also been involved in education since 1986 as a Private Tutor, Teacher, Reading Specialist, Homeschooling Mother, Homeschooling Teacher and Business Owner of an Online Education Consortium.

Some other articles by Eva:

How to Make Students Care About Writing

Social Media for Homeschoolers

How Did This Happen?

Navigating the High School Years

Maximize Success in Online Learning

Easy Ways To Use a Library While Homeschooling

Technology + Online Education = More Accessible Homeschooling

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go

We are NOT here to Socialize!

Benefits of Online Classes

The Importance of Reading Out Loud – to ALL Ages!

First Day Traditions – Back to Homeschooling

Homeschool – In Less Than Four Hours a Day

Project-Based Learning


Middle School Writing

Gap Year – Gaining Experience Before Higher Education

Student Based Projects

Old-School Outside Games

OTA – Helping You Homeschool Better

No… I Don’t Get It All Done

A Novel Idea – Teaching With Literature

The Best Time of the Year

Please… Treat Us Like Family

Top Reasons to LOVE Online Learning

Top Ten Reasons for Learning a Foreign Language

You Know, the “S” Word…

For the Love of Literature

Morning Routines: A Necessary Evil

It’s Never Too Early To Think About Summer Programs

Ten Ways To Improve Your Child’s Reading Skills

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