Homeschooled Through High School:
Taking the Fear out of Creating a Transcript
Those of us who homeschool or who have been homeschooled through high school know that IT IS VERY Possible. But how? Many parents and students look towards high school with fear and trepidation instead of being joyous as to how far into the journey they have come. I realize that families homeschool for a multitude of reasons and that each family is unique, but questions still arise when the words high school are mentioned!
I admit it. I was a wreck about my oldest child starting high school at home. It wasn’t the subject matter. It wasn’t my ability to teach high school level subjects. It wasn’t that I was concerned about her social life. It was all about the transcript and whether or not she could get into college. And she was only fourteen!
For our homeschooling up until the dreaded freshman year, we were fairly relaxed in how we made it work. We did a lot of unit studies and read a lot of books. Much of what we learned about was decided by what one or all of us were interested in at any given moment. Sure we did Math and English on a daily basis, but this was just a small portion of what homeschooling looked like in our family.
But I just couldn’t wrap my head around how we could continue to learn together as a family and still come out at the end with a transcript that would be acceptable to colleges. I felt as though we had to completely change our view of school for my daughter or she wouldn’t have a chance at getting into college. It made me sad and panicky and I secretly hoped she would come to me and declare without a doubt that she never wanted to go to college so we could all just get back to life as normal.
I was tied up in knots about it for several months until a good friend went to a conference presentation on creating high school transcripts and shared two key pieces of information with me. Just having these two new ideas in my head allowed me to take a deep breath and realize that the world was not ending and that I could continue to enjoy homeschooling even through high school.
The first key piece of information was that transcripts could be organized by subject instead of by year. This was huge for us. One specific thing I was worrying about was that my daughter, who didn’t love math and for whom math didn’t come easily, was going to take more than one year to complete Algebra. (She ended up with credit for Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2, but she completed the classes in somewhat unconventional order and was even working on two math classes at once for a while.) How do you show credit for work done, yet not have it seem weird that it took multiple years to complete it? This is why a subject organized transcript worked so well for us. It was able to communicate what she had completed without raising any eyebrows about the way in which it was completed.
The second piece of information was the idea of creating the transcript based on what the student has done instead of deciding ahead of time what the student should do. Let me explain. I have my high school age children keep fairly detailed records of just about everything they do. There are the traditional methods of learning… books read, textbooks completed, documentaries watched… that sort of thing. But there are also the non-traditional ways of exploring and learning about ones world. They kept track of volunteer work, hobbies, and places they went. Pretty much if they did it, I want them to write it down.
When it came time to create my daughter’s transcript, I looked at what she had done and worked backward. The rule of thumb is that one Carnegie unit (one unit of high school credit) equals ~120 hours of study. It turns out that if you have children who are interested in a lot of things, it isn’t difficult to rack up the credits. For example, my daughter started volunteering in the sound booth at our church when she was a Freshman. She learned how to set up everything, mix sound using the board, and how to trouble shoot. She became quite interested in this and learned all she could and did some outside reading that the professional sound technician gave her. Between the hours of study she did on her own plus the hours of volunteer work actually doing sound, she earned two high school credits. So on her transcript under the science category I documented the classes, “Sound Technology 1” and “Sound Technology 2.”
With this new found knowledge we were free again to learn as we had always done and high school ceased to be the scary and overwhelming thing that I had made it out to be. I will add that my daughter did indeed get into college… with scholarships to boot. She is now a sophomore and is doing very well. Our somewhat unconventional approach to learning doesn’t seem to have hindered her in any way.
As you begin to think about creating your own child’s transcript, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Start early. If at all possible, don’t wait until their junior or senior year to try to recreate what they have done. You won’t remember it all. Plus if you start your child on documentation right away, it will be easier to keep track of what things contributed to the credit. Some schools want a list of textbooks used, or if textbooks weren’t used how the credit was earned. With good written records, this documentation is easier to produce. (We did not need this explanation of coursework, but I know other homeschoolers have been asked for it.)
- If my child completed a full high school level textbook, I awarded them the credit for the class and didn’t worry about keeping track of hours. This is certainly the easiest path to take, though (in my opinion) somewhat uninspiring.
- Pay attention to hobbies and interests outside of traditional schoolwork. My son has earned a science credit in Apiology because he was interested in keeping bees. He took a bee keeping class, filed all the appropriate governmental paperwork to keep a hive, built the hive from a kit, and then raised bees and harvested the honey over the course of one spring and summer.
- Every so often take a look to see if there is a class you can create based on what your child has been doing, simply by adding just a little bit more. For instance, if your child has been doing a lot of babysitting or volunteer work with children, perhaps you could turn that into a “Child Development” credit by adding in some reading and perhaps a written paper or two on the experience.
- Don’t be afraid to give academic sounding names to your child’s learning. Each of my children will graduate from high school with a “Life Skills” credit. This means that they have demonstrated to my satisfaction that skills needed to live on their own. They know how to cook, clean, grocery shop, compare prices, ask for help from others when needed, manage a checking account, have a knowledge of credit cards and their appropriate uses, how to do laundry, etc. This is a completely legitimate credit to give, assuming that they do indeed have this knowledge.
- Realize you’ll probably leave off some of what your child does. Once we reached 33 credits for our daughter, we stopped adding to her transcript. She had the basics plus some extras covered and to add more could have looked odd. Because our children learn on their own time and at their own rate, it is quite possible for them to have more hours of learning than a traditional high school student. We decided to stop when it seemed like a reasonable amount.
- In IN, each semester is counted as 1 credit as opposed to 1/2 a credit which is how most other states figure it. Consequently, Indiana high schools would seem to require double the amount of credits than other states, but it is more of an accounting question. (Please check your individual state’s requirements as the final authority since states do differ slightly in how credits are counted.
I’m so glad I learned all of this early in my first child’s high school career so that I could enjoy her last four years at home instead of constantly being in a state of worry. Our time with our children is so short; don’t let anxiety rob you of the time you do have.
Elizabeth Curry and her husband live in the Chicago area and have been homeschooling their 10 children for the past 15 years. They love the freedom that homeschooling allows and look forward (usually) to the next 15 years. Elizabeth blogs about her adventures of raising and homeschooling her large family at www.ordinary-time.blogspot.com