Homeschool to College: Do Homeschoolers Transition to College Well?
Have you ever wondered if homeschoolers adapt to college after living what many people think is a sheltered life? As a homeschooler, I wondered if my experience of going from homeschool to college (after living in a loving, Christian household) was universal. So, in this article, we’re going to explore this question. Specifically, we’ll look at:
- My experience from homeschool to college
- Stressful things homeschoolers encounter when going from homeschool to college
- Integrating problems experienced in the college transition
- How did homeschoolers’ pre-entry characteristics influence their university/college experience?
- What ways do homeschoolers academically and socially integrate themselves?
- How do external environmental factors influence homeschoolers?
Let’s get started by looking at how my transitional experience went.
My Experience from Homeschool to College
When I first went to college, I originally lived on campus and was thrown into a student building with eight other people. We all lived in a house with separate rooms about as big as a shoebox.
Because I came from a lovely, conservative, Christian family, I found the culture of swearing, drinking and sleeping around difficult to stomach, especially as I didn’t share their values.
My parents had done a wonderful job of introducing me to the disadvantages of this lifestyle and walking me through its pitfalls. It was a case of ‘You don’t need to do that to know what the consequences are.’ For me, this was certainly the case. I felt very uncomfortable in that environment initially.
After 6 months: Homeschool to College
After six months, I was used to the lifestyle on campus. But I felt quite lonely because I wasn’t happy about integrating myself into their social activities, as they usually involved some activity I wasn’t comfortable participating in (going to nightclubs or ‘getting smashed’ or ‘stoned’ at a pub.
(I heard that our university got the distinguished award of the Highest Amount of Alcohol Consumption per Student – the campus bar was soon shut down and only reopened two years later with an early curfew).
I followed my older brother to Canberra and we got a shared place together. (Soon after my younger brother followed his two older siblings). These were definitely the most pleasant times I experienced at university…perhaps because it felt a lot like home and I loved my brothers so much.
Soon I met a few girls through my local Christian church and they asked me to house share with them.
My older brother was moving to Sydney and my younger brother had plenty of boys from the local Christian campus group who were keen to houseshare with him.
Because my new housemates were so wonderful, it made university life enjoyable. I was very involved in my church which was affiliated with the on-campus Christian ministry.
Like the homeschoolers in the study below, I made good friends with my professors. I even worked for one as a research assistant in a chemical laboratory. My professor became one of my job referees.
I would say the shock of my new environment took about three months to get over. My parents had exposed us to non-Christian influences through our cycling, soccer, and table tennis clubs. This meant things like swearing and bad behavior (most often very immature behavior) weren’t terribly left-field.
As a homeschooler, it was good to be exposed to these things before entering university because then I had an idea about how to deal with the situation.
Researchers, Mary Beth Bolle-Brummond and Roger D. Wessel confirmed my experience of university integration was similar to many homeschoolers around me (my story is at the end of article).
These researchers looked at qualities homeschoolers have and tested whether these characteristics helped them fit into tertiary education in colleges.
Stressful Things Encountered When Going from Homeschool to College
In a homeschooling student’s first year, they come across a few different stressors. Researchers Bolle-Brummond and Wessel recognized some of the top stressors as:
- leaving home,
- independence and
- meeting others with different worldviews.
Many people worry homeschoolers are unsocialized and therefore will integrate into TAFE, college or university poorly. But, researchers found homeschoolers had no issue with socialization and thrived academically and socially. They were disciplined, responsible and self-motivated. Also:
Holder (2001) found homeschooled students were academically and socially adept, demonstrating the ability to learn on their own, maintain good study habits, be self-motivated, exhibit responsibility, be flexible in learning at their own pace, and maintain self-discipline. – Brummond and Wessel (2012)
What homeschoolers struggled with was timing. Class schedules, assignment deadlines and managing time were more difficult for homeschoolers, perhaps as they were less accustomed to living life with rigid time barriers.
Writing research papers also took some time to adjust to.
But, were homeschoolers happy with the educational lifestyle they were raised in?
It appears so, indeed, ‘the [homeschooled] students appreciated the opportunities and skills homeschooling provided them. They indicated homeschooling equipped them with time management and study skills needed to be successful in college.’
Integrating Problems Experienced in the Homeschool/College Transition
When people leave their place of education (in this case home schools), they tend to experience a few issues related to separation from loved ones, transition into a new place and incorporation into their new environment. Homeschoolers felt lonely when they left home and settled into living a new life on campus.
Transition into the university environment took some homeschoolers longer than others; some ‘quickly disassociated themselves from their life at home while others took longer to make friends and leave their shell’.
Finally, students became completely integrated into college life when they started referring to their new environment as ‘home’, as they ‘adjusted to college academics, and [as they] built their own community of friends’.
Researchers answered three important questions related to home educated students going from homeschool to college and that integration process:
- How did homeschoolers’ pre-entry characteristics influence their University/College experience?
- What ways do homeschoolers academically and socially integrate themselves?
- How do external environmental factors influence homeschoolers?
We’ll look at these three questions separately below.
How did homeschoolers’ pre-entry characteristics influence their University/College experience?
Commitment to Their Degree
The study looked at five students, four of which expressed a strong commitment to finishing their degree. This commitment was propelled by their parents’ expectations and a desire to better their futures.
The students valued learning and getting knowledge.
One homeschooled student – who indicated he wasn’t particularly interested in college (John) – was not indifferent to studying because he found it too hard or wanted to spend his time idly, but because of an impressive reason – he found there wasn’t too much college could teach him that he couldn’t learn at home for less money.
Perhaps this is great wisdom after all the student debts weighing down postgraduates. Learning at home (using the plethora of computer resources available to the world) can be a great option and many homeschoolers to date have taken this entrepreneurial pathway.
John found independent internet searching was more effective in teaching him than college work (although he admitted the piece of paper college gave you was worth something).
Because many homeschooling women are raised to believe it is not a woman’s job to pursue a career (rather that should be their husband’s job, should they marry), some do university largely so they have a career to fall back on as was the case with one of the homeschoolers called Rebecca.
(I also can identify with this view – watching my stay-at-home mother’s example growing up, I was influential in my decision to quit medical school after marrying and focus on my family).
However, when students stay at college, their views may change. That is, if you’re immersed in an environment that encourages you to value and pursue a career more than family, you may come to hold these values more in the future.
Homeschooling Background Influence
When the conversation turns to experiences school students shared, homeschoolers often felt at a loss. For many homeschoolers, these conversations were quite awkward as they felt they had nothing to contribute.
When the conversation turned to pop culture (like Brittany Spears stealing tampons from a 7-Eleven), some homeschoolers might not understand the references. This is not always a bad thing, but it makes integration into the social college culture a little bit harder.
Adjusting to keeping rigid timetables was tricky for many homeschoolers who were used to more flexible arrangements. In contrast, most school children get used to timetables when they attend traditional schools.
One of the students (Eva) found she wasn’t pushed as much in her homeschool as she might have been had she attended school.
John found his homeschooling background was good and bad when it came to socializing. He initially found making friendships harder because he was homeschooled, but then he said didn’t segregate people into cliques or stereotypes as perhaps may have happened had he attended school.
John said, ‘I didn’t have any preconceived ideas . . . I was familiar with such stereotypes from media, TV, movies, stuff like that, but they never really mattered to me.’
John’s experience is similar to other homeschoolers who felt they were less influenced by peer pressure and had more self-confidence at university (Holder, 2001).
Homeschoolers from strong Christian backgrounds found integration into university even harder as they tried to separate themselves from their ‘past identity and community’ (Lattibeaudiere, 2000 and Tinto, 1993).
Most Homeschoolers Feel Prepared: Homeschool to College Transition
Homeschooling engenders students with a love of learning. This makes them organized learners who are motivated to study. Home education prepares students to figure it out by themselves and easily keep up or get good marks if they just follow the syllabus.
Some students, including 18-year-old Claire Dickson, credit homeschooling for giving them study habits to get into difficult colleges like Harvard (a university that only accepts 5.3% of applicants).
Not everything is a breeze though, as these home educated students found.
Adjusting academically to a different setting from home, including their class schedules and their lecturer’s academic style of teaching, was difficult.
One homeschooler (Sidney), who failed her first two semesters, felt she wasn’t as prepared as she would have liked. Sidney’s mother worked a lot and wasn’t around to help her daughter with her homeschooling assignments. Also, Sidney was married and had a baby which created additional hurdles.
In all though, researchers said, ‘Nearly all of the students were largely prepared through homeschooling to be academically and socially successful.’ This conclusion agrees with studies by Holder (2001), Lattibeaudiere (2000), and Sutton and Galloway (2000) as it tells us this small study with only five people in it draws the same conclusion as other similar studies.
What ways do homeschoolers academically and socially integrate themselves?
Academic Experience when going from Homeschool to College
Academic participation was mixed among homeschoolers. Of the three students who completed their degrees, strict adherence to a schedule was more common.
The two students who failed ended up attending college less and less until they failed or pulled out of the course. These students indicated they tended to have decent relationships with their lecturers as they clarified tasks and participated in class discussions.
During my years at university, I asked lots of questions and found the lecturers appreciated my contributions. Most lecturers were visibly relieved to have a student who participated in the discussion. This is because so many students in my class (many of which were quite intelligent) said nothing.
I can’t help thinking this is a reaction to their experience in school. If you ask lots of questions at school, you stand out.
Peers may call you ‘teacher’s pet’ if you become friends with your teacher. (This negative peer pressure sometimes leads to polarization and an ‘us vs them’ mentality.)
Homeschoolers, in contrast, have not had this experience and are used to being friends with their teachers who have in the past been their parents.
Class assignments were an opportunity to make friends with other students but these relationships weren’t very deep. Instead, class assignments were times when homeschoolers often took leadership roles.
This was because they didn’t want to fail the assignment or get a bad mark. Taking a leadership role was a bit of insurance against this possibility.
However, John felt ‘professors intentionally paired him with students who were not as committed to projects’ so the project would be completed competently.
Social Experience when going from Homeschool to College
Like any other group of people, some homeschoolers made friends quickly, while others waited for fellow students to approach them. Relationships were usually made more quickly with other students in the same residence hall or fraternity club.
These homeschoolers all spoke positively about their social experiences at college.
However, some felt they stood out: ‘While Rebecca connected with three girls at orientation, and later developed strong friendships with them, she felt her sheltered background created hurdles for her. She quickly noticed she stood out because she dressed differently and didn’t wear makeup. Besides her three close friends from orientation, Rebecca felt others saw her as “strange and different.”’
Rebecca said, ‘“I looked back and I didn’t like some of the things that I stood for, so I spent the entire summer getting into shape.” She also got new clothes and started wearing makeup.’
Researchers noticed homeschoolers who graduated participated far more in co-curricular activities like fraternities, honorary societies, religious organizations, and sports clubs.
How do external environmental factors influence homeschoolers?
Family: Its Effect on the Transition from Homeschool to College
Homeschooled students all experienced supportive families to different degrees. Some parents were happy to give financially and support their children at college, while others expected their children to pay their way themselves.
Because college is a place that, in most cases, challenges the Christian worldview, homeschoolers who are not strong in their faith may start questioning the beliefs. This was the case for Rebecca:
During her time in college, Rebecca re-examined the worldview imparted to her by her parents. This questioning led her to develop new beliefs and values. While her parents were strongly supportive of her education, they did not understand the changes in her values and beliefs. Rebecca indicated her time home, during the summer between her second and third college years, was very difficult and that she felt attacked by her family.
She explained, “My relationship with my parents changed dramatically, as I questioned their views. And like I said, the more I questioned them, the more the relationship changed.” Because of the deterioration of her relationship with her parents, Rebecca did not go home the summer after her third year in college. She took on all of her living and school expenses and provided for herself.
All the homeschoolers who lived on campus worked on campus. Sidney worked full-time and attended college (perhaps it’s no wonder she dropped out!). As she explained:
I wanted to succeed and stuff, but at that point I had just had my daughter, and then you know I was working full-time, trying to go to school full-time, trying to be a mom. And just, one thing had to go.
Withdrawing from University
The two students who didn’t graduate credited a lack of finances (John) and over-commitment (motherhood and working full-time) to their failure.
John plans to enter college when finances become available. Rebecca subsequently attended a smaller college and graduated there.
Bolle-Brummond, Mary Beth & Wessel, Roger D. (2012). Homeschooled Students in College: Background Influences, College Integration, and Environmental Pull Factors. Journal of Research in Education, 22 (01), 223-249.
Holder, M. A. (2001). Academic achievement and socialization of college students who were home schooled. Dissertation Abstracts International, 62(10), 3311A. (UMI No. 3029894).
Lattibeaudiere, V. H. (2000). An exploratory study of the transition and adjustment of former home schooled students to college life. Dissertation Abstracts International, 61(06), 2211A. (UMI No. 9973466)
Sutton, J. P., & Galloway, R. S. (2000). College success of students from three high school settings. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 33, 137-146.
Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45, 89-125.
Homeschoolers certainly make non-mainstream college students. Christian students make even more non-mainstream college students. But, their background is no disadvantage. Indeed, home education often makes students committed to learning because they love it. Their socialization is far from deficient and it seems concerned parties have little to be concerned about after all.