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Can Unschooled Kids Really Go to College?

admin June 18, 2015

Recently I shared a post about what my unschooled kids learned this past year.  The single most common question I got was, “But what about preparing them for college?”

Now, you have to understand that they are 5 and 7.  If we were following “normal” grades, they would have been in kindergarten and first grade this past year.  Even if they were going to public school, they would not be involved in college prep yet anyway.  Not for several years.  The way that young children learn — say, up to age 9 or 10 — is not the way that they learn when they are older.  Looking at our methods now and how completely “free” they are (no curriculum, no tests, etc.) and assuming that they’ll remain the same and leave our children unprepared for college is, well…silly.  We don’t educate public-schooled kids the same way in 1st grade and 10th grade, do we?

Anyway, getting back to the question at hand.  Can unschooled kids go to college?

Why College Is Not the Ultimate Goal

First of all, college is not our ultimate goal for our children.

We do not believe that all children need to go to college, or that college guarantees success.  Many of my former college classmates are not working in the same fields in which they earned their degrees.  Many are working low-paying jobs in other industries.  Several have gone back to school, sometimes an associate’s or trade program to learn a specific skill to get them a better job.  Having that college degree didn’t do them any good.

We believe there are many paths to success in life.  Some include college — obviously, people who wish to be teachers, doctors, etc. will need a college education.  If our children want to follow a path that requires a college degree, then we’ll absolutely support them and help them prepare for that.

However, if our children want to do something that doesn’t require college, or if they are unsure what they want to do, then we will encourage them to explore through apprenticeships, shadowing, taking free online courses, or other ways.  There are a lot of paths to success in life, and we want our children to feel free to explore them all, and not feel bound to just one option, which may or may not be right for them.

But Can Unschooled Kids Go to College?

The short answer is yes.  They can.

In fact, many unschooled and homeschooled children start college at young ages (typically online) and do very well.  They have always managed themselves and their own workload, and do not find college to be challenging.  (There are studies showing this, plus quite a bit of anecdotal evidence.)

Legally, in many states, parents can fill out a transcript for their child and can award a diploma.  In other states, they can get a GED.  Often times, a high enough SAT or ACT score is enough to get into college (depending on the school).  These days, schools often specifically target homeschoolers.

Why?  Because honestly, many homeschoolers are better prepared for college.  They’ve done more rigorous studies at home (and sometimes post-secondary options online).  They have a lot of self-discipline because they weren’t relying on teachers for a grade; they learned because they wanted to.

That’s not universally true, obviously, it’s just the way it tends to be when looking at groups as a whole.

How do Unschooled Kids Get Prepared?

There’s kind of a misconception about unschooling — that it means that kids simply do whatever they want, just live life, and don’t ever dive into any sort of formal studies.  This, the theory goes, would leave them woefully unprepared for both college and life in the “real world” (whatever that means).

But the thing is.  Think about yourself, as an example.  Surely, as an adult, there has been something you wanted to learn.  Whether it was just for personal knowledge (say, a photography course), or to further your job skills.  We’ve all had that, right?  And when that happened, did you just “live life” and hope you’d figure it out?  Or did you specifically seek out information, classes, etc. to develop those skills?

I don’t know about you, but I seek out classes, books, experts, etc. when I want to learn something new.

And that’s true about unschoolers, as well.  When they are older, and they show a strong interest in something, they seek out information about it.  They find classes, textbooks, other books, multimedia, experts.  They study it.  They work at it.

It’s “unschooling” because it’s not a parent-directed curriculum.  It’s self-study.

So, if an unschooler desires a particular job, they will seek out information about that job.  They will study the information they need in order to get into college and learn more about that job.  They will spend quite a bit of time preparing themselves for their education, for the job they want.  They might even take on internships, audit online college courses, and more.  They have the time and freedom to do so, after all.

That’s the truth — unschoolers do study.  They do take classes.  They do pick curriculum.  They do prepare for college, if it’s in their plans!  It’s just all self-directed.

I hope this clears up some of the misconceptions about unschoolers and college!

If you were homeschooled or unschooled, did you go to college?  If not, what other questions do you have?

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8 Comments

  1. I was unschooled my whole life, all the way until I entered college, and I have a Bachelor’s degree! At that time colleges required a GED for acceptance. (Now, many colleges accept homeschool transcripts.) In the state of Indiana you could take the GED at 17, so as soon as I turned 17 I took my GED, passing it with “honors” scores, and was accepted right away to Indiana University Southeast, where I graduated with a 3.87 GPA and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications with an emphasis in Advertising. I had never been in a classroom setting before and had never been graded before, but I adjusted quickly and carried a 4.0 for the first 3 semesters. I’m not a genius, I have no exceptional intelligence, I just decided that I wanted a college degree, so I got one. My education level was on par with everyone else entering college and it was no big deal to learn to sit for 2 hours at a time to listen to lectures, or to study and pass tests. After all, adults learn to do things all the time that they never did during their childhood!

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  2. Yup, I was homeschooled, graduated high school early, and went to college on a full scholarship. College was easy compared to high school work (the level of writing expected by my professors was much lower than what I was writing in high school.) I was already used to managing my time which is apparently a difficult transition for some. I got a music degree and am very happy that I did, but like you I don’t view college as necessary. If my kids want degrees that’s great, but if they want to do useful things like carpentry and plumbing I would be thrilled.

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  3. Absolutely they can. My son started unschooling in high school; it was something that he had researched (I had never even heard of the term at that point). His room was full of books that he now had time to read. In the course of unschooling, he took classes at the local community college, while still high-school age. He now is a double-major honor student at a large university. He starts his senior year in the fall, and is in line to graduate summa cum laude (he has received an “A” in every single college class he has ever taken, including those taken as a high school student). He is continually told that his work is graduate-level, and professors ask to enter his papers in contests. He is actually thinking of teaching at the university-level as a career.

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  4. My homeschooled daughter was accepted at 3 colleges & offered music scholarships at each. Today she has Masters Degree in Music Education & lives a full, adventure packed life in the mountains of Flagstaff, AZ. Our homeschooling method was more “organic”, interest directed learning & unschooling. SHe knew how to learn on her own when she got to college. Mary Ann Cauthen

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  5. I did not start homeschooling or unschooling until the 80’s. I live in a small town and the only thing here is a school, so I became the outcast. Since my husband and I truly believed we knew what was right we just moved on with our own way. Most of our children went to college but I never told them how to complete their education. All of the children that went to college chose where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do, and all finished with various degrees. They have all been successful in their professions and a few own their own businesses. The only thing I said we needed to do was first thing in the morning after prayer we had a devotional and scripture study. There are many ways we learn and we are learning all the time. I’m so glad I followed the inspiration that came to me. If I had it to do over, I would have started from the beginning with my first child.

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  6. […] of the most common questions I get about unschooling (besides “can unschoolers go to college“) is, “How does it work if they just aren’t interested in a particular subject? […]

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  7. But you are lumping homeschooled and unschooled into the same category in order to make your points. Of course homeschoolers can go to college. They have studied and followed curriculum and tested and done everything (sometimes more–I am required to teach music to my kids and art but in public school they aren’t) that public school kids have but done it at home. God gave parents to children to guide them and teach them and prepare them to leave father and mother and cleave to their spouse. Children are not wise enough to guide themselves. Unschooling to me sounds a lot like idolizing our children instead of being the parents God created us to be. The fact is you have to do things in life that are unpleasant. You don’t prepare for that by only studying things you like or are interested in. As a homeschool mom I am able to tailor my teaching style and curriculum curriculum to child when needed. Thats a big perk. . But mummy kids don’t know what’s best for them all the time. They need my guidance and knowledge and experience from life. I am able to eliminate bookwork that I think is superfluous. But I am the parent. That’s why I choose the curriculum and make sure they have a well rounded education. Everyone needs a little motivation and push to succeed and that is another role of parents, not just a hands off “whatever you want to study” approach. Please don’t put my homeschooled child in the same category as your unschooled child. They are two totally different things.

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  8. True, I think unschooling is extreme. What if the child doesn’t feel like learning anything?

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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