[box]Thank you to all of my now adult children for their fun and useful discussions on this subject and help editing this article.[/box]
A college degree is still useful for getting into many professions. Aside from the fact that social engineers waste much of the college experience trying to make sure the students have an approved world view, the college system has a near monopoly on training in certain fields. Doctors, engineers, certified public accounts, and lawyers are some examples. Basically, in any career that the government firmly regulates or a field where there is intense competition, a college degree is still the most likely way to get a job.
Since most people do not know for sure what occupation they would like to pursue until they are at least in their teens, it might be wise to keep the option of college open for them in the academic sense. Having the funds for it is another subject, but I will just say that our family has used less expensive local colleges and avoided any significant debt for our children.
The next thing to consider is what it means to be prepared. The student who is taught at home can easily be as well prepared for the college environment as a student from an institutional school. The number of remedial classes available and required for many institutional students verifies this. The institutional schools, run by or heavily regulated by the government, do not have a good track record of preparing students in the most basic math and reading.
In fact, foundational academic preparation is only a part of the preparation, and that is fairly simple. If a student knows how to read and has basic math skills, they can learn what colleges have to offer. Of course, higher math skills may be useful if certain science degrees are the goal, but this doesn’t have to be decided or pursued until the high school level. There are a variety of ways to study such things, even if the parent doesn’t think they know the subject well, but that is getting into a different discussion. We can reasonably assume that a homeschooling parent and student will find ways to learn.
Here are 5 things that can be useful to develop when preparing for college:
- An appreciation for learning
- Ability to be self-directed in study
- Basic study and test taking skills
- Discernment of bias and propaganda
- Problem solving the system and professors
1. An appreciation for learning.
A homeschool setting has the potential to be a much less stressful learning environment for a child. They need not be subjected to long hours of confinement, pseudo-social activities, busy-work, or impersonal testing. With the lower stress, learning can be discovered and enjoyed, avoiding both burnout and the tendency to work the system for grades. Thus, a young person taught at home can enter college with a freshness that institutional students have been drained of. A student who looks forward to learning sees no point in cheating and engages with subjects beyond the skeleton of requirements. In summary, such students bring a higher level of energy to their studying because of their overall valuation of learning.
2. Ability to be self-directed in study.
The most any teacher can hope for is to introduce a subject and provide the student with the resources to learn more of it. From there, a student must have their own motivation to learn and understand. Institutional schools have an approach akin to taking students to a bucket of water and holding their heads under to force them to drink. In the more individualistic tutoring style of teaching, a student can examine the bucket of water, taste, breathe, and drink at their own pace with greater benefit. He is more likely to find learning refreshing and gratifying, even if it is not necessarily easy.
Even with such a patient and considerate way of teaching, the student can be taught developmentally appropriate self-control. He can be given limits that help him to manage his time and choices, as well as overcome bad habits or tendencies. Children know when they are being disciplined, or trained, for their own benefit and respond much better to this than correction that is primarily for the convenience and comfort of someone else.
By the time our children were at high school level, they were doing a lot of their own lesson planning and correcting, with appropriate supervision. This didn’t mean they were abandoned, since we had deep discussions and provided help with difficult problems on a daily basis. However, they learned to manage what was expected of them without the constraint of having their study hours constantly “guided” by impersonal bureaucratic administration.
3. Basic study and test taking skills.
When the emphasis of an education is to richly understand and use information or skills, study habits are easy to develop, as they are ultimately practical. For this reason, the student can be creative in developing what works well for himself, as well as very receptive to suggestions that might help. Techniques from memorization to motor memory not only enhance the particular subject at hand, but stimulate the brain to learn other subjects well in the future. Most parents (and older friends and family members) can offer suggestions for study habits, but if that is not enough there are plenty of resources with suggestions to choose from and try.
Different study strategies may work better for different students or different subjects. If a student can be motivated to engage in even one subject, he can be guided in study skills. Then, once basic study skills are learned, enjoyment of learning other subjects is enhanced simply because the student knows better how to learn.
Test taking skills do not need to be part of a young child’s life. An occasional, low stress quiz or drill is usually enough for a younger student. These can be done quickly, made fun, and shown to the student as a way to assess some basic memorization and comprehension in subjects like math or foreign languages. For instance, we had Spanish recordings with illustrations to help our children learn that language. After listening to the recording for a few days, they took a simple matching test. If they had not mastered it, there were no repercussions other than listening to that section again.
The upper grade school aged child is usually able to learn some basic test taking skills, such as answering the questions they know first, only changing answers if they are absolutely certain, and giving answers that the test writer is looking for. Again, there is no need to cause them stress about the results. They simply need to understand how to use the information or correctly evaluate the results. Testing is very limited in what it can measure and how it evaluates what it does seem to measure. Even at this age, it is probably a waste of time to emphasize testing much.
By high school level, test taking skills can be fine tuned. Other possible types of testing scenarios, such as timed essay writing and how to prepare for a comprehensive exam, can be addressed. Still, none of this needs to take huge blocks of time. It should be treated as the bottle neck to learning that it is, a function of the college system that exists and has to be dealt with, but never a measure of them as a person. At this age, a student can make useful notes for himself directly after a test and use them to better prepare for next time.
4. Discernment of bias and propaganda.
One of the biggest challenges of college is filtering information. If a student begins college unaware of all the bias and propaganda he will be subjected to, he may get unnecessarily frustrated or confused. For this reason, it is in his best interest to have devil’s advocate types of discussions with people capable of clear thinking. This should greatly increase his ability to ask the right questions and spot manipulation.
The next level of action in this regard is to decide when it is just best to give the answers the professor is expecting and pass the class. This is not compromising conscience or principles because the whole model of college classes is to be tested on what the professor is presenting. To answer questions according to this is not the same as agreeing with a professor.
If a professor asks for a thought piece, it may be a time to share alternate views, but it should still be done humbly and respectfully, with good logic and references. It is rarely a good idea to confrontationally challenge a professor in front of other students, especially if it makes him look stupid. In such a scenario, a professor will probably be even less receptive.
5. Problem solving the system and professors.
It is important to remember that everyone has some difficulty in college. Such is life. Sometimes professors are poor communicators, are inconsistent, or don’t really care about students. Textbooks are often poorly chosen or obtuse in their presentation. Group projects meant to replicate cooperative job situations end up being lessons in how people respond to socialism. The logistics of scheduling various aspects of life are issues for all students.
Don’t make the mistake of seeing correlations and concluding causation. Being taught at home is no more likely to be the cause of college challenges than the sale of ice cream is to cause murder (a well established correlation). Don’t forget that there are easily at least as many problems for institutional students.
It is no longer difficult for a home educated student to get into most colleges in the United States. There may be a couple of extra placement exams to verify which classes the college will agree to let the student sign up for. Our children were able to use these to get in upper level classes, so such tests can also be to the student’s advantage.
The path to college preparation will be different for each student. We all learn differently. We all have different inherent abilities and personalities and goals. The ideas I have outlined may help, but there is no need to get hung up on a perfect way to get ready. Someone who wants to get the most from a college experience will figure out how to do that, because people are creative and adaptable.