Response to ‘Karen’ from No Greater Joy Magazine

Response to ‘Karen’ from No Greater Joy Magazine April 23, 2016

WhenCowsKidsCollideby Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide

No Greater Joy published a piece on common misperceptions by homeschool parents about college entry.  The information presented in the article is true, but misleading.  For the blog post to be accurate, the author needs to present what the prospective college student is missing by not having certain qualifications that the average public, private, or parochial school graduate would have.

See, the real trick about college isn’t getting accepted into a college.  The real competition between students occurs over who gets the cheapest tuition rates from the college.

  •  Colleges have a certain number of spots for students to receive full-ride scholarships.  The most ambitious and skilled students vie for these slots so that they have little or no tuition due.
  •  At the other end of the spectrum, colleges admit students who are barely qualified – or not qualified – to attend.  These students receive little or no additional tuition breaks in the form of scholarships or grants from the college and will end up paying the highest prices for the same education received by the full-ride students.
  • In this article, I’m ignoring need-based grants like the Pell Grant since these look to level the economic playing field between low SES and high SES students.

First, let’s look at some of the misperceptions discussed in the article:

Quote from article on No Greater Joy magazine

“College applicants need a diploma and a graduation ceremony.”

Truth: No one needs to see the actual diploma.   Diplomas are a pretty piece of paper than can be displayed as a decoration.  Similarly, a graduation ceremony is a nice occasion for the graduate, their family, and their friends, but it has no bearing on college admission.

Missed opportunity: The scrapbook will be less pretty; the family may have fewer happy memories.  There is no effect on college acceptance.

“College applicants must take certain core requirements.  Students must be working at college level in math and English.”
Truth: Most colleges expect prospective students to have taken certain high school courses.  In addition, most majors have expectations that prospective students will have taken more specific high school courses.  Colleges certainly accept some students who below English and math requirements.
Partial Truth: Sometimes, a department will waive a course requirement if the student can demonstrate proficiency in some other way.

  •  Ms. Sargent’s description of her daughter’s acceptance into the orchestra is weak on details, but I will hazard a guess that the orchestra had a requirement that a student had participated in an orchestra or band previously.  If the faculty wanted her daughter after hearing her audition, they could waive the requirement.
  • This happens fairly frequently with advanced students in an area.  My high school transcript didn’t include Algebra I or Algebra II since I completed those in junior high.  Since I had plenty of documentation of more advanced classes in math including a 4 on the AP Calculus A/B test, the colleges I applied to waived the Algebra requirements for me and many of my classmates.

Missed opportunity: Colleges will NOT waive requirements that are not met.  Students will have opportunities to get the requirements filled – but you will be taking a course that generally does not count towards the general education requirements or your major while paying full price for the course. In addition, these remedial courses slow the student’s progression through college leading to a longer time before graduation.   Examples:

  • Ms. Sargent’s two children who tested below readiness in English and/or Math at the local community college and had to take remedial courses.  If they each needed one course, this probably slowed their progression through those subjects by one semester.   If they needed two courses, this could slow them down by a year if the courses have to be taken in a certain order.
  •  I had a friend who graduated from the same parochial HS I did after taking a general science and Biology classes.  He decided to major in Chemistry.  Because he had not taken high school chemistry, he had to take an introductory chemistry class that did not count towards his chemistry major before he could take Inorganic Chemistry (the first class taken towards a chemistry major).
“Transcripts must be official”
Truth: This only applies to public, private and parochial schools.  What this requirement actually means is that students at institutional schools must have the institution send a transcript rather than having the student “remember” what classes they took and what grades they got.
Missed opportunity: 
  • For traditionally schooled students, a transcript is chocked full of information about the rigor of classes taken by the student, how well the student performed in those classes, and how well the student performed compared to their classmates.
  • Admission officers and financial aid committees know the academic reputations of the secondary schools within their geographic area and can determine the reputations of the schools outside their area.  A transcript that shows academic rigor and achievement leads to more scholarships and lower overall college cost.
  • A homeschool transcript can be used to estimate rigor of classes taken by the student, but has limited information on how well the student performed and no information on how the student did compared to other students. Since the transcript for the homeschool student contains less usable information than the transcript for traditionally school students, talented homeschool students are at a disadvantage when scholarships are disbursed.
“Students must take the PSAT, SAT and ACT.”
Truth: Some colleges accept students without ACT or SAT scores.  They are not required.
Missed opportunity: You’d be a fool not to send them in if you are a talented homeschool student.  This is the easiest way I can think of to demonstrate that a homeschool graduate had a comparable and competitive education to traditionally schooled applicants.   A strong SAT or ACT score can eliminate most (or all) of the disadvantages of a homeschool transcript.    Many colleges have scholarships that require an ACT or SAT score of a certain level.  My ACT/SAT scores + a high GPA on my transcript earned me substantial scholarships that covered ~50% of my tuition for four years.
  • Homeschool students can get into college without official transcripts, without standardized tests and with gaps in their educational credentials.
  • The cost of those omissions is a higher tuition cost for the students.
  • Talented homeschool students can remedy many of these issues through judicious use of standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, AP tests, or dual enrollment during high school.
My two-cents:
  • If you are a homeschool student with known gaps in education who is considering college, consider studying for and taking the GED.  There are four modules covering math, English, science and social studies that cost $37.50 per module.  The score you receive on the GED can be used by colleges to determine what your GPA would have been at a traditional high school.  Some colleges will even waive certain required classes if you score high enough on the GED.


Mel is a science teacher who works with at-risk teens and lives on a dairy farm with her husband. She blogs at When Cows and Kids Collide She is also an very valuable source of scientific information for us here at NLQ. Mel is also blessed with the ability to look at the issues of Quiverfull with a rational mind and break them down to their most basic of elements.

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  • Nea

    I originally typed up a rantier reply a la “bullet list of bullshit” (how does one even prove that they attended a graduation ceremony?) but I’m going to zero in on the one thing that really jumps out at me:

    Underneath all of this is the repeated drumbeat of “this takes too much money; don’t even try. This takes too much money; don’t even try. this takes too much money…”

    In an effort to sell college as “too expensive” for the NGJ readership (who, I feel confident, aren’t predominantly wealthy), the OP is larding a whole lot of extra unnecessary expenses on top of the ones that really do exist to make college seem even that much more unrealistic a goal. You need to pay for a party! And rent a gown and mortarboard! And photos to prove you were there! And take remedial classes! And a whole bunch of tests! Moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney!”

    The other story quoted here also spent a lot of time going on about moneymoneymoney, and how fiscally responsible Mr. Army Chopper Pilot was for running off into the woods for free instead of debt for learning underwater basketweaving from some wussy liberal professor. I am highly reminded of some bogus math I’ve seen in fundamentalist quarters about how it’s fiscally irresponsible for women to work outside the home because of all the extra boodles of money that would need to be lavished on a new wardrobe and makeup and a spare car and nevermind that none of that would be mandatory.

    And both stories also tell a tale of at least one not-schooled-to-specifications person who was just instantly grabbed up and slathered over as being All That We Ever Wanted and oh-so-infinitely superior to the secular competition, because we’ve got to get in a little PR for that myth too. The Pearls won’t be able to even give away NGJ if they can’t make their readership feel extraspecial.

  • Karen the rock whisperer

    To the advice to take those damned SAT and ACT tests, I would add: PRACTICE for them. I have a very low opinion of the tests myself, because I believe they don’t just test knowledge but test specific exam-taking skills. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can’t get into the groove of how to work through the tests quickly, you won’t do well. There are pricey coaching classes, but all one really needs are an inexpensive workbook or two; the local bookstores sell them. And practice, practice, practice!

    No one gave me this advice in high school, and my scores were abysmal. When I got ready to go to graduate school a couple of decades later, I needed to take the GRE. My first stab at the practice tests was beyond abysmal, though I knew the material pretty well; the way my brain works doesn’t lend itself well to those timed tests. So I whacked away at it for almost two months, stealing every spare moment, building up test-taking momentum. Ultimately I did quite well on the exam.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Given the way they slam and sneer at past devotees for “not doing it right” when the Pearls’ methods fail, they may be raising doubts in current readers. Well, the ones capable of projecting future possibilities by looking at current evidence, that is. They may not be able to make their current readership feel extraspecial enough to keep their customer numbers up.

  • Rachel

    I think it all depends on which state you homeschooled in, which state your prospective university is, and whether the college is public, private, or a community college. I never had official high school transcripts, but they didn’t matter because I decided to attend an open-enrollment community college for the first two years. I still had to take the ACT and a couple placement tests in order to test my reading and math skills (determining if I could jump right into college level or if I needed remedial classes). I lucked out in that I tested right into college level and got my Associate’s in two years. My family moved to a different state, but by that time I had I had my Associate’s and a 4.0 as proof that I could do well in college, so I got a nice scholarship to attend a private university.

    My sister, on the other hand, took longer to nail down a major, so when we moved she still didn’t have an Associate’s. None of the local colleges or universities accepted her high school credits, so she had to go back and earn her GED, and then start from scratch. So as a side-by-side: I am currently finishing up my Master’s in May, mostly because I got lucky in that I stuck with my first choice of major, so I had an Associate’s degree by the time we moved to another state, and so my high school transcripts didn’t matter. My twin sister won’t graduate with her BA until December because she lost a lot of time having to go back and get the GED and start college from scratch.

    Long story short: do your research. What type of documentation does your state require for homeschoolers? If you already know what university you hope to attend, check on the requirements for homeschool graduates in that state too. Some states are a lot stricter than others, and that can lead to difficulties when your prospective college asks for your “official” high school transcripts.

  • Mel

    Yeah, standardized tests have very little to do with knowledge base and very much to do with test taking skills – says the woman who jacked her GRE math score up 15 percentiles by completing a math booklet on the GRE ahead of time.

  • Darlene Pineda

    Yeah, not so worried. SAT and ACT are about test-taking, not actual knowledge. It’s why you can take a class in how to tale them, because the skill is in the test-taking. But often they aren’t needed.

    And you might not know how extensive a homeschool transcript can be. Mine for my son lists the books and curriculum used, so colleges would be able to determine the level of rigor. We can also supply additional info that a transcript — which only lists the course and a grade — can’t show. Like, I can show the classes taken before “high school”, for example, eliminating the need for a waiver.

    And “The scrapbook will be less pretty”? Really? Because instead of a cap and gown I have pictures of my kid, you know, actually doing things? Participating in life?

    And how you rolled over the issue of learning disabilities? Not cool. Most of the kids I advocate for are gifted or 2E and public schools don’t make the accommodations for them. Or are autistic and being abused in the school. Or are otherwise disabled and being tormented. Or are LQBTQAI+ and being bullied and tormented. And the schools did nothing. So parents save them, when they can.

    Homeschooling isn’t always better, and certainly not universally worse, than a public or private school. It’s just different.

  • persephone

    She’s focusing on the fundamentalist homeschooling that’s done to keep kids away from non-fundies. The curriculum is iffy at best, and a failure at worst, and usually does not ready a student for college in any way. Most of the fundies avoid college for their children, for the same reason they avoid public schools: they are trying to keep their kids from learning about anything they don’t want them to, and they, usually, are hiding abuse or neglect.

    I worked with a woman whose younger son had a learning disability, and she ended up homeschooling him for a few years because she the public school was failing to help him, and she couldn’t afford the private school that could.

  • Darlene Pineda

    Perhaps, but she seems to paint with a rather larger brush.

    People also seem to miss that private religious schools can have curriculum just as iffy, and be teaching hundreds or students rather than just one family. One Baptist school by me uses A Beka, which is fundamentalist, and even has a dress code that mothers picking up children have to wear skirts that cover their knees — no pants.

    Also — college is just not for everyone. The assumption that college should be the end goal of k-12 is problematic. And there are plenty of religious colleges that do want homeschoolers who fit their orthodoxy.

    It’s hard when I find so much bias towards homeschool from secular communities. There are entire secular homeschool communities out there, and yet most of the anti-theist folk I see are vehemently against us.

    And it’s not even a #notallhomeschoolers, it’s a MOST homeschooled kids do fine. And the problem isn’t homeschooling, as co-oped religious schools would just take over instead, but with the religion part.

  • Darlene Pineda

    Hell, I was considered a bad, horrible, neglectful homeschooler by the religious folks for teaching evolution and not going to church. My son lost friends because he was not religious. I don’t care about the opinions of fundamentalist religious homeschoolers. They don’t impact my choices.

    There is no knife cutting both ways.

    It is cutting one ways, towards trying to force religious ideas on the general public. It sometimes works on local levels, but it’s actually hard to accomplish. And it doesn’t even include all theists.

    What does cut is when the groups that are supposed to be where I belong and fit aren’t inclusive enough. It’s a big part of why I stopped aligning myself with atheists and atheist groups at all. This is just one more kind of gatekeeping that keeps the community from being more diverse.

  • persephone

    I think you’re being overly sensitive. She is specifically referencing an article in the publication for the QF crowd, and her approach in the post was towards the fundies.

    I’ve also heard that a number of homeschooling forums have been taken over by fundies. This blog is focused on fundies and abusive religions.

  • Darlene Pineda

    Sure. I’m over-sensitive. Thanks for the gaslighting. Thanks for actually addressing anything I said and instead dismissing me and my concerns. That’s exactly the kind of support I find in atheist/skeptic circles, and why I stopped supporting any of them.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Darlene, I think you might need to take a step back and get a grip. No one here is putting down homeschooling or trying to gaslight you. We try to keep this site recovery friendly for those leaving extreme Christianity. I don’t allow fighting in the comments even with the best of motives.

  • Darlene Pineda

    The GOP is behind cuts to school systems, in order to privatize education so businesses can run charter schools and make money.

    Yes it sucks.

    Michael Farris has limited influence, and since the ultra-right-wing and GOP are imploding right now I’m not terribly worried. Fundamentalists aren’t some bogeyman with superpowers and they in their last hurrah and LGBTQAI+ rights steamroll over them and people pull away from religious institutions.

    Business in schools is the issue. It’s business to produce textbooks, testing, and children suffer because of both. Remove business interests and things change. Bill Gates throwing money at schools is way more dangerous — he’s a big force behind over-testing. That’s where the danger is.

    That and charter schools funneling funds away from public schools, but having little oversight. The stories of abuse from charter schools is appalling, along with the discrimination.

    The GOP on the state and local level is the danger. I’m in NC and we are racing to last place in public education, with teacher salaries being slashed, programs cut, and most it coming from Koch-funded politicians who helped gerrymander the state to elect more Koch-funded politicians.

    I’m waiting to see what follows the GOP.

  • Darlene Pineda

    I? Not those telling me I am oversensitive and being dismissive?

    Because those must be friendly actions?

    Good to know.

  • SAO

    Yes, when my daughter was practicing, she (and I) did poorly on questions like, Find the error in this sentence: “We, (lots of clauses and words), is studying.” I proofread for people because I always notice this kind of error, but I didn’t in the test because the sentences were without context and boring.

    There are a handful of tricks and a few hours of studying will make you aware of them. Equally, math stuff you’ve forgotten will be highlighted so you can brush up on it.

  • SAO

    College application season is the fall/winter of the senior year. Acceptances come in the Spring. That means the vast majority of applicants have not graduated when they apply and are accepted. Colleges do ask that the HS forward graduation information.

    For profit universities sometimes take anyone, grab their loan dollars and not care if the student flunks or if the degree is worthlesss. Check, which has government info on the average salary after graduation.

  • persephone

    What gaslighting? I pointed out the very clear fact that this post was directed at the fundamentalist homeschoolers who would be reading No Greater Joy. The publication was quoted and the author responded to claims made specifically in the article. That’s not gaslighting.

    It seems that you’re taking personally a post that was not directed toward you at all.

    BTW, not an atheist/skeptic, so you’ve made another baseless assumption. Quite a few people on this site are not atheists or skeptics.

    If this post, which is totally NOT about you or non-fundie homeschoolers, is causing this unfounded overreaction, it would probably be best if you stepped back and reevaluated why you’re feeling this way.

  • Poster Girl

    I have to comment about your financial aid information. That is only true at schools that offer merit-based aid. A LOT of schools have gone to a need-only model and have been there for some time.

  • Poster Girl

    It’s both parties. The Dems have sold out liberal principles when it comes to public education. The only appreciable differences are their stances on evolution and whether money siphoned off from traditional public schools can go to religious schools as well as for-profit charters.

    Take a look at some of the big names on the Democratic side in education: Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, Bill and Melinda Gates, Arne Duncan, Corey Booker, Campbell Brown. They’re not Republicans. They want to increase standardized testing, deprofessionalize teaching, redirect public money for charter schools, and institute punitive measures for schools whose test scores don’t meet the right benchmarks. (And thanks to VAM metrics, ANY school, even those with top test scores, can be made to look bad. Case in point: I had a student a few years ago who the previous year had earned a perfect score on his standardized test, and then got one question wrong the year he had me. That’s a statistically insignificant difference– he was a top student both years– but he brought my VAM rating down.)

  • Mel

    Hi. My name is Mel. I taught for eight years in an urban alternative education school where most of the students have documented learning disabilities and/or LGBTQAI+, and generally English Language Learners as well. While I’m not on the spectrum, I work with and am related to many people who are. The information on getting into colleges is not limited to students without learning disabilities, who are cis-heterosexuals, neurotypical or even simply homeschooled. This is the information that is well-known to most graduates of college programs, but may be less accessible to students who are the first in their family to go to college. That always seemed unfair to my dad (who was a first-generation graduate) so he passed what he learned on to our neighbors and their kids along with his students. I’ve taken what Dad taught me, added some tricks I picked up when helping various students on my own and am passing these tips on for free.

    I don’t think you actually read the blog post. Many of the statements that you reacted to so strongly were from NGJ’s blog post, not my response to it.

    First, I stated that homeschool transcripts are somewhat accurate for the rigor of classes taken. All the bells and whistles that you would add in terms of the textbooks and curriculum used don’t add that much more information to a college admission committee than “Biology, B+”. What you cannot add is how a student compares to other students in any coherent manner. This isn’t an insult towards homeschooling; it’s just the downside of having few or no classmates and a teacher who is a biological relative. That disadvantage is easily overcome if the student takes other standardized tests to measure their competence.

    One of the ways I have successfully advocated for my former students was teaching them how to get the cheapest college education by using standardized tests prudently. This included helping students with learning disabilities get various accommodations. Clearly, you are under no obligation to take my advice, but I ask you to reread the blog as it was written – an explanation of how homeschooled student can use some fairly cheap tests to make up for some of the problems inherent proving their academic prowess.

  • Allison the Great

    I never took the SATs, I go to a community college and when I’m ready to transfer for my Bachelor’s degree, I doubt they’ll ask for that. I’ve been told that by that time, my attending the institution will be more of a business transaction. I could be wrong. I do plan on raising my GPA a bit more.

  • ConcepcionImmaculadaPantalones

    Not to worry! The Pearls aren’t going to live forever and it’s probably safe to say that their kids aren’t expecting an inheritance.

  • AuntKaylea

    I’m going to suggest that perhaps the SAT and ACTs do help gauge critical thinking skills. Nearly all of my friends are homeschooling their children; however, the few that are not have children which are developing skills in addition to rote math calculations. In Texas, homeschooled children can take the state standardized exams.

    The homeschooled children I know are way ahead on reciting rote facts, and performing equations; however, they cannot think through word problems in order to do well on the state level tests. So there is a truncated ability to think critically, which surprises no one.

    My college professor fiancee, who teaches math (all levels – remedial through advanced calculus for the past 20+ years) feels that many of his homeschooled students perform poorly at upper levels because of this, too.

  • Saraquill

    My then-boyfriend was nonchalant about his 1590 SAT score, though he was pleased that this score helped him get into a famous school. He was a straight C student for the next few years.

  • Saraquill

    I’m not so sure about the SAT and ACTs teaching critical thinking. I remember tutoring sessions treating the English sections as being as formulaic as the math. This was around the time that there was talk of adding an essay section to the main SAT test, and most of the advice I received and heard in magazine articles was “have tidy handwriting, don’t write anything that may irritate the test grader.”

    Have the tests changed much since I was in high school?

  • BlueVibe

    If your kids needed remedial classes then you were right: They were not working up to college level. You say that as though they secretly were but they needed a stamp of approval. That’s not the case: They weren’t, and they had to take classes to make up the material you failed to teach them in home school.