Countdown to College: A Homeschooler's Guide (Part II)
Ready to learn more ways to prepare your homeschooler for college? In addition to praying, choosing the right high school courses, keeping accurate transcripts, finding the best college, and taking college prep entrance tests as mentioned in Part I, here are five more important steps involving financial aid, student loans, scholarships, and more to continue your countdown to college:
5. FAFSA - To help pay for college tuition, room and board, books, and other expenses, you and your child may choose to apply for federal government financial aid. In order to be eligible to receive this federal student aid, as well as apply for some state and college financial funding, you and your child will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Note: After initially filling out this form online, both you and your child need to update the information yearly. Information should be submitted after January 1 of each year during the time your child attends college).
Since the FAFSA application is in-depth and requires information based on your income tax return, your child's income tax return, bank statements, and other important financial documents, it's helpful to gather and organize your information before entering the data online.
4. Loans - Once your FAFSA is processed and your child's eligibility (if any) for federal low-interest financial assistance has been determined, you need to work with the college of your child's choice to determine the exact amount of money that needs to be borrowed. Most colleges have a financial aid admissions counselor on campus who works directly with your family to answer questions. Federal student aid through the U.S. Department of Education includes free grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant, for low-income families, work-study money for part-time employment on campus, and/or student and parent loans, which are borrowed funds that must be repaid with interest. Also, visit the helpful FAFSA4caster for more details on federal student financial aid options.
Of course, you and your child may choose to borrow money for college costs from other commercial lending agencies that handle private student loans, such as Sallie Mae®, Citibank®, and others. However, borrowing money from these private lending agencies is much like shopping for the best rate on a credit card. Be careful to evaluate the lending agencies' payment plans and interest rates and never borrow more than you can reasonably afford to pay back.
(Disclaimer: Alpha Omega Publications® neither endorses nor recommends any of these financial institutions and has listed them only for your reference).
3. Scholarships - Another way to help your child's dreams of a college education come true is to research and find free scholarship money. Be prepared for the "leg work" involved in accomplishing this task. Most colleges list their available scholarships on their website and base their scholarship offers on the following:
• High school transcripts
• Involvement in extracurricular activities
• Community service
• ACT and SAT scores
Some scholarships are awarded toward a particular major or a specific group of students, such as freshmen, in-state students, undergraduates, and graduate students. So, make sure you apply for each scholarship for which your child is eligible.
Finding college scholarship money requires early application and diligence in preparing letters of recommendation and well-written essays that set your child apart from hundreds of other student applicants applying for the same scholarship. Start researching scholarships before your child's senior year of high school, as the best time to apply for scholarships is during the fall each year. That means your child will need to have completed his ACT or SAT entrance tests before that time.
Note: More of today's colleges now see homeschoolers as desirable candidates for college enrollment and offer equal opportunities for scholarships. However, in the event you feel your child is discriminated due to homeschooling, visit the Home School Legal Defense Association to learn steps you can take to help your child qualify.
Another place to consider looking for college scholarships is through state and local civic organizations. In addition, some businesses within your community may offer scholarships to children of their employees or the community.
2. Apply Early - The application process at most colleges is quite lengthy and requires completing enrollment forms, attaching your child's high school transcript and immunization records, sending SAT or ACT scores (sent directly from the testing agency, so make sure your child fills out the correct college number on the test form prior to testing), and including a non-refundable application fee. Some private Christian colleges may require pastor referrals and/or character references along with the application to determine if your child is a viable candidate. Once accepted, you and your child also need to address other college arrangements for housing, meal plans, roommate preferences, and other incidentals.
After your child has been accepted, he also will want to sign up for his specific classes as soon as possible. Work with your child's college advisor or guidance counselor to determine what classes he will need to graduate. A 15 to 18 credit hour class load is typical for most students, and signing up early eliminates having to change your child's entire schedule later to fit in a particular course.
You also can help your child save time and money by testing out of many required introductory college courses with the College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP). Not all colleges recognize the CLEP program, but for those that do, your child can earn from 3 to 12 college credits for information he already knows. Rather than spending more time and paying more expensive tuition credit fees for general required courses, your child can opt out and skip them for more advanced classes by earning a qualifying score and paying only $72 an exam. (34 CLEP course examinations are available).
1. Prepare Your Child Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually - To succeed in college, your homeschooler should be prepared for the interruptions, distractions, and protocol commonly found in a conventional school setting. One way to ready him for this new learning environment is to enroll him in a community college or junior college course during his senior year of homeschooling.
Be sure to teach your child how to effectively take notes, write essays and term papers, speed read for information, use the Internet responsibly, use good study habits, stay organized, and learn from teachers with personalities different than those of your child. Even carrying books to class, riding a shuttle bus, finding classrooms, eating in a cafeteria, and/or finding and submitting assignments and tests for professors online will be new challenges your child needs to learn.
It's also a proven fact that many students lose their faith in Christ when attending college, especially in a non-Christian college or university setting. One way to combat this negative statistic is to help your child find a new church home in the city where his college is located. Also, encourage your child to join Christian clubs on campus, such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and others. Plus, ask if there are mentoring programs sponsored by local churches or the college for first-year students who could use assistance in adapting to college life.
Most importantly, prepare your child to discern truth from error when college professors teach subjects that deal with creation, humanism, and ethics by instructing your child with a high school curriculum that presents a biblical worldview. The computer-based Switched-On Schoolhouse® and print-based LIFEPAC® homeschool curriculum from Alpha Omega Publications are two such options that are sure to prepare your child for college both academically and spiritually.
BLAST OFF! - With the last of these ten steps complete, your child now will be on his way to a successful college education. Best of all, after homeschooling your child with college preparation in mind, you'll not only influence the quality of his high school education at home and his college choices, but you also will enable him to discover God's perfect will for his life with confidence.