I told some homeschool friends with younger children that they at least could benefit from all of the mistakes that I made when getting ready to graduate my oldest daughter last year. I sure felt like I made a ton of mistakes, but it was a whole new experience for me. For a few months I felt like I was drowning in paperwork too! In the end though we managed to get everything done just fine and you will too! But if you are interested in some of the things I learned throughout the process, read on :)
The first thing I would suggest is that starting in 8th or 9th grade, keep good records. Record the type of course, the name of the course, a short description, credit hours earned, and grades. I did not do a good job with this. I recorded the type of course, credit hour and grade, but not the specific name of the courses. When I sat down in January of her senior year to work on the transcript, I could not remember the specific name of the Composition course she took in 9th grade. Luckily, I have everything documented on this blog but it took me some time to go through and get everything down. If you start keeping good records from the beginning, you will not have that problem!
Make sure you have a professional looking transcript. If you are in Arkansas, The Education Alliance will make a transcript for you for a donation. You give them all of the information and they complete the transcript and figure out the credit hours and GPA. They look very professional. they have a seal, and are signed by the President of the Education Alliance. You can get as many copies as you would like, and they will even send them directly to your college choices. Take advantage of this service. It is so worth it!! If you are not in Arkansas, I would recommend looking for a similar service. The transcript is an important part of going to college and it needs to look as professional as possible. You will need to have an early transcript when you start applying to colleges and then a final transcript as soon as the child graduates with all of the final grades and a graduation date on it.
They tell you to get the FAFSA filled out as quickly as possible. What I learned though is that there is a such thing as getting it filled out too quickly. We filed our income tax and the next day I started working on the FAFSA. There is an option for them to electronically retrieve your information from your federal income tax, but they can only do that after a certain time period has passed (I think it's two weeks) after filing your taxes. I chose to go ahead an put the information in myself since it had not been two weeks since I filed. None of the colleges Chelsea applied to would accept it because I had put the information in without using the retrieval tool. So I had to go back and fill out another form allowing my information to be retrieved electronically before the schools would process the paperwork. If I had waited I could have saved myself that step. Then, our FAFSA got pulled for verification. So I had to fill out more paperwork and get it sent in. What were they verifying? That the number of dependents we claimed were actual dependents. So if you have a larger than average family, you may want to be prepared for that step as well.
Don't expect the colleges to get back to you when they say they will. I have a tendency to not want to be pushy and when someone says we will get back to you by such and such a date, I take them at their word and even if they don't get back by that day I give them a little more time because I don't want to be pushy. You have to be pushy in these cases. If you don't hear back when you are supposed to, you need to call, email, do whatever you need to do to get yourself back in touch with that person. They are processing a lot of paperwork and children and you are not that important to them. Be pushy. Make sure they have all of the paperwork they need. Even if you sent it all. There was one paper we had to send 3 times because it was lost or misfiled. Many schools will not process your financial aid until they have all the paperwork on file. Be pushy. The biggest hold up for us? I had sent an early transcript in but forgot to send a final transcript in. That one piece of paper caused all of our hold up but luckily we still managed to get everything done on time.
Test scores are a big part of getting in to college and getting scholarships. All of the colleges we were looking at used the ACT but some colleges want an SAT as well. Check and see what the schools you are interested in want. Take them early. Chelsea took her first ACT at the age of 15. She didn't do bad on it, but it did show her the areas she needed to work in. We bought a simple test prep book from Walmart and worked in it several times a week. The next time she took the test she had raised her total score 6 points! You can take the ACT as many times as you want and it will save the highest score you get in each area, so you can only benefit by taking the test more than once.
I graduated Chelsea at the age of 17. She had more than fulfilled all of the necessary credits to graduate. Academically she was more than ready to graduate. But honestly, if I could go back I would've had her stay in high school one more year. Maybe take a college course or two but not graduate her until 18. There is a huge difference between 17 and 18 and I think that extra year at home could have been a big benefit to her. Plus she had made such an improvement on her test scores at 15 and 16, I think if she had been able to take it one more time she could have scored even higher. She is doing great at college and I am so very proud of everything she has accomplished, I just don't know if I will be in a hurry to let my others graduate early ;)
I know a lot of parents worry about whether or not their homeschooled children will have a hard time getting in to college. We did not have a hard time getting accepted at any of her college choices. There were several schools in fact that were pursuing her because she was homeschooled. The biggest thing they looked at were test scores and second was her transcript. Colleges have noticed how well homeschool students tend to do in college and they do not care whether or not the diploma was awarded by a parent or a school system.