A quick glance at my straightforward (and completely uncreative) title makes the content of this article clear. If you are choosing to read this article, I can safely assume one thing; you have an interest in homeschooling. It may be that you are a homeschooler whose oldest student will soon be ready for the high school challenge. Perhaps you are considering education at home for the first time. As a homeschooling parent of twenty years I have brought three children through high school, written a book on the subject, and navigated college admissions three times. I don't find it a particularly threatening process. Hard work, yes. Tedious at times, yes. But not scary. I know it can be. Take heart! With careful thought and advance planning it can be done — and it can be done well!
High school is primarily a preparation for the future. I believe it is advantageous for every intellectually capable student to prepare for college. We have no crystal ball that foretells a child's path or future circumstances. The better prepared he or she is for any eventuality, the more confidence we can have in his or her future.
On occasion I have heard customers of ours express their family's conviction that they ought not prepare their daughters for college but should focus on homemaking skills and preparation to be a wife and mother. I am always troubled when I hear this. Like most homeschool mothers, it is my first desire for my girls to be wives and mothers. I do my best to train them in life skills and godly character accordingly. However, I also want them to have sharp, Biblically-trained minds and a well-developed Christian worldview. I want them to be equipped to counsel their children wisely in their encounters with the many different issues of life. This goal is both compatible with and necessary for effective motherhood and the schooling of their own children. I also desire for them to have the education and skills to become breadwinners, should it ever prove necessary.
I know that life is unpredictable and, through God's sovereignty, takes twists and turns we would never have expected or chosen. Many girls will discover that a single life is God's will for them and will need skills to support themselves. Many wives will unexpectedly find themselves thrust into the workforce due to a husband's disability or death. Sometimes a husband's income will need to be supplemented temporarily to cover unbudgeted needs — not wants — that arise. By not preparing for life's unexpected, but all too common, occurrences we potentially condemn our daughters and possibly their children to a minimum wage, poverty level lifestyle.
Having said that, I would recommend encouraging our girls to enter fields that are compatible with motherhood. Education degrees prepare them for the classroom, substituting, tutoring, or capably teaching their own children. Music degrees prepare them for taking private students, holding a pianist position in the church, and enriching their family with beauty. Accounting makes a way for them to keep the books for a small business or a family business of their own. Nursing can be a helpful skill for any mother and is seldom a saturated field. These career fields can either be pursued from home or offer very flexible scheduling. This list is just a start; undoubtedly there are many possibilities I have missed.
Should you agree with my reasoning and believe that college preparation is wise, the first step is to plan a high school program that can accomplish this goal. What are the high school basics? What is required for a student to be accepted into college?
One safe way to choose your high school program is to send for a catalog and an application packet from the college (or colleges) your student is considering. The catalog will usually contain a list of preferred high school courses for applicants. If it is not in the catalog, contact the admissions department for the information. Plan your coursework accordingly.
Getting college entrance information early in your high school process will save you anxiety, money, and unhappy surprises. Knowing what the college expects can help you plan your program in an orderly sequence, saving you from rushing around senior year to fill gaps and reducing the anxiety that surrounds an already stressful process.
Regarding money, the more you know about a college's scholarship opportunities and evaluation process, the more likely you will find a scholarship program to your student's advantage. Our third child will most likely attend college out of state next year. Although we are working on a normal college admission schedule, had we sought out earlier scholarship information we might have been able to change some last minute strategies resulting in an education cost savings of several thousand dollars a year. We are still learning!
To prevent most last minute, unhappy surprises, get your facts early. Recently I heard that one of our more competitive state universities added a third year of foreign language to its high school requirements. That is not something you want to find out in your student's senior year!
The whole process of planning a high school program is a lengthy one, with courses to choose, plan, and complete, a transcript to assemble, and a GPA to calculate. Other items a college sometimes requests, such as course descriptions and portfolios of student work, cannot be produced successfully at the last minute.
Your student's eighth grade year is an appropriate time to begin to investigate your two main options: correspondence school or a home-designed program. Using a correspondence school will streamline your parental role; the course of study, textbooks used, and some of the record-keeping will be the responsibility of the school you have chosen. If you desire greater control over your student's high school program and flexibility to accommodate special needs, interests, or talents, then a home-designed program may be the best choice for you. This type of program requires additional planning. Expect to lay out a general four-year course of study, with all the details fully unfolding over the course of the high school years. For detailed information on planning your student's high school program I refer you to my book, Home-Designed High School. I believe you will find I have presented the information in a painless and thorough manner, with the many details involved in planning your student's program streamlined as much as possible.
By laying the groundwork carefully you will create a customized high school plan that strengthens your student's weaknesses and enhances his or her other God-given gifts, thus equipping him or her to be an effective worker for God's kingdom. After all, isn't that what homeschooling is all about?