From Homeschooler to College Student: Successfully Transitioning Your Teen to College

Updated 9/25/2022.

While public school kids may be sent off on their own as soon as they graduate, homeschooled kids often benefit from continued mentoring from their parents while gaining experience with teachers, tests, and grades.

This is something we homeschoolers tend not to talk about, and I think we should. The first year after high school graduation may find you in a supportive role, similar to a school guidance counselor. Remain an involved homeschooling parent just a bit longer while your new graduate eases into independence. This is the time to trust your parental instinct, and not worry what others think!  

Please note: Most of the homeschoolers I work with start college at their local California community college, so some of the information/links reflect that.

Consider starting in summer at your community college

  • Lines are often shorter than they will be in the fall, and summer isn’t as overwhelming.
  • A college success or learning strategies class can be a great first college class. Students learn study tips and how to use college resources while they get over the college jitters.

Preparing for enrollment

  • In the past, students needed to take a math/English placement exam. If the test results indicated they were not ready for college-level math or English, they had to take remedial classes first. California’s AB 705 changed that.  If you are concerned that your child might not be ready for college English or math (having completed Algebra 2), search online for some tests to take at home to see if additional study is needed before attempting a course.
  • Learn what the school requires ahead of time. If you know someone who is enrolled there, ask about their experience, then also check online and call the school if something isn’t clear. Some ask for a photo ID or a sealed transcript. If under 18, a copy of a high school diploma and a parent’s signature may be needed.  (If the teen is still in high school, there is a concurrent enrollment form to submit.)
  • While a high SAT score might help your teen get a scholarship, taking the test is not an enrollment requirement at community colleges.

Getting ready for the college experience

There is so much to learn about college! A bit of preparation in the weeks before the term starts will make the transition easier. If your teen knows the lingo and expectations, they will be ahead of the game!

  • Go to an orientation.  Never miss an opportunity that is offered to help with the transition. Some community colleges encourage parents to attend too. If you are invited, go, and then discuss what you both learned afterward.
  • Explain the meaning of words used in college. Search college terminology or college definitions for websites such as College Prep 101  and College Life.
  • Encourage your teen to memorize their social security number.
  • Discuss the importance of following college rules and deadlines carefully.  Colleges don’t bend these rules, so knowing that can save some grief.
  • Give your teen several chances to experience the campus before school starts. The more times you visit various parts of the campus, the more relaxed your teen will be when school starts.
  • Encourage your teen to become familiar with the college website, college resources, and also the library website.
  • Learn where the parking lots are, and emergency call boxes if the campus has them.  Drive or walk around a bit and sightsee.
  • Get the college photo ID card before classes start because the line will be shorter. Help your teen find the location, and then go wait in the car or on a bench somewhere.

Tips that might help the new student (things they may not have learned as homeschoolers!)

  • Talk about tips for success – paying attention, being on time, sitting up front, having pen and paper, cell phone ringer turned off (no texting either!), asking questions, AND continuing to learn as they did as homeschoolers, even if it’s not required!
  • Since some homeschoolers have never been graded, they need to learn about the importance of their GPA. The GPA will permanently follow them and might impact things they want to do in the future – like transfer to a university.
  • Review the class syllabus after the first day, and explain anything confusing. This is their class contract, and teachers expect it to be followed.
  • Suggest that your new college student write all deadlines on a calendar. Some homeschoolers don’t have experience with deadlines and may need to fine-tune their time management skills.
  • Talk about the importance of doing some extra credit if it’s offered, and also completing work on time, if not early.
  • Be available to talk.  Don’t demand to proofread a paper or help study for a test, but offer. Your teen may or may not need a bit of help in the first year.

Parent Do’s and Don’ts

  • It’s ok to accompany your teen when they enroll. Lots of parents will be there!
Your role is not to take over, but be nearby as an advisor when needed.  During enrollment, your teen will appreciate it if you are neatly dressed and speaking quietly so that you blend in.  They may need you there, but they would prefer that you not be the parent that is noticed by others. If you have younger children, it would be ideal if you could leave them with someone while you focus on your new college student. Since your child is about to spread their wings and fly, this is going to be one of your last special moments together.  Make them count!
  • Don’t contact teachers for any reason (only your teen should contact them).  This can be a hard one for homeschool parents since we have been in control of our child’s education for a long time!
  • Don’t leave things to chance and assume your child is meeting all deadlines. Yes, I know that conventional wisdom is that they need to do things themselves, but guide them for just a bit – they won’t need you much longer, but your involvement may make a huge difference in their success!
  • Do make sure your child registers at the earliest possible time each semester:
#1:  Suggest that your teen register online at midnight on the first day of registration.  Classes fill up fast and it’s important to register as soon as you can.  Mark the date on your calendar and help your teen do this!
#2: If your teen has a 3.5 GPA after completing 12 units, they may want to join Phi Theta Kappa, a worldwide 2-year college honor society.  Members often receive priority registration, which makes it easier to get into the classes that are needed. Other benefits include participating in leadership, scholarships, and recognition at graduation.
  • Do help plan their schedule and also introduce them to the published graduation requirements and where to locate transfer information.

Just a few links!

  • FAFSA Federal student aid for college students.  Check “homeschooled” instead of “private school” to avoid delays.  Normally, you would check “private school” so FAFSA is the exception.
  • Official California college/career site
  • – see what other students think of a teacher, but take the critiques with a grain of salt. If a student writes that a teacher is unfair because he expects students to attend class, perhaps that’s going to be a good teacher for your serious student!  If every reviewer writes that they can’t understand the teacher because of his thick accent, or if he rarely shows up for class, you might want to look elsewhere.
  • Need study help?  Look for books on study skills, test-taking, organization, or anything that you think will help your student.  Learning to study and how to take tests is a skill that can be learned. And for general college success, look for books like these:

Buying textbooks

Save by buying or renting your textbooks online.  If you have the time, search online for “the best places to buy college textbooks”. Textbooks are updated so often that you might be able to get a slightly older edition and save. Often the new edition has a different cover and a slight rearrangement of pages, and sometimes teachers say it won’t matter. Your child can email the teacher and ask. When the class is over, sell the textbook at the bookstore or online.  Sell it immediately before that $150 book becomes worthless because of a new edition!  If money is super tight, college libraries have copies for use in the library – it’s not ideal, but it’s good to know about.

Fostering Independence

You have spent many years guiding your child, and now you are gradually letting go in a way that best meets the needs of your child. Pay attention to signals that your child is ready to take over something you’ve been doing.  You may be congratulated for being “done” with homeschooling, but the truth of the matter is that you aren’t quite done, but just doing it differently.

People assume that once the child graduates, they should be on their own, but independence doesn’t happen overnight.  Help your kids just a little longer until they no longer need your help – it’s time well spent to ensure they successfully transition from homeschooler to college student.

Karen Taylor’s always homeschooled son attended a local community college after graduating from homeschooling. He transferred to UC Berkeley as a junior, and received a PhD in neuroscience from UCSF.  She shares homeschooling comments and links on Facebook, Pinterest, and this blog.