The Big Transition: Homeschool to College

This is the time of year when homeschooling parents traditionally begin contemplating next year. (Sometimes with that daunting 2nd semester ahead, it is more appealing to consider next year than to finish this year.) Parents of 8th graders may be terrified as they consider what they are going to do next year for high school. They might wonder whether they measure up academically; if they're capable of leading their children through high school and preparing them for college. Even as their high schoolers pursue college dreams, parents often speculate whether their kids will be able to adjust to the rigors and social climate of college after being at home for high school. Understanding the latest research on this topic could be reassuring for both parents and students!

Although there have not been a multitude of studies in this area, there have been a few with some interesting results. Among them is Transitional Experiences of First-year College Students Who Were Homeschooled, by Mary Beth Bolle, Roger D. Wessel, and Thalia M. Mulvihill, published by the Journal of College Student Development (Vol. 48, No. 6, Nov.-Dec. 2007*). This study examines the adjustment of first year college students who entered college directly after finishing high school at home. Beginning by citing previous related findings:

  • According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (1999), the number of homeschooled students has nearly tripled just since 1991
  • Homeschooled students outranked public school students on standardized tests by 15-30 points and "perform well in college and leadership activities and tend to be independent and critical thinkers who are gainfully employed." (Ray, 2003)
  • Other benefits of homeschooling include "better relationships with siblings and parents, more opportunities for interaction with people of different ages that lead to developing friendships with various ages and genders, and a better relationship with adults." (Cox, 2003)
  • A favorable quote from Brown University's Dean, Joyce Reed, who stated: "These kids are the epitome of Brown students. They've learned to be self-directed, take risks, face challenges with total fervor, and they don't back off." (Sutton, 2002

In spite of the above accolades, the study also cites some common concerns about homeschoolers entering college, such as the familiar "What about socialization?" And an added apprehension: "Do homeschoolers have a broad enough view of the real world [to successfully deal with] the exposure of different people and views?" These are very pertinent questions you may have asked yourself as you have considered whether or not to homeschool high school.

The Bolle, Wessel and Mulvihill study discussed the various transitional stages of a group of homeschooled students as they:

  • left home
  • adjusted to living with greater independence
  • met others with differing values, backgrounds and worldviews
  • compensated for more traditional teaching styles and academics
  • had to comprehend new behavioral norms
  • formed new relationships
  • eventually acquired a sense of ownership and belongingness to their new college community.

Interestingly, these are a few of their findings:

  1. Although all of the students in this study experienced loneliness upon arrival at college, all of them were able to "step outside their comfort zones and meet new friends" In this particular sample of students in a diverse student body, homeschooled students were able to meet other like-minded students as well as come in contact with others who were very different.
  2. Although they all eventually made like-minded friends, it took some longer than others. Those who maintained "close ties with their community and home and [called] home frequently" made friends quickly. (Bolle, Wessel and Mulvihill, 2007)
  3. All of the students had to adjust to different teaching styles and academic expectations. Some students found college classes easier and some found them more difficult. Those who initially had difficulty were able to develop the tools and methods they needed and became accustomed to their professor's expectations and, ultimately, to modify their academic activities to meet the requirements.
  4. Resources on campus such as student orientation, RAs, campus programming and student organizations were very helpful in successfully transitioning homeschooled students into college life.
  5. Bottom line: there was little difference between what homeschooled and publicly/privately schooled students experienced in terms of their transition to college.

Additional favorable reports came from another fascinating study on this topic, "An Exploratory Study of the Transition and Adjustment of Former Home schooled Students to College Life" (Lattibeaudiere, 2000). This study examined how well homeschooled students transitioned into college life by the time they were sophomores and juniors. This body of research found that homeschooled students "had a positive and successful experience transitioning from high school to college. In fact, the longer that students were homeschooled, the better they adapted to college life." The study speculated as to why homeschooling longevity was helpful. Factors that were considered as benefits to college adaptation included "students having individually tailored instruction, the ability to learn at their own pace, options to study subjects of interest, opportunity to be taught in a loving educational environment, and availability of hands-on opportunities that developed curiosity and love of learning." (Quoted in Bolle, Wessel and Mulvihill, 2007.) Personal note: we have always known those are benefits of homeschooling, but it is gratifying and reassuring to have them substantiated by scientific study!

Incidentally, other findings of the Lattibeaudiere study included:

  • Rather than living off campus, students who lived on campus were better adjusted.
  • Educators felt that homeschooled students took a little longer than traditionally educated students to adjust socially to college. (That is not necessarily a bad thing...)
  • Homeschoolers "exhibited great skill in relating to individuals of all ages" (quoted by Bolle, Wessel and Mulvihill, 2007).

Moreover, a dissertation by Holder (2001) stated that homeschoolers were academically and socially adept in college. Additionally, homeschooling students reported that they felt "homeschooling helped them develop the ability to learn on their own, [have] good study habits, [learn] self-motivation and how to be responsible, [have] flexibility in learning at their own pace and [be] self-disciplined." Although it was found that there were some difficult areas, specifically: "the extensive writing and research required, meeting assignment deadlines...and getting accustomed to class schedules," homeschooled students assimilated well. It was thought that such students' participation in volunteer work, activities outside of the academic arena and part-time jobs aided their transition to college.

Although these studies are few in number, their conclusions have paralleled what Beth and I have experienced in our own families. I hope this research will put you at ease as you consider homeschooling high school or if you are currently doing so. Continue to mentor and train your children as you have always done, teaching them right from wrong, shepherding their hearts, and preparing them for God-honoring, productive, full lives. Whether you prayerfully decide to keep them home for high school or not, please don't make the decision out of fear that they won't be able to adjust.

With hope in Him,


Dana Wilson has been homeschooling forever and is the co-author of Epi Kardia literature-based unit study curriculum for Kindergarten through High School. For curriculum information and to receive homeschooling support and encouragement, please visit her website and blog at

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