Can a Homeschooled Child Take an Extra Year of High School?

A group of high school graduates (click for credit)

A group of high school graduates (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Alberta Home Education Convention in Canada. As far as I know, it is the largest home education convention in Canada, and I think I have spoken there only once before, way back in the year 2000. It was really wonderful to go back. I met several parents who told me they remembered me from 17 years ago, and that I encouraged them to continue on in their homeschool journey. Their children are now in high school, at university, or in the real world, and they are very happy with their decision to continue homeschooling.

One of the kind souls who drove me around actually told me his son’s story, which is worth retelling here. He graduated homeschool many years ago and wanted to attend a major Canadian university. At that time, the university did not accept homeschool applicants. However, the student’s family knew someone on the inside, and that person was able to convince the university to accept him. At first, the university did not allow him to take any courses related to his desired major, because the administrators thought that homeschooled students “just played with Play-Doh all day.” As is generally the case, this homeschool graduate excelled, and the university quickly changed its tune. After he graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a pile of honors, the university asked him to help them write their admissions policy for homeschooled students.

I spoke several times at the convention, and the audiences were very appreciative. I always try to leave time at the end of my talks for questions from the audience, and I succeeded for every talk except one. Many of the questions related to very specific cases, but I got one question that I think could apply to everyone, so I decided to discuss it here. At the end of one of my talks, I was asked whether or not a homeschooled student could take a fifth year of high school. The mother thought that for one of her children, an extra year of high school would do a lot of good, but she was concerned that it might look odd to a university.

I told this mother that I think one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that you can tailor your child’s education to match his or her needs. One of the many weaknesses of today’s standard educational system is its “one size fits all” mentality. It is nonsensical to think that a single textbook and a single teacher’s methodology will meet the educational needs of all the students in a given class. It is even more nonsensical to think that all students mature at the same rate and therefore should spend exactly the same amount of time in school. Some students are quick to learn and quick to mature, and they should probably leave school early. Others are more deliberate in their approach to studies and life, and they should probably stay in school longer.

As a homeschooling parent, you know your child better than any teacher or bureaucrat. As a result, you are the best one to determine how long your student should be educated before going off to trade school, university, or the real world. If you think your student would really benefit from a fifth (or sixth or seventh) year of high school, then you should trust your parental judgement. If you think your student is ready for his or her next step in life at the age of 16, then once again, you should trust your parental judgement. A high school graduate needs a specific set of skills (educational, social, and practical) in order to pursue his or her life goals, and as a parent, you should keep your child in school long enough to acquire those skills, but not a second more!

Now, of course, the mother who asked the question does have a legitimate concern. If her child’s next step is university, will a fifth (or sixth or seventh) year of high school look odd? In my experience, the answer is, “no.” Universities have plenty of students who graduate after four years of high school. They tend to look on “nontraditional” students more favorably, as long as the “nontraditional” students meet their entrance requirements. Especially if you can use the extra year (or two or three) of high school to give the student experiences that will make him or her stand out, that will probably make the student more attractive to the unviersity. For example, a student who takes a fifth year of high school to volunteer full time at a veterinary clinic would be an attractive premed student to many universities.

If you have concerns about a university’s view of more than four years in high school, however, there is a way you can make the extra year (or years) less obvious. While many student transcripts are chronological (like this one, for example), some are arranged by subject (like this one). If you arrange your transcript by subject, it will be harder to notice that the student took more than four years to complete high school. Once again, I think a high school experience of more than four years will make a student slightly more attractive to a university. However, it’s possible that for certain universities, it won’t. If you think your child’s university of choice is one of those, a transcript arranged by subject is the way to go.

But here is the bottom line. Your job as a home educator is not to get your student into the university of his or her choice. Your job is to give your student the skills he or she needs to become the adult that God wants him or her to be. If your prayerful decision is that your child needs a fifth (or sixth or seventh) year of high school, then it is your obligation to do that.

ADDITION (4/11/2017): One commenter brought up an excellent point. If you decide to take extra time in high school, be careful about taking university-level courses during that time. Many first-year scholarships require that the student have no “post-high-school credits.” Taking university-level courses in your fifth year of high school can be interpreted as “post-high-school credits.” If you are not taking university-level courses during the extra high school years or not worried about getting scholarships, this is not an issue.

16 Comments

  1. Jake says:

    I wish I had taken a year off before grad school… but yes, this is correct: there are plenty of nontraditional college students, and what’s important is what your kid needs.

    Also, I’ve been rooting around arXiv looking for some number corresponding to the local dark matter density. I wasn’t able to find much, but I did find a paper on dark matter in the sun (as a solution to the solar abundance problem). They use a dark matter density that’s around 10^(-18) kg/m^3, which leads to the sun containing less than a kilogram of dark matter. Again, I don’t know how reasonable that is, but the paper has been published in PRL and has 25 citations, so some people must not think it crazy. What occurs to me is that, if there is indeed a galactic dark matter wind, and its size is on the order of light-years, it doesn’t have to be moving very fast for it to just pass through the solar system without getting collected: it starts far enough away that it wouldn’t fall into the gravitational well. Of course, the solar system is lumpy, so it’s not that simple, but on the order of light-years it’s almost a point. If that makes sense, then I don’t think there are any problems with dark matter throwing off our calculations of the mass of the earth.

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Your dark matter idea is getting more and more interesting. I am half-heartedly working on a paper about the “excess heat” problem right now. I wonder if this might be another approach. Thanks so much for educating me beyond my initial skepticism.

      1. Jake says:

        Thanks for the compliment. I’m not sure who you could talk to for a better presentation of the current view on dark matter, or direct detection efforts. All I really know is what I heard in seminars; I don’t do astrophysics or particle phenomenology, so I haven’t read up on dark matter.

        It’s probably the direct detection people who you’d really want to get in touch with, as my understanding is that those experiments primarily try to see dark matter scattering off heavy nuclei. The kinetics and thermodynamics of such scattering is already your expertise, so the hard part might just be figuring out the available parameter space (which dark matter types and interactions aren’t ruled out, the possible density/temperature of dark matter, etc.).

      2. Jake says:

        Oh, and I meant to say: Play-Doh? I thought that was what college students needed for their safe spaces.

        1. Jay Wile says:

          LOL. That is so true!

  2. It pays to study scope and sequence requirements for your state – some states require you meet some of that anyway. Academically, you will want to incorporate additional S&S practices that have been noted to produce desirable college students.

    Most helpful is to help your children internalize good study habits and mature attitudes toward their work. Diligent and principled students have their greatest heartburn over group projects and difficult professors. Lazy students will take advantage of good students under threat of a poor grade. Professors can be difficult for a number of reasons. Some may have a rigid and ineffective teaching style. Others may have a disagreeable philosophy that permeates every aspect of the class that can even manifest itself in antipathy toward some students. Yet others may not understand the material they are supposed to be teaching (my oldest son has encountered that recently). There may even be political issues that arise. For example, my oldest son is leading his class in a project they were assigned. It actually doesn’t match the skill set they were taught in class, but the college agreed to this project because it was requested by a wealthy patron. So the class can’t very well back out of it. I told my son that this is actually a good life lesson in this one. He thinks they can get some outside help with this one, which I think the college will allow as long as the class does the lion’s share of the work. So, in sum, strategies for dealing with other people in their studies will go a long way toward helping a student thrive.

  3. Sj says:

    We did this for our last two children, by extending their middle school so that they would graduate a year later than their public school cohorts. You’d need to figure this out pretty early, though.

    Another option that we utilized for one of our kids was to for him to apply to a large state university for what was supposed to be his freshman year, then take the minimum required hours through a combination of online classes from the university and classroom classes from the local community college. That way, he was able to live at home during what was supposed to be his freshman year. That works because in our state, state universities are required to accept equivalent courses from public community colleges. That might be a good option for a child who may be academically ready but not socially ready for college.

    Another option is a gap year, which is becoming more and more common for traditionally schooled kids. Just be sure not to take any college courses during that period, because it could impact freshman admission standing and any scholarships associated with that.

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Thanks for pointing out the scholarships angle, SJ. I will add that as a note to the original article.

  4. Pdennen says:

    I am concerned about the college credit requirement. I have a 15 – year old who will be taking chemistry at the local community college next year, because I think she needs that lab and I am sure if I tried to replicate a chem lab in my basement that only bad things would result. Is the recommendation that I just record her grades and not indicate the location in which this class occurred?

    1. Jay Wile says:

      It’s not a problem, since she will be taking it during the “normal” 4-year period of high school. It is only an issue if she takes an extra year and does college courses during THAT year. After all, that could be interpreted as her being in college “after” high school.

  5. Tina Hollenbeck says:

    Thank you for (more) common sense insight, Jay! 🙂 I will be arranging my daughters’ transcripts topically for many reasons – i.e., we study on a January-December, year-round schedule, we earn credits in multiple ways (not just via textbooks), we don’t pay much attention to “grade level” in the first place, to purposely think outside the institutional school box, etc. – but one reason relates to one of my children, whom I determined a few years ago (when she was about 10) would benefit from more time. I’m so thankful that – despite being a “model student” (i.e., playing all the school-style games) and also being a recovering classroom teacher myself! – I have broken free from school-style thinking. I’ll be sharing this post among my homeschool contacts.

  6. Having finished homeschooling my nine (for more than 30 years) I am now the Homeschool Specialist at Bryan College (small, conservative, very homeschool friendly college in TN). Recently I put together a free resource for homeschooling parents to help navigate the high school years. Unfortunately many of us learn by trial and error and, in my case, I missed some very important dates and opportunities because of a lack of knowledge. For that reason I wanted to create a free publication to help homeschooling parents. What I learned during this process has been so enlightening and I am sure homeschooling parents will rejoice with what I share. But first, let’s talk about another year of high school. Many, many families are choosing to go this route calling the additional year either “Super Senior” or, simply, “Fifth Year Senior.” In my resource I suggest that the parents include the most impressive classes in a 4 year transcript, but since publishing this document I will now amend it. After speaking with a founder of Home Life Academy (a large homeschool umbrella organization) I discovered that including a fifth year on a chronological transcript is acceptable to colleges. What they generally look at is the number of credit hours and the GPA. A fifth year allows for quite an impressive transcript. But, wait, there’s more! So much more! During my research I discovered that in the USA there are no “requirements” for high school graduation, only recommendations. Of course, if one is registered with an umbrella organization that organization can (and often does) have requirements. Some organizations (such as Home Life) are much more flexible than others with required courses. If a parent is preparing their student’s transcripts then the parent is free to choose whatever course they deem best to prepare their students for life after high school. Let that sink in! With all nine of mine I was convinced that, by law, my students each had to have two years of the same foreign language in high school. That is not true!! It might be a good idea, but it’s not a law!! When colleges receive transcripts they, for the most part (not true of every college) look at the number of credits and the GPA! Also, some colleges (such as Bryan College) do not penalize a high school student for dual enrolling or taking a gap year (some do, so do your research). Dual enrolling is usually much more affordable than attending college classes post high school. There are other items to consider as well. At Bryan College when a student graduates with a 3.5 they can earn a Master’s Degree for FREE but this is only for students coming to Bryan without any post-high school college credit (transfer students are excluded from the free Master’s option). However, students coming in with dual enrollment credit (from any college), could still qualify for the free Master’s! Taking a gap year will not nullify this offer unless the gap year is post-high school graduation and comes with credit from another accredited college. Make sense? If not, feel free to contact me. That’s my job now! pat.wesolowski@bryan.edu The resource I have mentioned is not specific to Bryan College (applicable to all families) and is available for free at this link: http://www.bryan.edu/ebook

    1. Kathy Mokris says:

      Pat, I’ve graduated two students, who themselves are now college graduates, and have one high schooler left. In PA, we have homeschool graduation requirements. Maybe you mean US colleges recommend that students take certain classes for admission – I don’t know.

      I have found that the answer always “depends on the college you’re applying to.” For instance, for admission, certain colleges in PA require that you follow PA homeschool law a certain way. Other colleges don’t care and would probably fit your “recommended classes” category.

      In general, the more/most selective colleges don’t care. The state colleges are the legalistic ones. I’ve known students with SATs in the 700s who were not allowed admission to a local private college, not selective, because they didn’t follow PA law to the satisfaction of the college. The law has recently changed somewhat so that “if homeschoolers do” certain things, the college must accept that as a high school diploma.

      As a “veteran homeschool mom” I always tell the younger mothers, “It depends on which college you’re applying to” for getting in and for what’s going to transfer, etc. Always check with the college.

      As a side note – the “Jake” who comments above is my oldest and working on his PHD in physics as an international student.

  7. We did this with one of our children who was severely dyslexic and an extremely late reader. He was making so much progress in high school that we told him we could graduate him on time with a decent high school education or a year late with an excellent one and left the choice to him. He decided to wait a year and it was such a good choice! He’s in college now, with their top full academic scholarship, and he’s on the Dean’s List. He’s also the Freshman Class President. The extra year gave him time to mature academically and emotionally and we are all glad we did it.

  8. Kristine says:

    Thanks for this article.

    Just a note, though, that in Alberta, “high school” consists of grades ten through twelve, not grades nine through 12, so an extra year of high school would be a fourth year of high school, not a fifth one.

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Thanks for the note, Kristine. Most likely, the mother asked about taking an “extra” year of high school, and I immediately translated that in my mind to the U.S. equivalent, which would be a fifth year.

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