Getting your home educated child into university

Getting your home educated child into university

Our eldest child entered Monash University straight from homeschool in 2007, graduated with First Class Honours making him eligible for a PHD scholarship. There have been many more homeschooled kids who have gotten into university and done well. Several universities are welcoming homeschooled students. Years 11 and 12 at a school are no longer necessary, with Open Universities Australia allowing students from age 13 to enrol, enabling many students to study tertiary units instead.

Our son was 16 when he began his tertiary units in preparation for university entrance. These are the steps we took:

Step 1: Work out your end goal and work backwards

Fortunately, Josh was clear on what he wanted to do (entomology), and we worked backwards from there, searching for the university course that would get him to where he wanted to go. There are no courses to become an “entomologist” –  he needed to do a zoology degree and then specialise. Unfortunately, entomology is not a standard area of expertise, with only a couple of universities in Australia offering units in that field. We needed to find a university that offered a zoology course that would give credit to units done at another university. We’ll leave the complicated story there. Just to say that it is not always as cut and dry as it seems if your child has a very specific interest or goal.

We did find a very good course at Monash which had an agreement with the University of Queensland that Josh could do entomology units through (via distance education) and have them credited to his Monash degree.

Step 2: Get the VTAC guide

The Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) guide is available online and provides course information and entrance requirements for all Victorian tertiary institutions in one place, and will familiarise you with all the jargon (other states have their own equivalents).

Step 3: Contact the faculty selection officer

Once you’ve chosen a course, you will need to speak directly with the selection officer (not the course coordinator) in the relevant faculty at the university. This is a crucial part of the process as they will explain the university’s admissions policy and entry requirements for the specific course you’re interested in. This will help you map out exactly what you need to do to get your child into their university. Not all universities are the same or as welcoming of homeschooled students. We found Deakin University and Melbourne University, for example, to be outright prejudiced against homeschooled students.

The selection officer we liaised with at Monash was very helpful and encouraging. She pointed us to the faculty’s admissions policy and was keen for us to stay in contact and liaise with her throughout the year.

It is the selection officers who make the final decision, not VTAC. However, you will still need to submit a VTAC application if you are applying at the end of the year for a beginning year start, though you can apply directly to the university at mid-year. There is a Personal Statement form you should complete for VTAC as well as the regular form. It is not always necessary, but is recommended for those who have not completed year 12 and are using a different pathway (and don’t have an ATAR). This form provides space to add any other relevant information for non-routine applications.

The selection officer also wanted us to send a copy of our VTAC application directly to her, together with some more specific information like details of his “final year” subjects, grades and other extracurricular activities, etc. We had used Dr Jay Wiles science texts (formerly published by Apologia, but now published by Berean Builders), and gave her links to the publisher’s website so she could see the standard of the work. We also included the fact that he was part of the Home Ed Team who won the Team Spirit Award at Deakin’s Science and Engineering Challenge.

In addition, we provided photos of Joshua’s insect collection. The selection officer will guide you on what they want to know, but don’t be pressured into providing any “requirements” that are not in the admissions policy of that university.

 

Step 4: Check the university’s admissions policy

We then checked the entrance requirements for Monash’s Faculty of Science. Make sure the selection officer knows you are aware of it. At the time we applied they did not require SATs or the STAT but had a Non-Year 12 entry pathway (which most universities have), which at the time was two tertiary subjects with a 60% pass. One must be an “English-rich” unit and the other related to the course you wish to undertake.

At the time of writing, Monash requires “at least two units of higher education study (to a minimum 12 points), of which at least one is an English-rich unit, taken as part of an award or non-award course”. (Go here for Monash entry requirements.)

We chose the pathway of two tertiary units, done one at a time over two study periods through Open Universities Australia: one science related and one history (English rich).

Step 5: Choose tertiary units that will be credited towards your degree

If you are choosing single units from another university for entrance requirements, try and do units that will give you credit in your course of choice. Check with the selection officer on what units they can give credit for.

Step 6: Complete your entry units in time

It’s a good idea to plan to have the tertiary units you chose for admission finished in time to get a transcript for submitting with your VTAC application, so check the submission deadlines as you choose your single units. Most VTAC applications need to be submitted from September, so have the units completed in study periods 1, 2 or 3.

I was relieved that Josh did the Open Uni units, as I didn’t feel very confident about him doing the STATs and was overwhelmed in preparing for the SATs. We chose Australian History for his “English rich” unit, basically to prove that he can write essays and is literate, and another unit relevant to the course he was planning to enter, in his case “Scientific Skills and Communication”. He did one at a time in the first and third study periods, finishing by September. This allowed him to get his VTAC application in on time.

There was good reason to do the OUA units one at a time, and we were both glad he did. The whole experience was very taxing but most valuable in that we had the advantage of learning at a university level without all the adjustments that go with being on campus. Having our heads in one place at a time was all I could deal with since I also had four other children to teach.

It was also more helpful, realistic and better preparation than tests of any kind. It was also a great confidence booster (to both of us), and helped him understand how university operates. Another advantage was that I could have full involvement, and it demystified the whole idea of university study in my mind. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought and I realised that our children really could do the work if they are motivated enough. After years of fearing this final goal, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it was all turning out.

Step 7: Go to open days

Going to the Monash Open Day was probably the most encouraging and helpful part of the process. Josh took along one of his insect specimen boxes and was able to show it to one of the lecturers in the zoology department. This was the most positive time during our whole university entrance journey, as he received great feedback and encouragement from someone who mattered in the whole process. So if you can, take a portfolio or the like just in case. This lecturer was impressed and keen to see Josh get in.

This process took the whole year with him being finished his OUA units in time to submit his VTAC application. It was a time of ploughing through the unknown and never being certain of getting anywhere, requiring assertiveness and discipline to meet application deadlines. He listed only one preference on his VTAC application and was offered a place in the first round.

Do your degree completely online

Going on campus is no longer necessary for lots of courses and in many cases doing an online degree is preferable. You can do a whole degree through Open Uni or another university and do it at a slower pace if need be. Check your options.

How did we prepare our children for tertiary units by age 16?

The most important skills your child will need are a good vocabulary and the ability to write an essay. A good vocabulary is built through lots of reading, and vocabulary courses if you wish (we did Jensen’s Vocabulary and various Latin roots courses). Check our planning guide for year 10 for ideas.

If your child has a specific interest, have him join a club or association or do volunteer work in that field. Josh joined the Entomological Society of Victoria. This gave him an opportunity to do volunteer work at Melbourne Museum.

Make sure you grade your child’s work in their final year of homeschool in case you need to provide these for uni entrance.

So what about our other children?

Our next two children also took up OUA units at ages 15 and 17, both achieving High Distinctions. Interestingly, the 15yo also sat the STAT a year later achieving an average score, certainly not consistent with the marks he got for his OUA unit. This showed me that I was probably right in taking that path to begin with; just jumping into the tertiary units is a much better way of getting a realistic and accurate assessment of where your child is at as they are what actually matter.

You CAN do it!

by Joelle Grubb Copyright 2022

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