February 19, 2008

Homeschooled students ease into life at the U of C

Third-year Lauren Dueck was homeschooled from the time she started to read through high school. Now a member of the U of C community, Dueck is part of a growing presence of homeschoolers on college campuses. Once considered outsiders to traditional education, many of these students now find an intellectual home at the U of C. Over one million students in the United States are currently being educated at home, according to a 2003 U.S. Department of Education report.

Dueck said that her homeschooling experience informs her approach to education at the University today.

“I had to have the reason and the explanation about why I was doing something. I had really meaningful experiences in high school that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere,” she said.

Nevertheless, Dueck was not a complete stranger to the classroom prior to enrolling at the U of C. Like many other homeschoolers, she took classes at local colleges as a high school student. She said that the opportunity to complete college-level coursework prior to enrolling at the University has aided her in her U of C classes.

“My senior year I took a college class and wound up reading a lot of what I read in Classics,” she said.

“I’ve never been afraid to talk to faculty….I was never constrained to a certain group of people and my ability to converse with people on an intellectual level was cultivated with homeschooling,” she added.

Fourth-year Sarah Bramsen, who was homeschooled from first grade through high school, echoed Dueck’s sentiments. Bramsen said that her home-schooling experience provided her with a sense of academic independence.

“I think it really taught me to learn on my own and find the resources I needed to find out more information on a subject,” she said.

Katie Stone, a second-year who was homeschooled from fifth grade through high school, took advantage of her Hyde Park residence in her homeschooling years.

“My parents initially taught me, and during my high school years for more difficult subjects I had students from the U of C tutoring me….I also had the chance to audit a Greek class at the University,” she said.

Stone said that her work in high school was similar to the kind of coursework she would have received through traditional schooling.

“I had pretty standard homework that any high school student would have—reading, papers, problem sets for math and science,” she said.

Dueck said that homeschooling provided her with opportunities she would not have had in a traditional school system. Before matriculating at the University, she worked as a historical reenactor, volunteered for a fine arts guild, and debated competitively. She added that the lack of a formal school schedule also freed up time for other activities.

“I’ve traveled a lot. I’d been to 32 different countries by the time I was 15. It definitely broadened my perspectives,” she said.

However, some homeschooled students run into difficulties during the college application process. When it came time to apply to college, Dueck said that she faced obstacles on issues that her traditionally schooled peers took for granted.

“[The application process] is very much stacked against homeschoolers, and I understand that….We have to take a lot of tests, take classes elsewhere, and I had to explain myself in more depth,” she said.

Second-year Robert Grider was also homeschooled from first grade through high school. Because Grider enrolled in classes taught by certified teachers with other homeschoolers from the time he was in fifth grade, he said that he did not run into the difficulties some homeschoolers face during the college application process.

“I feel like it was a lot less of an issue for me because of standardized tests, and the fact that my parents were not the ones assigning most of my grades,” he said.

Additionally, many formerly homeschooled students arrive on campus unprepared to defend themselves against common misconceptions about homeschoolers.

“There are preconceived notions: you are closed-minded, you have affiliations with a very specific set of religious beliefs and political views, and you are automatically assumed to be socially inept,” Dueck said.

Stone said that she did not feel that her homeschooling prevented her from having an active social life.

“I had friends in high school, I never felt like I was really missing out,” Stone said. “Everyone thinks I never had any friends or was cooped up all day, which just isn’t true.”

Bramsen added that homeschooling had a positive effect on her social development.

“At a certain point, homeschool is a more natural form of socialization. In school years you are only with a certain group of people, but out in the real world you are not,” she said.

For Grider, the flexibility of home-schooling allowed him to juggle work, friends, and academics.

“I feel that I had a very good experience with working and interacting with people,” Grider said. “I was able to have a very diverse group of friends…. I feel like the fact that I was not attached to a school allowed me to make friends more easily.”

He said that he anticipates homeschooled students will receive more attention from higher education in the coming years.

“People about my age are the first large group of students entering college who have been homeschooled,” he said.

Grider said that he thinks the U of C is a particularly good fit for homeschoolers.

“I feel it’s really a great place for homeschool kids. A lot of them do love learning and I feel that is a common trait here,” he said.