Ask the Admission Counselor

If you are a homeschool student or the parent of a homeschool student, you may have a long list of questions and concerns about applying to college. You don’t have a School Counselor or College Counselor like your public and private school peers, so who do you turn to?

College Admission Questions for Homeschool Students
  • What is it like to apply for college as a homeschool student?
  • What academic background is required to be admitted?
  • How do I explain my homeschool education to a college?
  • What colleges are a good fit for my interests?
  • Will the transition to college be different for me?

Homeschool Questions: Admission Office Answers

Going directly to the source (your colleges of interest) might be a good resource for your questions. But who do you talk to at the college?  If you have a college or a few colleges that interest you, an Admission Counselor can be a good resource to start a conversation. However, I want to pull back the curtain on the world of college admission for you. I want you to better understand the importance of the information you will receive from an Admission Counselor, as well as the limitations.

What is an Admission Counselor?

An Admission Counselor is a staff member in the Office of Admission at a college.  I started my career as an Admission Counselor in 2004, working my way up the higher education ladder until I was Directing an admission office for a public university. I left my admission career in 2020 to homeschool my own children. My 15+ year experience from entry level to management has given me the prospective I share with you today.

In Summer, Admission Counselors are welcoming visitors to their campuses and planning for the upcoming year. If you visit a college for a tour in the Summer, an Admission Counselor may give a group Information Session (a presentation about the college and the admission process), they may greet you before or after a campus tour, or you may have an Admission Interview with an Admission Counselor.

In Fall, Admission Counselors travel to meet interested students and their families as well as school counselors, college counselors, and college consultants. Admission Counselors will have a travel territory. A travel territory is the group of high schools, often based on geographical area, that the Admission Counselor will visit in September, October, and some of November. The Counselor may have one region or state to visit, but other counselors will bounce around the country spending many hours in planes and cars. Admission Counselors will visit 100+ high school in that 7 to 10 week period. These number equate to visiting 2 to 5 high schools a day with College Fairs and events on evenings and weekends.

Tina Fey in the movie Admission

In Winter, Admission Counselors are reading applications. Yes, the same people greeting you before a campus tour and traveling around the country to meet you are also reading your application. This level of access is (surprisingly) often taken for granted. The number of applications an Admission Counselor will read varies based on the the institution (How many applications do they receive each year? How large is their staff? Do they hire extra readers to help during this season?). In general, an Admission Counselor will read about 30 to 50 applications a day. Homeschool applications generally take more time to review and I will write about this later in the post.   

In Spring, the tables turn. At this point in the year, applications have been read, accept letters have been mailed and admitted students have until May 1 to decide where they want to attend. An Admission Counselor’s job in Spring is to woo you, the admitted student, to select their college. They will do this with phone calls, emails, direct mail pieces, on-campus events, and maybe even an off-campus event near you. This time of year is called yield season in an Admission Office. Read on for a description of yield season and how it gets it’s name.

Admission Counselors often wear multiple hats. Most long term Admission professionals enjoy the changing seasons of the career. Unfortunately this constant changing and varied work responsibilities also cause burn-out and the profession experiences a high degree of turn over. Long term Admission professionals are rare.  

Tina Fey in the movie Admission

Enrolling a New Class

I’m going start at the end to explain why all the Admission work described above is done. Every admission office has set goals for their next incoming class, from the Ivy leagues to your local Community College. Long before they have met you or your fellow applicants, they have decided how many students they will need to fill their next class. A local community college may have a goal to enroll enough students so the tuition dollars cover the cost of their faculty salaries and operating costs. The Ivy leagues will also have an overall goal for the number of students they want to enroll in the next class, but their goals may break down further to meet the needs of an academic program, improve rankings on the coveted top spots in US News & World Reports, athletic team needs, performing arts, research, and so on. With a large applicant pool and a relatively small class size, Ivies have the luxury to set micro-goals for their ideal community.  

Photo credit: The Harvard Crimson

So why do Admission Offices call the Spring yield season? Colleges have to yield the right number, or maybe the right students, from the admitted student pool to meet class goals. Any good Admission Director is consistently analyzing their historical enrollment rates compared with their current admitted student pool. This is an attempt to predict the next incoming class. A simple example is to imagine you have a goal to enroll a class of 1,000 students. Last year you admitted 1,300 students and met the same goal of 1,000 students. If you do the math, this is close to a 75% yield rate on the admitted student pool. In other words, 1,000 students were yielded from a pool of 1,300 students. Thus, the name yield season.

The numbers behind the scenes get far more complex. Instead of 1 year of data, colleges are working with 5 to 10 years of data. Evaluating historical, geographic, economic, and financial aid trends to predict what the data means for their next class. Will they meet their goals? Is fate already written in the numbers?

Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status: Fall 2000 through 2029

Credit: National Center for Education Statistics

The average Admission Counselor is not typically in the weeds of this upper level data management, but Enrollment Vice Presidents and Admission Directors are watching these numbers weekly, if not daily. These are the bosses directing the Admission Counselors on their yield efforts. If the goal was to enroll 5% more students from out-of-state, but the admitted student pool from out-of-state has not increased, the only way to make goal is to improve the yield rate over last year.

How do Admission Offices entice more students to enroll? If you are an admitted out-of-state student in the example above, you may see a surprising number of event invites, phone calls and emails from current students, alumni, faculty, and admission staff. Maybe even increases to your initial financial aid package if the benefits to the institution make financial sense. The problem from the student and family side is you have no idea where you stand in this yield game.

Getting Admitted to College

Now that we have enrollment yield covered, you’ve probably already started to think about how this could effect who gets in. If the out-of-state example above got you thinking, “Why didn’t they admit more students from out-of-state?” Maybe they didn’t get enough applicants, which we’ll talk about in the next section. Or you might think “If the goal was to enroll more students from out-of-state, was it easier to get in from out-of-state?” Probably not.

The data continues to play a role in admission standards. Academic admission standards are also set well before the applications start coming in. Colleges also research what it takes to be successful at their institutions. They are looking for students who will graduate in at least 6 years. Why not a 4 year graduation goal? The 6 year graduation rate is collected by the government through the National Center for Educational Statistics. {This same data is used by college search engines such as Petersons and College Board. The government search engine is not as pretty as Petersons and College Board, but that’s because you are not seeing the curated advertising from the colleges who are paying for personalized landing pages.}

Graduation Rates and College Rankings

College Rankings also use this same data set. US News & World Report uses 9 factors to determine college rankings. The factor with the highest weight: Graduation and Retention Rate at 22% of the ranking score.  In order to improve rankings, it is in the best interest of the college to have a strong 6 year graduation rate. 

How can the Admission Office improve graduation rates? Study the risk factors for the students who did not graduate in six years. By studying the group of students who did not graduate in six years, an Admission Office may find correlations in the application data that will become red flag indicators for future applicants. Applicants who fall below a particular threshold in grades, standardized test scores, academic course background, and class rank may be at greater risk of not graduating (at least within six years). This data is also broken down by high school. Grading scales, academic rigor, course selection, and class rank vary by high school, so Admission teams evaluate these risk factors high school by high school. Many colleges are now exploring how to use this data in automated software and AI.

The influence of rankings effect the outlook for colleges that cater to students on an asynchronous educational path. A college can be doing great work, teaching wonderful courses, improving lives, but not show up on the rankings list. I’ll step off my soapbox, for now.

The Homeschool Application Review

How is this data driven process applied to a homeschool student? There is no historical group to compare you to. Most homeschool transcripts are filled with A grades, but what does that mean? Class rank is 1 of 1. You have a unique course of study with no direct comparison. Your application will make an Admission Counselor think more critically about what it takes to be successful at their institution. This is good for the applicant and the Admission staff.

The Common Application

The Admission Counselor’s instinct is to grab on to the familiar. Maybe you took courses at a local university or co-op high school. This is a grading system and course offering the counselor is familiar with and can easily understand. Your transcript may have a layout and course titles that are comparable to local high schools, making it easier for them to assess academic factors like: How many years of a foreign language have you studied? What was your highest level of math? Calculus? Pre-calculus? Statistics? How many lab sciences were included in your curriculum? Biology and Chemistry? Physics and Earth Science? What areas of English have you studied? Creative Writing? Literature? Composition? Poetry?

As an Admission Counselor (and Education geek), I loved reading through course descriptions and found booklists incredibly helpful in understanding a homeschool student’s academics. Though a transcript can be standardized, homeschool descriptions make the integrated nature of a homeschool far more clear.   

The good news is Homeschoolers generally tend to fair better on standardized tests and have stronger graduation rates. Based on this research, it is likely your colleges of interest are seeing similar trends at their own institutions.

“Research suggests homeschooled children tend to do better on standardized tests, stick around longer in college, and do better once they’re enrolled. A 2009 study showed that the proportion of homeschoolers who graduated from college was about 67%, while among public school students it was 59%.”

Chris Weller, Business Insider

Colleges Recruiting Homeschoolers

I never liked describing any part of my admission job as recruiting. I distinctly remember visiting a high school counseling office in the mid-Atlantic somewhere in the middle of my Admission career. There were no students for me to meet, no one had signed up. In the Admission world, it’s like getting stood up for a blind date. You research, plan, send invitations, rent a car, travel, stay in a hotel away from your family, and no one shows up. It happened to me often that first year in the mid-Atlantic. My college had enrolled several students from this area over the last five years, but almost all of them were scholarship athletes competing on one of the college’s Division II teams. My Director thought we could enroll more students from this area, perhaps even some students who were not on athletic scholarships. It was worth a shot.

Photo credit: International Association of College Admission Counseling

I had many blind dates that fall. It seemed a small college in New England was not interesting, unless you wanted to play a Division II sport. Even the list of athletes I had contacted from our coaches’ recruit lists were not interested in talking to me. But we trudge on. When I didn’t have students to meet, I would meet a school counselor at the high school, tell them about my college and the programs offered, the type of students who would make a good fit, and BOOM. They have just the student in mind. A connection is made. Maybe it doesn’t happen right then and there, but over time a student is matched.

This is what I was hoping for as I sat down in the School Counselor’s office somewhere in Maryland. He wore a polo with “Maryland High School Football” on the logo. His office was filled with high school football photos, pennants, and trophies. Clearly he was both Football Coach and School Counselor. But that’s not why I remember him. I remember, because the phone rang during our meeting. He picks up, “Hello. I’m sorry, I can’t talk now, I have a recruiter in my office.” A recruiter! I was offended by the term. I am an Admission Counselor. I counsel students on the admission process at my college and help them to decide if the college is a fit. I am not selling or recruiting! The audacity.

Football Coach Nick Saban from the movie The Blind Side

…But I was. I want to believe I was changing lives by bringing college education opportunities to more students. Changing the world, one student at a time. You can be both recruiter and counselor. Just as you can be both coach and counselor. To meet admission goals, you have to go out and find that perfect mix of students to apply. You can’t meet goals -or- change lives if you can’t convince students to apply. That is recruiting.

The Admission Pipeline for Homeschoolers

Inquire, Apply, Admit, Enroll. Admission Counselors help to fill the applicant pool by finding recruits, convincing recruits to submit an application, admit students who meet goals, and get admitted students to enroll.

College Search for Homeschool Students

As a homeschool student, you will not have the opportunity to meet an Admission Counselor at your high school. But, you can look for college fairs in your area. NACAC College Fairs (National Association of College Admission Counselors) are the largest college fairs and will have the most colleges from out-of-state. From the college side, NACAC fairs are expensive to attend, so don’t expect to see every college, but you’ll get a wide variety to explore. If you are planning to stay local for college, there is likely a college fair at a high school nearby with colleges attending from your region. I find the college fair format loud and overwhelming. Not great for a conversation, but if you are just getting started, it’s a great away to explore your options and ask a few questions.

You can reach an Admission Counselor by email or phone. Let the Admission Office know you are considering applying to their college. They will match you up with the Admission Counselor who reviews homeschool applications. Some Admission websites will have Admission Counselor territories outlined, making this process simple.

But what should you hope to glean from a conversation with an Admission Counselor? What are the limitations? First, let your Admission Counselor get to know you, but also get to know your admission counselor.

What do you say to an Admissions Counselor?
  • Share more about you:
  • Where are you from?
  • How long have you been homeschooling?
  • What subjects are you covering this year?
  • What are you looking for in a college?
  • Any thoughts on what you would like to study?
  • Why are you looking at this college?
What questions should you ask an Admission Counselor?
  • How long have you worked for the college?
  • How many homeschool applications do you receive each year?
  • Why did you choose to work for this college?
  • What do you look for in an application?
  • Any other question you couldn’t find on the website.
How do homeschool students apply to college?

An Admission Counselor should know exactly what they are looking for in an Admission application and can help you through the process of applying. Admission Counselors also have been trained to know as much as they can about the college and all the key contacts on campus. If they don’t have the answer, they know who has the answer.

An Admission Counselor can also help you with checking the status of your application. Reading 30 to 50 applications a day while keeping up with meetings and emails, can be daunting. Check the college website or application portal first. If it seems delayed or you can’t figure out why something is missing, go ahead and check in, but be considerate, their workload may keep them from responding timely.

Admission to College for Homeschool Students

I have spoken to many admitted students who imagined making a college choice would be simple. Somehow we have made finding a college seem like finding a life partner. Most students do not fall in love with a college. Though you may not experience intense feelings about choosing a college, most students are later incredibly happy and successful with their college choice. There are a few who intensely love their college before they officially become a student, but you don’t have to be one of them. Will you learn at an institution that meets your academic needs? Does the college fit your financial needs? No lovey dovey ideas needed.

Photo credit: Grace Dieveney
Choosing the Best College for Your Homeschooler

What if you have a few choices that fit you financially and academically? What would help you decide?

What will help you choose a college?
  • Would you like to sit in on a class?
  • Would you like to talk to a current student in your major?
  • Would you like to talk to the faculty from your major?
  • Would you like to try a meal in the dining hall?
  • Are you having trouble understanding financial aid?
  • Maybe you just have a few more questions and can’t seem to find the answers on the website.

Admission Counselors can answer these questions and help arrange the experiences you need. They may point you to an Admitted Student Event that will give you access to many of these experiences, but if it’s important to you, ASK. A young lady once called the office to ask what flavors of ice cream were in the soft serve machine.  I don’t think anyone should make soft serve ice cream a deciding factor in selecting a college, but what a fun question!   

Once you are admitted, the college wants you to enroll. Is the college a good academic and financial fit for your educational journey? If there is one college on your admit list that fits your academic and financial needs, you are lucky. You have a beautiful spring semester ahead.

  • Deposit by May 1.
  • Look forward to an exciting new life adventure.
  • Start planning for the fall semester at your college of choice.

Admission counselors can be a great resource to answer questions about your particular college of interest, but they do work for the college. So you must assess your communication through that lens. Their job is to help you understand how to complete an application for their college, show you what is offered at their college (in the best light possible), and find out if you are a student who would meet their college enrollment goals.

Here in lies the limitations of an Admission Counselor as a resource for college application information. They do not work you. A School Counselor, College Counselor, or College Consultant have your interests and academics needs in mind. These jobs get to know you, your academic background, and the desires you have for your academic future. Thus providing you with many good fit options for your educational journey.

Have more questions? Contact me!

4 thoughts on “Ask the Admission Counselor

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: