Homeschoolers Taking College Courses (Under Construction)

Many homeschooling parents consider college courses for their children as they move into their mid-teen years as a way to provide educational opportunities that may be difficult to do at home or in a homeschool cooperative. Other reasons may be to give their children exposure to the classroom environment, allow them to build objective credentials and build the responsibility to deal with the daily demands of college classes.

We've gone through this process with one of our children and it has been quite the experience. We've made several mistakes along the way and have learned a lot about the process from our experiences and in talking to others that have children that have taken college courses while homeschooling on the New Hampshire and Home-Ed mailing lists. I haven't run into any books or web pages dedicated to this topic so I decided to put up a web page that may be helpful to others that are interested in their children taking college courses. If you find other pages dealing with the same topic, please feel free to email me the link.

My approach to the page will be to provide our experiences with links to sections that provide more information on the topics.

We started by talking to the admissions staff at a local suburban university. We could either go the Continuing Education route (evening classes for adults) or apply to the day school for dual-enrollment status. The day school required more paperwork and some testing and there was a good candidate for a course in the evening school that summer so we went with that. He took a few other courses at U Mass Lowell later that summer and we learned that there were great differences in quality, cost and target audiences in the different schools in universities and between colleges and universities. More detail in the section Types of Colleges, Universities and Programs.

We had to fill out an application and the form to take the course and then pick up the textbook. Textbooks can easily cost $100 and up and I did make sure that our son noted the costs of books along with the tuition costs. At home, and on the rides to and from classes, I would provide him with hints and tips that I learned while attending college that would explain how and why things worked the way that they did at college along with how he should behave. Before classes, we would provide him with a charged cell phone, a bottle of water and a snack. We'd remind him to bring his homework in and do the readings. The class was three and a half hours long with a break and many students had a bite to eat in a nearby cafe. See the section Class Preparation for some of our thoughts on this subject.

This class was a very good experience for him. The age range for the class was mid-twenties to mid-forties (excluding our son) and they were all in the workforce from what I could tell. The class size was pretty small too. And the professor used modern business tools like PowerPoint presentations to teach the class. There were in-class labs and he could see that some of the other students struggled with the course at times. I explained to him that these students worked full-time and that they didn't have as much time to prepare as he did. He had experience in the course material going back five years too. I suggested that he try not to talk too much in the class as he tends to answer questions thrown out in classes and could monopolize the answering for questions. I also spoke to him about classroom ettiquette as the environment was new to him and did find some web pages talking about the subject. See the section Classroom Etiquette for some links and my comments.

After finishing that first class, we looked for something that he could take for the rest of the summer and found two course at U Mass Lowell. One was online and quite difficult and the other was at the campus. The suburban university that he attended before was a relatively uncomplicated affair as it was nearby, safe and didn't present any parking issues. U Mass Lowell is located in a big city with the potential safety issues of a big city. We found that the campus wasn't in the downtown area, though, and the place seemed reasonably safe. See the section on Safety for my comments and links on safety issues.

U Mass Lowell had more administrative requirements than his first course though. He came under the category of dual-enrollment because of his age which required us to funish a letter from a guidance counsellor vouching for his ability to do college-level work and for his behavioural maturity. Of course the local guidance counsellor wouldn't have any knowledge of his grades (we don't do grades and the guidance office wouldn't have seen them had we turned them in). The Registrar's office said that a letter from the Superintendent's office would suffice so we called up the Assistant Superintendent's office and she had a letter ready for me to pick up that afternoon.

We got him into the first class which he spent about 40 hours a week on. It was a tough class and he learned a lot even though it was an online class. It had a lot of students in it from around the US along with a few foreign students. I was impressed with the course and the professor.

We signed him up for a second course halfway through the online course in a relatively easy math course that met in the evenings on campus. I would drive him there and back after work. While he was in class, I would work from the library using my laptop. They had internet hookups so I could VPN into work. He had a cell phone so that he could call me if the class finished up early.

This course was rediculously easy for a college level class and it was then that I decided that the quality and difficulty of available courses ranged widely from university to university and even within a university in course variation and between professors teaching the same course. Which meant that I would have to do more research into classes that we would consider for our son. See the topic Researching Courses for my approach to research prospective courses.

I did a fair amount of research looking for courses for our son in the fall. I looked at colleges and universities within 30 minutes and didn't find anything satisfactory. I think that this would have been about 8 schools. I looked at U Mass Lowell and we found a few courses that looked interesting but one of them was in the day school. To get him into a day-school class, I had to talk to their admissions staff (I only had to talk to the registrar for the other classes which were handled out of the Continuing Education division). My timing wasn't the best as this was in August and the admissions staff was dealing with incoming student issues so they were quite busy. They looked at his transcripts and a few homeschooling evaluations that I provided (they asked for any kind of educational records) and gave him the okay to take the desired course. See the Admissions section for comments on the application process.

It met for four days a week for 50 minutes which meant a major logistical headache for me. See the section Logistics for more details on the logistics issues that I had to deal with along with other issues that you might face in getting your child to and from classes.

That course had so much homework assigned that I put together a spreadsheet for him to keep track of assignments, grades, due-dates, etc. The class was in the morning which meant that he had to get up earlier than he was used to and prepare for class. The class was almost lecture-hall style with over 60 students in the class and he had to deal with a large class and getting relatively little individual attention. But he got an eyeful as to what a difficult college course was like and the variety of kids that you can run into in a big class. The class had a lot of labwork too. I think that it was a great learning experience overall for him educationally and otherwise. But his organizational skills were still not very good. I have some ideas to aid organization in my Productivity section.

This summer (2006) he took another class at U Mass Lowell which he was somewhat worried about. I reassured him that he would do fine in the class but he was greatly concerned about the grade that he would get. I've read that other homeschooled children in college have expressed similar concerns which is a bit odd as many homeschools don't use grading systems.

He finished up the work for the class by the midpoint of the class by doing all of the readings and homework early. He asked me for help here and there on things that he didn't fully understand from the textbook and I generally either explained the material from the text or provided him with reading from similar textbooks. After finishing up, he was considerably more relaxed in the class. He also greatly improved his organizational skills with this course as we didn't do as much for him before the class. This due to a demanding project at work which reduced the level of attention that I could provide for him in getting ready for class in the morning. My take is that it can take a few courses to get the hang of things for some children. Others may pick it up more quickly.

Towards the end of this course, I had to prepare my 2005 Federal Income Tax return. Earlier in 2006, I received two 1098-T forms in the mail from the two universities that he attended. These looked like 1099 forms but I really didn't know what to do with them. They just reported his tuition payments. You can see what they look like at One of them had some information attached to it and I noticed the words credit and deduction so I had a look at the education section of my tax software. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were elegible for a deduction of up to $4,000 for the college courses. See the section on Tax Credits and Deductions for my findings on credits and deductions.

That brings us up to nearly where we are now and I need a place to conveniently stop so we'll do that now and get into the details. I have several other topics that I'd like to cover but that will have to wait. Potential future topics: benefits of taking college courses, college-branded gifts as rewards, medical forms, socialization with other college students, what to do when the course is too difficult, dealing with weather issues, links to articles on auditing courses.

Types of Colleges, Universities and Programs

The main types of colleges and universities that I've run into or read about are:

The rest of this section will go over the types along with the information or personal experiences that we have with the types. In some cases, I will just provide links to other web pages that provide experiences of those types.

Community Colleges

Community Colleges generally serve the local community providing courses that can lead to two-year degrees that generally cost less than colleges and universities. In many cases, credits are transferrable to four-year colleges and universities so that substantial savings can be had by going to two years of community college and then transferring into a four-year college.

Community Colleges tend to offer a lot of courses which I'd consider at the high-school level. I guess that this is reasonable as they serve a rather broad spectrum of the population and not just mainly young adults. I've been impressed with the one community college course that our son has taken in that the class was taught at a university level. And it's likely that he'll take another soon.

I have heard a lot of good things about homeschoolers taking Community College courses and our son had a good experience with his one class at Middlesex Community College.

If you intend to transfer in Community College credits to a four-year school, you should ensure that the four-year school will accept the courses for transfer credits. Some four-year schools provide a matrix of what will transfer in from schools that they get a lot of students from.

It did take more work than I expected to get our son enrolled in a class. He had to take an AccuPlacer test (math, reading comprehension, writing) and I had to provide transcripts for prior courses.

There is a really nice description of what Commuity Colleges are at Wikipedia entry for Community College.

Colleges and Universities that offer some online classes

The attraction of online courses at established bricks-and-morter colleges and universities is that your child can get transcripts from well-regarded institutions that should have reasonable standards in their course offerings. We've had a little experience in this area which may be helpful to others. As always, I welcome comments from others that have gone through this process.

The three major issues with online courses that we've run into are:
Some online courses are very relaxed where they assume that the student is doing the work and learning. I spoke to a professor at a university and asked him about their requirements for prerequisites and he said that they didn't ask for them as if you didn't have them, there was no way you could do the course. Another university using the same online materials wanted homeschool or college transcripts along with a letter from his current professor on how he was doing in the class.

As with all courses that you're contemplating for your child, I recommend contacting the professsor, reviewing the syllabus, asking about the textbook and materals that will be used for the course and checking out the materials if possible. I like to use's reviews for textbooks and materials. And I highly recommend posting a question about the prospective course in a homeschooling mailing list or bulletin board as you might find someone with firsthand experience with the course.

Other concerns that can affect online courses:


More to come....

Class Preparation

Homeschooling experiences can vary between little or no classroom experience to years of classroom experience and attending a college class for the first time can present additional issues to resolve as the expectation is that the student is an adult. So some support for the student in their first class can be helpful. In our son's first college class, we provided a backpack with a notebook, slash folder, dinner, bottle of water, charged cell phone, pens and pencils and made sure that he brought his wallet. We started off by dropping him off and picking him up at his classroom and gradually worked outward from there. For some of his later classes, we dropped him off and picked him up at the road in front of the building.

For the first class, we would also remind him to do his homework, remind him to bring it to class and asked him to take care of his papers so that they wouldn't get misplaced.

We suggested that he try to exchange email addresses with other students so that he had a way to get class information if he missed a class or lost an assignment.

We also kept an eye on the weather for the day so that he had appropriate clothes for the day. He's much better at doing that himself now, especially since we always keep a computer on in standby mode so that he can get the forecast in a few seconds.

Other issues are going to bed earlier in the evening so that he'd get enough sleep overnight. Our kids like to wake up between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM which isn't practical for morning classes.

Before attending the first session, other things to take care of are student identification cards, parking stickers, purchasing calculators if needed, purchasing textbooks, setting up their college email account, getting a copy of the school calendar, taking care of bills and fees, etc.

Classroom Etiquette

Homeschoolers unaccustomed to attending classes regularly may be unfamiliar with what the common expectations of classroom behaviour are so I've provided a few links to sites that make suggestions in this area. The suggestions are aimed at all students whether they were home schooled or went to public or private schools.

Researching Courses

College courses can cost several thousands of dollars so most parents would want to spend college money wisely. Different parents and their children will want different things from college classes so parents and their children should determine what they want from college classes and do their research accordingly.

When you look at a flyer or a paper or online catalog, you get a little glimpse of what the course is about but the difficulty, depth, breadth and prerequisites can vary widely. The quality and style of the professor can vary widely too. And the style of the class can vary. You might have a class that meets four times a week with one recitation class. This kind of class typically has many students in a lecture-style format with a meeting with a teachers assistant once a week in small groups.

Another example would be a professor that has a quiz at the beginning of every class covering the material from the previous class compared to a professor that prefers a conversational style to gauge how students are doing in class. And some professors may ask for an hour or two of homework per week and others an hour to three hours per class.

We did make error along the way and my current approach is to get the class description and then the syllabus if it is available. Then I will try to check out the professor (this can be difficult to do) and contact the professor by phone or email. Questions that I typically ask are:
There are other common college issues that students may have with a professor in the areas of religion, politics and other areas that I don't care to cover here but which I have seen covered in news magazines. This is an issue for regular college students as well as homeschooling students.

If I am looking for a general course in a particular deparment but am not sure of which to choose, I may call the department and ask to speak to someone that could provide a recommendation given the circumstances. This has worked well in the past for one course in particular that our son took where a department staff member provided some excellent advice on course choices.



The issue of logistics for homeschoolers attending college courses (in person) are similar to to parents with children attending private school or public school or college except for the duration of the school day. In a city or suburban setting, a child might use public transportation or walk or ride a bicycle to classes and back. In a setting where distances are greater and public transportation isn't available, then private vehicle may be an option. And there may even be an option where the child has a temporary residence near the college with a relative or friend or with their parents.

In the cases where transportation is involved, parents need to deal with getting the child from where they live or work to classes and back again in a reliable fashion. If public transportation is used, then there has to be slack time built into the schedule for delays. And money has to be budgeted for bus or train fares. If a child walks or bicycles, alternative arrangements may have to be made for inclement weather.

Some other options that may be available is where you have multiple homeschoolers taking a class or classes that meet at the same time where a pool of children can take public or private transportation together.

And of course there are safety issues related to transportation and I'll just provide a few links in this area.

National Center for injury Prevention and Control International Walk to School Week - October 3-7, 2005 - child pedestrian safety page.


If a private vehicle is used, then parking may be an issue. Parking can be a serious issue in suburban and city campuses. There may be a fee for a parking  pass for college parking lots, some kind of parking lot validation system or just the requirement to get a parking pass. Campus parking lots can fill up very quickly in the morning and you can wind up in an overflow lot a mile away from classes. This is something that should be looked at before classes start as it can be a general headache area for schools, and, subsequently students.

College parking regulations should be studied with further questions directed to campus police who usually implement parking policy.


Students may have classes that occur near meal times or even have classes around mealtimes so arrangements may need to be made for a place for the student to have a meal, whether it is prepared at home or purchased on or near campus.

These issues already exist for those in college or those in public and private schools and handling them can be a matter of using common sense. But we may forget about a few things under pressure (and the admissions process can be quite stress-filled). Parents taking care of the logistics issues can help the child to focus on the course if the child doesn't need to overly worry about transportation and logistics issues.


Schools can have different kinds of programs that homeschoolers can courses in and admissions requirements can vary widely. Continuing Ed and summer programs tend to require less in terms of paperwork compared to day classes. Some schools will let you take a course or two without much in the way of paperwork and testing while others will require evidence that the student can realistically handle the work.

What I've found is that homeschoolers taking courses is usually handled via the dual-enrollment process and that this requires some combination of:
My sample size is fairly small so there may be others that should be on this list. Feel free to drop me a note if you have run into admissions requirements that you think should be on this list.

My experience is that getting through the admissions process is a fairly confusing and hectic process and that it helps to prepare well before the target semester to get the requirements taken care of. Requirements may require visits or phone calls to the campus, the local school district and other services that might be involved. And it may take skills of persuasion or negotiation to meet a requirement or to get a requirement waived. Admissions departments get swamped near the beginning of the fall semester and that has to be taken into consideration in the process with time constraints.

Unexpected costs may crop up or admissions staff may be on vacation.

A class may be close to capacity while you're trying to get through the admissions process trying to get a slot in a particular class that is tight.

To start the process, I'd recommend a visit to the admissions department (sometimes it's called Recruiting) with an appointment with the parent and student to get an idea of what the school offers and what is required for admissions. This meeting is where the school tries to sell itself to the parent and the student and where the student tries to sell himself to the school. It helps to pay careful attention to what the admissions representative says as they may say things that you think aren't a real issue but which may turn out to be real issues. They typically talk about things that can snag the admissions process.

From there, you can see what they have to offer to determine if it's the right place for your child or if you wish to look elsewhere.

If it looks like it may be a good fit, then you can go through the process of meeting the requirements for admission.

[write a paragraph about each of the points above]

Productivity and Organization

Young students taking college classes for the first time have to get used to many things in the classroom but one thing that can be difficult to adjust to is the amount of work assigned. Some classes assign a huge amount of homework where you need to setup a system for recording when you received an assignment, when it is due, when you passed it in and when it was returned along with the grade. This can be done with a paper system where you have a folder for things that haven't been done and a folder for things that have been done along with information on assignments on the front or back of the slash folder. Another approach would be to use a spreadsheet which has the advantage of making it easier to compute your expected grade for the course.

If all of the assignments aren't online or provided for at the beginning of the class, then it is very important to have systems in place to avoid losing assignments. This can be any kind of physical system using paper, folder or backpack systems or could be an electronic system where documents are scanned into a laptop or desktop system with some kind of backup system. Losing assignments can result in time wasted for getting another copy from the professor or contacting another student for the assignment. An approach that I recommend is to take pictures of assignments with a digital camera so that the camera memory is the backup if the assignment paper is lost. It can allow you do work on homework on a laptop computer without carrying around all of your class papers.

Students may need to adjust their daily routines to accomadate college classes as some of them can meet at times that would be considered very early for some homeschoolers. And some classes that are very hard or which have a lot of homework can force a homeschooler to make choices about what they can reasonably do in a day and sacrifice some things that they like to do for fun.

Paper Systems

A ssytem that has worked reasonably well for our son is a spiral-bound notebook (standard-size paper) for taking notes and assignments in class and for doing homework in and a looseleaf binder for storing homework assignments in if there is a lot of paper distributed and returned. Dividers within the looseleaf binder can be helpful so that paper can be divided into categories. And a three-hole punch is useful to make it easy to store papers in the folder. Classes where there isn't a lot of paper can get by with slash folders. Slash folders are easier to put papers into and are lighter and more compact than looseleaf binders.

There are paper systems that can be used for student organization including the Franklin Planner and simple calender books.

Electronic Systems

There are a lot of options for improving productivity using electronic devices today. Examples are Portable Digital Assistants, laptop computers, desktop computers, web services, watches and even some portable music players. The small portable devices like PDAs, watches and music playes can offer calendar support in either a standalone way or via a datalink to a personal computer. These can be used to display appointments and when things are due but small screens can only display so much information. PDAs allow data entry, alarm functionality and backup and synchronization with a personal computer where you can print a hardcopy of your schedule and list of items coming due.

I have a Garmin PDA which I used to use for my scheduling but I find myself using Google Calender now for my scheduling as it is easier to enter appointment data via a computer keyboard compared to a PDA stylus. I can also link location mapping information, web links and a lengthy log for things that require saving history information. The application is generally available wherever I have net access. I don't have a way to synchronize my PDA with Google Calendar to get information when I'm on the road and am looking for a solution to that. Web services are becoming very reliable now but I generally like to have a backup system in case I don't have web access or a web service goes down.

Personal computers can be used for scheduling and task tracking with local applications but some kind of backup system should be in place should something happen to the personal computer.

Tax Credits and Deductions

While preparing my taxes for 2005, I ran into two tax credits and one deduction related to taking college classes. Highlights of the credits and deductions are are listed below for your reference along with links to IRS publications on the topics. Please do not construe anything in this webpage as legal or tax advice. Note that the tax benefits decline or are unavailable as your adjusted gross income rises.

Safety Issues

Crime is a fact of life in an open society and in the open environment that our colleges and universities provide. Homeschooling parents considering college classes for thier children should be concerned with regular personal safety issues but also have the issue of a younger student that might not have the experience to deal with problems or avoid them in the first place.

Our approach with our son was to drop him off and pick him up at the classroom for several classes at the beginning of the semester. After that, I dropped him off and picked him up at the building where I would either meet him in the lobby or pick him up on the sidewalk outside the building. We provided him with an inexpensive pay-as-you-go cellphone for communication.

I thought that the area where he has taken classes to be safe for evening or day classes to do this. He's a pretty big guy which reduced the level of my worry. I would be more inclined to drop off and pick up at the classroom with our daughter if and when she starts taking college courses. Especially with a city campus.

I have read of homeschooled children that take care of their own transportation to college classes via public transportation or private vehicle. This is a calculus that has to be decided by parents and children based on a variety of safety and maturity factors which are beyond the scope of this article to discuss.

I would recommend reading the safety literature provided by prospective colleges and universities along with available security statistics.

I'll close with two links to take a look at regarding campus safety. These are really geared for students living at campus but do provide some general points for commuters as well.

Staying Safe on Campus (
Security On Campus, Inc.

Benefits of College Courses

I thought that I would try to come up with a list of benefits to homeschoolers taking college courses so that parents could see if it is worth the cost. There's no doubt that there is a cost to taking college courses in terms of time and money.
  1. Students get exposure to the college environment and its requirements making the transition to full-time college, possibly away from home, easier.
  2. Some credits may be transferrable into their full-time program.
  3. Colleges want to know whether or not an applicant can handle college work and they typically rely on school grades and College Board tests to make that determination. Doing well on college courses clearly demonstrates the ability to handle college work on an application for a full-time program.
  4. Students and parents are better prepared to select a full-time college. The student learns more about the college environment and the limitations of the college that he attends and can therefore be more selective in pikcing a full-time program.
  5. Students learn organization skills. It's better to learn how to get organized when you're taking a course or two than it is when you're buried with work in a full-time program.
  6. Students learn the cost of higher education including the costs of textbooks.
  7. It allows the student to see if she is prepared for college and if she needs to shore up a few weak or neglected before applying for full-time college.

Links to other pages on homeschoolers taking college courses

Taking College Classes, a short article by Wes Beach from the HomeSchool Association of California.
Community College Dual Enrollment on the process with a specific example of a particular student from the A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling site.
Taking College Classes in High School, a conversation between parents and adminstrators on the case of a specific student.
College for High School Students, an excerpt from Homeschooling: The Teen Years by Cafi Cohen.
Dual Enrollment: A Two-for-One Deal!, an article at the Home School Legal Defense Association which lists some additional requirements that some schools may have and presents the benefits of dual enrollment on the high school record.

Articles involving homeschoolers taking college courses Home-schoolers face college hurdles an article that has information on taking courses before college age as a way to establish credentials for applying to college.


This section is for stuff that doesn't fall into the neat categories above but which I thought that I would toss in at the end for my own reference and that may be possibly useful for others.


Part of the formal process for full-time admission is the application form which will typically include an essay. Certainly for colleges and universities that are selective.

The essay can say a lot about the applicant in terms of their motivation for going to college, a glimpse of their life growing up, how they handle adversity and something about their personality.

Of course with selective schools, we have parents and students and service providers that try to game the system to their advantage. There are admissions counsellors that can provide advice for getting into selective schools that charge eye-popping amounts for their services. And looking around the web, I found many services and informative web pages on college admissions essays. By-the-way, the reason I was looking for essays was to improve the writing skills of our son and, down the road, of our daughter. She already loves to write but needs a little more formalism.

The thing about college essays is that they are done at home with noone watching. So a student could just buy an essay to send in with their application. Or just describe their life a little and have someone else write it. I suspect that there are websites that offer these kinds of service in a "gray" way. I just put this out as I found some websites that do provide admissions essays as a service for those looking to write better essays. These services, of course, are free. And I'll provide a few of them here in case an essay is needed as part of the admissions process.

Updated May 26, 2008. You can contact me at with comments on the web page. Note that I read this email account about once a month so that it may take a while for me to respond.