Documenting High School for Home Education (USA)

graduation cap and diploma

By Kristen Anderbeck

For an introduction to home education, visit the page at World Family Education.

For families educating their children at home, documentation is vital. Records of a student’s academic performance throughout their educational experience will help them transfer to traditional schooling (if desired), apply for universities and other post-high school options, and offer evidence of a quality learning environment. 

Universities around the world vary in their policies toward homeschooled students and requirements for admission. Parents should check university policies in the location their child intends to study. It’s important to note that, in some countries, transcripts hold less value than results from major exams, such as the Advanced Levels (A Levels). 

This article provides documentation guidelines specifically for students planning to go to university (or other venues) in the United States. Families of other nationalities may also wish to use this information as a framework for maintaining homeschool records.

Learn more about how to design high school for home education at World Family Education.

Documenting High School is Important

In the U.S. educational system, a student’s performance during the four years of high school is what universities evaluate towards admission. This means the high school years should get closely documented — not only the courses taken but also the activities and awards accomplished. Starting early and keeping everything up to date as you go along will make life much simpler later.

Records should reflect:  

  • the coursework undertaken
  • the grades and standardized test scores* earned 
  • any honors or awards received 
  • extracurricular activities completed or in progress, including volunteer work
  • (optional) a list of all the books read in high school

*While the student and parents keep their own records of standardized test scores like AP tests, SAT, ACT, CLEP, the test results generally need to be sent directly from the testing company (either College Board or ACT, Inc.) to the prospective college/s. 

Both the college-bound student and the parents have a part to play in keeping track of the high school years. Some of the above components get submitted by the student in their student application portal or any scholarship applications (honors/awards, extracurricular activities). Other pieces get submitted by the home educator (official homeschool transcript, course descriptions, and perhaps samples of the student’s work or reading lists).

The Common Application

Most families submit documents to at least one college which uses the Common Application, since more than 800 colleges utilize this application portal. The Common App allows students to submit general elements of their background and their main application essay just once, which is accessible by all the colleges to which a student applies. (Additional, college-specific supplements are usually required). Additionally, the Common App maintains a convenient dashboard of all the selected universities’ deadlines, application fees, and required recommendation letters and supplemental materials. 

Often, colleges that use their own application portals ask for similar information as  the Common App. Therefore it’s a good strategy to prepare records in line with what is requested on the Common App. 

Parents should prepare several key pieces of documentation to submit to prospective colleges, as described below.

The Official Homeschool Transcript

Transcript Sample

click to enlarge

Click to enlarge sample from www.hslda.org

A homeschool parent can create an Official Homeschool Transcript, recognizable by most institutions of higher education in the U.S. An official homeschool transcript should list all high school courses and be no longer than one page. This document is a student’s “High School at a Glance.”

Many websites provide homeschool transcript examples or templates. Some companies offer a homeschool transcript issuing service, for a fee. 

Parents can also create a transcript themselves, and some guidelines are given below. The transcript must include: 

  • Details of your student and your homeschool, including student’s name as well as the homeschool’s name, the student’s contact information, and date of birth
  • The projected graduation date (at least the month and the year) 
  • Titles of all the courses completed, in-progress, and planned
  • Courses can be listed either by school year (9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, 12th grade) or subject category (English, math, science, etc.). Listing by school year is the most common approach.
  • The credit value of the course (1/2 credit or 1 credit) and the grade earned listed next to the course title
  • Course titles by school year should get listed in order of core academic subjects first and electives last (i.e., first, English; second, math; third, science; fourth, social studies; fifth, foreign language; sixth, fine arts; seventh, PE; eighth, electives)
  • Standard high school course titles should be used — not the name of the curriculum used
  • Crucial numbers
  • Cumulative GPA
  • Total number of high school credits
  • Grading scale used (a common one is <90%=A, <80%=B, <70%=C, etc.)
  • (optional) standardized test scores
  • Statement and signature of supervising parent/s

Courses taken outside of the homeschool also get listed on the homeschool transcript, including the ones for which the student will receive an additional official transcript. These can be dual credit courses, accredited online courses, and individual courses taken at a school setting.  The grade earned in those outside courses may be included in the student’s cumulative GPA. However, the classes for which an official transcript will be given should be marked as having been taken elsewhere in the course title. 

Here’s an example: 

11th Grade CoursesGrade EarnedCredit
ICA*: Java Programming IB1
[Towards the bottom of the transcript, explain the abbreviation in the course title, such as:
 *ICA: Online course taken via International Connections Academy]

Transcripts from any outside courses which provides them must be requested by the student and sent directly from that school’s registrar office to the prospective college. There may be a fee for every transcript sent. 

Typically, documenting high school courses on a transcript is an ongoing process throughout all of high school, but is especially important during a student’s 12th grade. Up-to-date transcripts feature at least twice during the college application process. First, an initial transcript gets submitted by the home educator at application time, usually early on in the student’s 12th grade. This first version typically lists the courses completed in 9th–11th grades, and the courses planned or in progress for 12th grade. 

In certain circumstances, such as a student taking any semester-long courses or changing any courses from what was on the initial transcript, a mid-year update needs to be made to the transcript. The mid-year update gets submitted by the homeschool parent to all the colleges to which the student applied. 

At the end of the student’s 12th grade, the finalized transcript needs to reflect all completed high school courses and their final grades, the cumulative GPA, and graduation date. Normally, the final transcript only gets sent to the college at which the student is enrolled or waitlisted. 

Course Descriptions

Course Description Sample

click to enlarge

Click to enlarge sample from www.hslda.org

Homeschool parents can write course descriptions to present to colleges, much like public high schools list their course catalog on school websites. This step is not required by all colleges, but even where it’s optional, submitting course descriptions along with a transcript can help tremendously in admissions personnel getting a sense of the quality of the academics in your homeschool. 

Course descriptions can be written in the future tense before courses begin, or they can be written in the past tense after a course was completed. This is up to the individual home educator. 

Here are some guidelines for creating a course description document.

  • Keep descriptions for each course brief, preferably about a half-page in length. 
  • Follow the same subject order in which courses were listed on the transcript. For example:  first, all English courses; second, all math courses; third, science; fourth, social studies; fifth, foreign language; sixth, fine arts; seventh, PE; eighth, electives
  • Include: 
  • Course title 
  • Credit value (1/2 credit or 1 credit)
  • A brief description of the scope of the course and what was covered
  • A list of all the materials used, i.e., textbook, DVD, literature, online app, etc.
  • How you evaluated the student, i.e., for Biology: 
    1/3 of the grade = daily work, 1/3 = test score averages, and 1/3 = lab reports
  • A list of the topics included (optional)
  • Month and year the course was completed (optional)
  • The grade earned (optional)

Samples of the Student’s Work

It’s helpful to keep folders (electronic and/or otherwise) of the student’s high school work each school year. For one thing, it makes it much easier for a homeschool parent to evaluate the student’s final grade in independently homeschooled courses when the work for each subject is organized into one folder. 

In addition, having records of the student’s work can come in handy at application time. Homeschool parents may have the opportunity to upload stellar samples of the student’s work along with the high school transcript in the counselor section of the college application. And some colleges may require additional proof from homeschooled students that coursework in core subjects was completed.  

Good items to keep on hand include:

  • Writing assignments for English, social studies, and elective courses including essays, research reports, poetry, etc. 
  • Math and science tests
  • Completed projects in the arts, computer sciences, media, design, etc., which were done for course credit
  • Screenshots of levels reached in an online app course
  • Documentation of performances, such as concerts or plays or recitals

Honors and Awards

Families should maintain folders of the honors and awards received in high school courses, with the dates they were received. This will help students remember information to list for college applications or job résumés or scholarship applications.

There are two different types of honors/awards: 

  1. Academic awards, associated with coursework listed on the transcript 
  2. Extracurricular activity awards

On the Common Application, typically only academic awards get listed in the Honors and Awards section (embedded in the Education section). The non-academic awards can get listed in the Activities section, as part of the description of each activity. 

Generally speaking, homeschooled students living outside the U.S. have fewer opportunities to receive academic honors. But opportunities do exist for many students, especially those who can access the resources of an international school, co-op, or association — whether in person or online. And many of these opportunities for homeschooled students living internationally are on a large scale, perhaps national or international level. 

Academic honors and awards for homeschooled students outside of the U.S. might include: 

  • National Merit Award*, based on 11th grade PSAT scores. The award level should be mentioned, i.e., Commended Student, Semifinalist, Finalist, or Scholar 
  • Foreign language exam recognition from institutions such as the Alliance Française or the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
  • Music exam recognition, i.e., through Trinity College London or the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM)
  • Winning a competition in science or math 
  • Winning a speech or debate or Model United Nations competition 
  • Winning an essay or poetry writing contest
  • Selection for a prestigious, competitive academic camp or internship
  • Membership in Eta Sigma Alpha, the National Home School Honor Society (available to eligible U.S. homeschooled students)

*The National Merit Scholarship program applies only to U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents. 

On the Common Application, the level of the honors and awards must be specified. Thus, jotting down at the time of the award whether it’s an international level, national, state/regional, or school-based award will help. Note the total number of competitors, if known, and/or the scale of the competition pool (i.e., could high school students anywhere in the world potentially get this award? Students in the same country? Students in the same state? Or just students in your homeschool co-op?).

Likewise, note the number of students selected for that honor/award, i.e., “Johnny was one of 5 students in the country selected to compete in an international debate tournament.” 

Extracurricular Activities

Maintaining records of extracurricular activities along the way in high school is highly recommended for both applying to university (including applying for scholarships), and building a résumé. Activities done during the school year as well as during school breaks can be recorded. 

Parents and/or the student should note all extracurricular activities undertaken, including clubs, hobbies, sports, fine arts (music, drama, visual arts, or dance), contributions to family life (care of elderly grandparents or babysitting younger siblings), participation in religious activities, work experience, and volunteering. 

Essentially, college admissions personnel like to know how a student spends his or her time when not studying. They do not look for a high quantity of activities as much as depth in the activities which are most meaningful to the student. 

There may be some overlap between an extracurricular activity and a course listed on the transcript, and this is perfectly acceptable. For example, playing on a soccer team can be mentioned both as an extracurricular activity as well as meeting PE course requirements on the transcript.

Important things to record regarding high school activities each year are: 

  • The approximate dates the activity was done, i.e., “soccer team participation, January–June, 20XX”. The number of weeks per year is asked for on the Common Application.
  • How many hours per week the student spent on that activity
  • Any leadership roles held
  • Any honors or awards received for that activity

Reading Lists

Sometimes colleges ask for lists of what a homeschooled student has read in high school, as more “proof” of their learning. Even if it is not required, it can be advantageous to include the student’s high school reading list as part of his or her college application. This way the admissions readers can get to know the student better. 

A reading list can be uploaded as one of the four transcript files in the Counselor Recommender section of the Common Application, or perhaps sent directly to a prospective college if requested.  

The list can include books read for fun — even comic books — and books read in academic high school courses. Simply listing each book’s title and author in alphabetical order is all it takes. Many find it helpful to break the list down by school year, i.e., 9th Grade Reading List, and so on.

Parents who effectively organize physical and electronic records of their homeschool student’s high school years will find the college application experience much easier. And good organization can lead to more thorough documentation, which demonstrates that the home educated student has had a credibly solid education. Not only that, but thorough documentation can help to explain the unique opportunities that homeschooling families living internationally often have, despite the relative lack of common school resources and honors. This can really pay off in college admissions and scholarships. 

Kristen Anderbeck has lived in Southeast Asia for many years and successfully homeschooled her children, guiding them to university with full scholarships. Kristen leads the High School Guidance Services team for Asia Education Resource Consortium.

Share