You can find a ton of information online for college-bound home-schooled students and their parents, including an entire College Confidential discussion forum devoted to home-schooling. This is a great place to get your specific questions answered as soon as they crop up since there are many veteran home-schooling families who participate. You can also find a lot of information with Google in nearly every corner of cyberspace. That's assuming, of course, that cyberspace actually has corners. It all feels pretty much like a black hole to “The Dean." But, before you start falling down that hole yourself, here are answers to your current questions, as well as a couple other thoughts:
Colleges will look at those freshman grades for sure, especially because these may be the only official grades your daughter has (more on that in a minute), but freshman grades in general aren't emphasized in the admissions process for any applicant, so they won't play a starring role.
Most colleges, however, require home-schooled students to submit a detailed report from the instructor (parent or otherwise) that includes a complete curriculum and often a list of all texts used and books read. Admission officials will certainly consider the grades you gave your daughter, although they may take them with a block of salt for obvious reasons. The college folks will also view these grades in the context of the other components of the application. For instance, if your daughter earned high grades in English and lower ones in math, and her SAT or ACT scores confirm this discrepancy, it will give your grading system more credibility than if your daughter has straight A+'s from The Home School but lousy test results!
And speaking of tests, some colleges that are typically test-optional will still require standardized test scores from home schools while some will not. You or your daughter must read admission instructions carefully. And even where tests are NOT required, it can be advantageous to home schoolers, whose grades have been determined by a parent, to take tests that aren't required. It sounds like your daughter isn't signed up for Advanced Placement exams this spring or you would have said so. And any AP exams she might take next year will be too late to benefit her college process. But she CAN take SAT Subject Tests to show off her skills in areas that aren't covered by the SAT or ACT (e.g., history, bio, chem, physics, foreign language). Although fewer and fewer colleges (even the snazziest ones) demand Subject Tests these days, these tests can still be a boon to home schoolers as a way of formally highlighting strengths. While admission officials may not say so, they often put a bit more weight on home-schooled students' test scores than they might on students who apply with a full transcript of grades from a demanding high school.
Because home schooling is far less rare now than it was a couple decades ago, many colleges include a section of their admission web pages offering guidelines for home-schooled applicants. It would be wise of you to start reading a few of these now. If your daughter has a college list already, then begin with those institutions. If she doesn't, here are samples from Amherst College and MIT. I picked these highly selective places because their guidelines seem clear, and you can also figure that, if you've met the requirements for the hyper-competitive places, then you'll also be meeting them for most everywhere else as well!
Some colleges will expect your daughter to complete a “Home School Supplement," which she should be able to find through the college's website or via the Common Application for its members.
And whether a college requires it or not, it can work in your daughter's favor to write an essay about why she chose home schooling and what she gained from it. She could probably make this the topic for her primary college essay, but I find it more effective to write the main essay on something else and then use the home-school essay as an extra. This sends a message that suggests, “Home schooling has been important to me but I've had other interests and experiences, too."
Many home-schooled students do have additional grades to submit with their applications. These grades may be from summer courses or from dual-enrollment classes taken at community colleges or other local colleges during the school year. It's not a bad idea for your daughter to try a college course this summer or next fall. This will help to ease her transition back into the classroom when she begins college for real and will also provide some corroboration of her interests and abilities at admission-decision time.
Finally, the college admissions process is confusing for almost everyone but can be especially challenging for students without a guidance counselor. (Even the worst guidance counselors can usually assist with testing timelines, scholarship search suggestions, etc.) So you might consider engaging an independent college counselor to help lead you and your daughter through this maze. Perhaps other home schoolers you know can offer recommendations. If not, write back and I'll give you the name of a terrific counselor who works entirely through email and isn't expensive. She can assist you with crafting a college list that meets your daughter's profile and preferences as well as with to-do lists and applications.
While applying to college as a home schooler can feel more daunting than it might for teenagers who have taken a traditional route, rest assured that colleges welcome diversity, and home schoolers often bring a perspective to campus that many of their classmates won't. Your job, as teacher/parent, however, is to make sure that your daughter's application demonstrates her academic accomplishments as well as her personal ones. Good luck!
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