White cap and gown, gold tassel – June 2005. I heard my name called and walked across the stage to meet my parents and accept my diploma. I managed to avoid falling, high school was behind me, the reader pronounced my name correctly – it was a good day.

That euphoria ended quickly. Life after high school can feel overwhelming, if only because there are so many decisions to make. Many choose options other than college; I know people who have done so and been able to save money, pursue personal interests, and hold successful jobs. Many others choose to pursue a college degree.

I chose the college route primarily because I wanted the status and foundation that magic piece of paper could give me. In general, people assume more readily that you have some level of intelligence and ability if you have a college degree. (Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my diploma was not actually magic…no wishes, no flying, no nothing.)

Some homeschoolers are concerned that their students do not have the necessary skills and experiences to survive college. I've found that critical thinking, self-motivation, and determination, rather than experience in a classroom setting, were most necessary. The homeschool is an ideal environment for teaching those skills.

Another area of concern is the expense of college. There are many ways to bring the costs down dramatically. The methods I have used with the most success are:

1. The best defense is a good offense: start saving early. I recommend tutoring, particularly if you are in high school. Even if you are not able to tutor subjects like high school math and science, chances are good that you can at least tutor any subject through sixth grade. This is a highly marketable service. Also, consider offering lessons in anything you are good at: sports, crafts, music, etc.

2. Testing to receive college credit is a phenomenal time and money saver. I took advantage of CLEP exams (College Level Examination Program - http://www.collegeboard.com/clep) extensively, beginning in 11th grade, and earned about 60 college credits for a fraction of the cost (and time) of college classes. Some of these tests can be passed based solely on knowledge learned in high school, so it is best to take these tests as soon as possible.

For example, if you studied English Literature in 11th grade, and will be studying American Literature in 12th grade, take the English Literature practice CLEP test upon finishing 11th grade. If you are able to pass the test then, do so. It will only get harder with time. However, many tests do require supplemental study, and there are numerous resources for test preparation. CLEP study guides (as well as prep materials for other types of tests) are widely available and of invaluable assistance.
Other types of tests for college credit are available as well, including Dantes, as well as tests specific to individual colleges.

3. While selecting a college, take into account three things. First, obviously, what is the tuition rate? Second, how much outside credit is accepted? While School A's tuition rate may be lower than School B's, School B may still be cheaper if it accepts more credit from tests, etc. Third, what scholarship opportunities are available? Scholarship requirements are sometimes so specific that it is hard to find one applicable to you, but many schools provide scholarships based on SAT & PSAT scores, as well as GPA maintained while in college. Some of these scholarships are not advertised, so be sure to ask.

4. Consider enrolling in a distance-learning program. There are hundreds of distance learning programs at fully accredited colleges and universities, and, because they are becoming increasingly popular, more schools are adding them. A distance learning approach will save thousands on room and board, and some schools even discount tuition in their distance programs. I cut my college costs in half through CLEP, and in half again through Liberty University's distance learning program.

Homeschoolers certainly can survive college. I graduated from college debt-free, magna cum laude, with a standing job offer, at nineteen, and have since received a second, unsought job offer. I will say, though, that my college experience was not perfect. They did mispronounce my name at graduation.

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