Applying to College
by Larla Dey Maloney
Okay, here's the deal. I've been homeschooling for 8 years, since I was 9 years old. I'm 16 now, and I'll be going to college in the fall. I'm going to attempt here to summarize how this came about. Beware, this is a long one.
As a homeschooler, I know that there are ways to lead a happy and successful life without ever setting foot in a school building. So, while my school friends were worried about their GPA and class rank a few years ago, I sat down and thought about whether I really wanted to go to college.
I decided that I wanted to have a career in science- physics, chemistry, whatever- and that a college education would be very helpful. That was the first step in my college application process: deciding to go to college. I was 13.
The research I did next on colleges was probably very similar to any school kid: I bought Peterson's Guide to Four Year Colleges. I went through all the lists and cross indexes and descriptions and came up with a brief list of 40 schools I wanted to go to. <lol> I threw the list away.
I didn't think about college again until last year. I started taking a physics course at nearby Rutgers University, and I took the PSATs in October. When I got my scores back I'd done very well, with a 730 verbal and a 730 math. The brochures from colleges started pouring in.
When twenty schools sent brochures, they all seemed like nice places and I sent all of the little reply cards back asking for more information. Twenty more came, and I sent the cards back. Soon literally hundreds of college brochures were piled on my floor, and I sent about 50 more reply cards back. The following months were a flood of mail from big schools, small schools, religious schools, state schools, honors programs, science programs, etc, etc.
I don't really know how I decided which schools to apply to. Princeton was one: I'd always wanted to go to Princeton, and I ran around saying it was my absolute first choice. Even so, I'd been warned by the Colfaxes and others that Princeton was harsh on homeschooled applicants. I decided it was my reach school. Hillsdale College was my safety school: advertised in Growing Without Schooling, accepting no government funding, this was a school my parents would love and that I would be happy at. I applied to NYU because I have friends there and I love the Village. I applied to Dartmouth because their physics department is good and the campus looked pretty on their brochures- also I wanted to apply to another Ivy but not to Harvard, Yale, or Brown. I applied to Northwestern because I wanted to apply to a school in Chicago, and I applied to Williams because I knew a theater major there who loved the school. I sent away for more information on Sarah Lawrence College because their brochures were intriguing, and when I got their application it looked like it would be fun to fill out.
Once I had the applications to these seven schools, I sent in Form 1 (general information- name, school, etc.) along with a letter saying I was homeschooled and asking for any instructions regarding the rest of the application. I started to write various essays, and I submitted the recommendation forms to teachers I had worked with at the local high school. I didn't hear back from all of the schools, but I got a letter from the Dean of Princeton saying that they considered each homeschooled case separately and didn't have any general guidelines, and a letter from Hillsdale which outlined the requirements from homeschoolers (the same as regular applicants, but the recommendations did not have to come from teachers, copies of the curriculum were requested and a parent was asked to write a letter about my education). NYU suggested that I write about homeschooling in my essay, as did a Dartmouth representative. Northwestern's application specifically states that homeschoolers are required to take three SAT II: Subject Tests in addition to the SATs. Sarah Lawrence had a box on their application to check if you are home schooled, and again suggested I write one of my essays about homeschooling.
I was named a National Merit Scholarship SemiFinalist on the basis of my PSAT scores. My mom and I had to give course titles and grades to my studies from the past four years, and I had to write an essay summing up my life in 500 words or less. I wrote about homeschooling. Later I was named a Finalist, and I'm now being considered for a scholarship. It's interesting to note that the College Board now has a homeschool code (it varies by state) to put in place of the school code, and that they have policies in place to deal with the growing number of older homeschoolers.
Before I was finished filling out my applications, I had my first interview. Princeton. The school I'd been saying for years that I wanted to go to would interview me first, and I went to the interview nervous and unprepared. It was on opening night of Our Town in which I played the Stage Manager, and I drove to the interview with my driver's permit, almost running two red lights only to find that the interviewer's house was more like a mansion. The driveway was long and narrow and I had visions of being rejected from Princeton because I ran off the pavement onto her grass. The door was ten feet high, and there was an intercom instead of a doorbell. She opened the interview with "so, I hear you're homeschooled. Tell me about that" and I actually fumbled for an answer. I was so scared in this interview and I think I came off as a nerd, like I spent so much time with my books that I didn't know how to relate to the woman sitting in front of me in this big, cold house. I left there so nervous that I felt ill all through Our Town that night... I'd never had stage fright in my life and yet I went on with a paper bag in my pocket, just in case. This college thing didn't seem so great after all.
I started to fill out Form 2 for the colleges, using my National Merit application as a guide when I had to write what courses I'd taken this year. But I still didn't have an essay I was happy with... I'd written one about my childhood imaginary friend, one when I was stuck in a traffic jam with my mom, one about running cross country. None of them sounded like me.
I had to write an essay for my theater director (I'm taking theater arts at the high school) about what work I did on Our Town, how I developed the character and what I did backstage. We had to write a few paragraphs, but I wrote 5 pages that just seemed to write themselves. They were written not in an essay form, but from me to my director, very comfortable and in a conversation form. I wound up editing this piece down to a more suitable length and using it as my main essay to six of the seven schools- with some fiddling around to fit the specific question. I had my parents edit, a friend's father edit, and a good friend read it at Dunkin Donuts one night and offered some helpful suggestions.
I still hadn't written anything about homeschooling. So, I sat down at my computer and wrote two pages one night about homeschooling. I based my essay on workshops I'd given, on my National Merit essay, and on questions that people asked me all the time. I wound up doing very little editing for the final version. I found places to fit this essay in- Princeton had an optional "anything else you'd like to tell us" form and Sarah Lawrence had a required essay about anything that wasn't covered elsewhere in the application, but for most of them I just sent it as an extra, with the cover letter reading "enclosed please find Form 2, my theater resume, and an essay describing my home education." Sarah Lawrence also required a graded academic paper- the most recent thing I'd written that was graded by a teacher was a theater review, so I sent that in. Officially, my part was done. So I thought.
My mother had spent this time preparing the Secondary School Report. We opted for the portfolio approach, which means we sent in copies of my curriculums from the past four years and a bunch of other related stuff. We didn't translate my studies into an official looking transcript, but I did have official transcripts sent from Rutgers University and the courses I took at the High School. My mom says she had difficulty deciding what to include: she'd kept so much stuff from the past seven years, a very accurate paper trail. A friend came over and helped her weed out some things, and in the end what she included was official looking stuff. A certificate from a science program I'd completed. The award for first place in the state that was given to each member of the high school Chemletes team that I'd been on. A few book reports I'd written, letters of recommendation that people had written for me in the past, every newspaper article that had been written about me, a certificate given to me for community service, etc. My mother also wrote a cover letter to all this information, which briefly stated our reasons for choosing to homeschool and went on about me for a brief while and ended with a recommendation for admission to their college. The Secondary School Form was in there as well, but mostly all it said was my name and social security number, and under everything about GPA and class rank she wrote N/A.
My next scheduled interview was at Sarah Lawrence College. I was to have a tour and then lunch and then an interview. The tour went well- the campus is fairly small and they have wonderful theaters. The tour guides took me to the physics lab, which was probably the smallest lab I'd ever seen but it was loaded with equipment. There were only two of us and our mothers on the tour, with two guides so I got to ask a lot of questions. When I went back to the admissions building for my lunch pass, there had been a scheduling mishap and my interviewer was ready to go. I didn't have any time to get nervous, I just went right in. The interviewer was a senior at the school, and it was in a small side office with a view of the campus. To be honest, I didn't know much about the school. I'd read their brochures before the visit, but the reason I'd applied was because their application was cool. So, I told all this to the interviewer. And I had lots of questions to ask, which made it an interesting conversation. Not for a moment did I feel like I was being interrogated. I talked about homeschooling with confidence, and I talked about my interest in physics and in theater. He asked me how my friends would describe me, and I told him that they would probably tell him I was a freak. We talked about how I didn't have grades, and neither does Sarah Lawrence. The professors give you evaluations at the end of the course. Students must interview professors before selecting their courses, to see if they will get along. The largest classes are in writing, and those are at most 60 students. There are no TAs. Professors usually go by their first names, and when I asked James (my interviewer) to describe his teachers, he did impressions of them! By the time I left that little room I had fallen in love with the school. I joined my mom, who was happy because they had brought her coffee while she was waiting for me. We went to lunch in the student dining hall, and the food wasn't terrible. I wanted to go to this school.
My next interview was for Northwestern. It was held at a private school not too far from my house, with an alumni interviewer. This was a difficult interview. I described homeschooling for him to open up the interview (this seems to be a trend). Then he asked what book I'd read most recently. I'd read Feynman's Lost Lecture from Caltech about the motion of planets around the sun. He asked me to summarize the book. I said he proved based on Isaac Newton's proof that planets moved in elipses around the sun, due to gravitational force. Something like that. Then he asked what language I'd studied. This made me uneasy- if there is any one area of my education where I fall short, it's language. I'd switched from Spanish to Latin and lost interest after the basics, so I figure I'll start fresh with a new language in college. He said something in Latin and asked me to translate. I couldn't. I explained to him that my program emphasized understanding the structure of the language rather than having a large vocabulary (this was the truth). He mumbled something and made a note and I thought I was through, when he looked at my necklace and asked me what it meant. I was wearing Sigel, a rune that's supposed to represent will and self confidence and we talked about that for a while. The rest of the interview went well- although he was very defensive when I asked about the size of classes, and he didn't answer my questions very thoroughly.
Around this time I got a call from Sarah Lawrence, asking for a more appropriate academic paper, and that it didn't have to be graded by a teacher. I had three days to send it in. I'd just read One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and I rented the movie and read a critique of the book that I disagreed with. So, I wrote an analysis of the book and somehow managed to send it in by the deadline. I don't think I worked on anything else.
One day was spent filling out financial aid applications, a necessity since we can't afford a college application.
I had my last interview, with an alumni from Dartmouth College, just before I started my classes at Rutgers this semester. The interview took place at her home in Princeton, but when I got there she wasn't home. I left a message on her answering machine and my mom and I went out to lunch. I called before we left to go home, and she said she'd been stuck in traffic and could we stay and do the interview now? I went in on a full stomach to the interview, my mom went off to wait upstairs in the playroom as her two younger children came home from school. She was very interested in homeschooling, and we talked in the living room while her daughter played on the floor. She asked many of the usual questions, and some more interesting ones. She talked so passionately about the school when I asked her what made her want to go there, I was truly impressed. Her description made me want to visit the campus. On my way out the door, she asked if I would babysit her children if I wound up at Princeton, so I'm guessing that the interview went well.
Almost everything was done. I sent in the midyear school reports, which said that I was enrolled in Rutgers this semester for Calculus and Philosophy, that I was in the spring musical at the high school, that I'd been named a National Merit Finalist, etc. Then came months of waiting, with every day bringing questions about where I was going to school.
Finally, two weeks ago, a decision arrived. I was offered admission at Hillsdale College. I am being considered there for a merit scholarship. Two days later came an offer from NYU, with a $12,000 scholarship offer. A few days later came a big envelope from Sarah Lawrence and a small one from Williams- I was turned down at Williams and accepted at Sarah Lawrence, with a note from the Dean saying "The initiative you have taken in your education is most impressive and welcome at SLC." Yesterday came an offer of admission from Northwestern, and a rejection letter from Princeton. I don't know why I was turned down from Princeton, perhaps it was because of my interview or perhaps because I'm a homeschooler, or perhaps there was no specific reason. I'm not upset about it- to tell the truth, I didn't expect to get in. I am still waiting to hear from Dartmouth. On April 15th, my parents and I are visiting Sarah Lawrence together and I am hoping that I will wind up there in the fall.