By Melissa Schill

The percentage of homeschooled students has doubled since 1999 according to the latest report released by the National Center for Education Statistics. As of 2016, there are an estimated 1.69 million students being educated at home, just under 4 percent of students in the United States. In 1999, only 1 percent of the student population was homeschooled. 

The motivation behind why parents choose to homeschool their children varies. For some children with special learning or behavioral needs, home education allows the parent to work intensively and individually with their child, catering to their specific needs. For other parents, homeschooling allows them to provide religious or moral instruction the child might not otherwise receive at school. 

According to a survey done by the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of parents polled cited concern about schools’ environment as a primary reason to homeschool. This concern about schools’ environment is not unwarranted. According to Education Week, 18 school shootings have occurred in 2019 so far. 24 school shootings occurred in 2018.

In a study of 7300 adults that grew up being homeschooled, 95% indicated that they are glad they were homeschooled. 74% are homeschooling their own children.

Despite the increasing popularity of home education, there is still apprehension surrounding it. Homeschool has been a source of contention amidst policy makers and parents alike since its rise to prominence in the 1970s. Primary concerns typically include social skill development and curriculum legitimacy. In a Gallup poll, 14% of responders indicated that based on what they knew or had heard, they considered a homeschool education to be “poor.” 30% of responders considered a homeschool education “only fair.”

The resounding question is this: does homeschool effectively prepare students for the “real world?”

There is a lack of quantitative research done on this question due to the wide variability of homeschool experience. However, qualitative research is abundant. 

One such study on homeschool students post high school graduation conducted by Brian Ray, Ph.D. of the National Home Education Research Institute, states that “There are enough homeschool graduates to begin to see how they are succeeding in their homes, in their work, and in their lives.” 

Many once-homeschooled adults attribute their development of soft skills to their home education. 

In a dissertation by Montana State University doctoral student Lisa Ann Hauk Shields, it is said that “participation  [in home education] cultivated student learning characteristics valued as contributing to integration in college’s education goals: memorization, independence, self-discipline, and organization. These characteristics were instrumental in group project engagement, sense of belonging, and individual academic achievement.”

“I think the one thing that homeschooling really did that was really helpful as I entered college was that it taught me time management,” Wheaton College sophomore Emma Folts said. “I think that wasn’t a lesson that a lot of public school students had fully learned.” Folts also referenced personal responsibility and accountability as skills that she obtained through her home education.

While there are no numbers that prove the superiority or inferiority of a home education, qualitative research points to its credibility and potential for students.

A Homeschooler in the ‘Real World’

Emma Folts, a sophomore at Wheaton College, shares her experience about her transition into college and how homeschool has both helped and hindered her. 

How has your homeschool experience benefitted you, especially in your transition into college?

I think the one thing that homeschooling did that was really helpful as I entered college was that it taught me time management. As a homeschooler I had the same freedom as a college student has to put things off during the day and go see a friend instead. Since I had that experience, I knew the cost of that. 

Also, personal responsibility and accountability with assignments. I feel like a lot of the other students had more expectations for gentler grading and that the professor would give them retakes or extensions, but that wasn’t something that ever happened to me in school. That learning curve wasn’t added because I never had it the other way. I think another thing was that because I was homeschooled, I was familiar with the format of teaching and then studying on my own. 

Did you see any issues with your transition socially?

I think that homeschooling had two ramifications for me socially. One was helpful, one was hurtful. 

It was really helpful because as a homeschooler, I had spent a lot of time realizing and developing who I was as a person and learning to recognize people who were being themselves, and those were the people I sought out as friends. Friendship as a homeschooler takes a lot more investment. I knew I was choosier with my friends which made me a lot less anxious and a lot more content.

The only real negative impact of the social bit was that I was really used to getting to choose the time I got to spend with people. As a homeschooler I spent a lot of time with people, but that time was controlled by me. As a college student, I found that you can’t really control the time you spend with people and alone time is not really available. Learning to deal with that was a lot harder than anticipated.

Any last comments on homeschool and how it has affected your college experience? 

I think homeschooling is really helpful, however it does take a slightly increased amount of advocacy with your peers when you’re entering into college. I think a lot of people come in with certain assumptions about homeschool, especially students. You’re going to get a lot of, ‘oh my gosh, you don’t seem like a homeschooled person!’ [You can’t] take that too personally and explain your experience so that friends can understand it’s an important piece of you, though it might not look like the homeschooling that they’ve seen. 

My encouragement to anyone who is a homeschooler transitioning into college is to realize the benefit that you have having been homeschooled, and to realize that the bit of advocacy and explaining that you need to do with your peers is totally normal and that it’s not a big deal. Once they understand your experience, it’s not something I’ve experienced being looked down on for.