- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

College admissions guru and Sage Group CEO Stephen Spaulding has some good advice for home-schoolers: Go with your strengths.

“Over my 15 years of reading applications at a number of schools, each year I have encountered a handful of home-educated students, and they are some of the most exciting kids I have met: independent, yet able to find ways to be connected athletically, intellectually, socially — qualities that translate well to college life,” he says.

Mr. Spaulding, now on the staff of Duke University’s Medical Center where he recruits physicians for the medical staff, reminds those on their college search that there are two “worlds” of colleges: those that have so many applicants they only take less than 25 percent, and all the rest.

The more exclusive a school, the more the candidate has to stand out from the crowd, he explains: “Excellence is excellence. Being home-educated lets you be seen as an individual, not just in comparison to all those in your graduating class — but you’ll still have to show them why you would be a great choice for them.”

Some helpful hints Mr. Spaulding offers for the home-schooling college seeker:

• Call professors in the fields that interest you and ask about their schools. “If an admissions office gets a call from a professor in their school suggesting a certain kid, that kid gets looked at a lot more positively,” he says.

• Know what the mission of the school is and whether you meet the mission. “Institutions seek students who extend their mission and few applicants actually understand that.”

• Check the Web site for Colleges that Change Lives (www.ctcl.org) to learn about outstanding colleges that you may not have heard of.

• Passion counts. Do your homework on the school, get the facts, and when and if you really are sure it’s the right school for you, don’t be shy. Calls, interviews, visits are ways to let them know your application deserves more consideration.

“If you can’t visit the college, call and ask if you can be interviewed by phone. … They’ll accommodate you,” Mr. Spaulding advises.

• Schools want a range of potential majors. “If you have three areas of interest, find out which one has less people applying for it. Applying with that as your probable major increases your chances of acceptance. Although you can change your mind if you later decide it’s not for you, you are more attractive to them.”

• Schools may be looking for special abilities, too. “If two candidates are equal, but one has a special ability that the school needs — being a bassoon player or researcher or kicker — that person may get chosen just for that reason.”

• Operate with integrity. “Early decision means the applicant is applying only to one school, and will absolutely attend, unless financial aid is a problem. Applying to three schools early decision is not ethical, and these things catch up with you — or other home-schoolers who apply in following years.”

• The essay is huge. “Ninety percent of applicants waste their essay on recounting their resume. Or, a close relative died. To stand out, think ‘Why is this significant?’ Use the essay to show your unique character, who you are specifically. Don’t apologize for being home-schooled! Explain how it has allowed you to pursue what you love.”

• SATs do carry weight, because they are common to all applicants. Consider taking the ACT as well.

• Reference letters should not be vague, general or just nice. “Stories and specifics trump generalized statements,” he says. And a home-schooling parent definitely should write a letter, even if it’s extra to the required number of references, because the parent is the main educator. Again, focus on specifics about the student and his or her unique attainments.

• Financial issues. “It’s a great time to be poor and smart,” Mr. Spaulding asserts. If you pick the right school, if you have the right characteristics they want, and if you stand out, it’s possible to attend more cheaply than you can imagine, he says.

Mr. Spaulding is offering free copies of his e-book, “Handbook To Navigating The College Process: The 50 Things You Must Know,” to readers who contact him. For a copy of the book or to invite Mr. Spaulding to speak to your organization, send e-mail to dspaulding9@nc.rr.com.

Kate Tsubata is a freelance writer and home educator living in Maryland.

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