When Amy Herron, a grade 12 honour student, applied to the kinesiology program at UOIT, she was confident she would get in. As time went on and she still hadn’t heard back from the school, she began to worry. “I was worried they lost my application,” she says. “A lot of my friends were applying to UOIT the year I did and a lot of them were hearing back from their individual programs…I hadn’t received anything.” When Herron called UOIT, she found out her application hadn’t been approved because her biology and chemistry credits didn’t meet the school standards. This is because she used a homeschool science curriculum for those grade 12 credits. Herron, along with around 20,000 other Ontario children are homeschooled, according to the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents (OFTP) and many graduate without an official high school transcript. This leaves some graduates, such as Herron, with unofficial credits that haven’t been approved by the Ontario School Board. Not having a high school transcript in the past made it difficult for homeschoolers to apply to college and university. Now because of the increased awareness and popularity of homeschooling, many homeschoolers can attend and do well at most Ontario post-secondary schools. However, early preparation not only makes the process easier, it is the key to success.
Homeschooling was once thought as an extreme measure, usually done for religious reasons or by backcountry dirt roaders that didn’t have a school nearby. The number of homeschoolers has increased by 29 per cent from 2006 to 2012, according to the Fraser Institute. The Homeschooling in Canada Report, released by the Institute in 2015, attributes this to more parents wanting to provide individual education to their children. This is to help kids learn at their own pace, get ahead of the curve and focus on behavioral problems or special needs, along with the usual faith-based reasons. As homeschooling increases in popularity, more homeschool graduates will be seeking admittance to college. In the past, most colleges and universities didn’t have admissions policies for homeschoolers, which made it difficult to integrate them into the post-secondary school system once they graduated. But thanks to work done by the OFTP, many colleges and universities in Ontario have policies specifically for homeschoolers. OFTP list 23 Ontario universities and colleges that have been known to accept homeschoolers – UOIT is one of them.
When Herron applied to UOIT in 2012, she had taken most of her courses through the Virtual Learning Centre, an online school that is accepted by the university since it is run through the Kawartha Lakes School Board. But she took three other classes through other homeschool programs, including two science classes through Apologia and an English program run through Tree of Life, which allows students to send in work to be marked throughout a semester. Herron says because she had a good track record with Tree of Life, they added the grades her parents had given her for the science courses to the transcript they sent to UOIT. When she visited a UOIT open house that past fall, Herron says she was reassured being homeschooled wouldn’t be a barrier. “We just proceeded as if it was all good,” she says. But it turns out, the homeschool courses she was doing couldn’t be accepted because the school needed more proof when it came to math or science based programs.
Joe Stokes, an associate registrar at UOIT says the university has been accepting homeschool students since the school opened in 2002, but there are certain requirements homeschoolers must meet. “When you are looking at a program, like engineering, we need to make sure your math and science is up to caliber to set you up for success.” He says the school reviews transcripts outside of the traditional Ontario secondary schools, even parent written transcripts, but it usually comes down to the applicant taking SATs to prove they understand the content. “We review them but because there is such a variety of curriculum out there and they vary from delivery mode to delivery mode, we also ask for a test.” The two ways to make sure a student can handle the program is by an SAT score or by taking the class again through VLC or a similar program.
Partway through February, Herron chose to take biology and chemistry again through VLC and another accredited program. “I was extremely panicked at that point. It was just getting too close to the end to make it in to that year,” she says. Her mother, Deb Herron, says her daughter was determined to make the deadline. “I’ve never seen someone work so hard in their life, but she had the mindset she was going to university in the fall.” And she did.
Getting into college or university is a problem many homeschool parents worry about, but Judith Hyland, a homeschool mom for 20 years and an area representative for OFTP, says she started planning when her son, Joseph Hyland, reached grade 11. “If there is any pre-requisite he needs, we would have a year to get those,” says his mother. They ended up going to their local school and talking to the school board about their situation. “They came to the table saying, ‘what can we do to help you earn a diploma?’” He graduated with a diploma, after taking several extra courses during the summer and is now in a competitive engineering program at Carleton University. “He has no problems. He is not in anyway out of place there,” says Hyland’s mother. “I am proud of him.”
Her son is not the only homeschool student doing well. Most homeschool students flourish in the university and college system. “Often those students (homeschoolers) perform just as well as everyone else,” says Stokes, who has worked as an associate registrar at UOIT for over 12 years. But sometimes they do even better. Homeschoolers are six per cent more likely to get a university bachelor degree than their public school peers, according to a General Social Survey in 2006. Herron, a life-long homeschooler before attending UOIT, thinks this is because being homeschooled teaches you independence. “It (homeschooling) taught you to learn on your own and think for yourself,” she says.
Independence is what keeps Joan Gilmore homeschooling her two kids in grade 4 and grade 6.
“The kids have no interest in getting up early and being on a schedule,” she says with a laugh. She says they will continue to homeschool as long as the kids want to, even through high school. She says she isn’t worried about their future education because she thinks Ontario is a good place to homeschool. “There is no fear,” she says. “We have so many examples of people who have gone through homeschool and had success.”
Despite Herron’s experience, Ontario can be a great place to homeschool, if you are prepared. Herron advises homeschoolers to be proactive in approaching the post-secondary school. “If you are not in a traditional school setting, you have to ask a lot of questions,” she says. Stokes agrees. “The big thing is to contact us (UOIT) early and let us know that you are homeschooled.” He says students often apply, but there is no place to indicate you are homeschooled. “The sooner we have your documentation, the sooner we can make a decision on a file.”
Early preparation may be necessary for post-secondary admittance, but it doesn’t deter people from homeschooling. The average annual growth of homeschoolers in the Canadian population is currently five per cent. By contrast, in recent years, public school enrollment has been down by just over two per cent. If these trends continue, more homeschoolers will be applying to colleges and universities in the coming years. Though homeschoolers receive widespread acceptance from most Ontario post-secondary schools, there is always room for improvement. Only half of the colleges and universities have web pages that outline the school’s requirements for homeschool admissions. Increasing the amount of information available for homeschoolers considering going to college or university will help these students navigate the journey through the school system.
Even though Herron had difficulty getting in at first, she along with other homeschoolers, did well in university. Herron graduated from UOIT with a GPA of 3.68 out of 4.00. “I think that the work I put in to get into university was well worth it,” she says. She is now attending is the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and expects to graduate in 2019.