Table of contents
If you were homeschooled, you may have a clear idea of your future path: a particular job, a family role, or a passion that you’ve always wanted to pursue. Maybe your homeschool experience successfully prepared you for that future, and you feel ready to move forward!
On the other hand, many homeschool alumni find themselves unsure of what to do, or unsatisfied with the options in front of them. In public schools, students often have guidance counselors, job fairs, encouraging teachers and mentors, and other resources to help them envision and prepare for a future of education, work, or personal development. As a homeschooled student, you have the challenge of discovering and weighing your options all on your own—with or without the help of a supportive caregiver or mentor. We hope to support you as you navigate towards your future!
In this chapter, we’ll begin laying out strategies for envisioning your future after homeschooling. Whether you want to pursue a career, part-time employment and hobbies, and/or further education, Chapter 2 will help you get started. We’ll cover:
- Practical steps to prepare: Collecting documents, evaluating your financial situation, and navigating legal requirements for adults
- Knowing yourself: Taking stock of your interests, values, skills, and goals
Planning your future requires both practical preparedness and self-knowledge. For example, if you think you’d like to go to college, it’s important to start by finding out what kind of education you can afford—but you’ll also need to think about what you’d like to study, and even what kind of job you hope to get after you graduate.
We’ll guide you through exercises to help you accomplish both of these goals. In the next section, we’ll show you how to obtain essential documents like a homeschool transcript and diploma, how to build credit and create a budget, and, if applicable, how (and when!) to register for the U.S. Selective Service. In the third section, we’ll go over some exercises that can help you to better understand yourself and your future goals. What past experiences have meant the most to you? What are you good at, and what jobs involve those skills? What are you most interested in, and what values drive you?
If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, you’re not alone. Everyone, no matter their background, struggles with creating a vision for their future at some stage in life—and you don’t need to find a single perfect, definitive answer. Approach this chapter as an invitation to explore your options and learn more about yourself in the process.
2.2 Practical steps to prepare
As you begin to envision your future after being homeschooled, there are several practical steps you can take to set yourself up for success. These steps are useful to take at any age, but some are extra important at your 18th birthday. When you turn 18, you legally become an adult and take on the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, including the ability to make your own decisions. For these steps, it doesn’t matter whether you ultimately decide to go to college, start a job, or anything else. These are universal to starting your independent life!
2.2.1 Collect your personal documents
It’s important to have copies of key personal documents, since colleges, employers, landlords, and more may need copies of them. You may already have these records, or you may have none at all. Here are a few key documents you should look for or try to obtain, regardless what your plans are for the future:
- Birth certificate, birth abroad form (if born outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents), or adoption records (if applicable)
- Driver’s license or state ID.
- Permanent resident card (if applicable)
- Passport (only if you were ever issued one)
- Social Security Number (SSN) or Tax Identification Number. Your social security card is typically not needed, but it’s important to know your SSN or taxpayer ID
- Marriage/divorce records (if applicable)
- High school transcript(s). We’ll explain these in further detail in the next section.
If you are missing any of these records, it’s a good idea to try to find them or replace them with new copies from your city, county, or state. This process will be different for everyone because the records you have may impact what documents you can obtain first.
The most important document is your birth certificate, especially if you are a U.S. citizen. You may need your birth certificate to apply for most other key documents, either for the first time or for replacements. Because birth certificates are issued state-by-state, the process will depend on which state you were physically born in. If you were born overseas, the State Department may be able to supply some of your documents. The federal government has a list of recommendations for replacing vital records, and a list of state agencies that oversee these requests.
2.2.2 Homeschool transcript and diploma
If you were homeschooled at any point during high school, and especially if you complete high school while homeschooled, it is important to have a homeschool high school transcript and diploma. A transcript proves that you completed high school, which is important for applying for colleges and/or other vocational programs, joining the military, and applying for some federal benefits. If your home educator will create these for you, that’s great. But if not, you may be able to create your own. CRHE has advice and a template for how to create a high school transcript that is useful for both parents and students!
If it’s impossible to obtain a high school transcript documenting your high school graduation, or if you never completed 4 years of high school, another option is the General Educational Development tests, better known as the GED. The GED may allow you to receive a “high school equivalency diploma” from your state. However, this is not the same as a typical diploma. If you completed four years of high school, a typical high school diploma is preferable to a GED equivalency diploma, since a GED may disadvantage you under certain circumstances (such as joining the military, which gives preference to applicants with a traditional high school diploma). But if you didn’t complete four years of high school, or you can’t obtain a diploma, the GED may be perfect for you to unlock higher earning potential or apply for higher education.
Regardless of the form of qualification you choose, if there are gaps in your education, Adult Basic Education (ABE) could be a great option for you. Check out CRHE’s article on ABE for more information!
2.2.3 Assess your financial situation
It’s important to know where your money is kept. This is great to do at any age, but especially once you turn 18 years old. We have a few recommendations for how homeschool alumni can assess their finances and prepare for whatever future they choose.
Open your own bank account. When you turn 18 years old, we recommend opening a checking account in your own name at a reputable bank, either online or in-person. A bank account is vital for your financial future, whether for a paycheck, day-to-day expenses, or student aid. There are a wide variety of options that do not charge regular fees. Some online banks with no fees include Ally, Capital One, Discover, and SoFi, but there are many more. Many local banks and credit unions may also offer similar accounts, but we recommend double-checking that their accounts do not charge you regular fees, especially monthly service fees.
Opening a checking account should also give you access to a debit card, which you can use online or in-person to purchase your necessities. When you use a debit card, the spent money is directly withdrawn from your bank account at the time of purchase.
Credit cards: risks and rewards. Credit cards operate differently than debit cards, and while they offer some advantages, they also have significant risks that you should be aware of before signing up. There is no universal answer whether you should or shouldn’t sign up for a credit card, you will have to make a decision that is right for you. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a wide variety of advice to learn more, including a sample credit card spending budget, a simplified credit card agreement, and a detailed FAQ to answer more questions. Until you are comfortable with how to responsibly use a credit card, we recommend only using a debit card.
If you decide to open a credit card, the #1 rule is to make sure you do not “carry a balance” month-to-month. This means paying less than the full amount owed on your monthly credit card statement, which causes your total balance to grow over time even if you never use it again. You have to act fast if you can’t fully pay off your credit card bill every single month because the financial penalties can be severe.
To avoid interest payments, we highly recommend that you set your credit card to automatically pay off your entire statement balance each month in order to avoid growing debt. There is usually extremely high interest on credit card debt that is not paid off by its due date. This means that the amount you will owe will grow every month until you pay it off. If you do have any credit card debt, or encounter a situation where you cannot pay your full statement balance, prioritize paying it off as soon as possible.
If you are comfortable opening a credit card, there are several advantages over using a debit card for day-to-day purchases. Using a credit card gives you better fraud protection if your card is lost or stolen, and it allows you to slowly build credit (which may give you better access to housing or private loans like car loans). You may also receive rewards like cash back or airline miles.
Pull your credit report. In 2017, it was estimated that 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud while they were still children. It isn’t just anonymous hackers on the internet committing identity theft; your parents or other family or friends can also commit identity theft against you. Pulling your credit report allows you to check whether this has occurred.
There are three major credit bureaus that keep track of your credit: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. Normally, you can access your credit report from all three for free at annualcreditreport.com each year (since the COVID-19 pandemic, the three bureaus have been offering free weekly reports). This is the only site authorized by the federal government to obtain your report for free. We recommend only pulling from one bureau at a time; that way, you’re able to maximize the number of reports you can access. Although it doesn’t provide official reports, Credit Karma is a free resource that can show you an estimate of your credit score and credit profile at any time.
If you discover that you are the victim of identity theft, seek help and file a police report to ensure you aren’t legally responsible for fraudulent charges, and to begin rebuilding your financial health.
If you’d like to learn more about managing your personal finances, we highly recommend this book, “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated”, by Helaine Owen and Harold Pollack. Most of the advice is helpful for people just starting to be financially independent, since the book recommends common-sense ways to build financial stability without falling prey to scams
2.2.4 Selective Service registration
If you were assigned male at birth, then you likely have an obligation to register for the Selective Service when you are between the ages of 18 and 25. The Selective Service is the list of individuals who could be drafted into the military should the President and Congress authorize a military draft in the future. Even if you later receive a birth certificate without a “male” marker, you likely still need to register for the Selective Service. According to the Selective Service, “Selective Service bases the registration requirement on gender assigned at birth and not on gender identity or on gender reassignment. Individuals who are born male and changed their gender to female are still required to register. Individuals who are born female and changed their gender to male are not required to register.”
The Selective Service System has more information about this requirement, including how to easily register online. It is important to not miss the 18-25 year old window for registering, as many federal benefits, including some student financial aid, require on-time registration. In addition, not registering is a crime.
2.3 Knowing yourself
Now that we have discussed some of the core logistical aspects of practical preparedness, we’re going to turn to big questions about planning your future.
2.3.1 Which way do I go?
Approaching or completing the end of your secondary education via homeschooling is an exciting time, and you’ll probably have people asking you what you plan to do next. Maybe you’ve asked this of yourself numerous times. Are you confident in your next steps, or does your future seem unclear?
Consider these three different situations and where you see yourself right now:
- 4-year college (earn a Bachelor degree, possibly in preparation for graduate school to get a Masters or Doctorate degree, or enter medical school or law school)
- 2-year community college (earn an Associate degree)
- Technical/trade/vocational/career training (certification or diploma program, often less than 2 years long, to prepare to enter the workforce)
- Conduct a job search and apply for advertised jobs requiring only high school graduation or equivalent (GED)
- Enlist in the military
- Apply for a paid internship or apprenticeship (earn as you learn)
- Start a small business
- Engage in career exploration and personal interest activities
- Join AmeriCorps
- Volunteer with a charitable or service or community or religious organization
- Learn about homesteading
Spend some time reflecting on these three options. Does one immediately jump out at you? Even if you feel certain about one path, allow yourself to envision what the other ones might look like. Did you discount them because they are genuinely not right for you, or because of another reason?
We’ll now turn to some activities that will deepen your understanding of how who you are intersects with what you want to do.
2.3.2 Knowing yourself: exercises
In this section, you’ll move through a series of exercises that help you think about how who you are affects who you want to be in the future. Remember from this chapter’s introduction that self-knowledge, along with practical preparedness, is the key to planning your future. The goal of these exercises is to encourage reflection that increases your self-knowledge. We recommend moving through these activities in order, but feel free to take as much time as you need working through them.
2.3.3 Finding your job sweet spot
No matter how you plan to spend your time in the future, you probably want to feel that the way you earn money is worthwhile and that you are realizing your full potential. This section will help you think about how to bring together multiple aspects of yourself to find the future that works best for you.
As the graphic above shows, people feel most fulfilled when they spend their time in a way that combines profession, passion, vocation, and mission.
If you’ve read through this chapter and have a clear idea of what you want to pursue in your future, congratulations! If you’re still unsure, don’t worry: creating a plan for the future is difficult, and there aren’t always obvious or easy answers.
We hope this chapter has provided you with:
- Practical tools to prepare for further education or job applications
- A better understanding of your personality, strengths, and values
- Flexible exercises to help you continue thinking about your future
In the next chapters, we’ll build on what we’ve done here with a guide to preparing to enter the workforce in a variety of jobs and a guide to obtaining a post-homeschool education. As you read those chapters, keep in mind what we covered here, and feel free to come back to this chapter and use the exercises here to consider whether a particular job or educational opportunity is right for you.