Chapter 4: Deciding on pursuing post-homeschool education

Table of contents

4.1 Introduction

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A gateway to a building.

While many homeschool alumni turn to the workforce straight after graduation, many will find that the jobs they’re interested in require additional education. If that’s you, pursuing trade school, an apprenticeship,  community college, or four-year university may be your best option. This might seem overwhelming at first, but don’t panic! This chapter will break down the options available to you and will help you find the best fit for your future. 

In this chapter, we’ll help you learn how to 

  • Understand the post-secondary educational opportunities available to you
  • Decide which path is best for you
  • Recognize what these programs may involve
  • Prepare for your post-secondary educational future

Deciding whether or not to further your education can be a big decision, so we will start this chapter by weighing the pros and cons of pursuing this path. Post-homeschool education can open many doorways for your future, and it could change your life for the better! However, we also understand that sometimes there are barriers in place that could prevent homeschool graduates like yourself from taking this route. It’s important to consider your personal situation while making this decision.

That’s why we will spend most of this chapter detailing what kind of post-homeschool education options are available and what they each entail. While many people may assume college is the only next level in furthering your education, there are actually many other programs available! From vocational schools to community colleges to apprenticeships, you have plenty of choices. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed! We’re here to guide you through each of them, and by the end of this chapter, you will have a much clearer view of the opportunities for your future.

4.2 How do I decide whether to seek post-homeschool education?

Any formal education that you pursue after finishing high school is called post-secondary (or tertiary) education, which takes place while enrolled in a degree or certification program at a post-secondary school. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 62% of recent high school graduates enroll in post-secondary education.

What are the goals of post-homeschool education? People are motivated to pursue post-secondary education for a variety of reasons:

  • They want to gain skills that will help them achieve their personal and professional goals.
  • They are required to obtain a particular educational credential (like a degree or certification) in order to pursue the career they are interested in.
  • They hope to earn more money or be more financially stable than they could be if they went straight into the workforce.
  • They want to learn more about a topic; they enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
  • They want to gain exposure to more diverse people and ideas than they had access to at home.
  • They seek more independence or more distance from their home environment.
  • They want to develop their personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.

We’ll now discuss the advantages and disadvantages of post-secondary education in more detail.

4.2.1 Advantages of post-homeschool education

There are many benefits to attending a degree program after graduating from high school.

  • Many careers require some sort of training or schooling program. Not all jobs require a university diploma, but according to data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, about two-thirds of jobs require at least some post-secondary education or training—for example, an Associate’s (2-year community-college degree) or an apprenticeship program. We advise you to research the careers that you are interested in and decide accordingly. 
  • More education is linked to higher wages and lower unemployment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down the data in this article, which shows an increase in average weekly earnings for each increase in education level.
  • Post-homeschool education offers unique networking experiences. Networking, as described in this Indeed guide to networking, is the cultivation of professional relationships that can open doors for job openings and references. In training and schooling programs, you can forge relationships with instructors and classmates to connect with future opportunities. While it is not necessary to have a formal training or schooling program to build a network, the structure these programs provide makes it an easier task.

4.2.2 Disadvantages of post-homeschool education

While post-homeschool education can be a valuable experience for many, there are considerable disadvantages to consider. 

  • All forms of post-homeschool education are costly. This webpage by the Education Data Initiative details the average costs for a 4-year-degree program, finding that the average tuition paid per year is $35,551. The Education Data Initiative also gives a breakdown of costs for community college, including the average tuition paid per year which is $7,460. Chapter 8 will detail scholarship and financial aid opportunities available to help offset the costs, but finances are a consideration to make.  
  • It’s complicated to have a job while enrolled in a post-homeschool education program. While the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce reports around  70% of all college students work while enrolled, the same article stresses the limited employment opportunities for full-time students and overall lesser earnings due to time constraints.

Given all these considerations, take a moment to brainstorm (and write out, if safe to do so) your reasons for interest in post-secondary education. This will help you stay grounded as you plan and prepare.

While your family may or may not support your interest in post-secondary education, CRHE always will! Our Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children states that homeschooled children have “The right to an education that prepares them for an open future: that is, the meaningful ability to successfully enter a career of their choice or to attend an institution of higher learning with the major of their choice without substantial impediment.” Here’s to an open future!

4.2.2 Further reading on the importance of post-secondary education

If you have any interest in pursuing post-secondary education, or even if you are still deciding, a good place to start is this book:

An open notebook. It is blank.

Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education, was published by Matthew L. Sanders in 2018. The book was written for an audience of first-year college students and, though its focus is exploring the purpose and goals of college, its advice is applicable to anyone interested in any type of post-secondary education. It encourages the reader to question why they are in school and what they hope to gain from their education. You can read a summary here. It is fairly short (about 50 pages) and it includes the following chapters:

  • When learning job skills is not enough
  • Becoming a learner
  • Distracting conversations
  • Principles of learning
  • An invitation

The book can be purchased for a small fee from various online booksellers or as an ebook. If you choose to purchase and read it, CRHE recommends talking about the book and your response to it with a trusted family member or friend who supports your goals.

While you may be able to achieve career success straight out of homeschooling, many people need to seek post-secondary education in order to be successful on the job market. Take a moment to read the following documents which argue for the value of post-secondary education.

One person grinds metal while another person watches her.

What is "career ready"?

This article was published in 2018 by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the professional organization for teachers at technical and trade schools. It argues that career readiness requires three major skill areas:

  • Foundational academic skills, especially in English language arts and math
  • Employability skills such as critical thinking, adaptability, communication, and ethics
  • Technical skills in a job-specific area

The article concludes by stating that in most cases it is not possible to gain the needed skills in high school alone; post-secondary education is required. Read the 2-page article here.

A student with a backpack holding a pile of books.

College learning for the new global century

This report was published in 2007 by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), a professional organization composed of post-secondary institutions of all types (technical and community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities). It argues that in order for students to be prepared for the lives they will lead in the future, they need the following foundational skills:

  • Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
  • Intellectual and practical skills, such as critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and quantitative and informational literacy
  • Personal and social responsibility, including civics, ethics, and intercultural competence
  • Integrative learning and adaptability

The report argues that mastering these skills is the essential goal of postsecondary education. Read pages 1-6 here.

4.3 Important questions to consider

Post-secondary schools are specialized based on the type of education and the programs they offer, so there are many different types of schools. If you have any interest in post-secondary education, it will be useful to you to get a sense of the variety of options available to you. Answering the following questions can help you think through which options suit you best.

4.3.1 How long do you want to spend in school?

Depending on your personal and professional goals, you may benefit from a little education or a lot. One difference between types of post-secondary schools is how long it takes to learn the skills you will need to succeed.

Technical, trade, and vocational/career schools offer training for direct entry into a specific career path in two years or less. This training prepares you to begin a career as, for example:

  • Agriculture technician
  • Auto mechanic
  • Carpenter
  • Cosmetologist
  • Electrician
  • Paramedic
  • Pastry chef
  • Plumber
  • Welder

Community and junior colleges offer two-year associate’s degree programs in general academic studies, as well as certification programs for direct entry into a specific career path. Here are some examples of jobs you can get with an associates’ degree:

  • Air traffic controller
  • Architectural drafter
  • Dental hygienist
  • Mortician
  • Paralegal
  • Preschool teacher
  • Respiratory therapist
  • Restaurant manager
  • Veterinary technician
  • IT coordinator

Often public community colleges teach some of the same classes required at the public four-year colleges and universities in a given state, and these class credits can be transferred. This allows students, regardless of whether they are homeschooled, to attend a community college during or immediately after high school, and transfer from there to a four-year college or university. The benefits to this path include:

  • Lower tuition for the first two years despite taking the same classes
  • Greater possibility of living at home and saving money on living expenses
  • ACT/SAT is not usually required
  • Your diploma from the four-year college or university is the same even if you transferred credits from a community college

In many states there are programs designed to support students in taking this path, including guaranteed transfers and admissions at state universities from community colleges. Check out these tips from the College Board on transferring from a community college to a four-year college.

Four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees, which generally involve two years of general academic studies plus two years of specialized study in one academic subject area (known as a “major”). Bachelor’s degrees prepare you for a career as, for example:

  • Actuary
  • Computer network architect
  • Engineer
  • Film editor
  • Government policy analyst
  • Journalist
  • K-12 teacher
  • Nurse
  • Real estate agent
  • Social worker

A bachelor degree from a four-year college or university is important if you think you may want to later pursue a master’s degree, a doctorate, or another type of professional graduate degree. These graduate degrees require you to first complete a bachelor degree, but could unlock careers like:

  • Business CEO
  • College professor
  • Lawyer
  • Librarian
  • Medical doctor
  • Museum curator
  • Orchestra conductor
  • Research scientist

It’s important to remember that success in certain careers requires a particular level of education, so you should plan accordingly. On the other hand, you shouldn’t worry that by selecting a particular type of school you are locking yourself into a single job for the rest of your life. In most career paths, going back to school for more education is always an option if you want to advance to a higher salary and more authority. For example:

  • A person who earned a degree from a plumbing trade school and has worked for a few years as a plumber for a construction company may later decide to take college classes on business management in order to start their own plumbing business.
  • A practicing respiratory therapist with an associate’s degree may decide later to earn a bachelor’s degree so that they can become a manager in their respiratory therapy practice. 
  • Someone with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who is working as a case manager at a homeless shelter might decide later to earn a master’s degree in order to learn how to design a therapy program for their clients.
  • Someone trained as an IT professional may switch careers entirely and decide to attend a music conservatory to become an opera singer!

A little planning and preparation now may save you time later, but you also should expect the unexpected in your career path.

4.3.2 How much money are you prepared to spend on school?

Unlike free public K-12 education, post-secondary education costs money. Schools differ based on how expensive they are. It can sometimes be difficult to find out how schools are funded on their websites, but this information is usually accessible on the school’s Wikipedia page.

Public community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities are funded by local and state governments and are paid for by our taxes. Schools with “community college”, “state college” or “university of [state]” in their name are all public schools. They are the least expensive option for your post-secondary education and provide a high-quality education for the value if you attend a school in a state where you are a resident. As explained more in Chapter 8, students can often complete the first one or two years of their college education at the cheapest community colleges, then transfer those credits to that state’s four-year college, where they can complete the remaining credits.

Private junior colleges, four-year colleges, and universities are nonprofit institutions whose operation is funded by student tuition and rich donors. They are often much more expensive than public schools to attend, although the high cost is often offset for low-income students by a wide range of scholarships, grants, and aid available. For example, all the schools in the Ivy League (like Harvard and Yale) are private schools.

CRHE does not recommend that you attend a for-profit vocational school, college, or university. For-profit vocational schools, colleges, and universities are run as businesses, so their goal is to earn money for their shareholders, not to provide you with a quality education. They are expensive and the credits you earn may not be transferable to other schools. A degree from a for-profit college may not be accepted by some employers. We consider for-profit colleges to be a scam, and will discuss this in more detail in 4.4.

4.3.3 What type of educational experience do you want?

Many post-secondary schools are guided by a particular educational philosophy or aim to attract a particular type of student. Most large public and private colleges and universities aim to provide a high-quality education to the largest number of students possible, so the educational programs and opportunities they offer are typically quite diverse, with the potential trade-off of less personalized attention for each student. Other categories of post-secondary schools have slightly different goals. Here are just a few examples of specific approaches to education:

Vocational training at a school or apprenticeship focuses on hands-on training for careers in labor-focused industries. These careers often require a base level certification or a specific number of on-the-job supervised hours to enter, and vocational schools aim to give students experience doing the job they’re being trained for. Many vocational schools offer a streamlined route to job placement for students who complete the program. If you attend a vocational school or enter an apprenticeship program, your time will be heavily focused on the actual practical skills you will need for a certain career. We discuss vocational training in greater detail in Chapter 7.

An education in the  liberal arts and sciences at a college or university provides a broad academic foundation in subjects like literature and languages, history, mathematics, and science. This type of degree, whether you attend a community college, four-year college or university, or both, is focused on the development of critical-thinking skills that can be applied to a wide variety of career paths. Some degrees can immediately be utilized in a particular job, but other degrees are more general and prepare you for a variety of jobs. 

In a vocational program, all of your courses and assignments will be focused on the career you are training for, and your post-education transition to a career may be more predictable. This allows you to be efficient and optimize the time and energy you spend on your education towards a specific, pre-identified goal, with the potential downside of more hurdles if you decide to change careers later on. On the other hand, an education in the liberal arts and sciences gives you the opportunity to explore multiple paths and acquire knowledge and skills that may be useful across a variety of careers. This allows you to be well-rounded and flexible in terms of the careers you can pursue, with the potential downside of a less straightforward transition to a career after you graduate. Different paths will appeal to different students, and they can all lead to a fulfilling educational experience!

Community and junior colleges largely teach what are sometimes called “general education credits,” although some also teach a variety of skills-focused, vocational classes, similar to a vocational school. General educational credits are classes, such as entry-level English, math, history, biology, chemistry, or a foreign language. You may hear these entry-level classes called “101s” or lower-division classes. (Course numbers that start with a 1 or 2 are typically taken in your first two years of college.) General education credits are classes taken earlier in college, as they are prerequisites (meaning, required for) upper-division classes (with course numbers starting with 3 or 4) taken later at a four-year college or university. 

Four-year colleges and universities also teach these general education classes, but they also teach more advanced classes in different subjects.  While the two are very similar, universities differ from colleges in that 1) your class sizes will likely be larger, and some classes will be taught by graduate students as opposed to professors 2) universities may present more varied areas of study and more opportunities for undergraduate research, although this is not always the case.

Somewhere between these two options are four-year online universities attached to public state universities, such as ASU Online, UMGC, Thomas Edison State College, and Southern New Hampshire (the only private school on this list). These fully online schools are very affordable and offer in-state tuition to all students, including out-of-state students. The benefits of these schools include ease of access and flexibility for working people, such as asynchronous classes (allowing you to work at your own pace); familiarity for homeschooled students and alumni who may have experience with online programs; and a potentially lower-stress environment for students struggling with the social transition from high school to college. Potential drawbacks include fewer opportunities to network and make friends. Note that these legitimate, relatively high-quality schools are different from for-profit colleges, which CRHE recommends against (see 4.4 below).

In both universities and colleges, students choose their advanced classes depending on their major, which is the specialization ultimately printed on your degree (such as physics, history, engineering, etc.). We recommend reading or watching videos online to hear from actual students about their experiences, both at particular schools you might be interested in, but also students who have majors that you might be interested in. The college experience varies greatly for different people.

Within the category of four-year colleges and universities, most schools are co-ed (admit all people) and teach a large variety of subjects. However, there are different types of colleges and universities with particular history, religious affiliation, or subject-matter expertise. Some of these include:

Arts colleges and conservatories provide training in the fine and performing arts and design. They may require a demonstration of artistic ability for admission and their educational programs center on training and mentorship by master artists.

Minority-serving institutions are liberal arts colleges and universities designed to provide programs, services, and activities to students who have traditionally been excluded from post-secondary education. For example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) specialize in providing a variety of types of education while emphasizing Black opportunity, history, and culture; Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are controlled and operated by federally recognized Native American tribes; and institutions may qualify as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) if a large percentage of their students are Hispanic or Latinx.

Single-gender colleges admit only women or only men, in contrast to most post-secondary institutions which admit all students. While there are a few men-only colleges (typically for religious or historical reasons), women-only colleges are more common due to the fact women were previously barred from attending many institutions, especially selective ones. 

Religiously-affiliated colleges, all of which are private schools, range from those with merely a historical link to a religious community to those requiring a signed statement of faith and adherence to a religious code of conduct while enrolled. Some of these schools’ educational programs situate learning within a specific religious framework, and some may not teach subjects or ideas that are in conflict with the particular religion of that school.

Remember, there are many different types of post-homeschool education! While some may be more or less familiar to you, you should take the opportunity to explore the variety of options available to you. You may be surprised by the possibility of selecting an educational path that matches your needs and interests!

4.4 The importance of accreditation

Regardless of what form of post-secondary education you pursue, it is vital to ensure that your program is accredited. Educational accreditation is a process through which an external body assesses and ensures an educational institution’s quality. When people hear ‘accreditation’, they often think about credibility. This makes sense, since accreditation is a way of demonstrating that a program has been thoroughly vetted and meets certain standards for quality. Accreditation in post-secondary education (any education above the K-12 level) is a very important indicator of quality.

Accreditation plays an essential role in post-secondary education. In fact, the US Department of Education requires that post-secondary institutions be accredited by a nationally recognized agency in order to receive funds from federal bodies (e.g. Pell Grants).  You can look up if an institution is accredited by a nationally recognized accreditation agency here.

Accreditation is granted by accreditation agencies. Different types of schools are covered by different accreditation agencies. . For example, if you’re considering vocational school, you will likely want to find a program accredited by the Accrediting Commision of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). There are many valid accreditation bodies for colleges and universities that vary based on region and type of school. For your reference, you can find the list of agencies the US Department of Education recognizes here.

When considering post-secondary options, it is absolutely necessary to research whether the institutions are accredited. Unfortunately, there are for-profit companies known as “diploma mills” that offer fraudulent degrees while disguising themselves as legitimate institutions of higher learning. The degrees granted by diploma mills are worthless. Sometimes, these institutions claim to have accreditation from unauthorized accreditation agencies. These agencies are scams. If an agency is not recognized by the US Department of Education, it is likely untrustworthy. You can also learn more from the Department of Education’s guidance on diploma mills here

4.5 Conclusion

As you can see after reading this chapter, you don’t have to end your education after homeschool graduation if you don’t want to; there are still many opportunities for you to continue your learning! It’s all right if you’re still not sure which is right for you yet. Making the decision to go back to school is a big one, and there’s no need to rush.

After reading this chapter, we hope that you will now have:

  • A new awareness of the different options available for future education
  • Insight into the pros and cons of each opportunity

Maybe you have finished this chapter and know where you want to go, but you still don’t know how to. Don’t worry! We will continue guiding you in the process throughout the rest of the book. In the next chapter, we will focus specifically on 4-year colleges and universities (though we will also delve into the vocational school route later on). We will dive deeper into what 4-year educational institutions are like and how they might fit into your goals. As you read these chapters, keep your own future in mind, and we will discover how they fit together.

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