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Is college right for you? Eight alternatives to the traditional path

For many students, college is an important step after high school. College can provide training for a specialized career like medicine or law, or an opportunity to study at a deeper level than in high school. But for too many students, college is “just what you do after high school,” and they end up graduating (or dropping out) with crippling debt and no real prospects.

So it’s important to consider seriously whether college is a good fit for you. Let’s take a look at some alternatives.

1. Community college

Some of the fastest-growing career fields, including dental hygiene and veterinary tech, only require a two-year degree, and community college graduates may be better off financially than their peers at four-year colleges.

Tuition is much lower—think $3,400 a year instead of $9,400 for an in-state public university or $24,000 out-of-state. In addition, most community college students can live at home, zapping the cost of the dorm and cafeteria. Young adults can enter the workforce faster and without the burden of student loans.

2. The military

Joining the military after high school can be a great opportunity to spread those wings. Some young adults join the military because they aren’t interested in college or don’t have the grades to pursue something they want to study. Others don’t have the financial means to make it work. Some do it for patriotism, others for adventure.

3. Apprenticeships

Apprentices are busy both working and learning, and they’re paid for it. Apprenticeships include training for a particular job, and employers pay for their apprentices’ college or vocational degrees in some cases. By the time a young adult completes an apprenticeship, he or she will have the skills, experience, and credentials needed for employment in the field he or she apprenticed in—and no college debt.

4. Vocational training/the trades/certificates

The skilled labor shortage in this country is not a secret, but it could be a huge problem for the economy. A 2015 study predicted that by 2025, 2 million manufacturing jobs would not be filled. More than 80 percent of executives who responded to the study’s survey said they would not be able to meet their customer’s needs because of that gap. About the same number said they are willing to pay above market rates. 

What does this all mean? A vocational training program could jumpstart a stable, well-paying career. Most programs only take a year or two and may be ideal for someone who wants to earn credentials but cringes at the thought of four more years of school.

5. Entrepreneurship

The year after high school can be a great time to be an entrepreneur. If you have a particular passion or skill—and a lot of hustle—you might consider starting a business or nonprofit.

High school or shortly after can be a great time to start a business—at that age, most people aren’t trying to support a family or pay down massive loans, so the stakes are low if something doesn’t work out.

6. Volunteering

If you are passionate about a cause, the time after high school—with almost nothing in the way of family or financial obligations—is an ideal time to dive in. You could spend a year in the U.S. or abroad giving your time to a nonprofit or church group.

In addition to being a service opportunity, volunteering gives you the chance to explore your passions, gain experience in the field, and create a network of people who can vouch for your skills or connect you with further opportunities.

7. A side gig

Whether it’s driving Uber or substituting for organists at area churches, more than 30 percent of workers in the U.S. have side hustles, and the trend is growing. Some side gigs can turn into full-time jobs, but another advantage of side gigs is their scalability.

8. A gap year

Some students will benefit from a year spent exploring their skills and interests, whether it’s volunteering, apprenticing, traveling, or working. A gap year can allow you to recharge your batteries and take a breather before diving back into academics. It can also help you clarify what (or whether!) you want to study in college.

In some cases, a gap year spent working is just a plain good decision. If you want to attend college, but money is tight, a year of work can be a good head start on the tuition bill.

Wrapping Up

While many students benefit from pursuing a four-year degree immediately after high school, others will be better off taking a gap year or a different route altogether. When college tuition costs are rising and non-college opportunities are multiplying, it makes sense to think seriously about what’s best for your future.

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Career Colleges General Interest Online learning

7 fast facts: Should distance learning students bother applying to an Ivy League school?

Ah yes, the prestigious Ivy League—Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, and Yale. Considered to be among the crème de la crème of American universities, these eight private schools rank high on the list of many high school students—including homeschoolers—when it comes to applying to colleges.

And what’s not to like? Known for their academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and elite social connections, Ivy League schools often deliver a high ROI to grads who are able to translate their pricey degrees into high-paying jobs in the upper echelons of America’s top career fields.

And thanks to multi-billion-dollar endowments, students from middle-class and lower socioeconomic backgrounds can benefit from generous financial aid packages that offset high tuition rates and make an Ivy League education more affordable—and no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and powerful.

But even with these positives, many students and their parents look at the average $65,000 annual price tag for tuition, room, meals, and fees and ask themselves the big question: Is an Ivy League degree really worth it? And perhaps more to the point, why should you even bother applying to an Ivy League school when there are so many other high-quality, lower-cost public and private higher education options available?

Are Ivies worth the trouble?

To help answer these questions, Dr. Kat Cohen, founder and CEO of IvyWise, a college counseling firm, offers some insights from her days as a former Yale application reader.

For her, it’s all about the financial aid package. Beyond this, Cohen says the most important element of a student’s college education is what they make of their experience on campus. And while an Ivy League education can be valuable, she believes that many highly motivated students who are proactive about fostering rich academic and social experiences with classmates and faculty can get the same caliber education at other schools for a fraction of the cost.

Bottom line: Simply attending an Ivy League school isn’t enough to guarantee long-term career success. However, if an elite-level school offers a combination of scholarships and other assistance that significantly offsets the high tuition costs, then it makes sense to apply and see what happens. As the old saying goes, you never know until you try!

The good news is that no matter which college a student chooses, those who are active on campus, maintain top grades, develop defined interests, and connect with classmates, faculty, and alums will get the most out of their educational experience. And there are plenty of great public and private options available in every state across the nation.

So, while it may make sense for students to shoot for the stars and apply to an Ivy League or similar elite-level university, it’s always good to have a backup plan that includes a solid mix of educational options at varying price points.

With this in mind, here are seven fast facts to keep in mind if you’re considering decide to throw an Ivy League school into their college application mix:

Fact #1

Most homeschoolers have a higher GPA than traditional students—making them relatively more competitive from the get-go.

Fact #2

Elite-level colleges like Harvard, Yale, MIT, Duke, and Stanford want homeschoolers—and are doing everything they can to actively recruit students who have been homeschooled. They recognize that homeschooled students are often better prepared for college than their non-homeschooled peers. And they see the value in going after them.

Fact #3

Many colleges are adjusting their admissions policies to be friendlier to homeschooled applicants. Instead of relying on transcripts, many now accept work portfolios and offer a more flexible admissions process.

Fact #4

Homeschooled students often stand out in highly competitive admissions situations. Why? Because when a large pool of students competes for a few coveted spots, homeschoolers have an edge when it comes to excelling in independent study situations that require a high degree of self-motivation—traits that point to a greater likelihood of success in the rigorous academic environment of an Ivy League school.

Fact #5

Don’t believe the rumor that homeschoolers must get a GED to be eligible for federal student aid—it’s simply not true. Unfortunately, some colleges continue to hold this incorrect view. In reality, however, homeschooled students are exempt from this requirement.

Fact #6

Homeschooled students are ahead of the curve and typically earn more college credits than their traditional-school peers before they even get to college—on average 14.7 college credits for homeschoolers compared to 6.0 credits for traditional-school students.

Fact #7

Homeschooled students do very well in college—so much so that they tend to outperform traditional students from start to finish during their college careers. For example, first-semester homeschool freshmen have an average 3.37 GPA, compared to 3.08 for other freshmen. And homeschooled college seniors earn an average GPA of 3.46, compared to 3.16 for their counterparts educated in traditional schools.

Wrapping up

In the early days of homeschooling—30-plus years ago—there were significant hurdles that homeschool students faced when it came to admission to elite-level colleges. Nowadays, Ivy League schools are rolling out the red carpet to welcome homeschoolers and making it easier to navigate the process and receive full and fair consideration.

Coupling this trend with the generous financial aid and scholarship packages that most elite-level schools offer, the pie-in-the-sky dream of attending an Ivy League college may not be as far-fetched for homeschool students as it once was.

Of course, there are more factors to consider than just cost and potential career earnings when it comes to deciding which schools to apply to, but there are plenty of good reasons for homeschool students to spice up their college applications with a couple of Ivies and see what happens.

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Apprenticeship Career Colleges General Interest

Top job-hunting mistakes that distance learning students make

Graduates of distance learning high school programs have a lot going for them when it comes to the job market. As the product of an innovative, flexible approach to education, they tend to be good at thinking outside the box—a crucial skill in today’s rapidly shifting economy.

But no matter who you are, venturing into the job market for the first time can be intimidating. In today’s blog post, we share a few common pitfalls that you might face when first entering the job market—whether directly from high school or after graduating from college.

Here they are:

1. Starting the application process with no work experience or practical skills

If your entire skillset is book learning, you have a problem. Employers are hungry for graduates with real-world experience. In fact, a survey from 2012 found that employers listed “internships” and “employment during college” as more important than “college major” when making hiring decisions.

What to do instead: Look to establish a track record of practical work experience. This can include summer jobs, internships, volunteering, foreign mission trips, and more. An added plus is to match your work or volunteer experience to your major in college. We share more ideas here.

2. Relying too much on online applications

There is a place for spreading your resume hither and yon through online applications (also known as “spray and pray”), but the success rate leaves much to be desired.

What to do instead: Ditch the online application pool. Get out and meet new people, make contacts, and let people know you’re looking for work. Professional relationships are truly the gold standard here.

3. Not keeping your social media identities tidy

You can rest assured that many potential employers run your name through major social media sites, or simply Google your name. Look at your social media identities from the vantage point of a hiring manager—would you hire you?

What to do instead: Keep a professional appearance on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. That doesn’t mean everything on your social media identities needs to be work-oriented, but it should reflect personal integrity and professionalism. Here are more tips for navigating the world of social media when it comes to college applications.

4. Not sending a handwritten thank you note after the interview

In the past, sending a handwritten thank you note was the expected norm following an interview. But today, that practice has fallen on hard times.

What to do instead: It’s simple … always send a handwritten thank you note! Be sure to drop your interviewer an email thank you as well. This one-two punch will help you stand out as a gracious, polite individual. Get more ideas here.

5. Only looking at jobs publicly posted

We all know that the best jobs are seldom posted publicly. That harkens back to our second point and our encouragement to get out, form professional relationships, and make contacts. That way, you’ll know about job opportunities long before they are posted online.

What to do instead: Identify specific employers you’d like to work for, and reach out to hiring managers there (LinkedIn can be a handy tool for this). Try writing a personal letter with your resume attach, explaining your interest in the company. This article in Forbes has many additional great ideas.

6. Refusing to settle

Don’t expect too great of a job when you’re just on the first rung of the ladder. Oftentimes, the best opportunities come along when you’re hard at work in the trenches in a job you don’t particularly like.

What to do instead: Don’t be afraid to “settle” for a job that doesn’t appear to be the perfect fight. But always look for new opportunities to advance into the job of your dreams.

Wrapping up

As a homeschool graduate, hunting for your first job is an exciting time, but it can also be intimidating. Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared today will help you in your search. Good luck!

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Rejected by a college? Here’s what to do next

It’s a scenario no family wants to face. You and your high school student have done the right thing and applied to a variety of colleges. Next comes the waiting game. And when the letters do eventually trickle in, there is nothing quite like that sinking feeling of getting rejected by one of your top-choice schools.

Ouch!

It can be tempting to fight back. One North Carolina teen went so far as to pen her own rejection letter after Duke University turned her down. While that might be somewhat therapeutic, let me share a few more practical suggestions with you that you can apply immediately if your student is rejected by a school.

1. Don’t take it personally

In-demand institutions receive tens of thousands of applications each year. For example, the University of California Los Angeles received 86,548 applications for the fall 2014 semester and admitted only 16,059 of these students. A lot of times, your student might be right up there with the top performers, but there simply isn’t enough room to accommodate everyone. And with admission rates for many highly competitive schools in the 10% or lower range, chances are that your student will likely be rejected—or perhaps waitlisted—from at least one school where he or she applies.

2. Embrace feelings of disappointment

The truth is, rejection hurts. And if your student has been rejected by one of your top picks for a school, it hurts even more. But while the truth is we will all face disappointment at different points in life, the key is learning how to deal with rejection in healthy ways and be better prepared for real-life ups and downs. So as a family, go ahead and process your disappointment, but be prepared to move forward.

3. Realize it might not be because of your student’s academics

Often times, colleges are striving to put together a diverse student body, and that doesn’t mean that academics alone are the deciding factor for admissions. In fact, admission rates can vary widely depending on your student’s gender, race, age, disability, veteran’s status, income, state residency, nationality, and other non-merit factors. While there have been legal challenges to affirmative action quotas for some non-merit factors, courts have generally determined that the goal of achieving a level of student body diversity can overrule strictly merit-based criteria.

4. Look for weaknesses in your transcript

Rejection can be a good time to reflect on the strength of your high-school transcript. Are standardized test scores as good as they could be? Does your student have strong recommendation letters? Has he or she proven to be a varied student with lots of extracurricular activities? Don’t overthink it, but take an honest look at your transcript identify any weak points.

Once you’ve identified weaknesses, take steps to correct them. This may mean retaking a standardized test to raise a score. Or it might be a great opportunity to accept a summer internship or volunteer to broaden your student’s background.

5. Try applying for a later term

Sometimes a temporary setback can be the best thing that ever happened. And what often distinguishes successful people from others is dogged determination in the face of rejection and disappointment. When it comes to getting into college, this may mean re-applying to a school that rejected your student for a later term. Sometimes, admissions rates vary from fall to spring to summer semesters. While your student waits, he or she could get a job or internship to gain valuable work experience that will make a subsequent application even stronger.

6. Consider alternative options

Turn lemons into lemonade and remember that your family has other options. With their open enrollment policies, community colleges can be a good way to earn college credit and then later transfer to a four-year school. The good news is that going this route will likely mean big cost savings because community colleges are generally significantly less expensive than their four-year public and private counterparts. (Learn about 10 of the top-ranked community colleges in the U.S.)

Another option to consider is the military. Depending on your student’s field of interest, careers in the military often involve high-level training that can equal or exceed that of a college degree. And depending on the skill set acquired, men and women entering the workforce following a stint in the military are often highly sought after by private sector employers.  

Finally, some students may want to consider taking a gap year. While gap years have traditionally been more widely embraced by Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders, more Americans in recent years are choosing to take a break between high school and college to stretch themselves with some type of transformative cultural immersion—typically abroad, but perhaps even in the U.S.

With a gap year, your student can experience a variety of exciting and fulfilling experiences tailored to individual interests, including language immersion, non-profit volunteering, or even just travelling to broaden horizons and meet people from all over the world. For many students, gap years provide clarity and focus—enabling them to pursue their education goals with passion and enthusiasm upon returning home. Learn more about gap years here.

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The best and worst states for homeschooling in 2021

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that education in America has changed dramatically. In a matter of days, tens of millions of families were forced to pivot to both working and teaching their children at home as schools across the nation closed in 2020. Although this new homeschool reality was a shock for many families, it was business as usual for the 2 million Americans who were already educating their kids at home.

And while schools slowly reopen this year as vaccinations increase and new coronavirus cases plummet, a seismic shift is rocking the landscape of American education. Instead of sending their children back to school, many parents are choosing to permanently join the ranks of their homeschooling peers across the nation. Along the way, they want to know how their state compares when it comes to homeschooling regulations. 

A snapshot of homeschooling in America

While homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, each state has its own laws, guidelines, and regulations. This means that some states are more homeschool-friendly than others. 

For example, some states are very hands-on and require homeschool parents to file paperwork, teach required subjects for a specific number of hours, agree to in-home evaluations, and participate in state testing requirements. 

In other states, once parents file the initial paperwork they have a great deal of autonomy to guide their child’s education as they see fit—with very few requirements from their state government. This means they can develop their own curricula, enroll in online homeschool programs, and join cooperatives with other parents to teach subjects like foreign languages, art, and music. 

Not surprisingly, for many parents the less record-keeping, reporting, and testing required by the state the better. For them, more autonomy makes for a better homeschooling environment for their children than in those states with more invasive government intervention. 

The best states for homeschooling

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the best states for homeschooling are those with the least-restrictive legal environments. Here are some of the top states based on this criterion: 

Alaska: Perhaps the least-restrictive state in America, Alaska simply requires children between the ages of 7 and 16 to either attend a school or comply with the state’s homeschool law. This means parents who choose to homeschool are not required to notify the state, get approval, give tests, be a certified teacher, or maintain contact with the government. 

Idaho: No notice to the school district is required, nor do homeschool parents have to possess specific qualifications, obtain district approvals, do testing, or provide information about their homeschool program, if asked. But they must select an instructor for their children, which can be anybody, including themselves. They are also required to teach language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Illinois: Homeschools here are treated as private schools. They do not have to give notice to the school district, nor do they have to register with—or be recognized by—the state. However, homeschool parents must teach required subjects including language arts, math, science, social studies, fine arts, and physical development and health, and they must specify that instruction takes place in English. 

Indiana: As one of the least-restrictive states, home schools here are essentially considered to be private schools and must comply with the state’s private school statute. Parents must teach in English and provide instruction equivalent to public schools—though the state board of education is not  allowed to define what this means, nor can it approve homeschool programs. Parents must also operate their homeschool the same number of days as public schools—usually 180 days—and keep attendance records.

Michigan: While no notice to the school district is required, parents have the option to homeschool under the state’s homeschooling law, or as a nonpublic school—or both. Regardless of the option chosen, parents must teach specific subjects, though the regulations do not prescribe grade levels or how often courses are taught. 

Missouri: Although no notice to the school district is required, parents must teach specific subjects and keep records for all children under age 16. They must also provide at least 1,000 hours of instruction during each school term—with 600 of these hours in core subjects.

New Jersey: Under state law, the only requirement is that parents provide their children with an equivalent education to one they would receive in public school. So while no notice to the school district is required, parents must be sure to teach the same subjects offered by their local public school. 

Oklahoma: With no requirement to test, report, or give the school district notice, parents here have great freedom to run their homeschools as they see fit—so long as they operate for at least 180 days each school year.  

Texas: Homeschools here are considered private schools and must teach math, reading, spelling and grammar, and a course in good citizenship. And while no notice to the school district is required, homeschool parents must use a written curriculum, which can be satisfied by an online program. 

States with low regulation

Moving down the continuum, the HSLDA also looks at the amount of regulation imposed in the homeschooling arena. These states have fewer regulations and are thus considered to be relatively more homeschool-friendly:   

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

States with moderate regulation

According to HSLDA, these states regulate homeschooling more, but do not fall to the bottom of the rankings:  

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, DC
  • West Virginia

The worst states for homeschooling

Standing in contrast, these five states combine high regulations with more restrictions and rank among the worst state for homeschooling in the United States: 

  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

And in a surprising twist, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have no statewide system of regulation. This means that homeschool families are at the mercy of regulations imposed by local school districts. In practical terms, homeschooling conditions in these two states are inconsistent—with some districts treating homeschool families well while others overburden them with regulations. 

Homeschooling—the ultimate choice in education

Not surprisingly, opinions vary widely on the degree to which more or less regulation in homeschooling is preferable. Some parents appreciate greater regulation because—other than reporting and recordkeeping—the curricula are planned out for them. Others find that excessive regulations infringe on the freedom promised by homeschooling and see onerous guidelines as stifling. 

In the end, the option to homeschool in the least-restrictive environment possible represents the ultimate choice in education. And as Ian Slatter with the HSLDA notes, “Homeschool performance doesn’t change between students in the easy states and those in the difficult ones. There’s a lot of regulation and work placed on parents in the difficult states with no benefit.”