Sarah Harris, a pre-business sophomore at the University of Arizona, said she surprises a lot of people when she tells them she was homeschooled.
She is aware of the kinds of stereotypes and stigmas that exist about homeschooling. “People say, ‘You don’t look like you were homeschooled,’” and ask her if she has any friends, Harris said. They just do not know much about homeschooling.
The 19 year-old Gilbert native said that people most often associate homeschooling with families with strong religious beliefs, students who have disciplinary issues, or people struggling academically, but to Harris that is off the mark.
“All of my friends homeschooled because they wanted to,” she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, homeschooling rates have increased almost 20 percent since 2007, with approximately 1.77 million people homeschooled in 2012.
Harris’s mother, Rebecca, said the growing numbers of parents who teach their children in the home might be attributed to the state of the public education system.
“The school system is just not where a lot of people want their kids to be right now,” she said.
Universities have noticed the uptick in students educated outside of traditional schools, and Kasey Urquidez, dean of admissions at the UA, said that homeschooled students are doing well in college. They have higher average test scores when applying for college than students from traditional backgrounds, and are typically very involved in the community, which translates well to campus, she said.
“That gives them a lot of really great responsibility and leadership experience,” Urquidez said.
The Harris family has homeschooled their three daughters since they were very young—the two oldest are now at UA and were accepted to the honors college, and the last will be ready for college in a couple of years. Rebecca Harris said she felt that she could fulfill her daughters’ educational needs at home, which let them study what interested them and follow their passions. All three girls were very involved in music, and Sarah also played softball.
Homeschooling structures vary – it is entirely based on what a parent feels is important for their child. “There are lots of different ways to homeschool,” Harris said. “There are as many ways to homeschool as there are families.”
She described approaches to in-home education as “unschooling” on one end, and rigid schooling on the other (including desks and blackboards), and that each family falls somewhere in between depending on their situation. Harris said she leaned more toward the unschooling side.
The loose structure and flexibility of attending school at home helped stimulate Sarah Harris’s love for learning. She said she is glad she never felt forced to learn things she did not want to study, but instead pursued what she was interested in learning. Homeschooling also taught her to manage her time, which has been helpful in her transition to the university and sets her apart from her public school classmates, the UA sophomore said.
Urquidez has noticed a difference in the way homeschooled students adapt to university courses.
“Students who are homeschooled are usually extremely motivated, with high expectations for themselves as well as from their parents,” she said. “These are dedicated students.”
According to College Board, which administers the SAT test, students in Arizona who studied outside of traditional schools scored 9 percent higher in 2013 than those at public schools. Nationally, students independent of public schools averaged a 12 percent higher score that same year.
Some form of standardized test score, whether SAT or ACT, and an official transcript of completed classes are required for admission at UA, Urquidez said. Admission to Arizona State University also requires test scores and transcripts, according to the ASU admissions website.
Anika Olsen, director of undergraduate admissions and orientation at Northern Arizona University, said admissions there are based solely on a student’s grade point average provided on their transcripts. However, of the NAU sponsored scholarships, three of the four require test scores, she said.
Sarah Harris said her homeschooling experience was so positive she wouldn’t rule out teaching her own children at home.
“If they wanted to do it I would love to teach them,” she said.
Contact reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @zj_baker.