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Joyful

Homeschoolers adjusting in large universities - question?

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So we are still working on DS's list of colleges.

Right now, the list runs from large public universities to small LACs. The large state schools are on our list as safeties, financial and otherwise. These schools have about 30-40,000 students on campus

We've talked about it a few times, but DS doesn't quite know whether he prefers a smaller vs. large school. (He does know that he can only stand bad cafeteria food for 7-10 days). Some of our friends (not homeschoolers) have advised him to apply to smaller schools where he won't feel lost, and can receive more attention.

Understanding that each person is different and each large university has it's unique culture, how have homeschoolers been adjusting to being in such large university settings? What are some of the factors we should consider when figuring out whether it will be a positive experience vs. a barely tolerable one?

(We also have friends who advise against schools that are too small bc they worry that a third culture kid might have a hard time fitting in such a small community.)

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This is not directly relevant, but my DD (in a university of around 6,000 undergraduates) has said that homeschooling has helped her adjust. She thinks she is more independent than other students because of homeschooling and this has made it easier for her to reach out to professors, different departments and so on. If she wanted to take a grad level class, she just went ahead and sorted it out. If a class she wanted wasn't offered, she found others who were interested and arranged it. She said that being a homeschooler gave her the confidence to do this as well as the attitude of "of course this should be possible". 

In terms of small schools, other DD is in a tiny school in the middle of nowhere. It does have a good international population, however. Most of her friends are international or TCKs or immigrant kids. DD is a TCK who hadn't lived in the US since she was five. She does get a bit frustrated by American kids who don't get or want to get the international angle, which is why I think she gravitates toward other internationals.

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Our oldest ds homeschooled through 9th, then graduated in a class of 50 from his high school.  He went on to a large college.  Homeschooling did help him adjust quite well.  He didn't flounder, but set up a daily planner to include a study schedule, was savvy about buying books, got right up and talked to his advisor/teachers when there was a problem.  He had been used to taking responsibility for his education so he just did.  He's also a TCK, spending much of his childhood and young adulthood outside the U.S. so finding a school that had a good mix of kids was important to him so he didn't feel like he was going to stand out when he didn't know a cultural relevant thing. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure which had more of an impact on him: his schooling or his life.  He was given much more freedom overseas to develop and make mistakes than most Americans give their kids in the states.  And he had a lot to figure out on his own in other languages.

But he didn't have the best experience that particular school once he got into it.  The food at the dining hall showed its best on visitor days and served sub-par the rest of the time.  There were neighborhood and dorm problems. He took a year off to figure out what he wanted and is now going a slightly different direction. Still a large school, but he'll live at home so that he can balance needs better.

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I have one at a tiny school (less than 2000) and one at a huge school (I think around 50,000). 

I think my kids’ experiences have more to do with their personalities than homeschooling. They are both happy with their choices. The one at the big school is not a joiner, doesn’t seek out help, etc. He’s happy in his own little bubble with his friends but he really won’t seek out or take advantage of everything available at his university. My first ds is the opposite and is very outgoing, goes to office hours etc. He runs into teachers in the cafeteria and eats with them, has personal relationships with many in the administrative offices, has mentors on campus and alumni helping him with career stuff. My kid at the big school has nothing like that. But it is him, not the school, I think. He likely wouldn’t have done the things my oldest has done no matter where he went because he just isn’t wired the same way.

I don’t think there is anything like “homeschoolers will do better in a small school” that is going to ring true. I do think that homeschooling prepared both of mine for college well even though they are so different and are having different experiences. 

My thoughts on the big school are that, homeschooler or not, the student has to be ready to advocate for themselves more at the big school. There will be issues with course registration, getting advisor appointments, financial aid, etc that are just a little harder to deal with when you can’t walk in and talk to someone you know (which is what my oldest does). Your student at a big school has to be prepared to stay on top of administrative issues and be proactive. For example, if you need to see an advisor to sign off on your classes to register then you need to have an appointment way in advance or be prepared to go very early in the morning for a walk in appointment. My ds is very good about those things so he hasn’t had a problem but I do see the frustration of parents on the FB parents page when their kids are not on top of this stuff and then get in jams. I think the big school success will have more to do with executive functioning skills than anything else. 

 

Edited by teachermom2834
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Thanks for sharing your kids' experiences with me. I'm so encouraged to hear how the kids have been doing so well in their respective school environments, and that the skills learned while homeschooling helped them manage.

5 hours ago, saw said:

In terms of small schools, other DD is in a tiny school in the middle of nowhere. It does have a good international population, however. Most of her friends are international or TCKs or immigrant kids. DD is a TCK who hadn't lived in the US since she was five. She does get a bit frustrated by American kids who don't get or want to get the international angle, which is why I think she gravitates toward other internationals.

Yeah, TCKs do tend to feel more comfortable with other TCKs! We'll take a look then, at the composition of the schools in terms of the presence of internationals. And yes, US and global issues do "look different" from overseas. You do gain a different perspective.

2 hours ago, HomeAgain said:

But he didn't have the best experience that particular school once he got into it.  The food at the dining hall showed its best on visitor days and served sub-par the rest of the time.  There were neighborhood and dorm problems. He took a year off to figure out what he wanted and is now going a slightly different direction. Still a large school, but he'll live at home so that he can balance needs better.

That sounds like it was not an easy process. It's takes some maturity to take time and figure things out, especially about what one's need are.

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3 hours ago, teachermom2834 said:

My thoughts on the big school are that, homeschooler or not, the student has to be ready to advocate for themselves more at the big school. There will be issues with course registration, getting advisor appointments, financial aid, etc that are just a little harder to deal with when you can’t walk in and talk to someone you know (which is what my oldest does). Your student at a big school has to be prepared to stay on top of administrative issues and be proactive. For example, if you need to see an advisor to sign off on your classes to register then you need to have an appointment way in advance or be prepared to go very early in the morning for a walk in appointment. My ds is very good about those things so he hasn’t had a problem but I do see the frustration of parents on the FB parents page when their kids are not on top of this stuff and then get in jams. I think the big school success will have more to do with executive functioning skills than anything else. 

 

I see, a student will have to take more initiative, do more planning, and be on top of things. Although, that would also be the case for a smaller school, right? Except maybe there will be less bureaucracy to deal with, so the process would be smoother I suppose.

DS has been growing in his executive functioning skills. But yeah, will give that some more attention during his remaining year at home. Thanks!

(This kind of reminds me of the thread about kids advocating for themselves....)

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33 minutes ago, Joyful said:

I see, a student will have to take more initiative, do more planning, and be on top of things. Although, that would also be the case for a smaller school, right? Except maybe there will be less bureaucracy to deal with, so the process would be smoother I suppose.

DS has been growing in his executive functioning skills. But yeah, will give that some more attention during his remaining year at home. Thanks!

(This kind of reminds me of the thread about kids advocating for themselves....)

Well, sure, kids in college need to be on top of things regardless of the school size. However, if my small school kid needs to talk to someone in financial aid he walks in and the worker greets him by name. At a big school a trip to financial aid is going to mean a long wait in line. (Usually...of course...some small schools are surely understaffed and large schools easy to navigate. Just making generalizations). 

Big school kid’s advisor wouldn’t recognize him and know him by name or what his story is. Small school kid can text his advisor on his personal cell. 

Again- my kids are totally different personalities and these are only two schools. But if making generalizations I think a kid at a big school needs to be more proactive and able to advocate for himself. 

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We had similar concerns about a large university with our first homeschooled kid. She got into an honors program, which provided the smaller community atmosphere that we wanted. The size of her school (25,000+) was not an issue, and she did very well, using resources that worked for her and reaching out to her profs.

Our second child also chose a big (but different) university. I don't know if it's because of the particular schools, or different majors, or what, but it does seem that there are a LOT fewer opportunities for him than there were for dd. However, he's also an excellent student and does a decent job of forging his own path.

Both took CC classes while homeschooling high school, and my son got his AA degree before transferring. The CC class experience was the most helpful, imo, even though they both had doubts that they were prepared. (They were absolutely prepared!)

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IMO a large university provides many more opportunities to make friends and to not be ostracized. 

In her large university, my DD will be able to find friends who share her interests, in Zumba or whatever. Clubs, etc.

The limiting factor for university students is time.  They are going to classes, working, studying, and sleeping.  They have very little spare time, so they need to be choosy about which clubs and activities they participate in. 

Depending upon the large university, there may be a lot of support or a little support.   Mentoring is extremely valuable.

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I don't think being a homeschooler has anything to do with it- but instead the personality of your kid and maybe also their life experiences.

My son spent a lot of time (two years) navigating a large community college all on his own, so he feels confident that he won't get lost in a sea of people at a large u.  He doesn't worry about how big it is, or how to get from place to place, has no problem taking Uber, Lyft, Taxi, etc.  He does have sensory issues for other things and needs his sleep....and was lucky enough to get a quiet dorm, on the quiet side of campus 🙂  

My dd doesn't like navigating new places, or meeting new people, though she is on the extrovert side of wanting to be AROUND people and spend time with them a lot, crowds and lots of new people aren't her thing.  She has some issues which might require work-arounds from profs or visiting the computer center to take exams....and she also just plain doesn't enjoy or like humungous noisy places (she hated NYC for example) ...aside from all of that she has been 100% adamant in talking about college, in stating loud and clear she wants to go to a SMALL U (less than 4K)

So, you can see it's quite obvious that a large U is not for my dd...my son would have been fine either way and we think a Big U is better so he has more opportunity to find "his people."  

 

Edited by Calming Tea
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OK. Good to know that homeschooling does not necessarily lead to difficult adjustments at a large university. How a student fares depends on other factors such as temperament, executive function skills, self-directedness/motivation, etc. We live in a very densely populated city and DS has navigated well in it and was ok going to weekend classes at a local university on his own last school year. He's quite self-motivated. Though he doesn't like lots of noise or crowds, he has found ways to tune out some of that.

So maybe it's not such a bad thing that DS doesn't have a preference right now. Maybe he will have one as he continues to research more about each school.

And maybe right now, before he applies, he just needs to say, "I can see myself studying there," right?

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My guess is that it will more depend on the individual child's temperament and natural tendencies rather than whether or not they've been homeschooled (although I'm sure that does play a small role).

DS#1 has always been more introverted and needs a LONG time to warm up and feel comfortable in any new circumstance. He got that long warm-up period with college by first living at home and going to the community college and then transferring to a medium-sized LAC (about 10,000 undergrads) that had so many wonderful "hand-holding" aspects to it, that he had no problems transitioning. And coming in as an older transfer student made the study and responsibility aspects so much easier for him. He earned his BA in a general humanities area, and now is back at school working on a second degree (BS in Mech. Eng.), but is doing so at the local big (about 35,000 undergrads) public/state university, and having no troubles finding his way at all.

DS#2 has forged a different path, first volunteering with an AmeriCorps partner program that did trail conservation and restoration, and from there, wildland  firefighting. He definitely does his research in advance, but then jumps in and learns well by experiencing it as he goes.

If your DS is more like my DS#1, then you might also research what supports each college has -- tutoring, or mentoring programs -- and also what kinds of clubs (in his academic field, or ones that just sound fun and interesting) and smaller groups (example: if Christian, something like Navigators or Intervarsity) each campus has that might help him more quickly "plug in" and find friends who will show him the ropes.

Edited by Lori D.
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46 minutes ago, Joyful said:

And maybe right now, before he applies, he just needs to say, "I can see myself studying there," right?

Mine found visits to be so important for this aspect. Some kids don't find sitting in on classes to be helpful, but my dd#1 did.

She originally only saw herself at a smaller < 5,000 UG school in a smaller city (20,000 people). Her top two schools ended up being bigger and in much more populated areas. One of the schools she could have seen herself at has over 55,000 undergrads. She knew herself well enough to decide thay even with a smaller honors program, personalized mentoring, and all the perks that school would offer, she needed someplace not quite so populous. Part of that realization involved interactions with other students on campus and in class, and part was her interaction with faculty in her proposed major. So, I would encourage him to visit with the head of faculty in his area of interest. Would they offer what he is looking for? What do their students go on to do with their degree? Can they help him realize and then reach his goals?

My dd#1 had three financial fits that all looked very different. After all the visits, scholarships/financials, & program invitations (honors college, special cohorts, learning communities, leadership programs, etc) were in, she ended up making a weighted spreadsheet of factors to rank the schools. One (the smallest) school immediately dropped out. Then, she made a list of things she needed more infirmation on -- but ultimately, it came down to which school she felt was the most comfortable for her -- which felt like 'home'. (Although it doesn't look at all like our rural town of 3,000!) That's where she's headed this week.

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Generally, I think it depends on your child. My boys went to small school and for them that was best. Both have a tendency to not get involved and sort of drift along. The smaller schools helped them be more engaged with the campus and classes.

My dd1 went to a huge school- but she was on the swim team and that was her primary social group for the first six months. I think it helps tremendously to start out in a smaller group (honors college, orchestra, band, sports, etc) in a larger university.

 

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All of mine went to smaller schools for the undergrad, and that was the right decision for all of them. One did the flagship uni, but it was WY, so still pretty small! She had her tribe in AROTC, and being the mascot handler. My youngest picked a really small school, as Mines was the other top choice, and didn't want ROTC at Boulder. Again, the small, rural school was right for her--she also wanted the military lifestyle. She's the 1st Sgt of the Cavalry this year! I don't know if it was the hs angle for them--after all, they all graduated with a year of college credits, or if it was coming out of a town of 6,000, but the small school was the right choice. USNA is only 4400 Midshipmen. 

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My homeschooler is heading to a large university this fall as a freshman.  He didn't originally imagine himself some place like that.  He much preferred smaller LACs from first glance.  This was the final choice for a variety of reasons (financial, fit, opportunities, faculty in a particular department, etc).

I would say large schools have something and someone for everyone.  I attended a big 10 U in the late 80's and early 90's and it was a sink or swim environment for sure.  But these schools from what I've seen (and we toured at least 20 schools the last 3 years - I just found it interesting) have gotten much better with helping students find their people and get their feet wet and engage with the community and opportunities.  Plenty of students don't get to wax poetic about exact vibe and fit.   I think it's extra important that your kid has a good fit at the smaller schools.  I know a few kids that went to a small LAC and then it felt stifling and paternalistic after they got used to being away.  I also know a kid that attended a quirky well regarded LAC that just ended up not being a social fit at all.  

I also think homeschooled high schoolers that have been self motivated and getting more autonomous during high school are probably well poised to succeed in a variety of settings.  

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Mine is a sophomore at a school with a bit over 16K. She did really well, and found her group through several paths--martial arts club (she's been training since age 6), a creative writing class, a volunteer group, and being in the honors college. In her case, since she is more of a minority in this area in several ways (just not racially), being in a larger school gave a larger pool of potential paths to fit in and find her place. As part of the search process, we took a close look at clubs and organizations on each campus that would be supportive and how accepting/supportive vs. just tolerant the campus administration and overall atmosphere were. Things like the campus newspaper (often accessible online), looking at lists of clubs, checking out activity notices on campus bulletin boards, etc were helpful. We wanted to know the key groups were actually active and not just a name on a list.

Her biggest concern with a large school was being in huge classes. That's primarily a concern in the general ed classes. It helped that she'd been in community college classes for two years, so got most of her gen eds out of the way in smaller classes there. The honors college also offered a way to get those requirements in smaller classes (20 vs 100+). 

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On 8/10/2019 at 11:50 PM, Joyful said:

So we are still working on DS's list of colleges.

Right now, the list runs from large public universities to small LACs. The large state schools are on our list as safeties, financial and otherwise. These schools have about 30-40,000 students on campus

We've talked about it a few times, but DS doesn't quite know whether he prefers a smaller vs. large school. (He does know that he can only stand bad cafeteria food for 7-10 days). Some of our friends (not homeschoolers) have advised him to apply to smaller schools where he won't feel lost, and can receive more attention.

Understanding that each person is different and each large university has it's unique culture, how have homeschoolers been adjusting to being in such large university settings? What are some of the factors we should consider when figuring out whether it will be a positive experience vs. a barely tolerable one?

(We also have friends who advise against schools that are too small bc they worry that a third culture kid might have a hard time fitting in such a small community.)

 My kids went to a school with 20,000+ undergrads. Each was very different. DD is very much an introvert and academic. She loved that she could be anonymous and that were areas of campus to find books and crannies to quietly tuck in and study. 

DS is very much an extrovert. He joined mock trial his freshman year. He likes a huge campus because everyone can find their own fit and be their own person. 

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Also keep in mind that big schools also sometimes have special programs to help kids adjust.  My daughter is catching the PennState bug, and once she visits it'll be all over- she will want to apply there...I really think a smaller school would have been better EXCEPT that PennState has a program called LEAP during the summer where kids are assigned a group and go around with just that group for 6 weeks, getting to know the campus, getting advice, and the group leaders stay with them, make sure they know how to use all the services the campus provides, how to take the bus lines, and where all the basic things are.  So, I've said yes to her applying there as long as she does LEAP 🙂

You can always do some research and see if your big colleges have these programs.  There are all kinds of summer programs that could help kids adjust.  Also, minority students or first gen students can often sign up for special programs that have the same affect, and usually that is also a discounted rate.  

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I think it has much more to do with the culture of the specific school being a good match for the personality of the student.  Most students who are at a large university went to high schools much smaller than the university and are making some of the same adjustments to overall size/scale.  And I know of some students who went to a university about 1/2 the size of their high schools.  

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One way to not feel lost in a large university is to get involved in some kind of club or activity. That way she'll meet people with similar interests or values.

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Thanks for all your advice!  😊

I just love reading about how your kids have found college/uni's that fit them and ended up thriving in their respective contexts. Thanks for sharing!

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My older kids had been TCK homeschoolers, but did go from 10-12 grades to a TCK school overseas. They all went to a large uni, but didn't have very many TCK friends there. However, for one dd, we were in the US for her junior year, following which she did a special summer program at her uni which familiarized her with the campus (and earned her 6 hrs), so that when she came back as a freshman, she already knew her way around. Our current college freshman is going to a very small private uni, but a nice percentage of the students are either TCKs or international. If your ds is really interested in a large uni for other reasons, one possibility is to start in the summer term rather than in the fall. That gets him used to the campus and procedures when the student population is at a low and not so overwhelming.

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