High School: What's Needed to Succeed

High School: What's Needed to Succeed

As an advisor for BookShark, I get quite a few questions about high school. Questions like, “How does Level J’s History of Science” fit on a high school transcript?” “If I start here when my child is this age, what level should I skip in order to get to the high school levels when they’re in high school?” “What if my kid isn’t interested in History of Science, do we have to take it? What else could we do?” 

I understand the anxiety. My older daughter just graduated. My younger daughter is a Junior in high school. I am living the anxiety! That also means that I have thought a lot about what I assume to be true, and I’ve done quite a bit of research to find what is actually true. Here’s a little advice about high school history in particular.

1) Find out if your state has graduation requirements for home schoolers. 

I went down a rabbit hole and looked at several states besides my own, none of which reward diplomas to homeschoolers, so they don’t have graduation requirements for homeschoolers. Instead, the parent decides what the child must do to graduate. If you don’t know what your state requires, I googled “high school graduation requirements for homeschoolers in [state]” I do recommend trying to find the requirements on the state’s department of education website.

The states I looked at do have requirements of what kinds of subjects need to be taught each year, though. They just don’t give specifics. For example, my state requires that I teach at least three history courses through high school. My older daughter used Level J History of Science one year, which is not offered in any of the local high schools. My state reviewer did not care. She did ask what it was, so I showed her pages from the Instructor’s Guide and coursework that my daughter had completed. She thought it was an interesting subject.

2) Find out what the colleges you are interested in want to see on the transcript.

I have searched many colleges’ application requirements, including ones my children aren’t even interested in, simply because I was curious. My own high school pushed the ‘college track’ classes, which had us doing all the core classes every year. Though this does make students more competitive in admissions, especially since we took AP classes, the colleges themselves usually only require:

  • Four years of English
  • Math (most colleges want to see at least up to Algebra 2)
  • Three years of science (two of those being lab sciences)
  • Social studies
  • Two years of a foreign language

The colleges do not require specific history courses. Even the super selective Harvard, under their admissions requirements FAQ, said that 

There is no “one size fits all” rule about which curriculum to study during secondary school years. Students should challenge themselves by taking courses deemed appropriate by their teachers and counselors. But some students believe that “more is always better” when it comes to AP, IB or other advanced courses. While some students prosper academically and personally by taking large numbers of such courses, others benefit from a more balanced approach that allows them additional time for extracurricular and personal development. Even the best students can be negatively affected by taking too many courses at once, and might benefit instead from writing, reading or research projects on subjects of great interest to them. (https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/apply/application-requirements)

Harvard wrote this as advice for public schoolers, but it applies to homeschoolers as well. No, really, Harvard says they treat homeschoolers the same as everyone else in the application process. 

Here’s the thing: Harvard is right. There is no one size fits all rule about curriculum. Please do not feel like we must do what our local public schools are doing! Even if we do have certain requirements to meet in our states, we might be able to meet them using more niche subjects. For example, if we had to, History of Science can be called World History because it technically covers the development of science around the world. (I would still label it History of Science on a transcript for college, though, because it sounds more interesting.) 

3) Call the admissions office of the college or program your student is interested in and ask them what they would like to see from a homeschooler’s application. 

Some colleges only need to see the transcripts that we create for our students. The college my older daughter is attending trusted the transcript that I created. Other colleges may want to see more context and will have a way for students to upload portfolios of work, or documents that explain the coursework they did for a specific course of study on their transcript. Either way allows homeschoolers to be creative when it comes to what we study, which is why we can put “History of Science” as one of our child’s history courses. Or, if a student has a particular interest, they can develop their own semester or year long course to do a deep dive study and project on that topic. 

My younger daughter does not particularly love studying history, but she does enjoy plants, gardening, and crocheting. I encouraged her to research the history of agriculture last year. This year, she’s studying the history of fiber arts. Now, to be honest, I am a history nerd and have a BA in History, so I still prefer her to study American and general world history, but I let her focus her research papers and projects on the things in which she is more interested. However, after doing this research, I’m wondering how cool would it be to have her develop a big project or her own coursework that could be put on her transcript as an elective or as a history course? 

4) Dual enroll at your local community college.

Homeschoolers might want to use this option if it is available to them because taking college courses definitely shows admissions officers that students are ready for college coursework. Keep in mind that this is not a requirement, though! I personally know homeschoolers who have been accepted into universities who did not attend community college! However, if it is a possibility, I highly recommend it. 

Many students choose to dual enroll for both Junior and Senior years of high school, which gives them the opportunity to take their final core classes, including history. When perusing my local community college’s course catalog, I did find general American History, but I also found niche topics, like History of Ancient Rome, The American West, and Women/Family in American History from 1876. The fact that these are all acceptable to be put on high school transcripts as well tells me again that we do not have to follow any preordained curriculum plan to get into a four-year university.

All of this to say: 

History of Science can go on a high school transcript as a history course. 

You don’t have to skip any levels to get to the ‘high school’ levels faster. You can skip levels if you’re not interested in those topics.  Any level can become a high school level by adding research papers/projects to it. Or, if your student wants to study a niche subject one year – go for it! Name their topic as their history course; it will count.

Finally, if your child is college bound and you can take advantage of a local community college, factor that into your high school planning. 

The future is frightening, but it’s also fun! Let’s give our teenagers the opportunity to create the kind of history education that they want to have.

About the author

Rachel Davis lives in Maryland with her husband, two teenaged daughters, two highly energetic dogs, and her favorite, the cat. Her family has been homeschooling for 7 years. Rachel has a bachelor’s degree in history and really loves that subject… but she has found that teaching math is her favorite thing to do; she is pretty sure that even though her kids ‘hate’ math, they too will find joy in it when they are older. Give it twenty years. Rachel also loves playing piano (and teaching other kids to play), baking (and eating), and reading (so much
reading!) She is one of BookShark’s advisors and enjoys helping other homeschooling moms and dads figure out how to best use BookShark’s curriculum in their homeschools.