We own an Airstream. Her name is Beauty.
Lately, we’ve been camping at farms gracious enough to host us. Think cows and corn fields and open skies.
On our recent trip to Ohio, Farmer John had just completed his corn maze for the fall and he was super proud.
The design was intricate and clever and meaningful. And he was thrilled to show me how he did it.
Using graph paper and a number 2 pencil, he planned every detail well in advance. Sure, there were hiccups as the tractor took down a corner of the letter “E”, but for the most part this year’s maze was his best yet.
For homeschoolers, college applications can feel like a huge maze. So many paths to take; we don’t know which ones to choose.
Course descriptions are a path many homeschoolers don’t even consider. And I wish they would.
In this post, we’re going to cover 3 things you need to know about homeschool course descriptions.
1. Why course descriptions are super important for homeschoolers to submit.
2. What to include in good course descriptions.
3. Where to upload your document in the Common Application.
For homeschoolers applying to college, course descriptions are a document that provides a brief overview of each high school course taken by the homeschool student.
Every course listed on the homeschool transcript should have a detailed description in this document - even those courses that are scheduled but haven’t yet been taken or completed.
Because of its detailed format, this document can be up to 10-15 pages long…sometimes more.
While some families choose to be more detailed than others, course descriptions tend to have the same elements in common.
Check out this sample from one of the homeschool families I worked with recently. This class was a self-designed class led by an outside instructor.
Not all schools will ask for course descriptions.
Why? Because most colleges don’t know what to ask of homeschoolers. Many will use words such as syllabi, reading lists, details, hours.
University of Southern California (USC): “Home-schooled students need to provide us with detailed syllabi of courses, names of textbooks, details of any assistance you are receiving or curriculum you are following through any public or private agency, and any additional information that may be helpful in our review of your application.”
Knox College: “Your parent should also provide a transcript or other detailed documentation which lists the subjects studied each year, a description of each course of study, and major texts used or literature read.”
Rice University: “To ensure our evaluation process is fully informed, each homeschooled applicant is encouraged to provide clear, detailed documentation of their curriculum, assessment tools and learning experiences. You are welcome to submit a curriculum description and list of educational texts and materials used.”
Amherst College: “A complete description of high school course work and texts used. The homeschool instructor should detail the syllabi and time dedicated to each discipline. It is expected that the home-schooled curriculum will conform to or exceed the standards of the student’s state-mandated curriculum.”
So, while schools may not use the term “Course Descriptions,” it’s exactly what they’re seeking.
Some homeschoolers confuse the term course descriptions with the transcript. They’re not the same thing.
Whereas course descriptions are detailed and lengthy, a transcript is a one-page document that simply lists course names, grades, credits, and GPA. When I refer to the transcript, I refer to that simple, one page document.
Remember why the school profile is invaluable? Context. Same with course descriptions.
It allows admissions officers to see the depth and breadth of your homeschooler’s academic history. It’s a way to demonstrate that you took their education seriously.
The number one thing college admissions officers tell me they want is detailed info about each course. In other words, they want course descriptions.
Think about it. Most admissions officers are assigned to a certain region and they’re familiar with the quality of schools in that region. They know the kinds of kids who graduate from those schools and how well they do at their own institution.
But homechoolers? No context. Course descriptions provide the context and a give a clear picture of your homeschooler’s education.
My Course Description Toolkit has templates, samples, & more!
Here are the 5 parts of a quality course description. Format it in a way that’s clear and easy to read.
For each course description, write the course name, instructor and/ course provider, semester/year class was taken, # of credits, and grade received.
A good course description will describe three aspects of a class: the purpose, the content, the experience. In other words, the why, the what, the how.
3. Methods of Evaluation
Here, explain how the student was assessed. Discussion, quizzes, tests, assignments, essays are some commonly used methods of evaluation.
4. Materials Used
List the main resources used in the class. This can be textbooks, plays, essays, online resources, newspapers, journals, lab materials.
5. Test Scores
If your homeschooler took Subject Tests or AP exams following this class and received a good score, feel free to add them here.
You don’t need to write these descriptions from scratch! Use the resources that are your fingertips.
Here’s a guide to make writing them a bit easier:
Most colleges require at least 2-3 lab sciences. Make sure to highlight these in your course descriptions (as well as your transcript).
Start keeping detailed homeschool records ASAP. Writing thorough and powerful course descriptions is not an easy task, especially when it coincides with the intense college application process.
You’ll have enough on your plate.
And I know you’d rather support your homeschooler than scramble for course information from previous years.
Stay organized and update your records each year. When college application season is upon you, you’ll be glad to copy and paste your records rather than start from scratch.
Your future self will thank you.
1. Do I order the courses by subject or date?
I tend to order the course descriptions by subject - starting with the student’s strongest subject first and ending with electives. However, there’s no right or wrong way to do this.
2. Do I have to include every single reading or every single material used?
Absolutely not. Just the main textbooks and resources are fine.
3. Do I include classes that are in progress? Future classes?
Yup. Admissions Officers want to see the rigor of the student’s senior year since, in most cases, they won’t be seeing senior grades before making an admission decision. Just note in the course description if a class is in progress or scheduled for spring.
Use this checklist as you write each course description.
Step 1. In your Common App counselor account, click on “Students” in the left sidebar. Then click on your homeschooler’s name.
Step 2. Click on School Report in the left tab.
Step 3. Scroll down and click on “Transcripts.”
Step 4. For the question that asks, “Please indicate the number of transcripts you can provide for the applicant,” select “2”.
Step 5. The “Current Transcript” will be your main homeschool transcript.
Step 6. If you scroll down, you’ll find “Additional Transcript.” Click on My Computer or Google Drive to find your course descriptions file.
Step 7. Upload and review. Be sure to check the “Yes” button and hit upload.
Step 8. In the homeschool section, I simply add “See School Profile” in the first two textboxes and “See Course Descriptions” in the third textbox. You can upload the documents in these textboxes; I prefer to do it this way.
When it comes to creating your homeschool course descriptions, think like Farmer John. Start early. Stay organized. Share with the world.
If you follow his lead, you’ll easily make your way out this maze. And you’ll be greeted with many happy college acceptances.
Visit Farmer John and Honey Haven Farm if you’re in Ashland, Ohio!
“Beauty” on the farm!
How to Write a Homeschool Counselor Letter That Colleges Love
How to Navigate the Common App as a Homeschooler
How to Create a Homeschool Transcript That Colleges Love
How to Create Your School Profile as a Homeschooler
When did you start keeping detailed homeschool records?