Do homeschoolers need portfolios to apply to college?


I have heard homeschooling parents talk about a need for student portfolios, as a way to show what homeschooled kids accomplished since they don’t have traditional grades.

But that seems like a waste of time to me.

Will the portfolio show how my son has shepherded ten late-summer litters of kittens through blistering cold winters? Do admissions officers want to know that my son planted and harvested eleven species of pumpkins? Would the officers think he’s a botanist or would they (correctly) infer that I forced him to do it because I like pumpkins?

What I really believe is that if you do something significant with your time, you can just talk about that. There’s no need to talk about a wide range of probably insignificant things you also did in the course of living your life.

Continuations is a site or company (or maybe a hobby for a few rich people) that provides a portfolio mechanism specifically so homeschoolers can prove their worth to colleges and universities. The company is hoping this will be a means to get around the SAT requirement, by providing what is essentially alternative credentials for homeschooled kids.

But there is no way there is a big enough market to make this sort of start-up profitable. And likely the spouse of the founder is a venture capitalist and must know that the market is tiny. So really, this company must be a college admission tactic masquerading as a start-up.

I kept reading about it because (you probably know by now) I always like to know what the super-rich are doing. I’m convinced we can all live like the super-rich because their lifestyle is a mentality more than anything else. The mentality is thinking that you can accomplish anything. If you are a rich person, you take on this serious burden because you have no choice. If you are a regular, non-rich person, you still have the option to pretend you are not too limited by money to live out your dreams.

Admittedly it’s hard for me to get past the idea that my dream is to have a lot of money to buy stuff for my house. (I would link here to Anthropologie but I’m holding out. I want them to sponsor me. There are officially no more links to Anthropologie until they give me $10K a month of free products to talk about how much I love them. But I will just link to this chair because it’s so fun. I just want you to see it.)

Anyway, the founder discovered that most schools do not require the SAT for incoming students, but the schools still require the test for homeschoolers. The reason for this is that homeschoolers do not have a grading system that the school is familiar with, so homeschooler grades don’t really mean anything.

It seems fair enough to require the SAT for homeschoolers. Homeschoolers have to take some sort of test that can evaluate their progress relative to kids who go to school. Because college students must keep up in a wide range of college courses, and there is no other way to tell if a homeschooler will be able to do that. (Of course you kids just pay for a college essay, and tons of other educational trinkets, but that’s for another blog post)

Additionally, it seems to me that preparing for the SAT is not so difficult a task. And if it’s too arduous for the student to get ready for the SAT, then probably college will be too much.

The portfolio idea, alternative credentials, for a homeschooler seems like just another hoop to jump through for kids who are doing nothing special. If you are driven and you have interests that engage you and you are working hard at learning, then your achievements will speak for themselves. And if you do not have those traits, then a competitive school is not for you, which is fine because you can get into plenty of schools with lousy SAT scores and no portfolio.


22 replies
  1. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Portfolios are common requirements for admissions to art/music schools. Additionally, most athletes seeking D1 scholarships have an athletic portfolio (mostly a highlight reel).

    I think a high school kid’s science portfolio would be gawdawful to look through no matter how accomplished they were, but perhaps there are some alternative applications.

    Personally, I think I’ll require my kids to put together some sort of “marketing document” during their middle and high school years because it’s not enough to be interesting, you have to convince others that you are interesting, accomplished, and able to add value.

  2. BenK
    BenK says:

    The simple answer is yes; you need a portfolio.

    The more difficult question is: what should be in the portfolio?

    Simply put, the point is to demonstrate four things:
    1. Basic skills
    2. Breadth of learning
    3. Drive/energy
    4. Achievement in a focus area or two

    The portfolio is evidence. In the old days, the phrase was ‘show your work.’ Now it might be marketing, or presentation materials, perhaps – but the goal is basically the same.

    The SATs might cover many of the ‘basic skills.’ Breadth will require something a bit more – typically this would be subject grades, or standardized subject tests, but it could be something else. Drive and energy are in part demonstrated simply by preparing a good portfolio. Achievement is the meat – and the great advantage of the autodictat.

  3. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I don’t see why one would want to try to ‘get around’ the SAT.

    If your kids have been at home, pursuing all the things they’re interested in and making progress at their own pace, the SAT should be easier and more enjoyable for them than for the kids who’ve been stuck in school being bored to death and jumping through an endless series of idiotic hoops. Schoolkids suffer from fatigue, alienation, and cynicism to a higher degree; count your advantages.

    I consider standardized tests – especially general ones – to be in our corner rather than theirs. It’s nice to score in the 98th percentile on the verbal reasoning section. It’s perhaps more interesting to do it without ever having had an English class.

    Portfolios would be a good idea for homeschoolers seeking college entry. A great idea would be to put things in the portfolio that may be relevant to the college you are applying to or the career you seek after college. If you don’t have enough to fill a portfolio and make a case, maybe you should reconsider whether college is for you. If you haven’t done much that’s relevant and on that track before college, it’s a good sign you shouldn’t expect to get in or to have it be worth your money. And unless you’re applying to veterinary school, save the bit about the kittens for a personal essay.

    I’d be interested to read about this Continuations PT speaks of. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing at the link.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Well, Continuations is a blog, not an educational portfolio tracking system. The blog owner, Albert Wenger, homeschools his kids in NYC and has been *trying* to get someone to come up with a portfolio idea where he would back it, for some time time. I hadn’t heard any updates about this, but perhaps Penelope knows something we don’t since she is part of the startup world.

      I had read recently about a new program coming out in the Spring called Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. This program will have all the online tools high schoolers will need to create what they are calling a “virtual locker” of sorts to replace the Common App. So this may appeal to homeschoolers very much. You can Google “A new coalition of Elite colleges tries to reshape admissions” to read about it. It sounds intriguing.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        That makes sense.

        It seems to me it might evolve in the next 5-10 years to just be a LinkedIn version of a persons interests, achievements, recommendations, etc. It doesn’t have to start at working age.
        Probably will be quicker to find a mentor or someone in the area of expertise etc. that kids are interested in with a general platform like that.

        I’m not sure why a person with his track record and history of successes and current hs situation can’t build or fund a few developers etc to see his idea through. Unless he doesn’t have the idea or execution…

        Seems pretty obvious to me. But I’m not a VC and maybe that’s why ;)

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


          I like that LinkedIn idea as a model platform for portfolios and finding mentors or even tutors.

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    “Would the officers think he’s a botanist or would they (correctly) infer that I forced him to do it because I like pumpkins?”

    My most favorite line.

    And the conclusion of the post is pretty freeing. Which I love.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    When I first started homeschooling over three years ago, the portfolio idea seemed genius to me. Now after having been doing this for awhile, it doesn’t seem so genius to me (except for artists and musicians et al). At least not in the traditional sense.

    It reminds me of people who think that doing a narrative transcript for their kids is a good alternative to a traditional one. Oops, come to find out many universities will not accept a narrative transcript! Back to square one. If you have a kid who wants to go to university, then help them get there. They will need real transcripts recording letter grades and equivalent courses as well as SAT scores. This article talks about replacing the common college application with a sort of virtual locker/portfolio, I could get on board with that.

    If one is a more alternative person who doesn’t want the full college experience, then Jr. College is a perfectly acceptable option for the first two years and then transferring to Uni. We already know that there are excellent options for skipping college altogether like going into a trade, or uncolleging for entrepreneurs.

    Just a note, SpaceX requires SAT scores as part of it’s hiring process for most positions. My husband took them in 1990, not an easy thing to track down since he didn’t need them for college because he took the alternative route later in life as a second career.

    Great post, Penelope!

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “The portfolio idea, alternative credentials, for a homeschooler seems like just another hoop to jump through for kids who are doing nothing special.”

    You’re correct. It’s another hoop to jump through. This is the thing, though. People are creating these extra hoops every day as a means to set themselves apart from the crowd. It can be viewed as similar to that hook that colleges and universities are looking for in their applicants. I view a portfolio as not busywork or extra fluff but rather as a means to better communicate skills and talents acquired through homeschooling that are applicable to desired study at the college or university.

    “Will the portfolio show how my son has shepherded ten late-summer litters of kittens through blistering cold winters? Do admissions officers want to know that my son planted and harvested eleven species of pumpkins?”

    Who knows what these people want to know. However, it’s important to make known to them why your son should be accepted to their college or university. How about teaching your son to use a camera to take photos and videos of the work he’s doing now? He could also keep a journal of his activities as a reminder of everything he has accomplished. Maybe you’re already doing some of these things already. I think photos and videos could be used as effective and powerful tools to both influence the admissions staff as well as a means to further discover why college is the direction to proceed or what college to go to.
    Here’s something else. I don’t know what the colleges and universities are doing now besides looking at grades, activities, etc. of their applicants. It seems to me, though, that they could further screen applicants by having them take one or two online courses given by them which could be used for credit toward a degree. Maybe that’s just another hoop, though.

  7. Emily
    Emily says:

    “It seems fair enough to require the SAT for homeschoolers. Homeschoolers have to take some sort of test that can evaluate their progress relative to kids who go to school.”

    Overall, I agree. It irritates me, though, that just because someone went to school, their grades are presumed to be accurate and a fair representation of how they have performed in the past and might perform in the future.

    In our area, high school instructors have been accused of grade changing with the support and maybe even the participation of the principal, and I am quite sure our area is not alone. Not too long ago, there were accusations and even independent findings of academic “irregularities” at the University of North Carolina that did not quite rise to the level of fraud.

    I worked on one case where a teacher and an assistant principal were having an affair, resulting in hundreds and hundreds of texts between the two during school hours. How accurate are the grades recorded by that teacher? Maybe very accurate; maybe very inaccurate. But, her students have grades on a piece of paper that homeschoolers may not have.

  8. Fatcat
    Fatcat says:

    I know a bunch of home schooled kid who have gotten into college with just the ACT test scores and a home made transcript, including my son who will graduate college this year.

  9. Fatcat
    Fatcat says:

    Mine did have letter grades. In some cases, those letter grades were derived from actual numbers on how he did on test scores, which was easy with math, because we used Teaching Textbooks, but in other classes, such as piano lessons, it was really just an opinion of how well he did, much as (I feel) my public school grades were often based on the fact that I was usually a solid B student, so I probably deserved a B this time too. :-P

  10. jessica
    jessica says:

    If the SAT is aligning with common core, is it relevant anymore?

    I read that last years’ SAT scores were the worst in 40 years. It’s a poor measuring stick and seems pretty irrelevant when as a society we are no longer meeting basic needs, or rather the needs have now shifted and we are unable to meet and test those due to dated methods.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Good question. Will SAT’s even be necessary by the time our kids are college aged? So far, my family has found school to be unnecessary for learning. If our kids *want* to go to college, all SAT’s will show is that our kids know how to take a standardized test. It won’t show what they have learned, or their depth of understanding.

  11. Pat Sommer
    Pat Sommer says:

    “SAT scores are a reflection of parents financial ability”, forgot who said that but an ex NYC tutor I know would concur.

    Attended our first college fair last Spring with my now-considered-8th-grade-homeschooler. Portfolio vrs SAT varied enormously. Some place more weight on interview. We’ll watch over the next few years.

    My opening line: “do you like homeschoolers?” got uniformly positive initial responses with often contradictory elaboration: that they need to show equivalency in course material grades tests. Some beamed that they have a designated homeschool admissions councilor and do not require SAT.

    So, we keep a porfolio as a record and “yearbook”. However my daughter may draw from it is anyone’s guess at this point.

  12. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    As a part-time/former SAT tutor I can say, with confidence, that it’s a legitimate way to measure students against each other.

    It’s a speed test in many respects – computational speed and reading speed.

    The more students read, the faster and better they get at reading. And the more math problems they do, the better their understanding of the material, and the faster they can compute.

    My kids are not going to college (not on my nickel), but they will take the SAT. I like it as an objective diagnostic tool.

    From a practical standpoint, I think it’s more advisable to just embrace it and study for it (way earlier than most people do!) than gripe about it.

    That is, of course, if you want to send your kids to a college that’s not totally a waste of money. :)

  13. Shirley
    Shirley says:

    Great list! Thanks for compiling it. My 17yo dd is a junior and we’ve done almost everything you mentioned, so we’re on track!
    You could write another few blog entries on #8. And expand it to discuss dual credits. Homeschoolers seem to jump at the idea of starting college early/dual credits, etc…but everything free has its own cost. My experience has been that many of the dual credit classes are poor quality even if the university has a good reputation.
    Great site. I added your blog to my feed and will check back when I have more time.

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