A PLC Guide

College Without High School

But, don’t you have to go to high school to attend college?
Smiling teen with head propped on hand, propped on elbow

Many teenagers who love learning and want to go to college find conventional high school stressful and unfulfilling. Whether it is classes that don’t interest them, the pressure from grades and homework, or an unhealthy social scene, lots of kids wish they could just be done with conventional high school and move on with their life.

But, don’t you have to go to high school to attend college? Surprisingly, no. 

If your teenager is college-bound, but doesn't like conventional high school, here are three ways to go to college without high school.

Start now

If your teen doesn't find high school useful, they can leave and start college early. No need to wait. This can happen in a couple of different ways.

Many people feel there is a social stigma for young people who take a high school equivalency test, but this option is simply a means to an end. It allows a young person to get a head start on life by moving beyond an unfulfilling high school experience before they would typically be finished. Minimum age requirements vary for each state, but teens can take a high school equivalency test, like the GED or TASC, to get a high school diploma. 

This equivalency diploma is sufficient to satisfy any job or college application requirement for a high school diploma. (In the case of applying to a 4-year college, your child would not be relying on the strength of an equivalency diploma in the application, but rather on the strength of the transcript which is explained in more detail below.)  They can then start full-time or part-time at the local community college.

There are various "early college entrance" programs available that accept high-school-aged students to attend their colleges full-time. Some of these programs are online, but others are residential.

Another possibility is to use the homeschooling process to finish high school immediately—don’t worry, you won’t have to quit your job to take this route. Many community and 4-year colleges don’t require a high school diploma, but do require a final high school transcript. You can use a homeschool transcript template to list the courses completed in high school along with other studies your child engaged with outside of school. Most community colleges are open admission, meaning there are no requirements for courses completed in high school., and for teens who have largely completed a typical high school course of study, they can apply as homeschoolers for admission to a 4-year college. This option is a bit more nuanced as requirements for various colleges differ. However, it’s completely doable and we’re happy to offer guidance if this is the path that would best suit your child.

If your child starts at the community college, but plans to transfer to a 4-year college, it typically eliminates the need to take the SAT or ACT as the university will be primarily focused on their college record. Many colleges and universities have transfer agreements with local community colleges in which all credits transfer and students would start as juniors, if they first get an associate's degree and meet other GPA and program requirements. Potentially, this can save a lot of time and money.

Many teens who choose to just get started do part-time college enrollment and pair it with working, interning, travel, or a gap year, before applying to a 4-year college.

The ability to get a 1- or 2-year head start on their life is an attractive option for many teens who feel stuck in high school.

Teen engaged in writing in a notebook

Homeschool independently

When most parents hear the word homeschooling, they imagine doing conventional school at home and teaching their own children. This is not the case. Homeschooling is simply the legal mechanism we have in the United States to allow families and young people the educational freedom and flexibility to design an education they care about that is based on their interests and goals. Millions of children in the United States who are homeschooled for high school attend the same colleges that their conventionally-schooled peers attend. 

When homeschooling teens, parents don't need to provide direct instruction and instead can play more of a consultant role by supporting their kid's interests, finding opportunities and resources, and helping with logistics. The nice part of homeschooling is that everything young people do can be captured for a high school transcript to meet college admissions requirements. For example, if your child loves rock climbing, their time climbing contributes to a physical education credit. If they love to write stories, that can be counted towards an English credit. If they have a job at a daycare center, that can be counted towards a child development credit. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Most homeschooling families combine any number of these activities into a rich and meaningful education for their kids:

  • Community-based opportunities: Library programs, arts council classes, community-based sports teams, community theater, music groups, after-school activities.
  • Online resources: There are a huge number of free, high-quality academic resources online, like Khan Academy and edX, in addition to many paid resources available on any topic imaginable. 
  • Paid private tutors: Lessons in music, art, foreign language, and typical high school academic subjects. Families can post requests on Facebook groups and other online sites, find listings for tutors at local libraries and universities, and enlist the help of family members, friends, and neighbors.
  • Work, volunteer, or intern: This could just be to make some money or it could be in a specific field, like graphic design, that aligns with your child's interests. Since they won't be in school during the day, they will have more flexibility to take shifts during school hours.
  • Dual enrollment at community college: Some community colleges have a minimum age limit, but some don't. They all have a "dual enrollment" program where high school students can take college level courses that count towards high school and college programs in the future. At the community college, homeschooled students can take classes in areas they enjoy, like art or photography, and can have access to full science labs and other resources. The classes count for credit towards an associate's degree at the community college, and depending on the 4-year college, may transfer for credit towards a bachelor's degree.
  • Part-time vocational high school: Many of the local vocational high schools have half-day programs that allow homeschoolers to enroll exclusively in the vocational part of their program (auto, culinary, cosmetology, etc.) They can continue with their other studies in whatever way they want as homeschoolers.
  • Volunteer and parent-run co-ops: Many homeschooling families band together once or twice a week to offer social opportunities for their kids and to do fun and enriching activities together. Homeschoolers connect with other homeschooling families through Facebook and other online groups. Many state-wide homeschooling associations offer lists of local support groups.
  • Travel: No school schedule or missed work to worry about means homeschooling families often make travel a part of their life. Kids can learn about geography, culture, and history this way. And what better way to learn foreign languages than to visit a country where it is spoken?
  • Self-study: Write their own stories, work on art, read books that interest them, watch documentaries, do pottery, make a website from scratch, take things apart to see how they work, collect bugs. With the internet and a library card, almost everything is at their fingertips...and it all counts.

When the time comes to apply to college, homeschoolers typically create a narrative-style transcript detailing the learning they did during high school, take the SAT or ACT, if the college requires it, and apply through the college's normal application process. Some colleges require a state-issued high school diploma (which can be obtained by passing an equivalency test), but many colleges don’t, even elite schools, and the high school transcript is sufficient. If you want more information about applying as a homeschooler, the admissions offices at the colleges your child is interested in will be happy to help.

join a learning Center

For some families who want the flexibility of homeschooling, but don't feel they can do it independently, joining a professionally-run homeschooling support center is the best option. These centers, like Princeton Learning Cooperative, are typically open during school hours throughout the normal academic year. They offer a weekly schedule of classes, one-on-one tutoring, help finding work and volunteer opportunities, help documenting learning and applying to college, and a community of peers for your teen. It's like they homeschool your child for you.

Each teen has a personal staff mentor that they meet with each week who helps them navigate the opportunities at the center and in the wider community. The centers run much more like a college than a high school. All of the classes and opportunities are offered on a voluntary basis. Teens can create a level of structure and activity that works for them.

Sam's high school transcript  offers a look into the specifics of how one teen, with the help of his PLC mentor, organized his studies for a college application.

WE're here to help

Of course, there is a lot more to say about all three options. Princeton Learning Cooperative has supported more than 150 teens and their families to be in charge of their own life and education since 2010.

If your college-bound teenager could benefit from learning outside the conventional high school, please be in touch. We are happy to find a time to speak with you individually to explain more about each option and answer any questions you have.

Four staff members posing for group picture in PLC space

Katy, Joel, Heather, and Pan
PLC staff members

Learn More

For a book-length discussion of these options, check out these titles by our good friend Blake Boles.

Book cover for "Why are you still sending your kids to school?" by Blake BolesBook cover for "The Art of Self-Directed Learning" by Blake BolesBook cover for "College without High School" by Blake Boles