Many people ask how home educated students can go to university, if they are not following a traditional curriculum. When the child concerned is young, I point out that a lot may change in the next ten or more years. With an older child I explain that in the UK they can choose to go to sixth form college when they are sixteen. They can also or take public GCSE or A-level exams after studying them by correspondence, or at home.
However, these are not the only routes to higher education. There are many home educated students in the UK who have gone to university without A-levels. In some cases they have no formal qualifications at all.
Home Education and University
In the US, some universities actively seek for ‘homeschooled’ students. They know that they are usually self-motivated and dedicated to their chosen subjects. This is in contrast to many school students who may go to university because they can’t think of any alternatives.
This is not yet the case in the UK, although most home educated students do well at university. Nevertheless, universities usually like well-rounded students who have a passion for their chosen subject. Thus work experience, or evidence of extensive studying, or a good portfolio may be of value. When a teenager is not in school, there is far more time for deeper study or relevant experience than is possible for students at school or sixth-form college.
Another option is to choose a foundation degree. These are ideal for those who are practical as well as academic. They may also suit those who want to study for courses such as architecture or business. There are no entry requirements, and they combine work experience with academic learning. After achieving a foundation degree, a student may opt for a further year’s study which leads to a standard honours degree. They can do this full-time or, in some cases, part-time.
Home Education and UCAS
Many degree courses at universities require qualifications. Students must apply through the UCAS site, usually in the year before they hope to start studying at the university. UCAS has a system of ‘points’ which many universities follow. Each degree course sets out what is needed for a student to apply. Most require either specific qualifications or a certain number of UCAS points. Typically, three A-levels are accepted for many courses. Some require specific ones and/or particular grades. Some accept alternative qualifications from other sources – eg from other countries, or those such as BTEC, or music exams.
You can find full details of how points are calculated on the ‘tariff’ page of the UCAS site.
Thus it is important for any home educated student considering further education to start researching as early as possible. Check what different universities may require for his chosen field. A student wanting to study medicine has little choice other than to take three A-levels, including biology and chemistry. The only other possible option us to take a foundation degree in science instead. A student wanting to study art should build up a portfolio of styles, and perhaps aim to take a GCSE in Art. Each university and each course within that university may have different requirements.
Personal Statement and Reference
The UCAS application does not just ask for qualifications; it also wants the student to describe their interests, their achievements, and why they are applying. The personal statement is probably the most important part, so students should make sure they spend time over this. Preparing it in a word processor is better than typing it in directly. A parent or other adult should check that it includes relevant information without padding.
A parent will not be able to provide a reference; if the student has done paid or voluntary work, or has studied for qualifications such as music or drama exams, there may be a teacher or employer who can provide an academic or character reference. A minister or youth group leader may be an other possibility, or – if correspondence courses have been taken – a tutor. It should ideally be someone who is aware of the student’s academic potential and work ethic, and also how well they are likely to interact with other students.
Home Education and the Open University
In some cases, home educated students prefer to work at home, at their own pace, without the interaction of other students. Some may have found jobs at sixteen, but want to continue part-time studying. Others may want to study at home years later, to help with job promotion or to move to a different career.
The Open University can be ideal in circumstances such as these. It provides some excellent courses and is highly flexible, with no entry requirements. Moreover, some Open University courses, once passed, may themselves count as qualifications for a traditional university application.
Is Further Education Important?
Although university can seem like a default option to many, the fees have risen sharply in recent years, and the number of unemployed graduates in their 20s has also increased. Older people are working for longer, and employers often want experience in preference to qualifications.
Some careers – medicine, law, teaching, etc – require degrees, but jobs at the end are not so hard to find. Students who feel a sense of vocation in academic fields such as these will almost certainly find a way to get to university, and perhaps some of the funding too.
However, if a career does not need a degree, then home educated students may be able to volunteer or do part-time work in their chosen field, which may well lead to a full-time job once they are the right age, and have sufficient experience. An 18-year-old with a full-time job, even if on minimum wage, will be a great deal better off financially by their mid-twenties than a graduate saddled with, potentially, £50,000 of debt and no guaranteed job.
More and more people are choosing to delay university entrance until they can support themselves financially, either doing part-time courses, or taking a sabbatical after saving the necessary fees. Note, too, that ‘mature’ students – those over the age of 25 – may have fewer entrance requirements than those of 18.