When she was a teenager, junior Madison Vander Hill had the freedom to walk on the streets of Madison, Wis., during school hours. She carried a note from her mother just in case a police officer stopped her to ask her why she wasn’t in school.
Vander Hill was homeschooled until she attended college and is one of the few homeschooled students who apply to Ithaca College every year. According to a study conducted by Michael Cogan from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, homeschooled students earned higher first- and fourth-year GPAs than students with a traditional background. The study showed homeschooled students also achieved a higher retention and graduation rate than the overall student body. Vander Hill said being a homeschooled student prepared her for college academically, but she sometimes struggled to fit in socially.
Susan Horein, Vander Hill’s mother, said she first considered homeschooling for her daughter when she met a homeschooled family in a local park.
“Homeschooling is not only a school choice, but a lifestyle choice,” Horein said. “We create a culture of learning that fosters learning in the children and the parents.”
Brian Ray, founder and president of the National Home Education Research Institute, said students who have a home education are more likely to become independent thinkers. Because of the nature of the system, students are actively seeking ways of learning and have choices and a voice in their educational plan, he said.
“They are more likely to question the norm and make their own decisions instead of waiting on an institution or a professional to tell you what to do or what to learn,” he said. “They become critical thinkers and have the sharp decision-making skills that are crucial as they leave home and go to college.”
Vander Hill said she saw her parents as facilitators who knew the limits of their knowledge and used resources in the community, such as other parents and the local public library, to deliver a solid education. Even her kitchen was used as a classroom.
“It’s surprising what you can do in your kitchen with a Bunsen burner and a bunch of chemicals,” she said.
Senior music education major Dana Arbaugh worked with the Ithaca College Homeschool Band last year and said the experience made her change her philosophy as a classroom teacher.
“These kids showed me that tailoring the lessons to the students, and to have a more individualistic approach is the best way to teach,” she said.
The main factor that affects students who have had a home education on their transition to college is that they haven’t been institutionalized, Ray said. Getting used to strict schedules is the hardest part of the process, he said. This adjustment is often more difficult than the change in the social life — the most prevalent stigma that’s associated with homeschooled students.
“The stereotype of homeschooled kids being socially awkward and unable to make decisions on their own is just that: a stereotype far from reality,” Ray said.
Vander Hill said coming to college with a home education was “a mixed bag.” She wasn’t a party person, and the pressure as a freshman to go out was always in the back of her mind.
Horein said homeschooling her children gave them more options.
“My kids were able to engage socially with a wide variety of people,” she said. “They weren’t limited to same-age peers”
Horein said the negative stereotypes about homeschooling are
often based on the media and don’t reflect the reality of homeschooling.
“Sensationalized examples in the media are what make people think of socially awkward homeschooled kids,” she said. “For each of those examples you can find another example that contradicts it.”