Monday, March 9, 2009

Homeschool-to-college brag
and college entry myths debunked

My oldest child, Margaret, received word last week that she has been accepted into the University of Illinois electrical engineering program, which is one of the top engineering schools in the country. She'll be transferring directly into her junior year since she already completed her associate's degree at a junior college.

Of course, I'm proud of her because she's my daughter, and I did have a bit to do with her education. However, the news could not have come at a better time, since I was speaking at the InHome Conference this past weekend. Three of my four sessions focused on college, and there were an absurd number of questions about the negative stigma of attending a community college. I've done talks on this before, and there might be a question or two about that, but they're kind of vague and weak. This weekend's questions were off the charts in specificity and negativity. One woman asked, "I've heard that you are less likely to get into a university if you have an associate's degree, and that you should stop at like 59 credits so you don't get that associates." Okay, that's just wrong. You are actually more likely to get accepted if you have completed an associate's degree -- unless you have a 2.3 GPA or something that makes you look like a less-than-serious student. It is absurd to imply that a community college degree is the kiss of death.

Five years ago, as a 16-year-old with an associate's degree, Margaret was accepted at Illinois College, Simpson College, University of St. Frances, Bradley University, and Northern Illinois University. She ultimately decided not to go at that time because she wasn't sure that she really wanted to get a degree in English. And since she was only 16, I suggested that she take a few more classes at the community college to see if she was more passionate about another subject. She found that passion in her physics classes and realized that most of her classmates were planning to go on to universities and major in engineering. She began exploring engineering careers and realized she'd found an exciting career path.

My daughter's physics professor told her that students with at least a 3.5 have a pretty good chance of getting into U of I's engineering program. I know from my experience at ISU that students with at least a 3.0 have a good chance of getting into ISU's communication program, which is fairly competitive, since they only accept about 50% of the applicants. It varies from school to school and from one program to another within a college, but generally anyone with at least a 3.0 from a junior college should be able to get into a university somewhere. Although U of I might not accept someone into their engineering program with a 3.2, there are other universities with engineering programs where that GPA would be competitive. And it is entirely possible that a student who is not accepted as a freshman would be accepted later as a transfer when he or she has proven his or her ability to do college-level work at a community college.

It's no surprise that many parents this past weekend seemed afraid of making some terrible mistake that would doom their child for life. That's part of the parental job description, and I used to have that same fear. However, sending your child to a community college would rarely turn out to be a mistake. (I never say never.) Every child is an individual, and parents should help their child choose a college based upon many things, so many that I can't address them all in this post. In fact, that's a post for another day entirely. For today, I'm proud that Margaret will be going to U of I to get an engineering degree since it is one of the top schools in the country (some say the top), but I'm thrilled that she finally found something that she's passionate about!


Suburban Correspondent said...

I've never even heard of this problem! In our state, you can get automatic admission to the (highly competitive) state universities if you do 2 years at the community college first and attain a certain GPA. No SAT, no counselor letters, nothing else required but that transcript from the community college...

And for homeschoolers, having an official grade on an official transcript does wonders for reassuring college admissions officials that the student can indeed thrive in a college classroom environment. I cannot even imagine where these people are manufacturing these concerns from. Is it a Midwest thing?

Deborah said...

The issue was started by a woman whose daughter got into Harvard, which apparently does not accept transfer students. And somehow it got blown all out of proportion, and people were thinking that you should avoid community colleges completely. It was really frustrating.

Everyone in my daughter's physics class at the junior college that applied to engineering at U of I was accepted -- and they're ranked #2 in electrical engineering in the US. MIT is #1, and U of I bobs back and forth with Stanford for the #2 and 3 spot from year to year. Not bad company!

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