BY ANNA BELMONTE
I was homeschooled my entire life. And as a former homeschooler that is now in college, I’m familiar with the usual misjudgments about both my academic and social life. Right now you’re thinking I must be quiet, scared of college life, overwhelmed by the homework load and uncomfortable being in contact with so many people. You’re right. I’m quiet.
If you’ve ever been baffled by the existence of homeschoolers (and asked yourself “What do they even do? Do they really stay home all day?”), then let me clarify the topic by talking about my experiences as a homeschooler, including the ever-so-daunting transition to college.
One big misconception is that college students from a homeschool background try to avoid human interaction. However, we generally don’t try to isolate ourselves. The truth is that homeschoolers enter college without high school friend groups and have no attachments to local schools or sports teams. Making connections among 100 percent strangers takes a little extra time. And sometimes just mentioning being homeschooled places an elephant in the room.
For example, when peers from O’Fallon find out I’m from O’Fallon, they’ll inevitably feel they can relate to me (“Oh! So you went to O’Fallon High?”). I’m always forced to drop the wet towel and say, “No, I was actually homeschooled.”
Even more uncomfortable than a limp conversation are the comments I got from kids when I was younger: “I bet you get to sit around in your PJs all day and eat junk food!” Um…actually, no. I sit around all day poring over Tom Sawyer, conducting science experiments alone, or teaching myself algebra because my mom was too busy. And no junk food. Only plain Cheerios.
When people don’t understand something, we tend to make assumptions. Kids, and even adults in college and beyond, make assumptions about homeschoolers because they haven’t a clue about the life of homeschoolers. They can’t actually be learning, can they? They must be goofing off and having fun. Boy, I wish I were homeschooled….
The truth is, it’s not a “home party.” It’s a “home school.” Like private school, except really, really private. And with no snow days. Or sick days.
Sometimes folks who realize that homeschoolers actually do school jump to the other end of the spectrum, figuring school is all that homeschoolers do. They can’t have a social life; they’re home all the time being the next Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking.
Wrong again. When you get to pick and choose any curriculum and extracurriculars you want and with any organization you want, you get quite a broad exposure to different people and activities. For example, in my family, we played lots of different instruments (including Native American flutes), participated in debate, choir, community service projects, local orchestras and competitions, writing clubs and school newspapers, dances and countless other recreations. Homeschoolers don’t always stay cooped up at home. We do get out of our bubble every now and again.
Because of misunderstandings about homeschoolers’ academic and social lives, people tend to doubt our ability to transition from studying at home to studying at college (and *gasp* among peers!). In my perception, adults and peers alike think the transition from high school to college for a homeschooler will be something like a leap from Hobbiton into the “World of Men” or from a Muggle home into the world of Magic. We’re too timid and scared to survive in reality, right?
My favorite skeptical comment occurred when my sister and I were at our community orchestra rehearsal, and one fellow struck up a conversation with my sister who was going off to college that fall.
“So, you scared to actually have to talk to people?”
My sister was thinking, “I’m talking to you, aren’t I?” but smiled and said, “Not at all!”
Ultimately, the transition from homeschool to college isn’t a matter of getting out of the house and talking to people for a change, but merely of continuing academic studies in a different venue and in a different manner. Unlike many who feel that college is unstructured, for me, college feels more structured than high school did (for instance, my classes start at the same time each week). While my peers might feel at a loss with their newfound freedom and scheduling flexibility, I am eager to fill the slots in my schedule so that my week runs like clockwork. I’m used to self-imposing order and routine, rather than being forced into a routine by a public high school. I can’t speak for other homeschoolers, but for me, the structure of college classes has the perfect amount of regularity and flexibility.
Sure, not having any high school friends follow me to McKendree is a little disheartening, especially when I see what a great time others are having with their high school pals. But for me and many homeschoolers, academic life and social life are mostly kept separate. Going to college, then, is just about broadening knowledge, about growing personally and professionally. And I like it that way.
So next time you encounter a classmate who’s shared their background as a homeschooler, there’s no more need to wonder if they miss their PJ-wearing days or are terrified to speak at roll call. We’re not much different, except maybe more reserved. But, just like you, we’re hard-working students and always have been.
Cover photo credit: Lauren Reeves