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PNW adventure mama,  gentle parenting, natural homeschooling, and simple living mentor, and founder of Sage Family.


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Unschooling to College

May 8, 2021

Disclosure: When I recommend a product that I believe will add value for you, it may contain an affiliate link, and when you click the link to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Most people think a natural approach to homeschooling (you can read all about it in the Sage Homeschooling book) sounds wonderful, but they fear this lifestyle might close doors of opportunity for their children, especially when it comes to college.

It doesn’t. As difficult as it might be to swallow, the 13 years kids spend locked away in school classrooms “to prepare them for college” are not at all necessary.

Start with your kid’s goals and reverse engineer them. In other words, if your kid wants to be a lawyer, they will need to go to college. When they go to college, what skills would they need to enter feeling confident? What can you do today to build up those skills?

But this would be a very short blog post if that was all it took to set your mind at ease, so I’ll show you the path that my 15-year-old has taken as an unschooler who begins college this fall.

College Programs

We researched the programs available to us and Washington state has a cool Running Start program that provides two years of community college free at 16 and they graduate with both a high school diploma and an associates degree with a full credit transfer to local universities.


You can apply with a transcript and GPA (which homeschoolers can create) or you can test out of that requirement with the Accuplacer placement test. A score of 253 out of 300 qualifies you to enroll in the entry level courses.

But you can take practice versions of the test first, you can retake the test multiple times, and even if you apply with a lower score, that just means you pay for some “remedial” courses (or “catch up” courses, as I like to call them) at the community college that get you up to entry level.

I had Sky take the practice test online at 14, just to see how much distance we needed to cover, and she got a score of 100%. That really set her mind at ease. She took the practice test again shortly before the official proctored exam and her final score was a 299 out of 300.

While that Accuplacer test, which was mostly reading comprehension, was all that was required for admission into the program, a math placement test (or a transcript showing the prerequisite courses) was required to enroll in a math class.

The day before the exam she pulled up the practice test and reviewed any problems she already knew how to do and taught herself how to solve any problems she wasn’t familiar with (by Googling, YouTubing, and asking her parents and girlfriend). She got a 90% on the test. (Teach your kids how to learn and their potential is limitless!)

There were actually 5 math placement tests available to test into higher levels of math. Her score qualified her to take the level 2 test but she felt like the level she tested into by successfully passing the level 1 test was the right fit for her. I am confident that she could have passed the level 2 test if she wanted to, but more than that, I respect and admire how she was in touch with what she needed and felt great about honoring that need.

The program only requires taking 1 college-level math class. Passing the level 1 placement test qualified her for one level below that class, so she will take 1 additional math course, which we will have to pay for. In other words, she exchanged 12 years of formal math classes for 1 extra math class at the community college—an entire childhood of freedom in exchange for 1 extra class? I’d take that deal every day of the week.


If you can read a book and write an essay, then you can be successful in college. That’s really the only academic skill set that’s necessary (all the space we’ve held for nurturing well-being and fostering life skills will leave them at a greater advantage than any random memorized historical date would)—this from the perspective of a family in which all of the adults have graduate degrees.

After a childhood full of read alouds in a home brimming with books and spilling over with inquisitive conversations, we were covered on the reading front (you can learn more about how we navigated literacy here and dyslexia here).

And while living a rich life in the real world provides ample writing opportunities, I did want my kid to enter the program well-versed in the academic essay.

So she took this series of online courses from Bravewriter, which were taught in the most positive and supportive way. Each course was just 4-6 weeks long and we spread them out over time.

Boy doing homeschooling work at his desk in his bedroom


There is ample math that you encounter in the course of living a meaningful life. K-5 math is all real world math that you and I use on a regular basis and I make a point to invite the kids into the world of numbers to play with and use it through all kinds of things from playing the Splash Math app to managing their personal finances to baking to helping with my small business accounting (you can listen to more about natural numeracy development here).

But again, reverse engineering their goals to set them up for success is all about confidence building. So we enrolled her in this series of online courses from Outschool, which taught all the math concepts in a small group setting with a gentle and patient teacher. (If you sign up using this link, you’ll get $20 off.)

Unschoolers can go to college.

Once more just to be sure it soaks in: Unschoolers can go to college.

College is not the one right path for everyone (and unschoolers do have a high rate of entrepreneurship given the overlap of self-direction) but it is a path. Help your teen to look for the intersection of their strengths and their community’s needs to identify a potential career and then work backwards to map out a path. Then look at community college as a potential stepping stone to get there.

Just hold this idea for their future with an open hand. It is their journey and they are welcome to wander along the way as they get to know themselves and the world better (listen to this podcast episode on the self-driven child to better understand the essential importance of empowering your child to own their own lives).

At this point Sky wants to be a judge by way of criminal defense attorney informed by a strong interest in psychology, so her first quarter courses include law and psychology. I have no attachment to any of this as a destination but she is full of passion and purpose, confident in the value of the journey itself, and has yet to hit an insurmountable obstacle for her lofty aspirations as an unschooler.

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  1. Karla Running says:

    Thank you for this post! Although my kids are 9 and 4, this wonderful post is reassuring. Congratulations to Sky and to the whole family for this new chapter! 🙂 Thank you for all you do, it’s very inspiring!

  2. Valery Do Campo says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post and for all you do. Your guidance and transparency is extremely appreciated!

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