As home schooling parents, who happen to reside in California, it has always been our intention to give our children the opportunity to attend whichever university they desired and were qualified for. While private universities are certainly an option (an expensive option), we have also wanted our children to have the opportunity to attend a state supported school (primarily because of the lower cost involved). Yet, it wasn’t until our first child was in her junior year of high school that we seriously addressed the following question:
How does a home schooled high school graduate properly apply and get admitted to either a Cal State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) school?
Are you a home schooling parent, in California, who can relate to this question? Has the prospect of home schooling your child through high school caused you to have more than a few sleepless nights?
Indeed, the prospect of teaching high school level courses to your own children can be daunting and frightening, leaving one with feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy. If your experience as a home school parent is anything like what my wife and I have gone through then, after “What about socialization?”, probably the second most commonly asked question you’ve received has been,
“Are you planning to home school your child through high school?”
Many times, the question is asked with an intonation which indicates that such an endeavor - namely, that of home schooling your child through high school - is an unwise choice. Given that most state sponsored universities require an applicant’s transcript to line up with specific course material, many parents think themselves unqualified to teach their high school age children. Add to this the prospects of teaching Advanced Placement (AP) or Honors level courses, and it is no wonder that some home school parents decide to put their children into either a public high school or a home school program managed by the public school system.
Yet rest assured - home schooling your children through high school, while simultaneously insuring that they are qualified for admittance to a state of California university, is possible! You (and, especially, your child) can accomplish this! Our child, who was home schooled since pre-school, was recently accepted to both CSU and UC universities. Another student from our home school group, who began her home schooling journey while in elementary school, was also recently accepted to both systems.
The remainder of this post will be an analysis of what we discovered as we prepared our home schooled daughter to be able to apply - and get accepted - to a state of California university*, as well as what we recommend for those facing such a prospect with their own children.
* by “a state of California university” I am referring to either a California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) school.
Note: BIG disclaimer here - I do not consider myself an authority on this subject. I am simply relating the experiences my wife and I had as we helped get our child through high school and into a state of California university. Please be aware that the regulations and procedures I will reference are dynamic. They are changing and may have changed since I wrote this piece. It is your responsibility to be aware of the current procedures for both the CSU and UC systems.
All Curricula Are Not Viewed As Equal - California’s UC a-g requirements
The crux of this issue lies, in my opinion, with what is known as the UC a-g subject requirements - requirements for proper admission to both CSU and UC schools. Here is an excerpt from the CSU Admission Handbook (for 2014-2015, and linked to later in this article),
The California State University requires first-time freshman applicants to complete, with a grade of C or better in each course, a fifteen-unit comprehensive “a-g” pattern of college preparatory work. (emphasis added)
A definition of the a-g subjects, as well as the number of years required, are listed per the same Admission Handbook,
a. History/Social Science
2 years required (including one year of U.S. History and Government)
4 years required
3 years required (algebra, geometry, and intermediate algebra)
d. Laboratory Science
2 years with laboratory required (one biological, one physical, both with lab)
e. Language Other Than English (LOTE)
2 years required
f. Visual and Performing Arts
1 year required
g. College Preparatory Electives
1 year required
Of particular note is the fact that the minimum academic requirement, for this portion of the admissions process, is that the student achieve a grade of C or better in each of the UC a-g courses.
To be honest, I was not aware of the manner with which the taking of UC a-g courses is viewed by the CSU and UC systems. While I was aware of the general list of course subjects required for high school graduation (see this link from the California Dept. of Education) I was unaware that the university systems required specific approved courses, in a UC a-g database, from specific learning institutions, also found in this UC a-g database. In my ignorance I had thought that as long as our child was learning Mathematics then she would satisfy that subject area of graduation requirements and, by extension, application to the CSU and/or UC schools. It was not until May of my child’s Junior year that I became aware of the existence of the UC a-g database, with approved UC a-g courses, which our child had to take in order to satisfy said requirements for freshman admission to CSU and/or UC.
For an example of how this works, take the UC “a” subject of History / Social Science (see the following link). From the University of California Doorways link you are able to view all the approved UC a-g courses, by institution, which satisfy that requirement. Staying with this example, the course American Government, at Villa Park High School, satisfies one class of this requirement (see the following link). In our situation the problem was that our child was not attending Villa Park High School but was being home schooled. Her curriculum in History / Social Science was via Sonlight Curriculum which, although a major home school curriculum provider - and an excellent provider, at that - is not on the approved list of UC a-g providers found at the University of California Doorways website.
Hence, our dilemma was how do we demonstrate that our child’s education more than satisfied the academic requirements inherent in the approved UC a-g courses? Remember, the minimum for this portion of the application process is that the student has achieved a “C” or better in the specific a-g class. Compounding this dilemma was the fact that, as I stated, I did not become aware of this need until my child’s junior year was almost completed.
Yet, as I’ve also stated, this is a task that can be accomplished by you and your child. In a nutshell, these are some of the key items which I think are needed to achieve this goal:
extensive curriculum planning, beginning while your child is in junior high school, and continuing through high school,
the taking of standardized courses and testing (i.e., AP, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests**),
the taking of existing approved UC a-g courses,
potentially, the taking of Junior College courses, as a High School student.
Lastly, reading the fine print of CSU publications reveals that, at least for CSU, there are additional options for the “alternatively” educated applicant. These will be discussed later in this post.
**Note: SAT Subject Tests are separate tests from the SAT Test.
Public vs. Private Universities
In my opinion, state of California universities have, in many ways, much more rigid application requirements than do private universities. In a sense, I think this is primarily because of the governmental procedure nature of these university systems. Whereas a private university usually has the capability to address applicants in a more holistic and thoughtful manner - a public university is typically bound to follow the letter of the law. As such, the public university has much less leeway when dealing with applicants who have not followed their prescribed approach in high school education. Unfortunately, such an approach tends to discount how most, if not all, home school curricula are administered. Many home school parents choose to home school precisely because they want to get away from the canned and standard curriculum approach they find in public (and private) schools. They want to have the freedom to choose which subject areas to address, how to address them, and when to address them.
Our discovery of the UC a-g requirements for freshman admission:
We have formally home schooled our children since they were in kindergarten, mostly utilizing prepared curriculum (e.g., Sonlight, Math-U-See, etc.) yet also making use of custom material as well. It was always our intent to home school our children all the way through high school, and it was always our intent to give our children the opportunity to attend a state university. Unfortunately, my wife and I had a slight miscommunication regarding how we were preparing our child to be able to submit a college application. As our first child was mid-way through her junior year of high school, it became apparent that there were significant variances between what our curriculum for her consisted of, and what both the CSU and UC systems required.
To make matters worse, our child had an intense desire to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (CP SLO), a CSU school which happens to be heavily impacted. My daughter and I visited CP SLO in May of her Junior year and, as part of a group tour, met with an admissions counselor. It was my assumption that the admissions counselor would be able to instruct us as to the direction we, as home schoolers, needed to take in order to satisfy the applications requirements for the university. Wrong assumption. It was disheartening to find out that the counselor was very ignorant (innocently enough) as to exactly how a home schooled applicant would go about submitting a proper application. For example, he was under the impression that we, as home schoolers, had to have our child’s curriculum and transcripts “verified” by the local school district. Needless to say, I left that meeting very frustrated and feeling very uneasy about what needed to happen in the next (and final) year of my daughter’s high school education
That evening I spent some time on the web to get further clarification on the “UC a-g” requirements that both CSU and UC were expecting. As I researched the web I became aware of the specific courses found on the UC Doorways website - approved classes from specific institutions. And it also became clear that my child had taken none of those courses. The bottomline conclusion seemed clear enough - if your child had not taken one of the classes on the list, then your child had not taken the required UC a-g prerequisite for application. And if they had not taken the required classes needed to apply, then it seemed logical to conclude that they would be denied admission.
Actively Searching for and Arriving at a Solution:
Yet we weren't about to go down without a fight. Despite the seemingly bad news, my daughter and I began an extensive search of exactly what was required for a home schooled applicant to apply to both CSU and UC schools, as well as what avenues of assistance we had available to us, and what alternative options we could possibly take. We scoured the web, looking for other examples or articles about home schooled applicants to CSU and UC, but found nothing. Could it be that she was the first home schooled applicant to CSU and UC? Hardly likely. Unfortunately, letters and e-mails to HSLDA went unanswered (even letters sent with an SASE). Similar inquiries to CSU admissions offices were also very unfruitful (although we did receive one helpful reply from San Diego State). One option we considered was to submit our daughter’s transcript based solely on the courses and curriculum she had taken, and if / when it was rejected, we would contest it - legally. In fact, the admissions counselor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo had essentially stated that such an option was possible. That option, however, was hardly the direction we wanted to go, and such an approach could potentially have delayed the time when our daughter would have been accepted to and been able to start college.
Through diligence on my child’s part, however, she was able to find the CSU 2012-2013 Admission Handbook online, which I have already referenced above (see PDF file link here and in the Appendix section for the latest version, the 2014-2015 Admission Handbook). This was an absolute treasure trove of information and proved to be an invaluable resource, as it laid out specifically how an applicant from an “alternative” form of education could go about applying to CSU. Take the time right now to download a copy of this file (PDF format) to keep for your records. [Note: from what I can tell, the latest 2014-2015 version does not differ, in the area of UC a-g requirements, from the 2012-2013 version. As should be obvious, though, it is your responsibility to verify the latest requirements. All page references in this article will be referencing the latest 2014-2015 version of the handbook.]
Of particular importance, to the issue of this blog post, are the following handbook pages (PDF pages) of the CSU 2014-2015 Admission Handbook:
2 (PDF 6) - “a-g Guide Project,
3 (PDF 7) - First Time Freshmen: Admission Requirements,
5 (PDF 9) - Homeschool section,
6 (PDF 10) - First Time Freshmen: Subject Requirements (includes “a-g” Course List).
Note: From what I have found, the aforementioned Admission Handbook is unique for CSU admission. For similar requirements by UC, refer to this web site which gives their standards for qualifying UC a-g courses (the link is also in the appendix, titled UC requirements for a-g admission). Also, the UC system seems to offer admission for home schooled students by either examination or exception - see this link.
New, for 2014-2015 applicants:
New, for 2014-2015 applicants, a CSU - UC systems a-g comparison matrix has been placed on the CSU website. See link in appendix, or follow this link directly to the PDF. The matrix gives a good comparison of any differences between CSU and UC, and it also summarizes the alternative means of meeting the requirements.
In reviewing the CSU Admission Handbook, we discovered that for those applicants who have had an alternative education, they are permitted to submit their transcripts as equivalents to the UC a-g, subject to review and approval by CSU. On page 5 (PDF page 9) of the CSU Admission Handbook, it states,
Students completing high school through homeschooling are expected to meet the same admission requirements as those of students attending traditional schools.
Other homeschooling may not be affiliated with high schools or districts. If there are insufficient courses from the UC “a-g” list, the CSU campus will review the application on an individual basis to determine that all requirements have been met.
Applicants may be asked to submit supplemental information, e.g. SAT subject examinations, ACT subscore, AP examinations, etc. to document completion of CSU eligibility requirements. (emphasis added)
While submitting our child's transcripts for review and approval may be the easiest alternative approach, the option which caught our eye was that of allowing various standardized test scores to be submitted in lieu of, and as an alternative to, specific UC a-g courses (e.g., refer to page 6 (PDF 10) of the 2014-2015 Admissions Handbook).
This was the ticket we were looking for.
Our reasoning here fell back on our child’s desire to attend a specific, and impacted, school. We wanted to be able to demonstrate to the CSU system, and Cal Poly SLO in particular, that our child had objectively passed their published standards for admittance, thereby relieving ourselves of any need to present backup material of curricula used, or contest a potential negative decision on their part (had we simply submitted the transcript of her home school curriculum). If your child is not as particular as to which school they desire to attend, then you may want to consider the option of submitting your child’s transcript as your proposed “alternative” to the UC a-g, thereby letting the CSU / UC system determine compliance. I will touch some more on that option later.
Keep in mind that many, if not most, of the admissions departments at the state schools will not have a good handle on what their own requirements are regarding home schooled applicants. On one occasion my wife and daughter visited San Diego State University and stopped by the admissions office to ask a few questions. When my daughter notified the person at the counter that she intended to utilize SAT Subject Test scores as a means of validating her UC a-g Science requirements she was informed that such a step was inadmissible (since the SAT Subject Test does not include any actual lab sessions). My daughter then produced a printout from the 2012-2013 Admission Handbook, which clearly states that the SAT Subject Test can be taken in lieu of the Science class requirement. The person took a look at it and told her, “Just a minute,” and he then went to confer about it with others in the office. A few minutes later he returned and told her, “You’re right.”
While such a story is not very inspiring, and does not leave one with a great sense of confidence in this specific area of admissions’ office knowledge regarding home school applicants, it should bolster one’s motivation to be diligent about researching the issue and to keep pursuing the desired goal of gaining admission to a state university.
After my daughter found the 2012-2013 Admission Handbook online we set about to use that as our guide to plan out exactly how she would meet the UC a-g requirements. For example, referencing page 6 (PDF 10) of the Admissions Handbook, regarding the 4 years of English (UC "b") requirement, it states,
The English Requirement may be satisfied by:Completing approved courses from the “a-g” list; - OR -
Earning a 3, 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition or English Literature and Composition examinations; - OR -
Due to her fondness for reading, from an early age, and because of the excellent literature-based Sonlight curriculum we had been using (since she was in the 2nd grade), she excelled in English. As such, she was able to qualify for the 4 years of English requirement by two alternative methods. 1) her score on on the writing portion of the SAT (note: not the SAT Subject Test, but the SAT) and, 2) her score on the AP English Literature and Composition exam. To emphasize her competence in this area, she decided to submit both results, on her college application, as demonstrating her qualifying for the 4th year of the English requirement.
She had also taken and passed the AP Studio Art exam, giving her the UC “f” course requirement. She then found, for her senior year, an approved UC a-g course through BYU’s Independent Study# online learning program, which qualified her for the UC “g” requirement. For the remaining UC a-g courses she decided, because of her strong desire to attend Cal Poly SLO, to study for and take six SAT Subject Tests, with the intent to score above the minimum requirement as outlined in the 2012-2013 Admission Handbook.
Needless to say, by taking six SAT Subject Tests it was an academically rough fall semester her final year of high school. Yet, her hard work paid off and she qualified, by objective standards, for all of her UC a-g requirements. Combined with her academic excellence, as well as her scores on the SAT and ACT tests, she was rewarded with acceptance to all the CSU and UC schools she applied to (including her desired Cal Poly SLO).
#Note: For those concerned, we have utilized many of the Brigham Young University (BYU) Independent Study courses and we have found no Mormon proselytizing in their standard material.
Our Recommendations: How to graduate a home schooled student “qualified” to be accepted by CSU and UC
With regards to our advice for those with students beginning or about to begin high school, I’ve broken it down into two basic options. Of course, you can tailor an approach to suit your needs and parameters. Take these two options as being general guidelines:
Option 1 -
Utilize third-party UC a-g courses, in addition to Standardized Testing scores (in lieu of UC a-g courses) to qualify.
With this option you are satisfying the letter of the law, thereby not having to rely on an individual review and approval of your child’s transcripts. This approach, I think, is critical for anyone who desires admittance to a specific school - especially an impacted school or program.
As with any approach remember - Plan, plan, and then do a little more planning. Plan curriculum based not only on your parameters, but on those that intersect with UC a-g. Plan testing strategies to help your child prepare for the big standardized tests. Plan for any necessary utilization of outside or third-party resources for UC a-g. Plan, and track, your child’s high school curriculum - by semester and by individual class. Research the various requirements for equivalency from CSU and UC. For example, on page 6 (PDF 10) of the 2014-2015 Admission Handbook, under the “a. History/Social Science” section, note that the UC “a” requirement (for one of the two required classes) can also be met by completing coursework from Section 40404, Title 5 with a C or better, or by scoring 3 or above on the AP US History test, or by scoring 520 or above on the SAT Subject Test for American History. So you have four options to objectively qualify for this particular requirement:
- take an approved UC “a” course passing with a C or better,
- take a course in US History, constitution, and American Ideals (Section 40404, Title 5) passing with a C or better, or
- score 3 or above on the AP US History test, or
- score 520 or above on the SAT SUbject Test for American History.
One note of clarification here - be sure to understand that passing an AP level course is NOT the same as passing the AP Exam. AP Testing occurs in May and is separate from the AP course itself. In fact, one can take the AP Exam without having taken the corresponding AP course (which is the path our daughter took).
In utilizing this option one needs to be intimately familiar with the Admission Handbook. Know all the options inherent in each of the UC a-g course requirements. Understand that most admissions office personnel will probably know less about this particular issue than you. Learn how to creatively (and cost effectively) approach qualification. For example, note that on page 10 (PDF 14) of the 2014-2015 Admission Handbook, under "Multiple-year Courses", it states that higher level mathematics courses will qualify the student for lower level UC a-g requirements. Hence, one can take a non-UC a-g approved third-party curriculum (e.g., Math-U-See) for lower level courses and then take a higher level college preparatory math course to qualify for UC a-g. Be smart in your approach (e.g., according to the Admission Handbook, passing an approved Algebra 2 course automatically qualifies one as having satisfied the Algebra 1 requirement, regardless of whether the Algebra 1 class was on the approved UC a-g list). Or, as I mentioned previously, be aware that the SAT Subject Test in science qualifies one for the UC a-g science requirement (one class, e.g., Physics, per test) - this despite the fact that the standard UC a-g requirement prefers that Science courses have lab sessions in which multiple students are collaborating together.
Of special note is that the UC a-g database, found at the UC Doorways website, lists classes that are approved on a year by year basis. Simply because a class is approved for the 2012-2013 school year does not guarantee that it will be approved for the following year. However, I think this simply means that any course taken during an approved year is valid regardless of whether or not the course or institution is rejected in a successive year.
Mainly, be aware of the requirements of each subject, especially with regards to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. If your child is weak in a particular subject, then research the best way they can qualify for the UC a-g requirement. One reason to be particularly aware of this is because SAT Subject Tests are primarily designed for a student to demonstrate their proficiency in that particular subject. As such, the SAT Subject Tests are strenuous. Also, note that some of the approved UC a-g classes can be taken by third party providers, such as BYU Independent Study. Our child satisfied the UC “g” Elective requirement by taking BYU's AP Psychology online - a class which was listed in the UC a-g database. Links to a few other providers are listed in the Appendix.
Language Other Than English (aka LOTE, or Foreign Language) can be a tricky requirement to meet. There are several methods one can use to satisfy this class. One can take the required classes from the UC a-g database, or one can score above the minimum on the SAT Subject Test, or one can have a assessment done by CSU, OR one can have their school administration submit a formal declaration that the LOTE coursework the student has successfully completed qualifies for the LOTE UC a-g requirement (see page 8 (PDF 12) of the 2014-2015 Admission Handbook, under the section "Verification Procedure to Determine Language Competence"). From the Admission Handbook,
The official high school transcript is the primary document for certification of a student’s academic record. Therefore, the CSU recommends a notation on the high school transcript as evidence of the high school’s determination of a student’s eligibility of college preparatory language other than English requirement.
We chose to use the SAT Subject Test option, but I think that if we had to do it over again we would go with the option of having a formal declaration by the school administration. The issue, with LOTE, is that since SAT Subject tests are primarily designed to demonstrate high proficiency in the subject being tested, they are usually taken by those who excel in the subject. However, recall that the UC a-g requirement, in its basic form, is only demonstrating that the student has achieved a C or better in the class. Hence there can be a bit of a disparity in the taking of the SAT Subject test for LOTE. Also, given the vastness of scope involved when learning another language there is no guarantee that the material covered by the student, in their normal course of study, is what will be tested for on the SAT Subject test.
Therefore, I would recommend a good course of study (e.g., Rosetta Stone supplemented with related textbooks) and then have your home school administration issue a formal notification that the student’s LOTE curriculum qualifies for UC a-g.
Option 2 -
Utilizing Standardized Testing scores, and Submitting transcript as “alternative” to UC a-g courses to qualify.
With this option, you are essentially presenting your child as qualified, based on the curriculum they have taken, along with their standardized test scores, typically through the AP, SAT and ACT. Again, plan, plan, plan. Be diligent about, and meticulous in, your record keeping. Understand that you may have to justify your claims of curriculum equivalency and that, if rejected, you may then have to contest the results.
I don’t have much to go on here, except for what I saw happen in our home school group. I think that this method works especially well for those choosing to attend schools within, or close to, their local communities. It’s my understanding that the CSU system is designed to attract local students, thereby serving the local communities. If a local home schooled student demonstrates competency, mainly through standardized testing (e.g., ACT, SAT, AP), then the actual UC a-g requirements will be essentially “waived”. To the best of my knowledge, the student in our homeschool group did not complete any courses on the UC a-g database, but did score well enough on the SAT and ACT to be admitted to two local CSU campuses as well as one local UC campus.
Despite the apparent lack of information available, the convoluted steps towards alternatively achieving the UC a-g coursework, and the innocent ignorance in admissions offices, this is an achievable goal for you and your child. Planning is essential. Preparation is key. Diligence is paramount. And these are key qualitites that every home school parent should be desiring to impart upon their children. Despite the fact that home schooling has come of age, there are still naysayers in our midst. As such, I believe that it is in the home schoolers best interest to present their child as qualified - more than qualified, if you will - for admission to the CSU and UC systems.
Tips & Tricks:
Layout / Plan your child’s high school (and possibly junior high) curriculum well in advance, to take advantage of the preparatory requirements for the UC a-g requirements. Utilize a spreadsheet system to plan and track class units as well as GPA. In the Appendix, I’ve attached both MS Excel and Open Office template spreadsheets you can use to keep track of your child’s classes, units, GPA, and credits.
Stay abreast of the requirements for not only the CSU and UC systems, but individual universities within said systems. For instance, some of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s admissions requirements extend beyond or differ from CSU’s, and UC Riverside has a homeschool (“nontraditional” education) option in their application process. You can also reference additional UC system info at this link.
Regarding the Language Other Than English (LOTE) requirement, be aware that ASL can qualify for this subject. Check the guidelines in the 2014-2015 Admission Handbook.
Plan the courses in your transcript listing with the state school applications in mind. When applying online for CSU, we ran into an issue with the number of lines available for courses per subject, character limits in course titles, etc. This was a bit unnerving, since we had used a casual approach towards how many courses we listed as well as how we titled our classes. I was forced to revise the format of our daughter’s curriculum listing in order to complete a proper application. You can avoid this headache by consolidating your child’s coursework both in description and subject area ahead of time. In other words, plan for your college application.
Costs. Note that taking third-party AP or UC a-g courses, testing, etc., is not free. If expenses are an issue, then you will need to be very creative in your approach. Depending on the maturity level (and desire) of your child, you may need to parlay some of the academic burden onto them. In other words, they may need to study much more than normal in order to prepare for and take the proper standardized tests (these tests are not free, but they are much cheaper than taking online or private courses).
# Update: 8-Mar-14
It seems that College Board will be revising how the SAT is structured, beginning with tests in 2016. E.g., the 2400 point max will revert back to the 1600 point total. Also, points will not be deducted for incorrect answers. No word yet on how or if this will impact the SAT Subject Tests. Also, there may need to be changes made to the CSU Admissions Handbook. Stay tuned.
# Update: 3-Jul-14
A blogger, with a similar experience, has left a comment on the duplicate post at Stones Cry Out. He has also written three posts which address his approach to this topic with his child.
Transcripts, Credits, and GPA Templates:
HS Transcript and Credits Template.xls (MS Excel file)
HS Transcript and Credits Template.ods (Open Office and Libre Office file)
California High School Graduation Requirements:
California State University (CSU) system:
CSU 2014-2015 Admission Handbook link (direct to PDF file)
CSU - UC systems a-g comparison matrix (direct to PDF file)
University of California (UC) system:
UC A-G Guide, helpful links
UC a-g course Database (UC Doorways):
UC Doorways: Database source for approved a-g courses and institutions Home page
a-g Course Lists (the UC a-g database), searchable site (searchable by high schools, programs, districts, community colleges, sample courses, course titles, and by academic year)
Online Courses (for both AP and UC a-g curricula) - NOT NECESSARILY AN ENDORSEMENT - shown for information only:
Timeline (from KAPLAN, a standardized test preparation service company) - advice on how to prepare, through high school, for the various standardized tests needed for college. Link to PDF