I graduated from high school in 2002 as a homeschool student. Except for writing a few exams, I hadn’t stepped foot in a public school since Kindergarten. Back then, there were limited options for homeschoolers, and my choice of secondary education was often looked upon with doubt. I’ve never regretted completing high school at home (or any of the years before that). Here’s how I successfully finished Grade 12 and entered the university of my choice that fall.
As my twin brother and I completed our Grade 9 year, high school loomed ahead of us. While it seemed to us like another year of school, just like every year we’d done before, those around us seemed to view these next 3 years very differently. We were repeatedly asked how we were going to complete high school. Many people—friends, family, even our homeschool board—seemed to assume we’d be applying at our local high school and going to “real” school finally.
After nine years of doing school at home, my brother and I weren’t interested in jumping into the local high school. We saw no reason to change our school plans simply because we were a few years older, and our parents backed us up. My mom was willing to keep teaching us at home… if we could figure out how to do that.
Our local homeschool board was no help. Like most homeschoolers in Alberta, we’d been registered with the provincial board since starting to homeschool in Grade 1. This board sent a teacher to meet with my mom twice a year to discuss our schooling, look over our books, and assess our work. This teacher also arranged the required provincial exams in Grades 3, 6 and 9. Now that we were looking at high school, however, this teacher just shrugged. She didn’t know how to help us complete high school because nobody in our area had done that before.
“Nobody has done that before” hadn’t stopped us from starting to homeschool in Grade 1, and it didn’t stop us from staying at home in Grade 10. Hearing of an independent homeschool board that had a few more ideas about completing high school at home, we switched. Wisdom Homeschooling was a newish board who also hadn’t graduated many homeschoolers yet, but they were willing to help us figure out how to do it. So we ploughed ahead.
One common question we heard during these years was, “What do you want to do after you graduate?” Like most teenagers, however, my brother and I didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do after Grade 12. I enjoyed reading, writing, and babysitting; my brother enjoyed farming and fixing trucks. My dad encouraged us both to attend university, but where? for what?
As Grade 10 drew closer, the pressure to pick a university and program of study grew. Most of the advice for doing high school centered upon finding out what we’d need to do to get into university. For example, some universities required a diploma; others had entrance exams. Once we’d picked the university we wanted to attend, we’d be able to work towards meeting their entrance requirements, whatever those were.
My dad had a different theory. He wanted us to keep all our options open. Plans and interests might change, he said, especially in the next three years. Instead of doing only the required courses for a specific university or degree program, it would be best to do all the courses we could, in order to keep any door open.
He also strongly urged us to get our high school diplomas. His company had recently been unable to hire an engineer with a master’s degree because she didn’t have a high school diploma. However, the provincial requirements for getting a high school diploma as a homeschool student were enormous. We could produce our math, science, and English work for assessment, but there was no teacher watching us biking, swimming, baking, cleaning, or cooking to give us Phys Ed and Home Economics credit.
At that time, I was biking 12-20 kilometers two or three times a week with a friend of mine and swimming several kilometers a week with my mom. I sewed most of my own clothes and baked a batch of cookies every week. My brothers and I each took turns cooking one night a week. My dad had trained me as his personal secretary, so I could type 90 words per minute and navigate Microsoft Office with ease. But we had no way to prove to the school board that we’d learned all these things, so they wouldn’t give us credit for this.
In the end, we completed high school simply by challenging the local Grade 12 or Diploma Exams. Every student in the province of Alberta wrote the same exams at the end of Grade 12. In Grade 10, my brother and I focused our studies on Biology and wrote the Diploma Exam at the local high school. In Grade 11, we completed Chemistry. In Grade 12, I wrote the Social Studies, Math and English exams. I had studied Physics that year, but did not enjoy it and knew I wouldn’t do very well on the exam, so I didn’t take it—I already had two sciences on my transcript.
Writing those five diploma exams gave me a transcript of marks I was able to present in lieu of a high school diploma. I used that transcript to apply at a local university. I had scored 98% on my English exams, which made up for barely passing my math and science exams, and I was accepted into the Bachelor of Arts program.
I went on to get top marks in my first year at university, which inspired me to study harder in the coming years. My good grades got me scholarships to help pay for tuition each year. I graduated at the top of my class, with a near-perfect average and the Governor General’s Award.
I also used my high school transcript to get a job with my dad’s company for two of my summers at university. Along with the cover letter I submitted applying for the summer position, I included my transcript and a note that as a homeschool student, I had only a transcript and not a diploma. The company hired me, because the transcript showed I had completed high school. I have never again been asked for a high school diploma.
My twin brother took an extra year to finish high school while working full-time for the dairy farmer down the road from us. He then continued to farm for another year before applying for an apprenticeship as a heavy duty mechanic. His experience and transcript got him into our local technical college, where he aced his apprentice program. He is now well-respected as a mechanic, driving his company’s service truck to locations all around the province, and fixing my uncle’s farm equipment in his spare time.
In many ways, my high school years were just like the years of school before that. I did my schoolwork at home and pursued my interests in my spare time. In other ways, those years were stressful, because of the emphasis put upon what I was going to do next. I’m glad there are many more options available to homeschoolers today. In hind sight, however, our plan for completing high school at home was both simple and successful.
Bonnie Way is a second-generation homeschooler, currently teaching her oldest three daughters at home (grades 4, 3 and K). She has a B.A. in English (2006) and a B.A. in Writing (2014) and blogs about motherhood, homeschooling and books as the Koala Mom. She and her husband now live in Vancouver, BC. When she’s not blogging or homeschooling, Bonnie can be found reading, hiking, or drinking coffee with friends.