One of the most surprising lessons I’ve learned in college is that my parents’ unorthodox homeschooling methods made me better prepared for higher education than my public-schooled friends. While the transition from homeschool to college certainly presents distinct challenges, homeschooling’s uniquely flexible curriculum gives you the opportunity to give your children experience learning and studying exactly how they will be expected to in college—as well as strengthen them spiritually in case they choose a secular institution.

Here are five recommendations for your high school curriculum to set your children up for college success.

Let Your Kids Pick Some Subjects

College offers the wonderful thrill of getting to pick classes that fascinate you. Letting your children dabble in this now (an advantage that public high schoolers get a taste of) enables them to explore topics that may develop into life passions and careers. This means less time and money wasted switching majors in college.

This method doesn’t work with all subjects; for instance, math must be taught in the correct order. But for science, give your children the choice of physics, chemistry, geology, biology, astronomy, meteorology, or ecology. Options abound for the social sciences, as well: consider sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography, the humanities, and different historical focuses.

For English, give your children a choice between reading similar texts, such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, or the classic mysteries of Wilkie Collins or those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Include memoirs and creative nonfiction related to your children’s interests, from petroleum engineering to art restoration. You’re still guiding the curriculum to focus on worthwhile texts, but they get to enjoy their assigned reading.

I can attest that giving children choices in their studies works to inspire career interests. Because my parents did this, I fell in love with literature and now hold a degree in English and Professional Writing.

Teach Things You Disagree With

In your children’s future college classes they will encounter a plethora of ideas that will contradict your worldview, whatever that may be. Perhaps you wish to shy away from teaching macroevolution, Freudian psychology, or alternate political philosophies. But that’s all the more reason to teach these topics to your children now so they are prepared to deal with them later. You can certainly teach that you believe certain things to be wrong (and why!), but make sure that your children understand the concepts themselves and don’t just have a blind faith that they are incorrect.

Sheltering your older children from alternate worldviews handicaps them in college and now. It can prevent them from being able to get along with people who hold different beliefs and from serving as an effective witness to them. And it seriously inhibits their future academic success, as college courses will require that they engage with ideas they disagree with and learn from professors and collaborate with classmates with alternate perspectives.

Experiment With Self-Directed Schedules

In college, students are given large projects on top of daily assignments, and they will be expected to pace themselves accordingly. Acquainting your children with this system in advance is an enormous favor to them.

Assign papers and projects in large chunks. For example, have them read three chapters by the end of the week instead of twenty pages a day and turn in their completed essay in two weeks instead of submitting an outline and various drafts at separate increments. Then, be sure your role as a parent doesn’t overtake your role as teacher, and strictly enforce due dates.

College schedules also allow students to choose whether they want to study at the start of the day or well past nightfall, which works out since each person’s most mentally productive time of day is different. Start small with this to prevent your children from postponing homework for the sake of fun, but gradually increase their freedom in this area. This is excellent preparation for when they will need to plan their own study sessions in the “free time” outside of college classes. Beyond college preparation, having some control over their own schedules will also teach them responsibility and self-discipline.

Start College Now

Many community colleges and some universities open up their classes to high school students, sometimes at a reduced cost or even for free. Especially in eleventh and twelfth grade, homeschooled high school students can be perfectly successful in freshman college courses. Consider enrolling your children in one college course per semester or year to start accumulating required credits early. If you’d prefer they not be alone on campus quite yet, opt for online classes that can be taken from home.

I completed a whole semester’s worth of college courses before I graduated high school, and our pastor’s daughter spent her entire twelfth grade at our local community college, her classes counting for both years at once. Starting early helps your children get used to what is expected of them in college before they must throw themselves into it completely, and it gives them a head start so they can finish their degrees all the sooner. It also enables you to be present as a spiritual guide when your children first encounter this temptation-heavy environment.

Assign Essay Contests

Homeschoolers have a much harder time paying for college than public schoolers do. Neither private nor state scholarships always include stipulations for homeschooler eligibility (in the former case they just don’t think about it, and in the latter case, the lack often stems from prejudice).

But there’s no need to despair. Many national and international essay contests welcome homeschoolers to enter and offer substantial prizes. This isn’t just for students interested in English; if you look hard enough, you can find an essay contest about pretty much any field your child is interested in. It’s how I got my start paying for college, so I can attest it is worth the time and effort. A few essay contests to check out online are:

  • American Foreign Service Association
  • Letters About Literature
  • Scholastic Breaking Barriers
  • Being an American (by the Bill of Rights Institute)
  • National Rifle Association

These essays can easily be incorporated into your curriculum as assignments in related classes. If your children win prizes, they will not only have money for tuition but also impressive credentials to add to college applications. Even if they don’t win, they will still gain practice writing for an audience other than their parents, doing individual research, and developing and supporting their own theses, all of which they will certainly be expected to do in college.

Although there are many different reasons why parents choose to homeschool, the shared bottom line is that you all want your children to have the best educational foundation possible. Accordingly, consider employing these five methods unique to homeschooling’s flexibility to prepare your children for higher education. Far from the offensive stereotype of homeschoolers entering college intellectually handicapped, your children can serve as ambassadors for homeschooling by going in far better prepared than their public-schooled peers.

This article was published in the January/February 2017 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.

Sapphire Heien lives in Laramie, Wyoming with her husband Jeremy, where she works as a secretary and freelance writer and editor. She was homeschooled for eleven years and currently serves as an AWANA leader. Sapphire enjoys reading, making crafts, hiking, and spending time with God.