This will come as no surprise to you, intellectually, but the world is much bigger than we think. We live in familiar communities with our favorite friends and we frequent the same stores and shops most of the time. Occasionally, we will venture out to a new restaurant, but often we prefer to stick with our favorites. This is true for how we live, and it’s also true for how our homeschool students pick their colleges. More often than not, our college-bound homeschoolers stick to the colleges and experiences that are closest to home, or most similar to those of their friends and family. But if we remember that the world is much bigger than we think, then a whole new world can be opened up to our students.

Recently, another homeschooler shared his experiences with his son’s college application process. He came to the conclusion that with all of the online information available regarding college options, his potential list of colleges was significantly greater than he expected. He lamented the fact that he didn’t feel that he had so many choices when he was preparing for high school. I don’t think any of us would argue that this is one benefit of the internet. Getting in-depth information is much easier than it used to be, but we forget this truth when picking colleges.

So how should a homeschooler go about looking at larger options for college? The first place that most parents probably start is either with costs and location. For instance, many parents tell their children that they have to stay in their home state for college because the out-of-state tuitions are higher. While that may be true for many schools, it may not be true for all of them. So, the first step is to avoid making false assumptions about costs, and therefore location.

The second step is to take advantage of online college search programs that let you and your child craft a list of preferences. These sites have no emotion about you. They don’t judge schools by any other factors than you give them to judge the college. If you and your homeschool student can be confident of what you want in a college, then these search programs can immediately expand your options. Two of my favorites are Peterson’s and the College Board. Both websites allow you to input variables and create lists of colleges that your homeschool student is interested in. Most likely, you will discover many, many colleges that you might not have considered before through the search results.

Then, request catalogs or information packets from as many of these schools as you can. Begin the process of getting to know these schools. If they have email newsletters or alumni organizations, get on those lists so that you can see what others are saying about these schools. Slowly, you will begin to get a “feel” for those few that stick out as the best fit for your homeschool student. As your list narrows, the level of questions that you ask, whether about costs or other issues, will intensify. Once the list is down to five or six, go ahead and begin the application process when your homeschool student reaches their appropriate age and academic standing.

You may have noticed that this process will take some time. Making a decision as to the college you send your homeschool student to should not be rushed. Ideally, you would begin this search process in the early years of high school and continue the process up until the senior year. You may even want to reassess the search engine options as interests of your student change. Thinking about college when your child is a freshman is not a bad thing. It gives plenty of time for you to see the larger world that is available to your homeschool child, and that is always an exciting thing to see.