I draw upon two sources to say with certainty that home schooled children can be admitted to top colleges: my own experience and those colleges’ reports. My direct experience with college students from home school environments has been limited, but it still has shown to me that home schooled children often stand a great chance of being accepted at the top colleges in the nation. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggest home schoolers have a high chance of acceptance at top colleges.
My own education, which includes one year of home schooling and an Ivy League Early Decision Acceptance, allowed me to write essays on which the admissions department likely based its acceptance decision. These essays demonstrated that I was a student motivated enough to take an active role in my own education and that I was ready, possibly more so than my traditionally-schooled peers, to take my knowledge to the next step. Beyond the essays, when I chose to have an alumni interview to add to my application, home schooling became a benefit. To a traditionally-schooled student, the idea of home schooling is usually very interesting, and that makes the home school experience the perfect topic for college interviews.
A good friend of mine, also a student at Dartmouth College, had almost the opposite school experience as I. He had been home schooled until he was 17 when he spent some time at a local Community College, which gave him the classroom experience he needed to become extremely successful at the most competitive schools. In addition to his acceptance at Dartmouth, he was able to consider some of the top music conservatory programs due to the abilities he developed over his home school years.
In addition to these personal experiences, some colleges have released statistics or statements that are encouraging for home schooled prospective students. As early as 2000, Stanford University reported an extremely high 27% acceptance rate, compared to the roughly 15% overall rate, for home schoolers, according to this site. Also on that page, a Harvard admissions officer speaks highly of students with home schooling backgrounds.
I believe the question is not really can home schooled students gain admission at top schools, but how do they? While traditionally schooled students must distinguish themselves through high GPAs and club participation, the burden on the home schooler is to develop deep rather than wide interests. By this I mean that the home schooled student most likely to be accepted to the Ivy League or schools like Stanford or Chicago is the one who demonstrates, through test scores and extracurricular organizations, a strong interest in something he or she can continue at these colleges. With such an interest, the applicant must only use the essays to show the admissions officers his or her passion and to outline a plan on how to use the school to further his or her goals. My understanding of college admissions leads me to believe that, unlike people, colleges want to be used. Essays are the chance for a home schooler with a non-traditional transcript to tell the school exactly how it works into his or her plans. From this perspective, home schooling’s lack of rigid curricula becomes an advantage to the student hoping to attend a top college.