Transitional Experiences of First-Year College Students Who Were Homeschooled
By Bolle, Mary Beth Wessel, Roger D; Mulvihill, Thalia M
This study examined transitional experiences of first-year college students who were homeschooled in high school. It sought to determine if experiences of such students corresponded with Tinto’s (1988, 1993) theory of student departure. The qualitative study found that there was little distinction between the transitional experiences of homeschooled students and traditionally educated students. During their first year of college, students experienced transitional issues such as loneliness, meeting others with different values, and dealing with greater independence. Academic and student support services, such as orientation, resident assistants, and campus programming, were influential institutional interventions in their transition to college. Homeschooling has become increasingly more prevalent in recent years. During the 1990s the number of homeschooled students nearly tripled, rising from 300,000 students in 1991 to 805,000 students in 1999 (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1999). About 30,000 homeschooled students begin college per year (Cox, 2003). In order to facilitate homeschooled student success, institutions of higher education must strive to understand how these students adjust to and encounter the college experience.
Tinto (1988, 1993) argued that college students journey through three stages of transition as they adjust and become assimilated into college life: separation, transition, and incorporation. The degree of transition required is directly related to the differences between the individual s life at home and the community life of the college. Tinto’s theory has many implications for homeschooled college students who have little or no experience in the traditional education setting.
This study sought to examine the transitional experiences of matriculating first-year college students who graduated from high school in a homeschool setting. Transitional issues encountered were compared with Tinto’s (1988, 1993) theory of student departure and other related literature in the field. By interviewing and studying the experiences of six first-year homeschooled students at a midsized public doctoral-granting university in the Midwest, an understanding of their experiences was gained. By furthering their understanding of how first-year homeschooled students experience the transition to college, educators will be better equipped to help such students transition to college. The primary researcher had been homeschooled throughout high school and experienced many transitions in adjusting to college. These experiences fueled her desire to better understand and foster such students’ development. The researcher’s background served as a reference point during data collection. It also enlightened the data analysis process.
Homeschooling in the United States
Five main reasons why parents choose to homeschool their children were identified by Cox (2003): “to give their children a better education, for religious reasons, to avoid a poor school environment, for family reasons, and to instill ‘character/ morality’” ([para] 13). Luebke (1999) and Holder (2001) also found that a large number of parents choose to homeschool for religious reasons. While characteristics of homeschoolers vary greatly, some distinctions can be made. About 25% of homeschoolers are minority students, whereas 36% of traditional students are minorities (NCES, 1999). Homeschooling families have more children than non- homeschooling families, and 80% of homeschoolers come from two- parent households, compared with 66% of students from non- homeschooling families.
Persistence/Transition of College Students
Tinto (1988, 1993) expanded Van Gennep’s (1909/1960) studies on assimilation and acquiring membership in a group by applying his theory to the issues experienced by students transitioning from high school to college. During this transitional period, which Tinto divided into three stages, the student departs from his or her family and high school community and begins to transition to a new identity as a college student. During the first stage, separation, the student must let go of his or her identity with high school and family. For successful separation to occur, students must remove themselves and consciously disassociate from their former communities. This process can be very challenging and lead to feelings of isolation. The second stage, transition, is a “period of passage between the old and the new, between associations of the past and hoped for associations with communities of the present” (Tinto, 1988, p. 444). Students learn the behavioral norms associated with the college community. This stage is marked by stress, sadness at losing what was left behind, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Some experience stress to a greater degree than others.
The scope of the transition stage, that is, the degree of change it entails, depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the degree of difference between the norms and patterns of behavior of the past and those required for incorporation into the life of the college. (Tinto, 1988, p. 445)
If a student’s communities of the past (e.g., family, high school) are largely different from that of the college, the student encounters more difficulty in adjusting. During the third stage, incorporation, the student explicitly becomes a member of the university by adopting the social norms of the community. The process of integration involves both academic and social transitions. Challenges during the period of incorporation arise when behavioral norms are not always clearly outlined for the student. The completion of this transition is marked by the student forming relationships with others at the institution and acquiring a sense of ownership and belongingness to the college community.
Tinto (1988) suggested that all students, regardless of their background, undergo the same transitional phases. His work was expanded by other researchers. Christie and Dinham (1991) examined the weight that external influences, such as family and friends, play on students’ transition and incorporation. They found that external pressures have a stronger influence on transition than Tinto (1988, 1993) had first theorized. Others took issue with Tinto’s (1988, 1993) model. Tierney (1992) suggested that Tinto’s (1988, 1993) model was inadequate, especially when related to minority students, because it requires minority students to assimilate and incorporate into a culture different from their own.
Homeschooled College Students
Little research has been done on how homeschooled students experience college. Most evidence is anecdotal. One reason for this lack of research could be that the number of homeschooled students, as a percentage of the total college population, is low. For example, only 32 homeschooled students enrolled in the University ofWisconsin in the fall semester of 1998 (Luebke, 1999). Despite limited research, many factors, both academic and social, would suggest a positive college experience for homeschooled students. Homeschooled students typically have performed 15 to 30 percentile points higher that public school students on standardized achievement tests and have been above the norm in social and psychological development (Ray, 2003). They “perform well in college and leadership activities and tend to be independent and critical thinkers who are gainfully employed” ([para] 3). Another study found that although the numbers were not statistically significant, the college GPA, number of credits earned during the first year of college, and ACT test scores of homeschooled students have been greater than that of traditionally educated students (Jones & Gloeckner, 2004). Homeschooled students also have tended to be more active in civic and community activities than the norm (Smith & Sikkink, 1999).
There are many benefits for the homeschooled student that stretch beyond academics (Cox, 2003). These include better relationships with siblings and parents, more opportunities for interaction with people of different ages that lead to developing friendships with various ages and genders, and a better relationship with adults. Brown University’s dean, Joyce Reed, had a positive view of homeschooled students: “These kids are the epitome of Brown students. They’ve learned to be self-directed, take risks, face challenges with total fervor, and they don’t back off” (Sutton, 2002, [para] 8).
Even with factors that promote the success of homeschooled students, many authorities are still concerned about homeschooled students entering college. The most common concern is a fear that homeschooled students lack socialization (Luebke, 1999). Others feel that homeschooled students do not have a broad view of the real world and that homeschooling leads to a sheltered existence without exposure to different people and views. Some believe that homeschooling thwarts the public good because parents focus on their individual children to the loss of the whole of society (Lubienski, 2003).
Persistence/Transition of Homeschooled College Students
Sutton and Galloway (2000) examined the undergraduate experiences of high school students from three different secondary educational backgrounds (public school, private school, and homeschool) and measured success based on five factors (achievement, leadership, professional aptitude, social behavior, and physical activity). The quantitative study used a multivariate analysis of data from the academic, community service, and student activity records of 64 students attending a Southeastern university in order to compare the three groups of students. They found little difference in the areas of achievement, professional aptitude, social behavior, and physical activity based upon the school environment. The authors concluded that all three types of educational settings prepared students for a college career of comparable achievement, aptitude, social skills, and physical activity. Homeschooled students scored significantly higher than public and private school students in the leadership dimension of the study. Notably, the results of the study indicated that homeschooled students are adequately prepared to transition and succeed in college and that their college experience is comparable to that of traditionally educated students. Lattibeaudiere (2000) studied how homeschooled students experienced the transition to college. The study focused on the transitional experiences of 25 students in their second year of college who were attending 4-year public and religious-affiliated schools. Participants completed a questionnaire measuring student adaptation to college and were interviewed using an interview guide. Faculty and staff observant of the studentsg:’ transition to college were also interviewed. Questionnaire data and interview transcripts were analyzed by computer programs. Because Lattibeaudiere’s goal was to determine how well such students had adjusted by their sophomore and junior year of college, first-year students were not included in the study. The study indicated that homeschooled students had a positive and successful experience transitioning from high school to college. In fact, the longer that students were homeschooled, the better they adapted to college life. In addition, students who lived on campus were better adjusted than students who lived off campus or commuted. There were a number of factors that seemed to promote the positive correlation between length of time homeschooled and adjustment to college: accessibility to individually tailored instruction, ability to learn at their own pace, option to study subjects of interest, opportunity to be taught in a loving educational environment, and availability of hands-on opportunities that developed curiosity and love of learning. From the perspective of educators who worked with the students, homeschooled students seemed to be shy and to take more time than traditionally educated students in adjusting to the social setting of college. Although homeschooled students may have had some difficulty connecting with their peers, they exhibited great skill in relating to individuals of all ages.
Holder (2001) compared the academic performance and socialization of homeschooled college sophomores, juniors, and seniors with their traditionally educated counterparts. Participants included both students who were homeschooled and students who were traditionally educated at a private, 4-year, Christian university. Both groups completed a questionnaire, gathering demographic and academic information, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, to understand their self-awareness and socialization. The students who were homeschooled also were interviewed in order to delve deeper into their experiences. The sample was limited to students of sophomore level or higher. Themes were detected from interview transcriptions, and data from the questionnaires and Rosenberg scale were compared.
Holder (2001) found that homeschooled students were academically and socially adept. The academic achievement of the homeschooled students was higher than that of traditionally educated students. The average ACT score and college GPA of the homeschooled students were 25.6 and 3.43, respectively, whereas the average ACT score and college GPA of traditionally educated students were 23.4 and 3.07, respectively. The students indicated that homeschooling helped them develop the ability to learn on their own, good study habits, self- motivation, how to be responsible, flexibility in learning at their own pace, and self-discipline. Factors that were difficult for such students in adjusting to the academic expectations of college were the extensive writing and research required, meeting assignment deadlines and managing time, and getting accustomed to class schedules. The homeschooled students assimilated well to the social environment of college. Because such students had interacted with a wide range of ages during high school through volunteering, outside activities, and part-time jobs, they were prepared for the transition to college. In college they were involved in various clubs and organizations including social and academic groups and athletics. The homeschooled informants in the study believed they were less influenced by peer pressure. However, 3 of the 17 students indicated that they felt somewhat incompetent in interacting with members of the opposite sex. The study also indicated that homeschooled students had a higher level of self-esteem compared to traditionally educated students.
The purpose of this study was to examine the transitional experiences of matriculating firstyear college students who were homeschooled in high school. Both common and unique transitional issues were studied to better understand how homeschooled students experience their first year of college. The study sought to answer three questions. What transitional issues did homeschooled students encounter in adjusting to college life? How were these issues related to Tinto’s (1988, 1993) theory of transition? What institutional interventions at the university aided or hindered the transition?
Design of Study
At the university where the research was conducted there were nine new students during the 2005 fall semester who had graduated from high school in a homeschool setting. These students were identifiable by their admission applications. All nine of these students persisted to the 2006 spring semester. Among these nine students, two were commuter students who had taken enough courses at a local community college to achieve sophomore standing. Because of their sophomore standing these students were not included in the population. The population was seven matriculating students who were homeschooled in high school, matriculated in the 2005 fall semester, and were retained in the 2006 spring semester. Because of the size of the population, all students in the population were chosen to be in the sample. Of the seven students contacted, six students participated.
Qualitative methodology was chosen for this study because it provided opportunity for individuals to describe how they made meaning of their experiences. An interview-based approach was selected because it provided opportunity to describe how individuals experienced a phenomenon (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005), in this case homeschooled high school students who had matriculated to a midsized public doctoral-granting university in the Midwest. Flowers and Moore (2003) argued that “a qualitative research design is suitable when student affairs professionals are interested in collecting in- depth data reflective of . . . students’ college experiences” ([para] 1). The study’s methodology was based on our belief that the students’ experiences could best be understood by discussing, understanding, and analyzing their individual experiences and searching for common themes among these experiences.
Personal interviews were conducted, allowing for the collection of in-depth answers from informants. A semi-structured interview guide, based on the instrument Lattibeaudiere (2000) created for her study, was developed in order to facilitate the interviews. Lattibeaudiere inquired about students’ expectations, their first few weeks of college, and their emotional and social adjustment. Questions asked students to: “Describe what things were like for you during the first few weeks of college” and “Describe how you have dealt with the pressures of college life.” Questions relevant to the topic were selected, with permission, from Lattibeaudiere’s interview guide. They were organized around the study’s primary research questions and modified to address background information, separation, transition/ incorporation, and the role of the university in the student’s adjustment. Before the interviews were conducted, the semi-structured interview guide was reviewed by a panel of five experts who were either experienced educators working with homeschooled students in the college admissions process or were experienced qualitative researchers. The panel provided suggestions to improve the relative success of the guide, and these suggestions were incorporated in the final interview guide. Interviews lasted about one hour and were audio recorded and transcribed by the researcher. The Institutional Review Board approved the data collection process before data were collected in February-March 2006 (IRB 06-194). In addition to audio recording the interviews, the researcher followed the recommendation of Lofland and Lofland (1984) to write brief notes during the interview process as an aid to later construct field notes. Field notes, according to Bogdan and Biklen (1982), are “the written account of what the researcher hears, sees, experiences, and thinks in the course of collecting and reflecting on the data” (p. 108).
Data analysis was guided by how participants’ transition was related to Tinto’s (1988, 1993) transitional model. It did not seek to provide a summary of the emerging transitional issues. Data analysis consisted of several actions. The data analysis techniques described in the work of Berkowitz (1997) and Strauss and Corbin (1990) were used for this study. Specifically, we engaged in Berkowitz’s three-step process of data reduction, whereby pertinent data were selected and condensed; data display, whereby data were organized in a systematic and meaningful way; and conclusion drawing and verification, whereby themes were detected and conclusions formed. Strauss and Corbin provide more detailed recommendations regarding the specific coding process. We used the process of “open coding” (Strauss and Corbin), whereby themes were identified from the raw data within the transcripts. Open coding allowed for a preliminary identification of conceptual categories. Next we re- examined the conceptual categories in relationship to each other in a process referred to as “axial coding” (Strauss and Corbin). At this point we determined what, if any, connections emerged between the categories. The third part included building a preliminary, coherent narrative about the overall data in relation to the original research questions. In addition to producing and analyzing transcripts of the audiotaped interviews and constructing field notes from the outline of notes written during the interviews, we also engaged in reflexivity. Reflexivity is a process “to explore the ways in which a researcher’s involvement with a particular study influences, acts upon and informs such research” (Nightingale & Cromby, 1999, p. 228). The primary researcher’s (Bolle) personal experience, as a homeschooled student who experienced college transition issues, served as a particularly useful site for reflection throughout data collection and analysis. This type of comprehensive data analysis is iterative in nature and we used the constant comparative analysis method (Glaser and Strauss, 1967) to refine and improve the “working hypothesis” (Cronbach, 1975) about how the people interviewed made meaning of their experiences as homeschooled students transitioning to college. We followed the advice of Lincoln and Guba (1985) related to evaluating the credibility, dependability, and confirmability of qualitative research studies. Member checking was considered as a means of further establishing credibility and dependability, but was not used due to the our judgment that it would not add significantly to the meaningfiilness of the findings. This decision may be interpreted by some as a limitation,
Whereas Guba and Lincoln (1989) regarded member checks as “the single most critical technique for establishing credibility” (p. 239), Sandelowski (1993) argued that if reality is assumed (as it generally is within the qualitative paradigm) to be “multiple and constructed,” the “repeatability is not an essential (or necessary or sufficient) property of the things themselves” (p. 3), and we should not expect expert researchers or respondents to arrive at the same themes and categories as the researcher. Put simply, any attempt to increase [dependability] involves a forced or artificial consensus and conformity in the analysis of the data, which is usually at the expense of the . . . meaningfiilness of the findings. (Rolfe, 2006, p. 305)
Furthermore, we agreed with other qualitative researchers such as Baxter and Eyles (1997, 1999a, 1999b) and Borland (1991) who identified member checks as inherently problematic regarding “interpretative conflict,” or as Bradshaw (2001) claimed, “interpretive standpoints” (p. 204).
Following the advice from the American Education Research Association’s ([AERA], 2006) article, we determined to cease data analysis when we were “satisfied and [could] provide evidence that [our] interpretations meaningfully and comprehensively characterize [d] the data analyzed in light of the problem formation” (p. 38). Furthermore, the AERA article stated that
claims can be established through a variety of procedures including triangulation or comparison of evidence from different sources, asking participants to evaluate pattern descriptions and claims, having different analysts examine the same data (independently or collaboratively), searches for disconfirming evidence and counterinterpretations, and representations of differing perspectives among participants and researchers, including attention to their location in the broader social structure, (p. 38)
We determined that from among this variety of procedures “having different analysts examine the same data” (AERA, p. 38) and searching for “disconfirming evidence and counter interpretations” (AERA, p. 38), as well as looking for “representations of differing perspectives among participants and researchers” (AERA, p. 38), were the best means of expressing the understanding derived from the data.
Although this study did not employ “member checking,” the study did include a review of the raw data in combination with the analysis by an expert qualitative researcher to ensure credibility. Furthermore, we used a form of “inquiry audit” whereby the expert peer reviewers evaluated the research process in relation to the outcomes and determined that the level of consistency between the two was high and therefore deemed the research to be dependable. And, finally, we conducted a “confirmability audit” whereby an examination of raw data, analysis notes, and generation of a coherent understanding were reviewed by expert peer reviewers.
Four female and two male first-year undergraduates took part in the study. The students’ identities were protected by pseudonyms and the university was referred to as Midwest State. Five students lived on campus and one student commuted to class. The students were all traditional-aged college students. Majors included Latin education, computer science, marketing, and interior design. The reasons each student was homeschooled, along with the method and process for each, was different.
Rebecca. The eldest in a family of 12 children was the first child to leave home. She identified herself as a Christian and was homeschooled for 12 years. She was an in-state honors student and her major was Latin education.
John. John’s father worked at Midwest State and John attended in part because of the tuition discount. He was a student worker in the computer services department and was majoring in computer science.
Eva. An in-state student, Eva was the older of two children and was home-schooled since third grade. She was a competitive swimmer for 12 years and identified herself as a Christian. Her major was marketing.
Jeff. Jeff decided to go to Midwest State because it was out-of- state and far from his parents. His parents, who were pastors, moved in state to take jobs just before Jeff began school. Jeff’s major was architecture.
Aimee. The oldest of three, Aimee was home-schooled since seventh grade. She began home schooling, because as a Christian, some of the things going on in her public school bothered her. In high school, Aimee was involved in a cheerleading squad at the local gym. She was majoring in interior design.
Sidney. Sidney was homeschooled intermittently from sixth to ninth grade and was homeschooled during her last three years of high school. She did not like being homeschooled and felt that it had under-prepared her for college. Sidney was a nontraditional student who commuted, was married, and had a newborn daughter.
Leaving Home. Although all of the students who lived on campus indicated some feelings of loneliness after leaving home and arriving on campus, the degree of loneliness was different for each student. Of the five students who lived on campus, three looked forward to leaving home. They mentioned a desire to have more independence from their parents and families. On the other hand, two students, who were very close to their families, were nervous and reluctant to leave home. One of these students, Rebecca, the oldest in a large family and particularly close to her younger siblings, noted:
I did not want to leave my siblings. I knew I had to come … in some ways I didn’t want to go to college. I knew I had to, but I was like, I just want to stay home and I can keep learning more home economics skills.
Although it was especially difficult for these two students to leave their families, once they arrived on campus they enjoyed dieir new independence. As Rebecca explained, “It was nice not … to have to be changing diapers and stuff. I still have siblings who are that age. You know, I still miss them, but I found I don’t get homesick, like, all the time.”
Although the students who looked forward to leaving home did experience some loneliness, for the most part life at college was a welcome change. They enjoyed the distance from their parents. For example, Eva indicated that she chose the university because, at three and a half hours from home, “It’s not too far away from them, so the parents can’t just come drop in.” Even though the first week was lonely for her, Eva said, “I started meeting the girls from across the hall and they’re from the same Bible study I’m in and I’m in their room all the time now.”
As the five traditional students became more acclimated to life away from family and friends, they explained how they began to view college as a sort of home. Eva soon started referring to her residence hall room as home in conversations with her parents. When she went to visit her family, she struggled to fit into their daily life. She put it this way:
I remember like the first time I came home I was ready to go back to college and I was ready to see the friends because everyone at home has their own lives and they’re just going about their daily plan and I’m just kind of sitting there doing nothing.
Living in the residence hall, Aimee felt that she had her own new family. Although she did indicate having to get acquainted with using a community bathroom, she said, “Living in the dorms for the most part has been a good experience; it makes it a lot easier to meet people and it starts to feel like you have your little own family on your floor.” Independence. All five of the traditional students indicated the positive effects of their newfound independence. They enjoyed not having to help with chores at home and being able to determine their own schedule. One student enjoyed the many food choices in the dining hall but also found it overwhelming to have so many decisions to make about what to eat each meal. Another student, Jeff, enjoyed making his own decisions about managing his time and planning his daily life. He explained, “I was kind of thinking it would be weird coming here and being able to do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted. … It really just kind of came naturally and I didn’t even think about it.” At first John was not accustomed to having so much free time, but he did enjoy the time away from his little siblings. “I suddenly had free time, I had freedom, I could do what I wanted to. Which was . . . basically … go to class. I didn’t do much.”
Meeting Others With Different Values/ Worldviews. When going to college for the first time, students encounter others with value systems different from their own. This was true for the students who were interviewed and especially for the students who came from a Christian background. Some of these students had little interaction with people different from themselves. For them, meeting others with different values was especially enlightening and eye opening. At times, the students interviewed had their beliefs challenged. These challenges helped them to re-examine their values.
College was one of Rebecca’s first opportunities to meet others who were not homeschooled and who had different views from her own. She made friends with a fellow Latin education major whose political views were liberal, as opposed to Rebecca’s own conservative views. The friendship was founded on mutual interests, rather than differences. “We’ve never talked about politics. I don’t ever plan to talk about politics. So, I’ve kind of learned to be able to ignore the differences, and just talk about things you have in common.”
John had strong personal moral values. He explained that some people believed he was “too good” and wouldn’t associate with him. However, John did not let this stereotype bother him. He maintained his personal values while also making friends with a wide group of people. He indicated that his peers were very accepting:
Quite a few of my friends routinely drink, smoke-most of them upperclassmenseniors, so it’s legal. Sometimes there are situations where other freshman will be drinking, of course it happens and I don’t join in and nobody cares.
Eva was able to connect with many people who shared her worldview through her Bible study. However, she indicated that she also met others with different experiences than her own. Eva struggled with the reality of some of her friends’ choices regarding things such as drinking, smoking, and dating. As she said:
Some of the girls that I know . . . they smoke cigars and stuff . . . and they’re like, “Do you want to try some?” I’m like “Uh, No.” Part of me wants to be like, “Oh, yes let me just try it and just see what it’s like.”
Eva’s experiences in college helped her to solidify her values.
My eyes have just been open to different lifestyles and trying to be a little bit more accepting but just understanding and trying to figure out what my own priorities are and my own desires and what my own, you know ideas and things are.
Aimee really enjoyed meeting others who were different from her. She recently moved to the Midwest from the east coast. She felt that the university was not very diverse when compared with the east coast. Aimee made friends with different groups of people, and she had a positive view of everyone she met. “I’ve yet to meet somebody I don’t like. I have a group of friends that I spend the bulk of my time with, but I randomly hang out with all kinds of people.”
Identity Development. One common transition college students experience is developing a new identity away from parents and high school friends. It often takes time for students to feel like they belong. For Rebecca, being in the honors’ residence hall helped her feel like she was where she belonged: “You walk down the hall and everybody’s studying, and I love that. And it was like, good I’m where I belong.” Although she appreciated what her parents’ had taught her, Eva was grateful for the opportunity to have a more personal and internal understanding of her morals. Her experiences helped her to determine what she stood for.
Aimee recognized her own identity transition as she began her college career. She worked to balance both her friends at home and at college.
When you leave to go to college, you leave your social life and you kind of have to start over. I have a completely different network of friends now. And I can go home and hang out with my odier friends, but we’ve all kind of found our own little niches at our schools.
Co-Curricular Involvement. The students were involved in co- curricular activities at various levels. Several of the students mentioned going to late night activities (weekly social programming on Saturday nights). Jeff became involved in the fencing club the first semester, and pledged a fraternity his second semester in order to meet others. His participation in fencing dwindled as his coursework became more demanding in the second semester.
Rebecca was involved in several diverse activities from debate team and Students for Life, to Campus Crusade for Christ. Rebecca felt that her co-curricular activities provided balance in her life and kept her from being overly focused on academics. Aimee joined a club associated with her major and quickly became friends with the other students in her major and in the club. She appreciated all of the opportunities to get involved.
Confidence. The students indicated that they grew in confidence through their experience in college. Jeff became more self-assured and realized that he could be responsible. He described college as helping him to become
more confident in myself because I know I can do the work, I can keep up with classes, I can schedule, which my parents didn’t believe at all . . . . So, it was, I believed I could and I felt they were wrong beforehand and you know, now I know I can.
Sidney, who commuted, also developed assertiveness in completing her homework because she had to manage her time among so many responsibilities. These included time for studying, family, work, and sleep. She put it this way:
I think I have changed because I’ve become more assertive I guess; like, I know what I have to do and when I have to do it. Before it used to be like whatever, you know I’ll just go along with whatever; I have all the time in the world. And now I don’t. I’m more like, you know, I’m going to do this now.
Making Friends. The students made friends in different ways and at different times. One student quickly connected with others at orientation. Another student met his girlfriend at a program before classes even started. Rebecca largely credited her friends, especially three women who lived in her residence hall, for helping her adjust to life in college. Aimee made friends through a club associated with her major, through hanging out with her roommate, and in her classes. She credited her outgoing personality with helping her make friends easily. “I’m incapable of sitting in a group of people and not talk to someone. . . . I’ve made friends in all of my classes so far.” As she described her social life, she said, “I just love my social life. Probably too much sometimes.”
A few students mentioned the need to take the initiative to meet people. For some this initiative came easily, for others, it required more effort. Eva soon realized that because she did not have her friends from home, she would need to take the initiative to meet others. “Here it’s like taking the first step, saying, ‘Hey do you just want to go out to lunch?’ It’s like you barely know the person, so just taking the first steps to meeting new people.”
Jeff felt that meeting others required significant effort. He credited his difficulty in reaching out and meeting others to being homeschooled. Because he was homeschooled, Jeff spent a lot of time at home entertaining himself. He didn’t feel a strong need to socialize when he got to college. He explained, “I’m extremely good at amusing myself by myself, so I never really, I don’t feel the need a lot of times to go and find somebody to go and do something with.” However, Jeff indicated that he had a social group in his classes and he pledged a fraternity during his second semester in order to meet more people.
For Sidney, who commuted to school, making friends took on a different element. She felt older than most first-year students and had difficulty connecting with students in her English class which met in a residence hall. While Sidney was dealing with the responsibilities of family and parenting, the students in her class often discussed drinking and partying on the weekends. However, Sidney explained that the students in one of her classes were very welcoming and even had a baby shower for her before her daughter was born.
Spirituality. Some of the students self-identified themselves as having a Christian faith. Although this study’s purpose was not to examine the relationship between homeschooling and spirituality, this emerged as a relevant aspect of the some of the participants’ experience. For these students, meeting others from different worldviews was especially enlightening. It forced them to reflect on their upbringing and make decisions about their beliefs. Aimee’s independence put her in a place to make decisions on her own.
It’s made me feel a lot more responsible for my own life. It’s not like I didn’t have any freedom when I went home, in high school, but. . . with my family, we go to church every Sunday. It becomes routine. But now that I’m here, I have the choice. Both Eva and Rebecca indicated the importance of meeting Christian friends to support them in their faith.
All three of these students explained how college helped them solidify their personal values. Rebecca indicated that as a result of college, she was less dependent on her parents for decision making. College helped her personalize her faith. She put it this way:
I’ve had to evaluate a lot more. I’m like, “How can this person believe this way?” and whatever, and one thing I haven’t changed any of my beliefs or values. . . . I feel like I’m a lot more understanding of other people now, at the same time it’s hard.
When asked if she felt that the changes within herself were positive, Rebecca said, “Yea. I sort of feel that I have more experience that I needed to gain and a little bit more of a perspective just outside of where I am. So yea, I’d say they are positive changes.”
Some students did not indicate a religious preference. Although Jeff indicated that his parents were pastors and spoke of being involved in his church in high school, he did not identify himself as a religious or spiritual person. John spoke of having very strict morals, but he did not explicitly refer to any specific faith or spirituality. Sidney also did not refer to any religious or spiritual preferences.
Reaction to the Students Being Homeschooled. With the exception of Sidney, all of the students who were homeschooled enjoyed being homeschooled and appreciated the opportunities and skills homeschooling provided them. However some students indicated that they had to explain to their friends what homeschooling was like. People asked many questions when they found out that a student was homeschooled. Rebecca’s friends could not understand how she enjoyed getting together with homeschooled friends to can vegetables and baby-sit younger siblings.
At times, the students encountered negative stereotypes about them being homeschooled. Rebecca expressed some frustration at the negative stereotypes she had to combat. Many of her friends thought that she was an exception to the typical homeschooled student because she turned out so well.
It was really surprising to me. It took me aback for a moment. Wait a minute. I thought I had a normal experience. . . . Then there were people who say, well you’re just an exception to the rule. I’m like, I’m not, everybody I met was like me.
John was exposed to a negative stereotype of homeschooled students, but his friends thought that he did not fit this stereotype. As he said, “Apparently I am considered an Outgoing person’ for ‘normal people.’ And apparently homeschoolers are all severe introverts, which I completely understand . . . by looking at all my little siblings.” Both John and Rebecca spoke of those who were not homeschooled as being “normal.” They discussed how college helped them realize that they were indeed “normal” themselves.
Academics. As the participants adjusted to living away from home, they also had to adjust to collegiate academics. All five of the students who lived on campus cited homeschooling as equipping them with time management and study skills needed to succeed in college. John found that his college classes were easier than many of the classes he had taken as a home-schooled student. Aimee also indicated that homeschooling prepared her to succeed in college.
I felt that I was socially prepared and I also felt that my time management skills were really good. Just from being home-schooled you have to have a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline to make sure you get everything done.
Although the students largely felt that homeschooling prepared them for college coursework, they mentioned a need to get accustomed to the traditional class setting. Eva was nervous about her classes, and it was a transition to get up and walk to class, rather than just stay at home. A positive difference that Eva experienced in college was the ability to use books and notes for a take home test.
When asked about academics, Jeff indicated that they were “harder than I expected. I got a 3.3 last semester, but I was kind of expecting to do better. I only got one A.” As an architecture major, Jeff was surprised at the amount of work required. He got only five to six hours of sleep a night. Aimee quickly realized that she had too high expectations of herself when she got her first C ever. After not doing as well as she wanted to on her first test, Aimee quickly adjusted her study habits.
Sidney, the non-traditional student, felt that homeschooling hindered her ability to succeed academically. Sidney’s mom had made school at home easier by giving Sidney extra time to complete assignments. Once in college, Sidney was reluctant to utilize the learning center because she felt that in the past using such resources were “where a lot of being homeschooled disabled me because it wasn’t like school where . . . they sit you down there and are like, no, you will read this out loud and you will do this.”
Commuting. Sidney faced unique challenges as a commuter student. It was difficult for her to balance work and home life with school. Being married and having a baby, as well as working several hours a week, put a strain on her academics. She wasn’t able to spend much time with her daughter. At times it was difficult for Sidney to remain motivated because she did not live in the academic atmosphere of the residence halls.
Sometimes I think it’s harder living away from school because it’s so much farther away, like I have to get up this much earlier and get dressed and drive all the way there and then I have to make sure I have the gas to get there and the gas to get back. . . . But it could be just as easy if I lived here because I’d get up and go to class more than I do now.
The informants were asked about institutional interventions that aided them in transitioning to college life. Student responses to questions about the institution were overwhelmingly positive. However, the students also discussed certain aspects of university life that made their transition more difficult.
Orientation. Some of the students cited orientation as helping them adjust to college life. For example, orientation was helpful for Rebecca, who, through the program, quickly met friends with whom she shared common values. Rebecca’s transition was also aided by the fact that her new friends happened to live in her residence hall.
Resident Assistants (RAs). The students mentioned the positive impact that their resident assistants (RAs) had on their transition. Rebecca even wanted to become an RA herself because of the positive experience she had with her own RA, who helped her in a difficult roommate situation.
So my RA was really helpful to me then in helping me understand that it wasn’t my fault and helping me work things out . . . that was very important to me at the time and I want to be able to do that for other girls.
Campus Resources. Sidney found many campus resources especially helpful. These included the library, which she utilized often for studying. She also appreciated the daycare, which she hoped to take advantage of once her daughter got older and her husband began attending college as well.
Student Organizations. Student organizations were influential in helping the students adjust. They provided an opportunity for participants to meet others with similar interests. Jeff was involved in the fencing club, and Aimee was active in a club related to her major. She appreciated the opportunity to connect with friends in her major. One student specifically appreciated the wide variety of student organizations on campus.
In General. All of the students interviewed had a positive view of the institution. They appreciated the social programming on weekends, the school’s size and diversity, life in the residence halls, the relative ease of the admissions process for homeschooled students, accessibility of professors, efforts to build community, and opportunities to study abroad. As John said, “It’s just about the most enjoyable place I’ve ever lived.”
Transitional Hindrances. The students also indicated challenges from within the university that hindered their smooth transition to college. One student indicated that she would have liked to know who the other home-schooled students were. Another student did not always feel a part of the larger campus community. At orientation she felt that many of the campus activities, such as Greek events, concerts, and carnivals, were exaggerated. “I just think that they built it up so much like, ‘Oh the whole college campus does this and the whole college campus does this.’ I haven’t really seen that.” Eva also noticed a lack of team spirit, due in part to the poor performance of the institution’s main sports teams.
The discussion is organized based on conclusions we drew in relation to the study’s three research questions. Recommendations for further research are offered.
Transitional Issues Experienced
There was little distinction between the transitional issues experienced by homeschooled students and the issues experienced by traditionally educated students, as described in the literature. The issues that participants encountered, such as loneliness, meeting others with different values, living in the residence halls, and greater independence, correlated with transitional issues of traditionally educated students.
Like traditionally educated students, homeschooled students were both anxious and excited about leaving their homes and families to begin school. Whether excited or nervous, nearly all of the students experienced some loneliness upon arriving on campus. The students proactively sought to remedy their loneliness by stepping outside of their comfort zone to meet others. Once leaving their comfort zone, they seemed to make friends quickly. As the participants met others and made friends with people who had common interests, college began to feel like a home in itself. Additionally, the participants underwent transitions as they met others with different lifestyles and value systems. Although at times the students felt challenged, they seemed to be grateful for the opportunity to expand their horizons and worldview. As they met others who were different from themselves, the students indicated that they became more tolerant, while at the same time wrestling with their own beliefs. Many transitional issues were encountered by the student who commuted, was married, and had a family. This student had to adjust to being back in school after a few years away. She also had to balance time with her new baby, husband, and work. Although it was a challenge for this student to maintain a balance among all of her commitments, she felt supported by the people she met at the university.
One transitional issue for the students who were homeschooled was their need to adjust to traditional academics and teaching styles. Many students found their classes to be easier than their high school course work. Others had difficulty with academics at first and did poorly on their initial assignments. Although note-taking classes and academic help seminars were offered by the university, the students did not mention taking advantage of any of these opportunities.
The many transitional issues encountered by these first-year students who were homeschooled in high school were closely related to those experienced by traditionally educated students. Nearly all participants had to adjust to living away from home, making new friends, and encountering others who were different from themselves. Unique issues included adjusting to traditional academics, starting school after a period of absence, and balancing academics with work and the demands of a child at home.
The primary researcher’s experience as a homeschooled student correlated with the issues experienced by the students interviewed. The researcher also had to adjust to independence, learn how to interact with people of differing worldviews, develop an identity away from home, and acquire confidence in a new setting.
Relation of Transitional Issues to Tinto’s Three Stages
The transitional issues that the participants encountered during their first year of college were closely related to Tinto’s (1993) theory of institutional departure. Tinto described the transition that college students undergo as they begin their higher education career in three stages: separation, transition, and incorporation. The students in the study exhibited each of these stages as they adjusted to college life.
The participants experienced separation as they left home to begin college and experienced periods of loneliness. Students indicated that they missed their friends and families. This loneliness was greater for some students than others. As time passed, they began to enjoy the space from their families and their new life in college. The students also had to disassociate themselves from their education in a homeschool setting. They had to transition to a more traditional type of instruction. The student who commuted did not express any transitional issues of separation. This correlates to Tinto’s (1993) assertion that the process of separation may not be as painful or strenuous for students who remain living at home. However, Tinto also argued that “though such students many find the movement into the world of the college less stressful, they may also find it less rewarding” (p. 96).
The participants underwent the second stage of transition on different timelines. Some students quickly disassociated themselves from their life at home; however, they did not immediately identify themselves as part of the college community. It took these students a while to make friends and leave their shell. Other students quickly made friends while maintaining close ties with their community at home and calling home frequently. The level of transition that occurred was related to the degree of difference between the normal patterns of behavior at home and those at college (Tinto, 1993). Some students underwent a more profound transition, as their background had not exposed them to typical behaviors at college. As they encountered such behaviors, these students were forced to reflect upon the standards of their home community and make decisions as to how they would respond in this situation. For other students, the level of transition was minimized by their association with friends and groups similar to their community at home. For the student who commuted, transition occurred on a different level. This student had to adjust to being in classes with others who were younger than her. As the only person attending school in her immediate family, she was alone in struggling to balance life in college with work and family at home.
The participants made progress towards incorporation in different ways. Some students indicated that as they made friends and became acquainted to college life, they began referring to college as “home.” When gone on breaks, the students missed their friends at school and looked forward to returning. One student had made many friends and enjoyed college but did not feel a part of the greater campus community. Another student joined a fraternity in an effort to meet more people and take a more active role in the college community. The students who lived on campus indicated that their friends helped them to adjust to life in college. The students also experienced incorporation as they adjusted to college academics. They developed methods and tools for studying and preparing for assignments. As they became accustomed to their professors’ expectations, their study habits were modified to help them meet class requirements. The student who commuted struggled with incorporation on a much different level than the students who lived on campus. At times she found it difficult to relate to fellow students. However, she did indicate that she felt accepted on campus and appreciated the resources available to her.
Overall, the experiences of the participants correlated with Tinto’s (1993) theory of institutional departure. At different times and in different ways, the students traveled through the stages of separation, transition, and incorporation. The success of their transition was demonstrated in part by the persistence of these first-year students, who were home schooled in high school, from the first semester to the second semester.
The resources offered by the university, such as orientation, RAs, and campus programming, were influential in the homeschooled students’ transition to college. The students appreciated orientation because it provided opportunities to meet others and make friends. Several students indicated that their RAs were helpful in answering questions and in serving as resources. Campus resources and programming, such as the university’s weekly late night event, were mentioned by students as aids to transition. Although students enjoyed events, one student indicated that all-campus programming, such as homecoming and sporting events, were unsuccessful in uniting the whole campus community. Student organizations played an important role in the students’ assimilation to college. Those who were heavily involved in certain clubs mentioned such clubs as being critical to their adjustment to life on campus.
In addition, participants mentioned the size of the school as helping them adjust. They felt that the university, as a mid-sized school, was more personal than a larger-sized school. Additionally, the size of the school allowed for diversity within the student body. A diverse student body made it possible for students to meet people who shared their common interests but also to be stretched through interaction with others who were different. The university’s role in the students’ transition was described by participants as very helpful and largely positive. The students struggled to identify negative aspects of the university or provide suggestions for improvement. One student did mention updating the promotional brochures. Another suggested connecting homeschooled students with one another for support. Based on the participants’ positive view of the university, and their difficulty in identifying negative aspects of campus life, the university’s programs and efforts were successful in helping the homeschooled students adjust to college life.
As with any single-site study, readers should not generalize the findings of this study to other institutions. This study was limited in diat participants were only from one mid-sized public doctoral- granting university in the Midwest. It did not seek out students from private colleges or universities or from other geographical areas, among others. Although the study may provide a model for analyzing college transitional issues experienced by homeschooled students at one institution, conclusions drawn from the study do not necessarily apply to other colleges or universities. For some, the fact that member checks were not conducted is a limitation. In addition, although the primary researcher was able to provide depth through her own homeschool background, this also presented the potential for a more biased analysis of data.
There are several modifications that could be made to the study’s design. Conducting this study at another school, such as a small private college or a large research university, would provide additional data, as the current study examined only homeschooled students who chose to attend a mid-sized public university. The study could also be designed as a comparative analysis of the transitional issues of students who were homeschooled in high school with students who were educated in a traditional high school setting. The study could be expanded to include students in their sophomore, junior, or senior years. It could also be conducted as a longitudinal examination of transitional issues experienced over time. Only the students themselves were interviewed in the study. For more depth, interviews could be conducted with parents, siblings, roommates, professors, RAs, or any number of persons who have interaction with the students in order to obtain more observations on the their transitional issues. Using a taxonomy (e.g., Bloom’s  Taxonomy of Educational Objectives) as the dieoretical foundation for the transitional experiences of first- year college students who were homeschooled may provide another way to study the target population. By making any of the above modifications, researchers could obtain a richer understanding of the transitional issues encountered by college students who were homeschooled in high school. This understanding would be helpful in designing programs and initiatives to help such students adjust and persist in college. REFERENCES
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