The influx of new homeschoolers flooding Facebook groups since the pandemic was declared has exposed one of the greatest insecurities among parents considering home education—ensuring their children are accepted at college or university. These doubts keep already-homeschooling parents up at night too, but in fact, there are a number of ways to access post-secondary education in Canada without a high school diploma. What I offer in this article is a personalized version of how our daughter was accepted at university before mature student age and without any high school credits.
Our oldest daughter entered college in an unorthodox manner. She was accepted at a private performing arts college based on an audition, a series of interviews, a dance call, and the presentation of a performance-based and academic-based portfolio. (The latter consisted of a chart listing her academic achievements as assessed by me.) When our youngest expressed a desire to attend a public university, we were unprepared to advise her so our investigation began when she was around sixteen.
After a series of phone calls and emails, we discovered that most—perhaps all—community colleges in Canada accept students who have successfully passed the GED. In Ontario, our home province, https://www.ontariocolleges.ca/en states that:
After completing the GED, individuals will have earned a High School Equivalency Certificate, which is viewed as equal to an OSSD (Ontario Secondary School Diploma) by colleges and employers.
The GED (General Education Diploma) is a high school equivalency exam. It was created in 1942 in the U.S. mainly for returning soldiers who’d had their high school studies interrupted. The GED is now recognized throughout the U.S. and Canada.
In Canada, the exam consists of five subject areas:
- Language Arts – Reading
- Language Arts – Writing
- Social Studies
While the GED carries a stigma as being a “lesser-than” version of a secondary school diploma, our daughter was either unaware of the stigma or did not have misgivings about choosing this route, particularly because it allowed her to accomplish her goals—to become accepted at university without having to wait for the mature student age of 21. (Mature student status in Canada is generally 19 for college and 21 for university, but check with the institution itself.)
This was the most motivating factor for following the GED to college route.
Colleges across the country offer “Pathways” courses, or transitional courses that allow students to take a one-year or two-year program that leads straight to university. In Ontario, we learned that this process is common, and in the case of many students (even traditionally-schooled ones), a reprieve from the pressure of leaving home at a young age to attend university in a distant city.
The GED testing centre in Ontario stipulated that a student must be 19 years old to write the exam*. However, they informed us that homeschooled students could write the test at 18 as long as they provided confirmation from their local school board that they were “officially” being homeschooled. We’d already reluctantly sent in our “Letter of Intent” to homeschool the year before when our daughter needed documentation to travel to Colombia on a fellowship trip so we dug out the confirmation letter and forwarded it to the centre along with her birth certificate.
*It appears the age has been lowered to 18 in Ontario, but anecdotal evidence indicates they will allow students younger than that to write it – contact ilc.org for advice.
Our daughter began studying for the GED several months in advance of the examination date. For math and science, she worked with her father, a math teacher, going over the questions and writing the practice tests. The lessons, exercises and practice tests are contained in the preparation books – see Resources section.
For social studies and reading, she worked on her own, self-evaluating as she progressed through the material. For the writing section, I intervened slightly because I understood the program she was applying to required her to express her point of view coherently in assignments. Since we view time management as one of life’s most important skills, I avoided spoon-feeding her a schedule so after going over a hamburger essay (no need for anything more elaborate for the GED), I came up with about a dozen mundane essay questions, wrote them on scraps of paper, and placed them in a candy bowl on the coffee table. Over the months, when she felt motivated, she worked her way through the questions, and then I marked them. (We had a hoot reading her tongue-in-cheek perspective on how homeschooling does not provide an adequate education.)
N.B. – After she wrote the GED and was accepted at college, we worked on compare and contrast essays and how to structure an essay in MLA format.
The exam was scheduled over two days—Friday evening for two of the subjects and all-day Saturday for the rest. Despite the length of the exam itself, our daughter reported that it was not difficult, but she was relieved that she had studied as much as she did. She scored in the top 1% in writing so those hamburger essays paid off. The results arrived in about four weeks, and these were forwarded to the college who accepted her without hesitation. A score of 450/800 in each section is required to pass the exam.
For both daughters, we devoted their final year of homeschooling to building life skills: budgeting, cooking for one, street smarts (including self-defence), first aid, healthy living, and establishing portals of communication (WhatsApp, Facebook messaging, group chats).
Why the rush?
If students can apply as mature students to post-secondary institutions, why the rush to write the GED as soon as possible?
a) Mature students have to supply proof of academic capability anyway.
b) When young people are keen to tackle post-secondary education, I say jump on it!
Our daughter enrolled in a one-year General Arts & Science program (GAAS), touted as developing “…the academic skills and abilities to continue their studies at the college or university level…”
She was able to live at home for this academic year, and together we researched universities, particularly ones that retained articulation agreements with her college. Articulation agreements among institutions pave the way for students to transition from college to university and may allow for full credit transfer. These agreements exist across Canada and are also known as transfer agreements, transfer pathways, or diploma to degree pathways.
In our daughter’s case, her desired university told her they would accept every credit of her GAAS year if she achieved over 80% in each subject. This was extremely motivating for our fiscally conservative daughter because it would eliminate one expensive year of university. They were careful to mention, and it bears repeating, that not all institutions will accept ALL college credits.
How to know if this route is right for your child?
One piece of advice we can offer is to work backwards, starting from the university the student is interested in attending. Find out who they have articulation agreements with and contact the colleges and ask if they will accept GED applicants.
Articulation agreements are not strictly reserved for institutions in the same province. We found institutions in other parts of Canada and overseas that were partnering with our local college, so if she wanted, our daughter could have applied to a university in Australia, Newfoundland, and Québec. She eventually applied to Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Québec, an institution that retains an articulation agreement with the college so this child, without a single solitary high school credit to her name, was accepted to the university of her choice at age 18. Once she begins classes, she will catapult directly to her second year of university due to the high average she maintained during her GAAS year. (At the time of writing she deferred her enrollment to travel the world – but that is the subject of a future article.)
Our story is Ontario-centric, but for this article, I contacted the GED testing centres in every province and territory to find out if the process differed much. From my conversations, it appears that all community colleges offer a version of the GED>College>University route. The chart below lists the contact info for the GED testing and administrative centres across Canada and information related to each region’s college transfer programs.
Please note, you should expect to be passed from one employee to another as homeschoolers remain a fringe group and the information pertaining to us, in particular, is often not listed on the website. Each province has different policies related to writing the GED as a homeschooler and required documentation varies. Also, there seems to be a reluctance for the GED centres to advocate for the GED>College route. The GED sites will not necessarily mention it. This is a question for the colleges. The GED people will not know which institutions accept the GED.
N.B. – The information on the websites is accurate to a point. Whereas every region has an age stipulation, staff members in at least three provinces told me that the age requirement was different for homeschooled kids. This was true in our case. One province told me they were lowering the eligibility age for everyone in September 2020 – always call!
A helpful, if not somewhat outdated document:
When our children reached high school age, we looked into virtual schooling to obtain high school credits as well as the open university option at Athabasca University. Ultimately, these options did not work for our family. This forced us to investigate other avenues to post-secondary education. The GED>College path allowed us to balance our time at home with the busy theatre rehearsal schedule we maintained. It made the most sense to us and was the least stressful. Every family will take a different route, but don’t ever doubt that your child can access post-secondary education without a high school diploma.
If you have any questions about your child’s path to post-secondary education, contact me though my social media links below.
Janet LoSole is the author of Adventure by Chicken Bus: An Unschooling Odyssey through Central America. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in French Linguistics from York University in Toronto and a Bachelor of Education Degree from Nipissing University. She is a certified TESOL instructor and has taught ESL internationally since 1994. She began homeschooling her daughters in 1997. She writes about traveling with children and homeschooling. Her work has been published in Canada’s Education Magazine, Natural Parent Magazine, The Alliance for Self-Directed Education, Outdoor Families Online, Unravel, and elsewhere.