Sarah Rainsberger

Former Toronto math tutor. Friend of the homeschooling and unschooling communities.

Avoiding Blue Jays Baseball Spoilers on Twitter

In honour of Home Opening Day for the Toronto Blue Jays (and in lieu of the writing I should be doing today), here’s a post I’ve been meaning to write to explain exactly how my super-awesome-spoiler-proof Twitter system works.

“So, you mute keywords and hashtags?” Oh, if only it were that simple!

Here’s the thing: Joe and I watch every Blue Jays game. Every. Game. We don’t want to know what happens before we watch, but we DO want to participate in the Blue Jays twittersphere. It’s easy to do one or the other, but it’s the doing both that presents the particular challenge.

We’re not always home for every game. Between scheduled activities like bowling and choir, and larger issues like being on the road and in a different time zone, we rarely watch any games as they happen. Even when we are home, we routinely let the PVR record for an hour or so before watching so that we have the luxury of skipping commercials if we so choose. For the times when we’re traveling without access to our PVR, or in the event anything should happen to our television’s recording, we have a subscription to

Depending on where in the world we are, and how crazy our schedule has been, it’s not uncommon for us to be days behind watching games. Two, three or even four games can sneak up on you if you’re at a conference in Europe with evening events, pub nights out and shaky hotel wifi. But, I’m not avoiding twitter for a week until we’re caught up.

Joe has decided to make a 2nd twitter account specifically for baseball. I have tried that and found that it didn’t quite solve all my problems, so I opted for the infinitely more complicated route of keeping baseball within my normal Twitter account.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. CLIENT: Yoru Fukurou (Night Owl) Mac OS X twitter client. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this incredibly customizable client years ago, even before I knew I’d need it. As it turns out, this is the only twitter client I have found that supports FILTERING of tweets, in addition to simply MUTING tweets. It can be downloaded in the Mac App store, or here: Yoru Fukurou (Night Owl) twitter client (Note: I prefer the “mini-view” (highly condensed text except for the tweet you’ve selected) because I’m a “wall of text” kinda gal, but the client is highly customizable for a variety of views. Don’t let all the text put you off if it’s not your thing! See Yoru Fukurou’s web site for examples of more traditional appearance choices.)

  2. FILTER TAB: Under the “Tools” menu, I can “configure custom tabs.” There are a variety of tabs one can create, but what makes Yoru Fukurou unique as a twitter client is its ability to create a “Filter Tab.” A filter tab shows only tweets from your timeline that match particular keywords or phrases, hashtags and/or users. It is like a search tab, but it searches only your timeline, not all of Twitter. Most importantly for me, Yoru Fukurou allows you the option of removing filtered tweets from your regular timeline. This means that any tweet that matches any of your filtering criteria is hidden away from view as you browse your timeline tab, and instead is only visible within your Filter Tab. This is how I can keep up with my Twitter timeline even when people I follow are tweeting about the Jays game currently underway.

  3. FILTER CRITERIA: Admittedly, when you peek under the hood of my Jays Filter Tab, it looks like a big mess. Over the years, I have fine-tuned my filter criteria (users, keywords, hashtags) so that there is as little chance as possible of a Jays-related tweet ending up in my main timeline instead of my filter tab. Often, non-Jays tweets will show up in the filter tab because of my agressive filtering, but better safe than sorry. Some entire users have been relegated to the Jays tab (or even unfollowed!) even when they only sometimes tweet about baseball simply because I cannot depend on their tweets containing enough context for their tweet to match my filtering rules. Obviously, any mention of “Jays” or “Blue Jays” causes a tweet to be filtered, as does the word “baseball.” But, if a user that I follow tweets (and one has!) simply, “Damn, lost in the 14th!” then there’s not much I can do about that. For a while, I had filtered any instance of the word “inning.” However, my filter was catching tweets containing words like “beginning” and I decided that was too agressive. Given that the Jays have a catcher named “Thole” in the organization, still to this day any tweet about “potholes” ends up in my Jays tab.

  4. SPOILER-PROOFING ALL OTHER TABS: I have multiple filter tabs in Yoru Fukurou, not just my Jays tab. I primarily use tabs for tweets that I want to notice quickly, even if I’m not caught up with my timeline. One tab, for example, contains tweets from the bargain or deal hunting accounts I follow, in case there’s a flash sale on something or a time-sensitive free sample offer. One thing I’ve discovered about Yoru Fukurou, however, is that tweets can be filtered out of your main timeline but into multiple filter tabs. So for example, if one of the shopping twitter accounts I follow tweets about a Blue Jays or baseball-related deal, this tweet would end up in both my “Deals” Filter Tab and my “Jays” Filter Tab. While this tweet might not contain a spoiler, it could: “Since the Jays have been on a tear, winning five games in a row, Jays Shop has announced free shipping today only!” So, many of the keywords I have filtered into my Jays tab, I also have filtered out of all other tabs as exclusions (using the minus sign in front of the word or phrase). This ensures that any baseball-related tweets meet only the criteria of my Jays Filter Tab, not any other filter or search tabs, and that’s the only location where they all end up.

  5. COUNT UNREAD TWEETS: Yoru Fukurou allows me, on a tab-by-tab basis, to track and display the number of unread tweets. It also allows me to require that a tweet be “clicked on” in order to be marked read. (If I wanted, I could allow tweets to be marked read simply as I scroll past them, but I happen to prefer the setting where a tweet is only read if it’s been selected.) At a glance, I can see unread tweets accumulating in my Jays tab. At any time, I can move up the list, tweet-by-tweet, and “catch up” to tweets that occur during the part of the game I’m currently watching. This allows me to still read all the tweets I would otherwise see from the people I follow, in “real alternate time” while viewing my regular timeline in “real actual time.” Muting those tweets mean they would be lost forever to me. Filtering them and saving them to read when I’m ready for them is the key to my system.

  6. MOBILE: Sadly, I have not yet found a twitter mobile client that offers this kind of filtering. Some may call what they do filtering, but it’s really just muting, blocking, or silencing certain tweets based on keywords or users. (See the “tweets lost forever” point above.) Until such a twitter client arrives on the scene, one sacrifice I have made is to mute all baseball-related tweets from my phone and tablet. Fortunately, muting is now quite common in mobile clients. My Android twitter client of choice (Twitpane) even allows exporting and importing of settings, so fortunately I only had to set up my elaborate keyword/user mutes once on my phone, and then I simply imported all my settings into the app on my tablet. Since I am typically watching a Jays game somewhere in the presence of my laptop, I have decided that I’m OK with the constraint that I can only ever catch up on Jays tweets on my laptop. If my phone (or tablet) is the only twitter option I have, then I’m probably outside of the home or hotel room and not watching a game anyway. And in that case, I absolutely do want to be able to be current on Twitter, and have accepted that those are Jays-free devices.

  7. OTHER COMPROMISES: For being such an avid Jays fan, you’ll notice that I don’t actually tweet a lot (all things considered) about the Jays, and almost never about actual game play. This is partly because whatever I’d be tempted to tweet about has already happened, so it’s really old news to anyone following along. It’s also partly because, being sensitive to spoilers myself, I wouldn’t want to be the one to tweet a spoiler at someone else who may be even further behind than we are. But also, I’ve had the experience of tweeting that we are sitting down to start a game (on #PVRdelay, of course) only to have a random stranger tweet back, “You’re not going to like what you see.” Thanks, jerk. So, perhaps to the benefit of my non-baseball followers, you won’t see much play-by-play from my twitter account. It means I don’t get to fully participate in Blue Jays twitter, but I’ve at least found a way to not be shut out of it.

So go ahead, PLAY BALL!

Repurposing This Blog

Just a heads up to those of you subscribed to this site that it’s going to be undergoing some changes and I’m going to be taking down a lot of current content as I repurpose this blog to use for writing about my current projects and interests.

Don’t worry, the main university info stuff will remain, although it will eventually be consolidated onto one page. You’ll still be able to check here for (relatively!) current university homeschool admission and Advanced Placement credit policies. Some general content, mostly the information “pages” will also remain.

What’s leaving the site is whatever was posted as a “blog entry.” In time, some of that information might find its way back on the site as a dedicated page, but for now it’s being cut. Future blog entries are likely to be more about things I’m learning as I experiment with new (to me) technologies. I love creating systems and solutions, and I’m going to start using the blog posts here in this space to document some of the crazy things I come up with.

If you think there’s anything you’d like to snag a copy of before it goes, I’ve uploaded a big pdf of most of these posts that you can download. It’s not the prettiest thing, but it was something I could quickly throw together with free tools.

I will also eventually be changing the RSS/email subscription name, so if you subscribe to this website by RSS or email, that subscription may cease to work. You’re welcome to resubscribe, but bear in mind that the nature of future blog posts will change to reflect things I’m currently working on. This site won’t focus exclusively on university admissions for homeschoolers anymore, although that will still be a big part of the information housed here. I can still be found answering questions on the Higher Ed for Home Learners Yahoo! Group, so if homeschool university admissions and homeschool through highschool are still your thing, you know where to find me!

Thanks for being a subscriber, and maybe I’ll see you on the “new” site!


Accredited by Whom?

Go to any homeschooling conference and you’ll see vendor booths selling high school programs. They could be correspondence courses, online courses or credit services. Most homeschooling parents and students know to ask about accreditation, but unfortunately, they usually ask the wrong question.

I have overheard sales people at these booths using potentially misleading phrases such as “equivalent to a high school diploma” (hint: if it’s equivalent to something, it’s not actually that thing). But perhaps the most confusing word for parents out in the alternative high school diploma industry is accredited.

YOU MAY NOT NEED ACCREDITATION, BUT WHEN YOU NEED IT, YOU REALLY NEED IT Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe everyone needs an accredited program to get them through their high school years. I don’t believe that an accredited program is, based on that fact alone, automatically superior to one that is not accredited. If I were homeschooling high school aged children right now, I personally wouldn’t choose to use an accredited program unless I was educating under constraints that made its use necessary. (Stay tuned for a later post on that!)  Remember that you might not even need a high school diploma at all, even if you want to go to university.

But, if you’re asking whether or not a program is accredited, that probably means you have come to the conclusion that your child needs or wants the benefits of accreditation. And if so, then you need to ask, ”Accredited by whom?” or you may as well not ask at all.

HANG OUT A SHINGLE, AND YOU’RE A CERTIFICATION BOARD I’m bringing up this topic again because of an article I read this morning in the Boston Herald regarding U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul’s claim to be a board certified doctor. It turns out that Paul is indeed certified … by a medical organization that he himself founded and currently heads. The Boston Herald article explains:

Paul, a Republican from Bowling Green and an opthamologist, says he’s certified by the National Board of Opthamology. But, Lori Boukas, a spokeswoman for the American Board of Medical Specialties, said the organization considers certifications valid only if they are done by the two dozen groups that have its approval and that of the AMA. The American Board of Opthamology said Paul hasn’t been certified since Dec. 31, 2005.

From what I gather from this article, the American Medical Association considers certifications issued by the American Board of Opthamology to be valid, but not those issued by the National Board of Opthamology, the latter being an organization that Paul created himself because he took issue with the certification practices of the former.

I’m not implying that there’s necessarily anything shady about forming your own accrediting body, but you can see how it creates confusion. If you were a budding opthamologist, then you would really need to know that the American and National Boards are two different entities, viewed differently by the American Medical Association and probably, therefore, by future employers. While both boards can offer you certification, those certifications are not equally accepted in the medical profession. Presumably there’s a professional organization to advise doctors and medical students. But surely the average patient would be clueless about these certification issues. (“Oh, you are certified by the National Board of Opthamology?  Sorry, my insurance only covers visits to an American Board of Opthamology certified doctor.”)

QUESTIONING (PRESUMED) AUTHORITIES We see shades of this outside the world of certification. “Super Objective Scientific Plastics Research Organization” (whose website you may visit while researching toxins in plastics) is nothing more than “Petroleum Giant Inc.“‘s PR department with carefully selected pro-plastic information. The “Stop Bill C-crackdown-on-natural-medicine” website is funded by “The Acai Berry Scammers of Canada” … who may in turn be simply a crafty department of “Big Pharma Monopoly Inc.” who have the resources to pull off the best double scam in history: reap the profits from selling supplements advertised as natural (but that don’t actually work) and then expose said natural medicine scams to create laws that make it impossible to sell herbal remedies, leaving pharmaceuticals as the only option.

(As you can see, my years of asking, “Who is really behind this?” have sharpened my creative skills!)

DO YOU KNOW WHO’S ACCREDITING YOUR CHILDREN? Most of us are aware of the need to question who is behind the sites we visit online and how objective or reliable its contents are. But, when it comes to certification and accreditation, we can really be fooled by authoritative sounding organizations and institutions. We still tend to think that it means something if a person or program is certified or accredited. It may, or it may not.

ACCREDITED HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS IN CANADA Fortunately (for simplicity’s sake), in Canada there really is only one accrediting body for high school credits: the provincial Ministry of Education. If you are inquiring about earning Canadian high school credits and want to ensure they are the official credits that count towards an official high school diploma, the answer you want to hear is that the program is accredited by the Ministry of Education. You want to hear that the program offers a ministry- or government-accredited high school diploma, not an equivalent diploma. There is only one “high school diploma” in each province, whether earned through correspondance, through a private school, at an alternative education centre, through a combination of night and/or summer school classes or at a regular public school - it’s the government-sanctioned, provincial diploma issued by the Ministry of Education.

ACCREDITED HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS IN THE UNITED STATES In the US, however, there are a handful of organizations with super-serious, boring names that do accredit US high schools on behalf of the US government. Not surprisingly, there are also a few organizations with super-serious, boring names that offer accreditation to schools and programs who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for accreditation through the government-recognized organizations. So, if you’re considering a US-based program that claims to be certified, you have a little more work to do to figure out which body certifies the program and then whether that body is one of the government-recognized ones.

RECOGNITION OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS BY CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES Canadian universities only recognize high school diplomas from the US that the US government would have recognized themselves. Students with a differently-accredited US diploma can not apply as regular high school students. They can, of course, apply for alternative admission (for example, as homeschoolers) and their diplomas can be considered in the admission process. But, Canadian universities can only accept a US government-recognized high school diploma to satisfy the “has a high school diploma” requirement. If you have one of the “other” diplomas, you do not, in the Canadian university’s eyes, have a “high school diploma” and you can’t apply as if you do.  So, that accredited diploma you earn may not come with the door-opening credentials you expect because of the organization offering the accreditation.

CONCLUSION Not everyone needs accreditation for their high school level studies.  But if you do in fact need a government high school diploma, then you need to find out who is accrediting the program and confirm that the diploma is government-recognized.

Related Posts: High School Credit Courses Do I Need a High School Diploma? 7 Ways To Get Into University Without A High School Diploma Homeschool Diplomas - Fact vs. Fiction

Do I Need a High School Diploma?

You may find yourself at a disadvantage without any educational credentials, so it’s a good idea to plan to achieve some level of formal, recognized education. Most homeschoolers do in fact have their sights set on some form of post-secondary education such as college, university, internship or professional programs.

But, homeschoolers pose an interesting problem to post-secondary program admissions because they often want to attend these formal, accredited programs after an informal or unrecognized course of study in the high school years. Certainly, most people use a high school diploma to gain entrance to these programs. But just because most people do it, does that mean it’s required?

So, before I answer the common question, “How do I get a high school diploma as a homeschooler?” I thought it would be a good idea to make it clear that, depending on your situation, you might not need a diploma at all.

ARE YOU ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION? People often write me asking how best to go about earning a high school diploma in their particular situation. But, for most people, the high school diploma isn’t really what they want.

What they really want is to open the doors that a high school diploma typically opens. Do you want a high school diploma for its own sake, or do you want to get into university? Do you want to qualify for a particular college program or internship?

Furthermore, if you could achieve that larger goal without a high school diploma, would you still want to focus on the high school diploma?

ONLY YOUR MOST ADVANCED EDUCATIONAL CREDENTIALS MATTER If you plan to earn a university degree, no one will care about your high school credentials. If you plan to earn a professional degree (law, medicine, teaching) or a graduate (Master’s, PhD) degree, few will even care about your undergraduate (first) university degree.

If you are not planning on attending college or university, then you will likely want a high school diploma (or GED, an equivalent exam-based credential). Most jobs require at least a high school diploma or GED, and without credentials of higher education, the high school diploma becomes more important.

But, if your goal is a university degree, then the question you should be asking yourself is, “What do I need in order to be accepted into university?” Fortunately, we already know that most Ontario universities will admit you without a high school diploma as long as you have fulfilled their other admission requirements. (And, an “open university” such as Athabasca University will admit you without any prerequisites.)

But what about advanced degrees and professional programs? The same reasoning applies: if your goal is law school, start your educational planning by asking yourself, “What do I need in order to be accepted into law school?”

WORK BACKWARDS TO FIND THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE The typical educational path to law school looks something like this:

high school diploma -> university degree -> law school

But, did you know that a university degree is not a pre-requisite for law school? And, since a high school diploma is not required for university entrance, neither credential is actually required for admission to law school. (There are educational requirements that you must satisfy, but neither a diploma nor a degree is one of them.)

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider a high school diploma or a university degree if you want to go to law school (or medical school, which has a similar entrance process). But it means that you have options, and you may wish to explore them to find the path of minimum formal schooling that will allow you to focus on your education instead.

JUST TO GO TO UNIVERSITY? THE SHORT ANSWER IS, “NO!” We do know that there are several ways to get into university without a high school diploma, but some college or technical programs may not support these methods. In short, though, if your educational path relies on a university education, then you can feel confident that you can avoid a high school diploma if you so desire.

RULE OF THUMB BASED ON THE LEVEL OF STUDY YOU EVENTUALLY WISH TO ACHIEVE High School Education, but nothing further: While you may never need formal proof of your high school level studies, there is a good chance that at some point you will want to present formal educational credentials to an employer, an investor (if you start your own business) or to an organization (if you must meet certain criteria* to join or volunteer). Of course, you can still be admitted to university if you find you do need credentials down the road, but it will typically take years to earn a university degree. If you need a piece of paper, and need it quickly, you’ll probably choose to write the GED exams instead. Even then, there is studying involved and waiting until a test is offered, so be aware that while your opportunities may not be limited, the speed with which you can act on them might be.

Undergraduate Degree (your first university degree): No you do not need a high school diploma because alternative admissions are possible. Professional degree (law, medicine, teaching, veterinary): You need some level of university study, but since you don’t need a high school diploma to get into university, therefore no you don’t need a high school diploma for professional programs, generally speaking. Graduate Degree (an advanced academic degree such as an MA, MSc, PhD): You need an undergraduate university degree, but since you don’t need a high school diploma to get into university, therefore no you don’t need a high school diploma for graduate degrees, generally speaking. College/Technical/Apprentice Programs: In Ontario, these programs often do require a high school diploma unless you wait until age 19 or 21 (depending on the school) to apply as a mature student. Read admissions information carefully and look for “high school diploma or equivalent” to see whether there may be a loophole or some flexibility. JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN BUCK THE SYSTEM DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD As you can see, it is possible to follow an advanced academic career without a high school diploma through alternative entrance to an undergraduate program.  But, it is important to make sure that the alternative path you choose is actually preferable to simply earning the high school diploma. Some people will prefer being assigned a curriculum, having lessons planned and work graded externally to the more independent options such as studying for standardized tests. Some students will benefit from the social experience of attending a high school (even if only in an “it’s like watching a sociological experiment” kind of way!) and others may find that the high school really is the resource hub of the community with the best music, athletic or science equipment, and therefore opportunities, in town. Responsible academic planning is as much knowing when to take advantage of a well-worn path as it is knowing when you can safely cut corners.  As always, think about which path offers the best combination of challenge and support for your child; a solid high school education requires both.

==================== * a local husband-and-wife bowling tournament in our old neighbourhood required you to submit a marriage license with your application to prevent contestants from pairing up with ringers. So, you just never know when you might need an official piece of paper!

How Early Do I Have to Start Planning for University?

(This is a part of the document that I used to hand out at my Ontario University Admissions seminar.  Just thought I’d get it up online.)

The answer to this question depends in part on how your intend to enter university.  Below you’ll find some general tips and suggestions for your high school program that address credit courses, standardized test prep, “top six” and portfolio-based options.  Of course, these are just some general, brief guidelines to get you thinking about the process.

To earn the OSSD: start taking credit courses in “Grade 9” and plan to take roughly 6 – 8 credit courses per year for four years.

To write Standardized Tests (SAT/ACT): follow a challenging English/Math program of your choice through “Grades 9 and 10” and begin specific test prep in the fall of  “Grade 11.”

To take 12U credit courses (“Top Six”): follow a challenging English/Math program through “Grades 9 and 10” and begin with one or two 12U credit courses in fall of “Grade 11.” Finish the rest of the six courses in “Grade 12.”

To prepare a Porfolio: document activities (begin to prepare a transcript with course names, descriptions, lists of texts used, tables of content followed) starting in “Grade 9.” Start producing samples of graded, admission-level work (projects, essays, tests) in “Grade 11.”

To enter an open university directly: follow a curriculum according to interest and ability in “Grades 9 and 10.”  Choose more challenging/advanced programs in areas of future specialization.  For interests in humanities, develop solid writing skills early.  For interests in social studies, develop advanced reading comprehension early.  For interests in math/science/engineering/technical areas, develop solid math skills early.  Begin your first course or two in “Grade 11.”  Choose an area of strength or interest to start.  Look ahead to courses you might take over the next 2 years and if need be, study specifically to prepare for those courses.  Complete 4 – 6 courses over the course of 2 – 3 years.  Then, decide whether to continue studying by distance or transfer as a university transfer student to a traditional university setting.

General Admissions Timelines - “Grades 9 and 10”

Decide on an admissions strategy to aim for: Standardized Tests, 12U credit courses (“Top Six”), Portfolio/Transcripts, Mature student entry, transfer from an open university

Research admission policies: Homeschool policy already in place? Homeschool contact person at university? Contact universities to confirm policies and establish relationship.

Personal thinking/planning about future

  • Am I a “science” person?  A “history” person?
  • Do I have a specific profession in mind?
  • Do I want to attend university right after high school?

Begin formal documentation for portfolios/transcripts

  • Consult Ministry of Education course descriptions for curriculum topics by grade
  • Collect samples of work, externally-evaluated if possible
  • Keep exhaustive list of activities and use edu-speak to translate into courses

Start regular, academic writing

  • Argumentative/persuasive writing
  • Report writing
  • Grammar and style
  • Research and documentation
  • Organization and structure

Analysis of texts and literature (fiction and non-fiction)

  • Reading for meaning and content
  • Understanding tone, perspective, and bias
  • Use of figurative language
  • Themes and character development in works of fiction

Regular diet of pre-algebra/algebra

  • Basic arithmetic and order of operations
  • Integers, fractions, decimals
  • solving equations
  • rate, ratio, percent and proportion
  • linear and quadratic functions
  • linear and quadratic equations and systems of equations
  • analytic geometry
  • polynomials and factoring

Establish/Develop areas of academic interest

  • Having an “academic speciality” can go a long way to being noticed as a university applicant.
  • Put together your own “survey course” in a particular field
  • Explore professional/industry/career organizations in that area and familiarize yourself with their suggested links/resources

“Grade 11” – credit courses or personalized study program for standardized tests

Attend university fairs (usually in the fall)

Visit university campuses – when students are there!

Language Development

  • Continue regular writing and revising – style and sentence variety
  • Work on improving, enriching vocabulary – consider studying lements of Latin, Greek
  • Read challenging texts, including those which are open to interpretation
  • Studies in current events/world issues
  • Elementary Logic, especially logical reasoning and fallacies for the purposes of evaluating arguments, identifying faulty reasoning
  • Traditional Grammar Study for clear, concise communication

Mathematics Development

  • Humanities students: Continue studies from Grades 9 and 10, working towards proficiency in these skills, and/or SAT preparation
  • Business students: this should be a pre-calculus year with an added emphasis on statistics and probability—if  possible, write AP Statistics exam this May—(or with the intention of pursuing this next year)
  • Social Science students: studies from Grades 9 and 10, working towards proficiency in these skills, and/or SAT preparation with an emphasis on statistics and probability (or with the intention of pursuing this next year)
  • Science students: this should be a pre-calculus year (physics students should also consider this a pre-linear algebra year)
  • Math/Computer science students: this should be a pre-calculus and pre-linear algebra year. Completion of the equivalent of 11U Mathematics (Ontario) or Algebra 2 (U.S.) should be the goal.

Standardized Test Route

  • Start prep for SAT (and any AP exams) in the fall
  • Write SAT (May or June)
  • Write one or two “easier” AP exams (May)

Credit course route

  • Take one or two 12U courses in first semester (easier ones)
  • Take one or two 12U courses in second semester

Research universities – Method A:  By School

  • Close to home vs. far away?
  • Finances and Scholarships?
  • Size of campus/classes?
  • Size of city/town?

Research universities – Method B:  By Program

  • Where is the program available?
  • Co-op or internship possibilities?
  • Specialization or general?

“Grade 12” – STANDARDIZED TESTS or 12U courses Visit OUAC website in the fall

  • Contact OUAC in September re: applying as a home schooled student to receive appropriate login information or paper applications
  • download copy of INFO (available late Sept/October) for specific program requirements and application information

Language Development

  • Read and respond to challenging, classical texts – explore the universal themes of classic works and the elements of language used by the author to communicate his or her message
  • Use academic journals (instead of newspapers) to explore current issues
  • Choose some subjects to be studied “from the textbook” and develop the skill of learning independently from a textbook (perhaps choose a text you may be using next year in university – e.g. intro to psychology)
  • Attend local seminars held by museums or local colleges/universities
  • Join or form a book club with deadlines for reading and discussion dates

Mathematics Development

  • Humanities students: No further mathematics is typically required beyond studies from Grades 9 and 10, and/or SAT, but you may wish to consider preparing for a SAT Subject Test (Math I) or your university program’s breadth requirement in math/logic/statistics
  • Business students: study calculus (formally or informally) this year with an added emphasis on statistics and probability if not previously studied.  Plan to write SAT Subect (Math I or II) test and/or AP Calculus  & Statistics in the spring, if not previously written.
  • Social Science students: plan to write SAT Subject Test (Math I or II) and AP Statistics in the spring, if not previously written.
  • Science students: study calculus (formally or informally) and possibly linear algebra.  Write SAT Subject Test (Math II) and/or AP Calculus in the spring
  • Math/Computer Science students: study calculus and linear algebra (formally or informally) with the intention of writing SAT Subject Test (Math II) and/or AP Calculus.

Standardized Test Route

  • Revisit prep for SAT in the fall if you wish to rewrite this year (Before Dec.)
  • Start AP and/or SAT II preparation in the fall
  • Write AP exams (May)
  • Write SAT II subject exams (Spring)

Credit course route

  • Take two or three 12U courses in first semester (ideally, have 6 done!)
  • Take one or two 12U courses in second semester, if desired/necessary

Other academic options for Grades 11 and 12

  • Volunteer placements
  • Internships, job shadowing
  • Online university/college courses (for credit or “open study” such as MIT)
  • Competitions and contests (e.g. music, academic)
  • Special camps/activities hosted by universities or community groups
  • Offer tutoring and/or mentoring to younger students
  • Outside certification courses (e.g. cooking, technology, athletics, public speaking, technical writing, swiming) in areas of interest and/or teaching classes in these areas
  • Specialized research project

My Favourite Logic Puzzle

For a good couple of years, I carried around a print out of this puzzle in my purse. It was my constant companion on flights and I spent who knows how many dozens of hours trying to work it out. May it bring you as many hours of pleasure and frustration as it brought me!

  1. The first question whose answer is (B) is — (A) 1 — (B) 2 — (C) 3 — (D) 4 — (E) 5

  2. The only two consecutive questions with identical answers are — (A) 6 & 7 — (B) 7 & 8 — (C) 8 & 9 — (D) 9 & 10 — (E) 10 & 11

  3. The number of questions with answer (E) is — (A) 0 — (B) 1 — (C) 2 — (D) 3 — (E) — 4

  4. The number of questions with answer (A) is — (A) 4 — (B) 5 — (C) 6 — (D) 7 — (E) 8

  5. The answer to this question is the same as the answer to question — (A) 1 — (B) 2 — (C) 3 — (D) 4 — (E) 5

  6. The answer to question 17 is — (A) C — (B) D — (C) E — (D) none of the above — (E) all of the above

  7. Alphabetically, the answer to this question and the answer to the following question are — (A) 4 apart — (B) 3 apart — (C) 2 apart — (D) 1 apart — (E) the same

  8. The number of questions whose answers are vowels is — (A) 4 — (B) 5 — (C) 6 — (D) 7 — (E) 8

  9. The next question with the same answer as this one is question — (A) 10 — (B) 11 — (C) 12 — (D) 13 — (E) 14

  10. The answer to question 16 is — (A) D — (B) A — (C) E — (D) B — (E) C

  11. The number of questions preceding this one with the answer (B) is — (A) 0 — (B) 1 — (C) 2 — (D) 3 — (E) 4

  12. The number of questions whose answer is a consonant is — (A) an even number — (B) an odd number — (C) a perfect square — (D) a prime — (E) divisible by 5

  13. The only odd numbered problem with answer (A) is — (A) 9 — (B) 11 — (C) 13 — (D) 15 — (E) 17

  14. The number of questions with answer (D) is — (A) 6 — (B) 7 — (C) 8 — (D) 9 — (E) 10

  15. The answer to question 12 is — (A) A — (B) B — (C) C — (D) D — (E) E

  16. The answer to question 10 is — (A) D — (B) C — (C) B — (D) A — (E) E

  17. The answer to question 6 is — (A) C — (B) D — (C) E — (D) none of the above — (E) all of the above

  18. The number of questions with answer A equals the number of questions with answer — (A) B — (B) C — (C) D — (D) E — (E) none of the above

  19. The answer to this question is — (A) A — (B) B — (C) C — (D) D — (E) E

  20. Standardized test : intelligence :: barometer : — (A) temperature (only) — (B) wind velocity (only) — (C) latitude (only) — (D) longitude (only) — (E) temperature, wind velocity, latitude and longitude

From: Visit there to see a discussion about the answers. There is a unique solution, and I have solved it.

If you stumble across any other puzzles like this, please let me know! This is my favourite kind of puzzle, and as you can imagine, they’re not easy to find.

AP Exams for Homeschoolers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

A great way for homeschooling high school students to “prove” their academic prowess in specific subject areas is through writing Advanced Placement examinations

The problem with AP exams for homeschoolers in Ontario has always been that these exams must be written in accredited high schools who have registered to offer AP examinations.  The chances of your local Ontario high school offering AP exams isn’t all that great, since the Advanced Placement program isn’t nearly as popular here as it is in the U.S.

And, even if a school near you does hold AP examinations, there’s no guarantee that they will allow outside students to write exams at their school.  They are not required to open their testing doors to everyone, and some schools have very reasonable restrictions on external students on exam day.

For example, one of the leading AP schools in the province is an all girls school, and they do not allow outside students to write AP exams with their own students.  How fair would it be to have their female students suddenly surrounded with boys on high stakes exam days?  How fair would it be to say that only female homeschoolers can join the girls for these exams?  You can obviously appreciate that there can be reasonable justifications for what may at first seem like unreasonable, exclusionary policies.

I think for a couple of years now I’ve been casually mentioning on various message boards that there’s “some school just west of Toronto” who has been open and welcoming to having homeschoolers participate in their AP exams.  Allow me to now formally share the details:

Dear Sarah, Thank you for your awareness of Bronte AP program, we are offering a wide range of AP exams (about 27 different exams out of 39 exams offered by College Board) we are proud of being the first school offering AP exams for external students in GTA. Each AP exam will cost $150 and we are also offering AP exam preparation sessions for three months prior to exams schedule (Once a week) a copy of our AP exams tutorials for 2008 is attached. If you have any more inquiries don’t hesitate to contact me Regards, Dr. N. Gouda Head of Student Governance BRONTE COLLEGE OF CANADA 88 Bronte College court Mississauga Ontario L5B 1M9 Tel. 905 270-7788 ext.2042        Fax. 905 270-7828

Dr. Gouda has been personally recommended to me both by the head of the Ontario Council of AP Schools in Ontario and by a homeschooling mom whose daughter took a few AP exams at Bronte College and was very impressed with the whole examination environment and proctoring at Bronte.

Unlike the SAT and ACT tests, AP examinations are held only once per year.  Also unlike the SAT/ACT, AP examinations cover first year university level, subject-specific material.  In other words, you don’t have the luxury of writing it over a few times a year until you get the score you like (although, you may write again the following year - there is no restriction on rewriting) and the material is much more challenging.  Both of these elements combined can make for a pretty stressful exam day!  Knowing that you’re in good, competent hands and that every effort will be made to provide optimal test-taking conditions is worth its weight in gold… or at the very least, $150! ;)

Like the SAT/ACT, however, the exam can be written “cold.”  You are not required to take any AP “classes” before writing the exam.  The review classes offered by Bronte College are available to but not required of homeschoolers.  Just as with any standardized test, familiarity with the test format and types of questions generally asked is just as important than the content covered by the test itself.  So, I don’t actually recommend writing the test with no prep, but preparation can be as simple as a $20 AP exam prep book from Chapters or Amazon (or free from the library).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Gouda for being a model of accessibility.  For many students, AP exams are a fantastic alternative to Ontario high school credit courses.  It’s great that Bronte College is promoting this option to a group of students who can really benefit from it.

If Mississauga is a bit too far for you to travel for an exam, you can visit to find a list of AP schools in Canada.

If you need reminding why the AP program is a path to university that you definitely want to check out, have a look at the university-by-university AP credit policies and how many university credits can be earned for success on an AP exam.

Lost in Translation - or the High School Transcript for Homeschoolers

These thoughts stem from JoVE’s post yesterday about transcripts and portfolios. What started with a discussion of “mastery” and transcripts led me to observe that the Ontario transcript, in its current form, is predicated on the notion of a LACK of mastery. If the material in classes were “mastered” then why would we need grades?)

So, if transcripts are not meant to demonstrate mastery, but only one’s proportional lack thereof, how is a homeschooler to use a transcript? Is one necessary at all?


Of course, the exercise of preparing transcripts is not so much for the child; it’s for some third party who will use the transcript to make assessments or evaluations of your child.

Making a transcript is simply an exercise in comparing what your child has done to provincial standards. Or in other words, which courses and grades do I reasonably expect my child, in his or her current academic state, would have walked away with had s/he studied and been evaluated according to the provincial curriculum expectations? Of course, the only reason to do this in the first place is if someone somewhere is going to ask how your child would have done in this situation, and only if you feel it’s important to tell them! :)

In many cases, transcripts for homeschoolers are not meaningful in and of themselves because the child didn’t follow the provincial school curriculum (including provincially-mandated forms of assessment and evalutation) and therefore the transcript may bear little resemblance to what the child actually did.


Even if your child had a traditional textbook-based high school homeschooling experience, the Ontario transcript is still only a poor approximation of your child’s educational achievement. For one thing, and I can’t stress this enough, the Ontario curriculum not only mandates curriculum (what is taught) but also pedagogy (how this material is taught) and gives very specific assessment criteria.

For example, the use of graphing calculators is mandated in Ontario Grade 9 math. Ontario courses also have requirements that 30 - 40% of your final grade is determined at the end of the year by some cummulative project, assignment or examination. If your “grade 9” homeschooling math curriculum did not include specific functions on the graphing calculator, or if your method of calculating a final average did not give the requisite weight to a massive activity at the end of the course, then already the percentage grade you may have diligently calculated based on textbook work, reviews and tests doesn’t mean the same thing as a percentage grade on an Ontario transcript.

Given the above directives of the Ontario curriculum (including content, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation), it’s extremely unlikely that any homeschooler not actually enrolled in an Ontario credit course can actually be said to be following the Ontario curriculum. This doesn’t just apply to unschoolers, but also to those who are following what is in fact (ironically?) a more traditional program of study than that offered by our public school system.


It’s easy to justify that any attempt at putting together a transcript resembling the provincial one is an exercise in futility: we could do it, but it wouldn’t really mean anything! Given that many people homeschool precisely to avoid the all-too-common meaningless activities in education, one could conclude that there’s no point in preparing a transcript. And therefore, one could get pretty ticked off about being asked to provide one to the universities when applying for admission.

But, how does our perspective change if we think of the transcript as an olive branch extended to a university admissions committee, as our attempt to help them do their job of ranking and comparing (not assessing and evaluating) applicants? (That was my metaphor. Joe put it a little more harshly: What if we don’t want to appear like a boorish tourist who is indignant that, while visiting a foreign country, no one speaks our language?)


I think of generating a transcript as an exercise in translation. It’s an imperfect translation to be sure, since each “language” lacks the words to represent certain key concepts in the other language. But, it’s an attempt to approximate ideas, and to facilitate communication.

Language is culture-based, and sometimes our difficulties speaking and understanding foreign languages are based on this lack of shared cultural experience. So, a transcript can seem all the more difficult to generate because not only are the cultural notions unfamiliar (credits, grades, instructional hours) but they may also be in direct opposition to the values of our own culture.

From an Ontario university standpoint, the good news is that these strange, exotic creatures (university admissions officers) are for the most part willing to deal with those for whom transcript-speak is a second language, and are tolerant of imperfect translations as long as a reasonable attempt at communication is made.

Not all Ontario universities require you to submit a transcript, and those that do are really only interested in documentation that would relate to a typical accredited school experience. The key to effectively translating your experience into transcript speak is understanding their cultural notions.


One noteworthy example is the concept of “instructional time.” The Ontario transcript, and Ontario universities measure academic study directly in hours, and only indirectly in topics of study. This can seem very foreign when your curriculum plan is based firstly on achieving certain outcomes or covering certain material and the amount of time it takes to do this is only a secondary concern, if it is a concern at all.

For example, your child may have self-studied the equivalent of Grade 12 Calculus over a period of 3 years or zipped through it all in six weeks, but the university doesn’t really care how long it took. The proper way to record this on a transcript for them is to say that the length of study was 110 hrs, one semester, or one school year. This is because the university simply wants to know what, in relation to the provincial curriculum, was accomplished.

The provincial curriculum sets aside 110 hrs (or one semester, or one year) of time for this course and the material covered within it. To claim that you studied “six weeks” of calculus is like telling the university that you studied “a chapter or two.” Similarly, to claim three years of study is akin to saying you’re ready to jump into Topology at the university level. It’s not “lying” to say that you studied 110 hrs when it reality it didn’t take that long or more likely, when you didn’t bother to log the number of hours; it’s effectively translating into transcript-speak.


If the goal is effective communication in this non-native language, then the first thing we have to do is understand that direct, literal translation only gets us so far. It doesn’t take very long at all in studying French to realize that “I have eight years,” and “Today, it makes nice,” are in fact the proper ways to communicate to a French speaker that you’re eight years old and it’s a nice day out. It’s no stretch to realize that the translation for “instructional hour” (a concept not used in homeschooling, and different from a 60-minute hour) is going to sound even weirder to non-native transcript speakers.

Your homeschool transcript, should you use to create one, is going to be more about them than you. Your goal is to look through the Ontario curriculum and decide which courses (based on content) and grades (based on mastery) reasonably approximate the studying your child did throughout high school. It won’t be accurate, and it might sound incomprehensible spoken in our own, native educational language. But it’s all simply an exercise in communication, and it is one of the tasks we sign up for when we choose to assume the role normally taken by the school in our children’s education.

For reference:  Ontario Student Transcript Manual, 2007

Homeschool Diplomas - Fact vs. Fiction


  1. an official or state document
  2. a writing usually under seal conferring some honor or privilege
  3. a document bearing record of graduation from or of a degree conferred by an educational institution

It’s not exactly clear-cut, but the implication behind the word diploma is that it has been awarded to the recipient by someone with the explicit power to do so.


Here’s why I don’t like the phrase “homeschool diploma” (and I know many people find my site by searching that phrase, so I’m not just making this up!):

The family unit does have the power to confer some honor or privilege upon a child who has, in the family’s mind, successfully completed high school.

But, the family unit does not have the power to confer upon said child an award that others outside the family are forced to acknowledge.

It is misleading, I believe, to represent yourself as having earned a “high school diploma” because that phrase carries with it the understanding that a government-approved organization assessed and granted diploma status. In other words, if it came off your own printer, how “official” can it really be?


When I speak on the topic of university admissions, I’m often asked how homeschoolers “get a high school diploma.” The reality is, many homeschoolers do not get a high school diploma. And in fact, by definition (according to the universities), if you have a high school diploma, you are not a homeschooler!

If you go through the homeschool admission policies of the Ontario universities, you’ll notice that while you may be asked to provide a transcript, or portfolio, you will not be asked to submit a “diploma.” That’s because universities do not recognize diplomas unless they come from a government-accredited source.

And most importantly, a homeschooled applicant is one who by definition does not possess a government diploma. So, the university is not expecting you to present any diploma whatsoever. This is why you’re considered a homeschooler, and this is why you’re presenting a portfolio, or standardized test results or some other requirement that is not required of traditionally-schooled applicants.


Now, I have had this discussion with others re: “diplomas” that come at the end of comprehensive curriculum programs, mostly those available out of the U.S. and completed through distance studies.

One mother was adamant that her child’s university “accepted” this diploma. The reality is, and it’s a fine distinction so bear with me, the university accepted the child, who happened to have this diploma when he applied.

While the university took this diploma into consideration, and subsequently decided to admit the student, this does not mean that this program’s diploma is “recognized” or “accepted.” The university is not allowed to recognize a non-government-accredited diploma as fulfilling the “does this kid have a high school diploma?” requirement. Note that a government approved diploma can be from any government, not just a Canadian province. But, it does have to be awarded by ultimately an organization that is under the jurisdiction of a country’s own education system, not a private curriculum company.

That being said, there are some correspondence diplomas from the U.S. that are government accredited. In fact, the very first time I spoke at the KW conference, we discovered that two members of the audience were following a program that led to an official state diploma from the U.S. This meant that, in the eyes of the universities, these students were not homeschoolers because they had a government diploma to present. So, the specific program you’re following makes a huge difference. (More about these U.S. programs later.)


Here are some of the misconceptions I’ve encountered over the years:

FACT: A diploma is ultimately just a piece of paper signifying an academic honor or achievement. The diploma is not the high school education itself. If you homeschool, you may not receive a diploma for your work. To put it bluntly, get over it! What I mean is, separate the diploma from the education in your mind, and focus not on achieving the diploma at all costs, but rather achieving your life goals (e.g. university admission), then decide whether the diploma is absolutely necessary. Recognize that not every life goal requires a high school diploma, and in fact, some goals are more easily attained without said diploma. When you’re on my website, remember that my primary concern isn’t earning you a diploma – it’s getting you into university, and all advice is given within that context.

FACT: A diploma carries with it the underlying assumption that whoever issued the diploma has been approved by the government to hold the power to certify and acknowledge academic achievement, and this is what allows diplomas to carry universal recognition. This is why not everyone can have a diploma for doing just anything, no matter how worthy it is. Again, get over it! You are not entitled to a government’s seal of approval if you did not do what they specifically require for a high school diploma. The good news is, people like me have been working for years so that this lack of a diploma isn’t an obstacle when applying to university.

FICTION: You need a high school diploma before entering post-secondary studies, so even if you’re 23 with a lot of life experience, you should be figuring out how to go back and get those high school credits that you’re missing so that you can apply to university. FACT: Apply as a mature student, or to an open university. Don’t waste your time with high school credits unless you really feel you are lacking the academic knowledge/confidence and specifically want to study at the high school level.

FACT: When universities use the phrase “high school diploma” they mean only diplomas issued by government accredited organizations. It’s important to realize that, in Ontario as in many other government jurisdictions, there is only one recognized high school diploma - the government one. All accredited schools (public, private, independent, correspondence) issue this same diploma, not an “equivalent” diploma, but the exact, same one. That’s what being accredited means – given the authority to issue the government diploma.

FACT: People will prey on your innocence/ignorance surrounding diplomas. A few years ago, I overheard one vendor at a large homeschooling conference in Ontario describing his program’s “diploma” to a parent. Words and phrases like “equivalent” and “our kids get into university just like everyone else” are misleading when the audience doesn’t realize two key points. First, there is no such official thing as an “equivalent” diploma. That’s not an official term and no one regulates what is “equivalent” to ensure that it really is like the original. In other words, having an equivalent diploma still means that you don’t have the traditional, government high school diploma. Second, while students with these equivalent diplomas may “similarly get into university” they certainly do not “get into university in a similar way” to kids with the government diploma. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using an unaccredited program for your high school years, there is something very wrong with using verbal sleight of hand to make people think that your diploma “counts” as what we have come to know as a “high school diploma.” And, this is a huge difference. It’s the difference between applying as a homeschooler and applying with the traditional high school diploma (which, if you had, would make you not a homeschooler in the eyes of the universities).

FICTION: All Ontario high schools offer the government diploma, in other words, the one that is recognized. FACT: In Ontario, all schools that have chosen to “register” with the government will be listed in database which can be searched here. But, not every school listed is permitted to issue high school diplomas. In other words, not every “registered” school (here’s my application fee) is an “accredited” school (permitted to grant the government high school diploma). Look for the indication “Offers credits towards the Ontario Secondary School Diploma” in their listing.

FICTION: Any correspondence diploma from the U.S. is one way to “get around” not having an Ontario high school diploma. FACT: In the US, there is an extra layer involved in government accreditation. There are about half a dozen “accrediting organizations” that have government approval to accredit individual schools and school boards. So, when using a curriculum from the United States, it’s important to first find out which organization issues the school’s accreditation, and then determine whether this organization is one of the government ones. There are accrediting bodies in the United States who have not received government approval to accredit schools for the government diploma, meaning that the individual school or program can claim “certification” for its diploma, but just not government certification, which is what Ontario universities will demand. Be careful, there are some well-known names out there whose diplomas are not recognized by universities. This doesn’t mean that the universities won’t consider the academic achievement involved in obtaining them, but these diplomas are not stand ins for a government diploma.

FICTION: You need a high school diploma to put on your resume after graduating from college, university or other post-secondary education/training. FACT: If you are continuing on to post-secondary education/training, that is the education that should be represented on your resume. Not having a high school diploma when you already have a university degree or college diploma should not ordinarily present any problems to you in the job market.

6 Ways to Turn Your Interests Into Extra-curricular Activities for Your University Application

Business Week recently shared advice from university admission officers: depth means more than breadth when it comes to extra curricular activities.

Schools are becoming more familiar and less impressed with “resume padding” in the university application. Susan Chan, the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, comments in a September 2006 article:

“We are not necessarily impressed by students who list a high number of different activities,” Chan said. “We are much more impressed with students who have accomplished something significant in an activity or two that they obviously know and love.”

Passion and dedication are hard to fake, and admissions committees know this. They also know that not every interest has a local club you can join, or a volunteer position you can easily obtain.

This is good news if your child’s most noteworthy characteristics are a subscription to Popular Science, several late charges from the public library’s video documentary section and an RSS reader full of industry blogs. But, how do you apply to university with a reading list instead of an activity list?


(and how to do it so that it actually benefits you and doesn’t just pad your resume)

1. CREATIVITY COUNTS - create something

I can remember having an intense class discussion in high school arguing whether or not one needed to actually create something to be considered creative. (It is right in the word itself, afterall!)

Whenever I think I have a particularly “creative” idea, I always use the memory of that discussion to remind myself that if my creative thoughts don’t actually produce anything, what have I really done?

Joe also helps me remember this by often repeating the line from Amadeus, “It’s of no use to anybody in your head, Mozart.”

It’s one thing to have a passion for a particular topic, but it’s what you have created from your passion that can be more easily showcased on a university application, and can direct your passion into a worthwhile endeavour.

Here are just a few of endless examples:

  • write about your topic
    • outline a new idea you have
    • address a common problem or issue in the area, and research possible solutions
    • compile existing work into a “beginners guide” or teaching material
    • describe your journey from beginner to enthusiast, and how it affected you as a person
  • build something
    • a working model or prototype of an established or experimental idea
    • experiment with function and design
  • establish an organization or charitable foundation related to your area of interest
    • coordinate group projects
    • fundraise
    • distribute a newsletter
    • lobby the government
  • set a travel goal and document it in words, photographs
    • visit every major league baseball park
    • view “original/historical sources” in your area of interest
    • meet/interview major personalities in your area of interest
  • use your area of interest to inspire artistic creations
    • write songs
    • sculpt or paint
    • write screenplays, short films, commercials
  • create and maintain a website
    • demonstrate an ongoing commitment by keeping up with important news in your field
    • start an online discussion board where people from all over can connect
    • create an online photo gallery of pictures you have taken related to your interest
    • research careers in your area, then share this information as a “how to get started in …” guide

2. Flash Forward - think about the future, plans goals

Where are you going with your dreams and ideas? There’s nothing wrong with living in the moment, but the act of devising future plans can go a long way to helping you feel grounded with a purpose … and looks great on the university application!

Of course, plans can change. As my father will tell you any day of his life, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” But making these plans, evaluating options and becoming aware of the steps necessary to achieve future goals allows you to envision yourself as a real player in the industry, and then gives you a road map for becoming one.

To the universities, this plan can not only demonstrate your intentions to commit to a course of action (such as, say, I don’t know, a university degree!) but also assures them that you have the drive and skills to go beyond your interest (e.g. languages) to research the educational and professional arenas (e.g. the top translation schools in the country, which schools offer exchange programs or internships, which international organizations accept summer volunteers, the top translation firms that specialize in diplomatic work).

3. Social Significance - whom can you help, and what problems can you solve?

If your ideas are of no use to anybody in your head, then spend some time figuring out who could benefit from the thoughts swishing around up there.

In these days of resume padding and going through the motions of altruism, assisting a very specific part of the community in a specific way will catch the attention of college admissions departments. Which applicant will seem more genuine and effective as a volunteer?

  • one who spent a weekend sorting food at the local food bank (with no other indication anywhere in her application that helping the disadvantaged is a cause near and dear to her heart)
  • one (suffering from allergies and/or chemical sensitivity) who created an information pamphlet describing common toxic ingredients in everyday household cleaners, then created “make your own safe cleaning products at home” workshops which she presented at local community groups or in people’s homes.

There is nothing wrong with the first scenario. After all, it is by leaving our comfort zone and experiencing something totally different that gives us a new perspective on life. No doubt the first applicant was moved and forever changed through her volunteer experience.

But, which applicant gives the greater impression that she will contribute to her university, or to society at large (both of which ultimately benefit the university) when a college application is no longer on the line? The second applicant has shown that she can make her own opportunities to contribute to the world around her, and that she sees a real connection between her own life and the lives of others.

The ability to see needs and react to them is also an important skill for an inventor or entrepreneur. Fostering this ability can set you up for a lifetime of independence because you may realize that you don’t need others to give you a job – you can create one yourself by filling a gap in the market place.

4. Technical Tools - what did you need to know in order to know what you now know?

Very few areas of interest exist in a vacuum. Only in school is “math” separate from “history” and both are separate from “language.” (As if the economy and our ability to communicate with each other never caused some pretty big historical events … )

To give weight to your area of interest on your university application, spend some time answering these three questions:

  • What did you have to learn/master to get where you are?
  • Which skills are you currently working on, or which topics do you need to further understand in order to progress in your area of interest?
  • Which skills or which topics are next on your list to learn?

There’s a lot of number crunching in the study of earthquakes, so a budding geologist will at some point need to ensure that his math skills are up to snuff. Radio waves (so I’ve been told by engineering tutors I’ve worked with) are based on the system of complex numbers … aka imaginary numbers. That’s right, they only exist in our minds, but yet without them we can’t understand radio waves. A historian could rely on English translations of primary texts, but we all know something gets lost; at some point, foreign language skills are required to analyze historical documents.

Your area of interest will no doubt require you to learn topics and skills in other disciplines. Document these for your university application. Not only will it make you feel good about yourself to realize that you know more math or Latin than you thought, but it will demonstrate to the university admissions department a commitment to excellence in your field of study.

Going through a skills/knowledge analysis will also help you determine how ready you might be for an AP, CLEP or SAT subject test in one of these related areas, giving you useful information as to which tests you might want to take for university entrance.

5. Knowledgeable Networking - have some names to drop

It’s impossible to really get into an area of study and not encounter the same names over and over again. Knowing who’s who in an industry is sometimes essential for knowing what’s what.

It’s easy for anyone to put information on the internet, accurate or not. So, knowing the names of the respected players not only ensures that your information is coming from credible sources, but that you’ve taken the time to really get inside the industry. Really, it’s the people and their contributions that made your area of interest what it is. Without musicians, there would be no music!

Also, if you are mainly self-educated, then questions can arise concerning exactly what you’ve been studying. When a high school student applies to university with a government-accredited diploma, the university has at least a general idea of what material was covered in class.

As a homeschooler, you have much more flexibility to pick and choose your own learning resources. Citing key authors or researchers in your area of interest, therefore, can help the university admissions departments feel confident that you’ve done more than memorize a few facts; you’ve done enough study in the area to know the major players and their theories, contributions and positions.

To give more credibility to your self-study, be sure to work into your university application:

  • Who have you connected with, studied about in the course of your interest?
  • Who are the big names in your area of interest, and how has their work influenced you?
  • How do you envision contributing to or adding on to their work?

6. University USP - how will the specific university you’re applying to fit into those plans?

In the world of sales and marketing, USP stands for “Unique Selling Proposition.” In other words, it’s what makes a product or service unique.

When you apply to universities, it is really worth your while to understand each school’s USP: what they can distinctly offer you that the other schools can’t. Not only is this essential information with which to make your final decisions, but also universities are understandably impressed (even flattered) when you know specifics about them.

In your university application, specifically mention:

  • Why their specific department is a good fit for you and your interests. Include references to specific faculty with their research interests, facilities (e.g. the most powerful telescope on an Ontario university campus), degree options (e.g. the opportunity to major in criminal forensics in an undergraduate degree)
  • How you see yourself contributing to the social scene. Find out which clubs are already running that would interest you, or suggest organizations you might initiate that don’t already exist. Mention specific annual events that you can see yourself becoming regularly involved in, such as a breast cancer walk or clothing drive.
  • How the stated mission of the university is a good fit. Examine the school’s motto, philosophy and/or mandate. Explain how or why they resonate with you. Has the university recently removed trays from the cafeteria to save water and energy washing them? Are you impressed because the university has a strong student services department demonstrating a commitment to student success? If the university takes a stand on issues that are important to you, mention how you can get behind those initiatives.

This is more than buttering up the university, this is ensuring that you and the university really are a match made in heaven. It’s for your own benefit as much as it is for getting you noticed by the admissions committee.


It’s easy to think that an interest, passion or obsession can’t be leveraged on a university application. But, having a strong interest may just be what gets you noticed and pushes your application into the “accept” pile!

With a little clear, focused thinking, you can turn your interests into a showcase for your skills, talents, and desirability to any post-secondary institution.