By Peter Olsen, Class of 2011
If you’ve been homeschooled all your life and have never set foot in a classroom, it can be a little intimidating going to college for the first time. For this reason I think a community college is a good place to start, because it’s not such an abrupt change as going off to a university. The admission process is easier, and you also get a lot more value for your money at the community college. Tuition for a full-time student at PVCC is only one-third the cost of attending similar classes at a state university, and most of the core community college courses are fully transferrable. Now that I’ve completed two years at PVCC, I can tell you all about it so you won’t have to wonder what it’s like. Other community colleges are probably very similar.
If you are new to PVCC, you will be required to complete the Student Information Form. This application simply asks for standard information such as name, address, phone, birthdate, social security number, driver’s license number, residency status, and high school status (high school diploma, GED, currently enrolled, home taught, no diploma/GED). ACT or SAT scores are not necessary for admission to the community college, which is another plus if you’ve never gotten around to taking those tests. I was 18 years old at the time of admission, but they won’t deny anyone younger than that from enrolling as long as the student gets a satisfactory score on the college entrance exam, thus demonstrating the ability to do college level work.
All students taking their first college-level English, reading, or mathematics course must complete a placement test at the campus testing center before they can register for classes. This is a computerized assessment test that helps admissions personnel evaluate incoming students in reading, writing, and math skills. There are no passing or failing grades; the test results are only utilized to determine your current skill level in the areas tested so that you can be placed in the appropriate class. You may also qualify for a scholarship and/or enrollment in the Honors Program based on your scores. I know of several homeschoolers (myself included) who have received the Presidents’ Scholarship as a result of their high placement test scores.
If you enroll at PVCC within one year after graduating from high school, there are two ways to be eligible for the Presidents’ Scholarship: (1) Graduate from an accredited high school and rank in the top 15% of your class; OR (2) Eligibility via ASSET, COMPASS, or ACCUPLACER placement test by placing in Honors English and MAT 120 or higher. (When I took the test, the required minimum COMPASS scores were: English 97, Reading 91, Intermediate Algebra 41, and College Algebra 23.) The Presidents’ Scholarship provides full-time tuition (a dollar amount equal to 15 credit hours) for up to four consecutive fall and spring semesters, and automatically qualifies you for the Honors Program.
A variety of financial aid resources are available to all students from federal, state, college, and private funding sources including scholarships, grants, loans, and even an online tuition payment plan. Although financial aid is available throughout the year, students who apply early have the best chance of receiving funding. To begin the process, simply complete a “Free Application for Federal Financial Aid” (FAFSA) at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov . Students can see if they qualify for any other scholarships based on need, merit, or area of interest. Deadlines vary, but most occur during December and March for the following academic year. In addition, Project Ayuda helps students earn money for college through a local AmeriCorps program.
Registering for classes is easily done in person, online, by phone, fax, or mail. However, you may want to meet with an academic advisor to help you select the classes that will fulfill your academic goals (especially if you plan to transfer to a university) or you can meet with a career counselor if you are uncertain about what to study. If you should ever want your parents to be able to contact the college on your behalf, you can submit a Student Information Release Authorization which will allow them to access your records. This can be helpful when dealing with the financial aid office, for example.
First-time college students are required to take a one-credit College Success class, which serves as a starting point to improve study skills and ensure college preparedness. In addition, PVCC’s “iStart Smart” program brings a unique approach to college orientation, course placement, and academic success. The First Year Experience (FYE) program groups first-time college students in cohorts for their first semester. They take a few classes together in addition to participating in social events and activities, providing an integrated experience for new students. If you can, try to get involved in other aspects of college life besides just attending classes. The overall enjoyment of your college experience will increase in direct relation to your involvement on campus, both inside and outside the classroom.
If you qualify for the Honors Program, you should definitely consider taking advantage of the opportunity. The Honors Program challenges students with small classes (about 10 students) in which active participation is expected. Emphasis is placed on an interdisciplinary approach where connections are made across academic disciplines. The Honors Program at PVCC also provides special opportunities for cultural enrichment and personal growth through exclusive social functions, guest speakers, educational travel, free Phoenix Symphony tickets, retreats and conferences.
The faculty and staff in the Honors Department at PVCC are all friendly and eager to help, but the scholarship committee was rather strict in regard to a high school transcript. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s best to have someone other than your parents sign your homeschool transcript, thereby avoiding any potential hassle. Ask your support group leader, or perhaps a teacher or tutor who can vouch for you. (They didn’t seem to care who signed it, as long as it wasn’t the parents!)
To graduate from the Honors Program with an honors designation on your diploma and college transcript, you must have at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA and complete 15 credit hours of honors classes including HUM190. (This Honors Forum course involves a lot of writing and supplemental reading as well as service learning work, so try not to take it at the same time as another course requiring a similar amount of effort.) There are a variety of designated honors classes to choose from, or with an instructor’s permission you can turn any class into an honors course by completing an honors project in addition to the regular course requirements.
Among the many fine instructors you will find at PVCC is Dr. John Douglass, a geography professor and one of the nation’s leading experts on the geology of the Grand Canyon. Another geography professor, Dr. Lew Deitch, greatly enriched my knowledge of Southwest landscapes, cultures, and places. His lectures and slide shows were always interesting and informative. Dr. Jon Storslee, with whom I was able to take a web design class every semester, is a fun instructor who likes to joke with his students. These were just a few of my favorite professors.
I’ll never forget my first experience at PVCC. My parents and I were walking around campus on our own self-tour to see where my classrooms were located. It was winter break and classes hadn’t started yet. The door to one of the buildings was locked but we were peeking in the window. An older gentleman was standing off to one side smoking a cigarette. He asked if we needed any help, and when we explained what we were doing, he offered to show us around. Leading the way, he told us that he was an economics professor. In the course of conversation, he asked what high school I had graduated from. When I said that I’d been homeschooled, he stopped abruptly, turned to face me, and shaking his finger at my parents exclaimed, “You be sure to thank these people! They have done a great service for you.”