Route map for the college-bound child

One of the most difficult and uncertain issues for parents who home educate their children or who have children taught outside of the formal school system is the question of future access to higher education.

A. The Route to College for Japanese children and graduates of international schools in Japan

The general requirement for college/university entry for Japanese nationals is a high school diploma and success at the nation-wide common University Entrance Examinations plus individual college /university entrance exams. Armed with a high school diploma, children who have completed their high school courses in Monbusho-authorised public and private schools, then work towards the University Entrance Examinations and specific entrance exams of the individual college/universities they are applying for.

In the case of children who do not attend public or private schools and home-educated children, the right to apply to local colleges/universities entails three hurdles: passing the Daigaku Kentei (Daiken), the University Entrance Examination conducted by the National Center and passing the entrance examination of individual universities or colleges.

The Daigaku Kentei (University Entrance Qualification Examination) –This examination is taken by those who have not graduated from upper secondary school and therefore do not have university entrance qualifications, in order to determine whether they are at the equivalent level with those who have graduated. Those who pass the examination are granted with university entrance qualifications. Source: MEXT website .

The Education Ministry has announced that students who have not completed Japanese junior high schools (thus including schools for foreigners in Japan such as Korean schools or international schools) would be allowed to sit the Daigaku Kentei as of this year. Anyone over 15 can take this exam, however, even where students who pass the Daiken exams right finishing junior high school, they will not be granted the official qualification until they reach the age of 18 years old.

The exam consists of 8 compulsory subjects and 20 elective subjects. By passing all the compulsory subjects and 3 out of the 20 elective subjects, you can pass the exam. Until 1998, some of the 28 subjects were exempted for high school drop-outs who had earned credits in those subjects at their high school (on exemptions see the MEXT webpage). As of 1999 even credits not related to the 28 subjects can be as substitutes. Moreover, 49 qualifying tests such as the Test for Practical Mathematics are admitted as substitutes for subject exams. The records of Daiken are regarded as valid forever so that if you pass the tests for certain subjects, you will not have to take the tests for the same subjects should you sit for another round of the Daiken.

The Daiken is conducted in summer every year, and will be held this year on 1 – 4 August. Applications were accepted from May 12 to June 2, 2000. There were 31,967 applicants and 17,900 examinees sat for the exam in 1999. The percentage of applicants who passed the examinations was 50 percent in 1999. For information and application forms, approach the Dai-Ken Jouhou Center (Dai-Ken Information Center) or go to the Daiken website.

The second hurdle to successful access to higher education is the University Entrance Examinations (with the exception of some private universities which make exemptions). Monbusho has been conducting examinations of the National Center for University Entrance Examinations (“Center Shiken”), starting with university entrance examinations in FY1990, in order to enhance university entrance examinations.

The main purpose of the National Center for University Entrance Examinations is to determine the level of basic academic achievement of prospective entrants achieved at upper secondary school. Cooperating with the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, each national, local public and private university that uses the system conducts examinations on an appointed date simultaneously, with the same questions.

Each university is expected to improve their student acceptance methods by appropriately combining the results of the examinations, school reports, interviews, essays and practical skills tests to make a multi-faceted evaluation of whether a student is capable and appropriate for being accepted by the university, rather than accepting a student based on uniform academic achievement.

National Center for University Entrance Examinations is responsible for preparing the questions and marking applicants’ answers to the examinations which are simultaneously conducted by national, public and private universities.

All national and local public universities and some private universities which have opted to use the system, can freely select which subjects to use and how many, and creatively utilize the system.

Source: MEXT official English website


(a) Some 227 private universities utilised the University Entrance Examination conducted by the National Center most recently. The number of private universities which have decided to adopt the exam system as a means of selecting applicants is increasing. 226 private universities (656 schools), as of March 2000, have announced their intention to adopt this system next year. Other private universities or schools are going to hold individual entrance examinations only as usual. Waseda University has adopted this system in its faculty of law (it intends to adopt the system to its faculties of commerce and humanities as well from next year. Keio University will also adopt the system in its schools of law and medicine from next year.

(b) It was interesting to see suggestions in Atmark Inter High Online School prospectus that some private universities /colleges have or will have to lower their admissions standards even to the extent of not requiring a high school diploma authorised by the Monbusho and the implication that Atmark’s US high school diploma would be sufficient for the purposes of entering such colleges/universities. According to the prospectus:

“Atmark’s students currently have to prepare for the Daiken should they wish to apply for national universities in Japan. But some private universities accept students according to the discretion of the admissions office, even where these students do not hold a high school diploma or Daiken. As universities will face a shortage of applicants in the near future, Atmark expects that more and more universities will likely modify their student enrollment requirements.”

Individual college/university entrance examinations

Public universities hold their entrance examinations usually around a month after the common University Entrance Examination are held. Examinations of the National Center for University Entrance Examinations are conducted as the preliminary round of testing. After that, each university conducts its own examination upon applicants as the secondary round of testing. Universities then decide which applicants they would accept by using the results of their preliminary and secondary exam scores and other factors such as their school reports.

In preparation for these two rounds of examinations, students usually have recourse to yobikos (specialist prep cram schools) to help them achieve high scores first for the common University Entrance Examination as well as to prepare for the specialised exam requirements of the individual college/universities. For example, yobikos may help prep a particular exam candidate in aiming for high scores in key subjects for entry to say a medical college of his choice, or target for the expected range of test scores traditionally expected by a university of high standing or ranking. It is not uncommon for students to start attending yobikos as early as the beginning of senior high school. The intense pressure that high school students face during the gruelling exam prep process can thus be attributed in part to the divergence between the learning that takes place in public and private schools and that which is required for “making it” to a choice university or college.

B. The Route to Overseas College/Universities

Generally, overseas universities will accept applicants based on largely on their GSCE or `O’ level exam results (UK), SATS scores (US) or International Baccalaureate (Continental Europe) results, as the case may be in the different educational systems. So the route to higher education in the US or UK or Canada is certainly less rigid than the Japanese one. However, there remain some difficulties for home-educated students.

One problem is that home-educated students may be slightly disadvantaged in the college prep process in the sense that they lack the help of guidance counselors attached to public or private schools. Another question homeschoolers often have, is how to deal with the problem of the lack of a high school diploma and grade transcripts.

The good news is many universities and colleges in the US/UK including Harvard College and Stanford University College have made it public knowledge that a high school diploma is not necessary for admission. A recent survey by the National Center for Home Education, a Virginia-based advocacy group, found that 68% of colleges now accept parent-prepared transcripts or portfolios in place of an accredited diploma. Stanford University accepted 27% of home-schooled applicants last fall , that’s nearly double its overall acceptance rate. It may also be comforting to homeschoolers to know that the College Board advises “There’s no need to stress too much about the absence of an official high school transcript. College applications come from students attending over 3,000 high schools in the United States, not to mention foreign schools and each has its own grading policy. College admission officers often rely on other measures of academic ability such as standardized tests or the level of courses taken to assist them in evaluating applicants. Grades are often used primarily to compare students applying from the same or similar large high schools.”

Nevertheless, most veteran homeschoolers understand that no matter how well they educate their children they are always accountable to some agency, superintendent or some public school employee, for various records, letters, tests, inspections. This is why many families resort to a number of homeschooling support schools for creating the “paper trail” or providing a US high school diploma (see list of supporting institutions at …. )

Homeschoolers also need to bear in mind that in the absence of official high school transcripts, colleges may base their decisions on a basket of different of factors such as the applicant’s personal essay, extracurricular activities, community and charity service, portfolios of student work and personal recommendations. For more tips read the College Board’s article “No Transcript? Maintain a Portfolio and a Logbook” at College

More importantly, homeschooled students like anyone else must do their homework and find out more about the admission policies for the particular college they are interested in. Admission criteria can vary quite widely for the different colleges/universities. While some colleges will admit students who meet their cut-off SAT or ACT scores, some will require that applicantstake the GED exam and others will consider an assortment of criteria. More and more colleges are now mentioning admission policies for homeschoolers on-line or in their prospectuses. Home educated students should do their homework early on, and ensure that they take college prep classes or complete the requisite course materials of certain subjects that college admission officers expect of all applicants. The College Board has a must-read list of minimum course requirements that applicants need to satisfy all colleges. Students who take advanced placement (AP) courses may increase their chances of getting into a competitive college. Colleges and universities recognize that applicants with AP experience are much better prepared for the demands of college courses and thousands of colleges worldwide will give credit or advanced placement for the student with a “qualifying” grade on the AP Exam.
I asked some one who worked at the University of ‘s Southern California’s Office of Admission how much effort homeschooling parents needed to put into home-made transcripts or portfolios and received this response (name withheld upon request):

“I worked at University of Southern California’s Office of Admission, and would offer the following observations:

1. USC, and many other private universities, seek a diversity within theirstudent population. They felt it was enriching to all to add students from unique walks of life (providing they had good GPA’s and good SAT scores).

They were impressed by a student’s life experiences, service to the community, etc. and accepted many students who didn’t have “normal” educations, but had been tutored. It was not uncommon to see cases in which a student was below the cutoff for GPA & SAT scores, but because of particular outstanding achievements and a belief that the student had potential for the future, was admitted on probation anyway. Most homeschooled kids will not have low grades or low SAT scores, but I include it to show how the University valued uniqueness above filling slots with kids who’ve met “official” requirements. Most homeschoolers who go on to college will likely meet official requirements and then some! So, be encouraged that your uniqueness (especially when accompanied by academic excellence) is considered a positive to many private universities.

2. USC did not require or encourage portfolios. The University received thousands of applications for spring and fall admission, and I doubt they had the time or staff to peruse portfolios. They wanted an official transcript, an SAT score (easier to weed through applicants with those), an essay and class standing.

3. My guess is that universities discern an application has been sent by a homeschooler when:

**the transcripts look unprofessional, or lack an embossing stamp which might signify it as official. (Some transcripts passed by my desk with a red stamp reading “official transcript” and no one blinked an eye). I saw transcripts from all over the US and there is a lot of diversity out there amongst theschools. The transcript might raise some questions if it didn’t use the type of language you might normally encounter or had an out of the ordinary sequence or type of classes…

**class standing is 1 out of 1

**the student reveals in an essay either directly or indirectly that he has been homeschooled.

I’m not certain how colleges feel about support schools like Clonclara. My guess it that any time it comes to the admission officer’s attention that the transcript is based on a self-assessment (whether it be from a support school or the homeschooler himself) they will look closely at the SAT score to see if the two mesh.

Also, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but some very prestigious schools have asked for applications from homeschoolers. Harvard University contacted the HELP group (I believe they are a nation wide support system for homeschoolers) and asked if they had any seniors who would be willing to submit applications to the school. Interesting, huh?”

In the article “Homeschooled College Applicants On the Rise” Bruce Hammond says the success factors for college-bound homeschooled applicants depend on showing:

1) evidence of having followed a balanced curriculum (admissions officers will probe for weaknesses), that meets college graduation requirements

2) a portfolio that showcases the quality of students’ best work across the widest possible range of subjects (a portfolio will allow admissions officers to see the quality of the applicant’s work rather than grades or course descriptions)

3) enrollment in classes at a local college during the academic year or attendance at a residential summer program at a college (shows proof that a home-schooled student can function well in a conventional classroom)

4) take standardized tests. In the absence of a conventional academic record, SAT scores become more significant. SAT II Subject Tests and the ACT may be taken for additional opportunities to score high.

5) Make every effort to get a campus interview with an admissions counselor.

6) Let the student take center stage.
Source: Parents’

Further Information:

And What about College?: How Homeschooling Leads to Admissions to the Best Colleges and Universities by Cafi Cohen (Cambridge, MA: Holt Associates, 1997) (ISBN 0-913677-11-6). US$18.95, 176 pages. Homeschooling mother of two children who got into colleges of good standing and of their choice. Information about the college admissions process, how to prepare for it. (see also Cohen’s website, the link to which is listed below)

Some invaluable websites on college admission questions include:

“The Path from Home School to College” webpage of the College Board, the organization that sponsors the SAT I and SAT II college-entrance tests. The article addresses the most-asked questions from home-schooled applicants. A useful overview for parents and college-bound students. (currently removed)

Karl Bunday’s page on “Colleges That Admit Homeschoolers” has the most comprehensive listing of colleges and universities in five countries that accept homeschoolers. I have seen other lists, but this is the only one that includes the ratings for colleges listed.

Cafi Cohen’s website provides detailed information on the admission policies and procedures of a sampling of universities in the US.
Note: This site is now down. If a new link is found for this site it will be posted here. (Dec. 14, 2003)

Across the Atlantic, if your children have been pursuing the UK National Curriculum, here is a website that details the resources needed to homeschool through to the Cambridge GCE examinations. Especially useful for UK curriculum homeschoolers may be the hardcopy newsletter as well as the listed distance learning and correspondence courses listed on the webpage.

***See also the Home Education support webpage for the UK

Miscellaneous resources:

Article by Johanne Leveille on Rami Junior High School, a ‘free school’ in Kobe for students who don’t fit in to the formal educational system

Article by Ben Court on his interview with Alan Higgs, vigorous proponent of distance learning.

Best article I’ve seen anywhere on the impact of technological innovation upon education by Steve Richards at North Star academy.

8 college admissions officers talk about what they look for in homeschool applicants.

A debate over the merits and demerits of distance learning (digital diploma mills) at this link

A useful resource is Kirstin’s Guide to distance learning

The Japanese Educational Challenge, A Commitment to Children, by Merry White ISBN 4-7700-1373-6 (most comprehensive treatise) Learning To Go To School In Japan by Lois Peak. (covers yochien life extensively)

Educating Andy:The Experience of a Foreign Family in the Japanese Elementary School System, by Anne and Andy Conduit (Kodansha Intl)


Originally published in the

Jointly written by Reiko Watanabe and Aileen Kawagoe

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