To the mamas of high school seniors-to-be

Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins

T his fall, my youngest daughter will be kindergarten-aged and my oldest daughter will be a freshman in college. When I say “freshman in college” I mean “that thing where she moves away to live in a dorm and does not come home until maybe Thanksgiving.” What on earth is happening here.

(We also have two more elementary-school-aged kids, a middle schooler, and another high schooler, so I basically have the whole spectrum of educational opportunities going on under my roof right now.)

This last year has felt like a whirlwind of applications and deadlines and college visits and plans, and when I think about all the mamas of high school seniors-to-be, I want to give every one of you a hug. This is hard.

No matter what path your almost-grown child chooses next, it’s hard to be heading into the end of this phase of parenting.

What I want you to know

I would tell you not to freak out, but if you’re anything like me, you started freaking out about your child growing up and moving out somewhere around the day they were born, so I assume that ship has sailed.

Instead, this is what I want you to know as you step into this last year of parenting your high schooler:

It’s all going to be okay. And at the same time: “Okay” may look nothing like you thought it would.

We already know we don’t get to pick who our kids turn out to be, and thank goodness, because would you ever have known to pick this exact combination of talents and quirks and edges and beauty that all together make up your kid?

And now that they’re all mostly-grown, their path might not look how you would have imagined, either. But it really is going to be okay.

Remember this

This year, it would be easy to get anxious over test scores and transcripts and units and acceptances and declines—or to feel anxious about choosing to skip those things. But this whole year is just one little chapter in a much longer story. This isn’t everything.

Help your high schooler to keep their eyes on the bigger, wider picture, the picture that looks like their whole life in the whole world.

Remind them that no rejection is final. Remind them of who they are, and remind them there’s nothing a school or a scholarship committee or a test score or a hiring manager can say about them that will change that identity.

Help them think wider

Remind them that the options are not “dream school” (or “dream job”) vs. “miserable life.”

The options open to your child are as wide as the world, and they can keep making new decisions forever. Yes, they can choose to head out to a traditional four-year university—or they could choose to take classes online, or to enroll at a community college, or to enroll at one school now and transfer somewhere else later.

They could get a job. They could write a novel and wait tables on the side. They could become an entrepreneur. They could become a nun. They could do anything.

They don’t have to do something just because it’s “usual.” Let’s face it: if you’re homeschooling a high school senior, things have probably been unusual for awhile now. We can roll with it.

When homeschoolers go to college

For the mamas of high schoolers planning to apply to colleges, a couple of extra things:

Yes, there are a lot of details to keep track of this year. Yes, you might think your head is going to explode if you dwell on that for too long. Add them to your calendar (and/or your kid’s calendar) now, and you won’t miss them later.

What kind of details, you may wonder?

Well, maybe some of these:

  • SAT sign ups and test days
  • SAT subject test sign ups and test days
  • College application due dates (these can be different for each school)
  • Scholarship application dates (these are different for each scholarship)
  • AP test sign ups and test days
  • FAFSA (federal financial aid) application
  • State-based financial aid applications (For example, the CalGrant in California)

Make sure one of you is reading over all the requirements for each application, too—sometimes they have info particular to homeschoolers. (The SAT does, and so do AP tests.)

And P.S. Khan Academy has excellent (free!) SAT prep.

Celebrate everything

My husband and I keep looking at each other lately and saying: “Can you BELIEVE how many hard things we’ve done lately? We are amazing. We can do hard things.”

Yes, okay, our daughter may be the one doing all the OBVIOUS hard things, like taking standardized tests and writing college application essays and finding roommates and deciding where she’s going to spend the next four years of her life.

But the grown-ups are ALSO doing hard things. We’re helping our kids imagine a bigger, wider future, we’re teaching them to walk forward with hearts full of confidence or maybe even trepidation, and then we’re letting go. Good job, all of us.

We try to celebrate every good thing (a class finished! an application sent! an offer of admission!) to reward us all—kids AND grownups—as we do the hard things.

One more thing

And one more thing: have fun this year. Go out into the world together, be silly, head out for ice cream on a Tuesday morning, make more family memories, even if your kid plans to live at home until they’re 30.

We don’t know what’s going to happen next, not really. We never do. So we make the memories, we do what we’ll be glad to have done, and let the chips fall where they may.

One more year of togetherness and truth and beauty. Here you go.

What are you most looking forward to about parenting a homeschooled high schooler?

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About Melissa Camara Wilkins

Melissa Camara Wilkins is a homeschooling mom of six in Southern California. She writes about being who you were made to be and letting go of the rest.


  1. Annnd I totally bawled through spots of that. LOL Well written and well said. I love the points of making memories, having fun and celebrating what “hard things” you all do 🙂 Love this!
    Jen’s latest post: What Homeschooling & Working Looks Like: Interview with LM Preston

  2. This is beautiful. My kids are younger, but I’m around homeschool moms constantly lamenting senior year and the application/college search process. Also they’re telling me things like, “Put your son in Boy Scouts now, it’ll help for college admissions.” But the thing is, my son doesn’t want to do boy scouts. I don’t want to make him do boy scouts. I don’t like being told to do something because it’ll look good for colleges–for some reason it makes me start feeling anxious and rushed and fearful. Thank you so much for this reminder of what’s true — there are many options for our kids’ future. Isn’t that why we homeschool in the first place?
    Julie’s latest post: fifth year of homeschooling: the details.

    • Yes! My thought around this has been: the best way to find a college/job/whatever that’s a good fit for my kid, is to not pretend my kid is someone else. So I feel really okay about skipping activities we don’t want to do. Those don’t reflect who my kid is or wants to be, so having them on her resume wouldn’t help her find the right match anyway. And not doing those things has left her plenty of time to do the things she DOES care about, even if those things are less usual. (Unusual is a good thing, anyway.) 😉
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: When You Need to Believe in Your Own Belonging

    • I never did anything to look good for college. I never could stand the idea of prepping for college from kindergarten. In fact, I didn’t worry about college one bit until right before freshman year. Then, the “perfect” college for her came into our radar. She’ll be a junior this year and we have been so excited about college all through her HIGH SCHOOL journey, which, I feel, is how it should be.

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