The Back Door to College

submitted by Karen Phaup

We’re back door kind of people. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with using the front door, and sometimes we even come and go that way.  It’s just the back door suits us better. So it should come as no surprise that as my two boys homeschool 10th and 11th grades this year, we’re considering a non-conventional approach to college.

We’ve had a number of relaxed discussions over the years about future plans, college, apprenticeships, trade schools, and other options. But it wasn’t until last year when my then-high school sophomore returned from a church youth group meeting that we had our first rather intense discussion about college. He had just participated in a session led by a couple of Randolph Macon college students. The meeting topic had been about what college life was like, what to expect, and how, as high schoolers, you could best prepare yourself for the next part of your schooling journey.

It seems that my easy-going son had suddenly become quite anxious and worried, frightened even, that he was totally unprepared for what may lie ahead. He spoke of what he referred to as “All of these letters of the alphabet being put together in ways I hadn’t heard before.” He reiterated that they were talking about SATs and GPAs and PSATs. He asked me why we hadn’t discussed these before.

My reply was that I knew if they came to be important, we would discuss them. And so we did. Suddenly all of those alphabet letters weren’t so intimidating anymore. They didn’t even seem that important once we talked about his journey and how he wanted to walk it.

As we talked, we discussed the concept of a traditional path to college entrance and the importance of ACTs and SATs and GPAs and how competitive some schools were, as well as the stress he saw in some of his friends as they positioned themselves for those limited college slots. I reminded him that generally speaking, their paths all led to the same door, the front door. Suddenly, the smile was back as he looked at me and said “Oh, I get it now, you’re taking me around to the back.”

And so it’s towards the back door that we are heading. While making our way there, we’ve become quite intrigued with the options available for higher education other than the traditional college path.

Our latest readings are those of Blake Boles. He’s the founder of Zero Tuition College. (

You can hear him speak about unschooling high school to college:

An interview about his thoughts on high school dropouts is here:

His book:

Other books supporting an alternative to the traditional college path:

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford

DIY U by Anya Kamenetz

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig


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