Start College Early

There are several ways to start getting college credit now, as a homeschooling high schooler. This will save you time and money in the long run, since the credit will usually transfer to your “real” college later. Completing a few college classes also demonstrates that you are prepared to do college-level work.

Here are a few methods that other students have used successfully:

Community college classes. You do not need a high school diploma to enroll in community college classes – they’re open to anyone, including teenagers. Call the school you're interested in and ask what options they offer to "non-degree" students.
Enroll as a special student at a four-year college. Many colleges will let you enroll in individual classes even if you haven’t been formally admitted as a student. You can’t earn your whole college degree this way, but you can definitely take a few classes, get credit for them, and transfer that credit to your “real” college.
Audit + letter of recommendation. Some professors will let you sit in on a class. While you can’t get credit for this, the professor might be willing to write a letter describing your level of participation. You can put this letter in your admissions packet.
University correspondence classes. Many universities have distance learning programs that are open to high schoolers. You can take a class or two at a time, usually working one-on-one with a professor through e-mail or by post.
Online schools. You can take individual courses over the internet. Some people do their entire high school or college curriculum this way and earn a diploma from an accredited school.
Summer programs. Get high school or college credit for studying one or two subjects intensively over the summer. There are programs like this in Boston and all over the world. Many are free.
Self-study + standardized test. Learn on your own, and then take a standardized test in your area of study. AP, SAT-II, and CLEP tests will give you college credit if you get a passing score on a multiple choice exam. Each exam takes about an hour and is equivalent to a semester-length college course, or a one-year high school course.
Apply for early admittance. A few schools, like Shimer College and Bard College at Simon’s Rock, specifically recruit younger students for their regular freshman class. Many others have special admittance programs for gifted and accelerated students (see this list). But if you’ve completed the standard high school curriculum or its equivalent, you can apply to any college as a full-time student, regardless of your age.
Credit for life experience. More and more colleges are giving students credit for past experience. This is usually to benefit adult students who are returning to college after years in the workforce, so it’s rare for high school students to qualify for this type of credit. But if you’ve done something very unusual, like sailing around the world, you should do some research and see if you can get credit for your endeavors.

Keep in mind you can mix-and-match all of the above: test out of algebra, teach yourself American history, take college classes in lab science, study creative writing by correspondence, then go on an archaeological dig and get credit for learning Hebrew. Or whatever. It’s up to you.

Photography credit: Harper Klebart