Unschooling Teenagers

This page will help you learn about options for high school and college for teenagers who aren't enrolled in conventional school.

NOTE: Please send me suggestions for additions or corrections to all the listings you see. I appreciate your help! 

Teens can continue to learn as they did when they were younger—by following their interests, developing their abilities through a variety of activities and experiences, and by engaging with adults, teachers, or peers in order to learn and grow. You don't have to acquiesce to the standard high school curriculum for your child to succeed as an adult. Businesses, colleges, and universities look favorably upon self-motivated people who want to learn and who make the most of the resources available to them, and unschooling provides the conditions for making this happen.

Here are a variety people recounting their experiences as teens and parents of teens learning outside of conventional schooling.

• The GWS Issue Archives contain many stories about teens, high school, college, and work that you will find useful. Take the time to search and learn from the experiences of many unschoolers over a 24-year period.

Grown Homeschoolers Tell Their Stories About How They Learned and What They Do Now.

• Peter Kowalke's documentary Grown Without Schooling.

Places for Teens Besides
High School

 North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens

The Purple Thistle Center

Unschool Adventures

Books About or with Good Chapters About Unschooling Teenagers

Albert, David. Homeschooling And the Voyage of Self-Discovery. Common Courage Press, 2003.

Boles, Blake. The Art of Self-Directed Learning. Tells Peak Press, 2014.

Cohen, Cafi. Homeschooling The Teen Years. Prima, 2000.

Colfax, David and Colfax, Micki. Homeschooling For Excellence. Warner, 1988.

——. Hard Times In Paradise: An American Family’s Struggle to Carve Out a Homestead in California’s Redwood Mountains. Warner, 1992.

Dobson, Linda. The Homeschooling Book of Answers. Prima, 2002.   

——. Homeschooler’s Success Stories: 15 Adults and 12 Young People Share the Impact That Homeschooling Has Made on Their Lives. Prima, 2000.

Hailey, Kendall. The Day I Became An Autodidact. Delta, 1988.

Hern, Matt, ed. Deschooling Our Lives. New Society Publishers, 1996.

Llewellyn, Grace, and Silver, Amy. Guerilla Learning: How to give your kids a real education with or without school. John Wiley & Sons, 2001.

Llewellyn, Grace. Freedom Challenge: African-American Homeschoolers. Lowry House, 1996.

——. Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don’t Go To School Tell Their Own Stories. Lowry House, 1993.

——. The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to quit school and get a real life and education. Lowry House, 1998

McKee, Alison. Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves. Bittersweet House, 2002. 

Patterson, Sue. Homeschooled Teens. 2nd Tier Publishing, 2015.

How to Earn a High School Diploma

Correspondence, Online , and Independent Study High School Programs

There are many more such schools throughout the country. Any search engine will turn them up; be sure to search under “Distance Learning Programs” as well as “Homeschooling High School.” Also, most homeschooling books that cover teenagers also list Internet resources for learning high school subjects. These are one’s I’ve known people to use successfully.—PF

Brigham Young University Independent Study
High School Transcript Programs
206 Harman Building
PO Box 21514
Provo, UT 84602

Since 1994, this online school provides an accredited online high school diploma program and courses.

Princeton Review
An unconventional standardized test preparation service.

Royal Academy
A private school located in Gray, Maine (just north of Portland) and Chester, Vt., that is recognized by the State of Maine Department of Education. It provides portfolio reviews and evaluations for homeschoolers, as well as high-school diplomas upon completion of its programs.

Schools that Do Not Use SAT/ACT Scores for Admissions 
A list by FairTest.org, updated in Summer 2013. 

University of Missouri
Center for Distance and Independent Study

136 Clark Hall
Columbia, MO 65211-4200

University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Independent Study High School

269 Hardin Center
Lincoln, NE 68583-9400

Testing to Receive a High School Diploma:
GED Testing Service
NOTE: The GED is now a privately operated business and is much more expensive. From their website: "GED Testing Service is a joint venture between Pearson and the American Council on Education (ACE)."

Testing to Receive College Credit for Courses:

American College Testing – Proficiency Examination Program (ACT – PEP examinations)
Box 168
Iowa City, IA 52243
NY State residents should contact: Regents College Examinations, Albany, NY 12230.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
PO Box 6600
Princeton, NJ 08541-6600

CLEP Official Study Guide 2013  (Official Study Guide for the CLEP Examinations). College Board, 2013.

Standardized Testing for College
Covers the PSAT (usually taken in Oct. of sophomore or junior year), the SAT I, SAT II, AP, and CLEP practice tests available online.

Earning College Credit for What You Already Know

Earn College Credit with Prior Learning Assessments
A Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) evaluates and awards credit based on a student's experiences and knowledge developed through "careers, employer training programs, military service, independent study or community service."

Thomas Edison State College
A good place to go if you need to turn your learning into a credential for use with work or school. The New York Times profiled this college in 2013.

This article, Guide to Earning Credit before College, contains information and links to various resources about transcript services, competency-based testing, learning portfolios, and college credit for high school students.

Opportunities and Activities for Teenagers
Not in School

AFS InterNational Exchange Program, 71 West 23rd St. 17th floor New York, NY 10010, 212-807-8686, 800-AFS-INFO. Fax: 503-241-1653

Alliance for Self-Directed Education Teen Forum. You need to become a member of ASDE—it is free—before you can participate in the forum. The moderator writes, "This is the only ASDE forum intended primarily for a particular age group, but keep in mind that any Alliance member who cares about teens’ rights can participate, and teen members are welcome to participate in any of the other forums, too. Participants over 20 should, in this forum, generally limit their participation to providing support and information that a teen member has requested, and consider waiting until other teen members have had time to respond first. This is not a strict rule, but it follows naturally from our goal of helping teens empower themselves and each other.”

Blake Boles. Boles is an entrepreneur and world traveler who helps "young adults challenge themselves, feel engaged, and become better self-directed learners."

Center for Interim Programs, P.O. Box 2347, Cambridge MA 02238,617-547-0980. Fax: 617-661-2864.
Gap year counseling experts.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 6 Herndon Ave. Annapolis MD 21403, 800-445-5572.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Ctr, 23390 County Rd K, Cortez CO 8l32l, 970-565-8975, 800-422-8975. Our adult programs are open to people over age 18; summer camps and High School Field School are open to students age 12-18, and nontraditional students are welcome.

En Familie International
 A French, 38-year-old language immersion exchange program.

Experiment in International Living, Box 676, Kipling Rd, Brattleboro VT 05302-0676, 802-257-775l. 800-345-2929, Fax 802-258-3248. Cultural immersion home study programs for 3, 4, and 5 weeks in the summer to 18 countries.

Farm Sanctuary, P.O. Box 150, Watkins Glen NY 14891. 607-583-2225. Fax: 607-583-2041. Apprenticeships in caring for sick animals.

Free Computer Science Classes
A list of top websites for programmer education. Although not all of them are free, each site has at least one free level of instruction.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, 9275 Tremont Rd, Townsend TN 37882, 865-448-6709 Naturalist Workshops, programs for teenagers.

Hulbert Outdoor Center, 2968 Lake Morey Road, Fairless, VT, 05045, 802-333-3405. Fax 802- 333-3404. Camp for ages 9-17. Vegetarian food provided.

Kids for Saving Earth Clubs, P.O. Box421118, Plymouth MN 55442,763-559-1234.

Lazy Mill Living Arts, Teen Earthskills Immersion Program run by Ben Hewitt, author of Home Grown. Teens will explore the wild places of Stannard, Vermont, practicing traditional skills and primitive camping. 

Living Routes: Ecovillage Education, 85 Baker Road, Shutesbury, MA 01072-9703, 888-515-7333, Fax: 413-259-1256. College-level programs based in sustainable communities called ecovillages around the world.

National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Camp, www.nfw.org, 800-822-9919

Not Back to School Camp, P.O. Box 1014, Eugene, OR, 97440, 541—686-2315. Grace Llewellyn’s camp for ages 13-18. Vegetarian food provided.

Off-Trail Learning, Blake Boles' latest venture for helping teenagers learn what they want to know in customized ways. A great information and podcast site. Here are the links to the free podcasts in the iTunes store.

Project World School, Inspiring Temporary Learning Communities for Teens & Young Adults

PUN.jpg (peer unschooling network)

Peer Unschooling Network (PUN), a digital community that helps connect unschooling teens from around the world.  It's a great place for existing unschoolers to make friends and also a valuable resource for people interested in unschooling to speak directly with some people who are already living the life.

SERVAS, 11 John St, Rm 505, New York NY l0038, 212-267-0252. Visit or host foreign family.

Time Out Adventures: Hands-on learning for the curious. 111 McDonald Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95404 707-575-3363

Uncollege. A useful and informative website created by unschoolers who didn't go to college yet found work worth doing and lives worth living.

Unschool Adventures. Blake Boles creates "life changing trips for self-directed young adults."

Tree People, l260l Mulholland Dr, Beverly HIlls CA 902l0, 818-753-4600.Environmental leadership program.

Academic Studies about College Admissions for Homeschoolers

Colleges that have admitted homeschoolers. This list was updated in 2013 by Karl Bunday, webmaster for Learninfreedom.org.

Journal of College Admissions, Fall 2004, Number 185. Special Homeschool Issue. Homeschoolers do well in college compared to their peers and 75% of the admission officers indicated that they had an official homeschool admission policy. You can read the entire issue at AHEM (Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts).

Journal of College Admissions, Summer, 2010. "Exploring Academic Outcomes of Homeschooled Students" by Michael F. Cogan. The study examines the academic outcomes of homeschooled students who enter a medium size doctoral institution located in the Midwest. Descriptive analysis reveals homeschool students possess higher ACT scores, grade point averages (GPAs) and graduation rates when compared to traditionally-educated students. 

Hard Times in Paradise
By David Colfax, Micki Colfax

First-Hand Accounts of College Admissions for Homeschoolers

Homeschooled en route to Harvard, The Harvard Gazette, Feb. 2018.

Blake Boles. College Without High School: A Teenager's Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College, New Society Press, 2009.

Mickey and David Colfax Keynote at the GWS 20th Anniversary Conference.
The keynote is about how children learn through work, but the Colfax's speak about college admissions for unschoolers, too.

Grown Homeschoolers Panels, 1997 (video).

Grown Homeschoolers Panel 2005 (audio only). Panelists include homeschoolers who were in college, who just graduated, and who never attended. This panel was moderated by Sara-Beth Matilsky, a grown homeschooler who did not go to college and "did other things that homeschooling made possible."

Teenage Homeschoolers: College or Not?

Homeschooler Joel Fields discusses going to Harvard as part of an interview with John Holt on New England Today.

College Alternatives and Transcripts

Dale Stephens' website that supports his work with "hackademics," a term he describes in depth in his book Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will, Penguin 2013.  

Books About College Alternatives and Degrees

Atieh, Sam. How to Get a College Degree Via the Internet. Prima, 1998.

Beach, Wes. Opportunities after “High School.” 4th Edition. 2008.

——. Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling. GHF Press, 2012.

Boles, Blake. Better than College: How To Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree, Tells Peak Press, June 2012

Bear, John. College Degrees by Mail and Internet. 10th edition. Ten Speed Press, 2005.

Careers Without College Series (Peterson's Guides)

Success Without College Series (Barron's Educational Series)

Carroll, James L. College Credit Without Classes: How to obtain academic credit for what you already know. J.G. Ferguson, 1999.

Cohen, Cafi. And What About College? How Homeschooling Leads to Admissions to the Best Colleges and Universities. Holt Associates, 2000.

——. Homeschoolers’ College Admissions Handbook: Preparing 12- to 18-year-olds for Success in the College of Their Choice. Prima, 2000.

Frost, Maya. The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education. Three Rivers Press, 2009.

Hayes, Charles. Proving You're Qualified. Autodidactic Press. 1995.

Heuer, Loretta. The Homeschoolers Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts. Arco, 2000.

Kamenetz, Anya. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Chelsea Green, 2010.

Kohl, Herbert. The Question is College. Heinemann/Boynton/Cook, 1998.

Llewellyn, Grace. The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to quit school and get a real life and education. Lowry House, 1998. NOTE: If you can only afford to purchase one book on this topic this is the one I always recommend.—PF

Nixon, Thomas. Bear’s Guide to Earning High School Diplomas Nontraditionally. Ten Speed Press, 2003.

Sheffer, Susannah. A Sense of Self: Listening to Homeschooled Adolescent Girls. Heinemann/Boynton/Cook, 1995

Wood, Danielle. The Uncollege Alternative: Your Guide to Incredible Careers and Amazing Adventures Outside College. ReganBooks, 2000.

 Alternatives to College

The ever-increasing expense of a four-year college degree, and questions about whether a college degree is still a good signal that someone is going to be a valuable employee or up-to-date with the latest technology, are making many delay or reconsider going to college. Many families that decide to use alternatives to K to 12 compulsory schooling eschew a standard college education for the same reasons. Just as there are good alternatives to high school, there are good alternatives to college.

Taking time away from attending school to find one’s direction and see if college is really a good next step, is one option. You may find that the traveling, apprenticeship, internship, and work opportunities that present themselves to you during this time can lead you to work worth doing without the need for a college degree. If you find you need a degree later, you might be in a better position to afford it since an employer may pay for some or all of your courses.

There are some employers, especially in the field of computers and technology, who are more concerned with your actual work output and what you are doing in life than they are concerned with your previous educational inputs and conventional school assessments. In addition, there are many free college courses you can take online, many from major universities. Though none will grant degrees, some will give you a certificate of completion.

There are also many books, programs, and online resources that explain how to create a do-it-yourself college program, how to earn college credit without classes, and how to get life-experience credits for college courses. These are all alternatives to college you can use right now, and there will be many more to come as the Internet and our economy continue to change.

If you decide that college is not right for you at this time or at all, in this section you will find alternatives to college degrees that don’t take as much time and money from you as 4-year degrees do. You will also find alternative ways to the training and credentials you need to pursue the career you are interested in.


Apprenticeships and Internships

“Learn by doing” is a tried-and-true method developed by humans, from stonemasons to philosophers, to transmit knowledge and skills over centuries. One was judged competent by how well one did the task at hand rather than by who trained them or where they studied. During the twentieth century independent learning alongside practitioners became much less common as educational attainment (degrees and other proof of school completion) became enshrined as a political goal and as a signal of individual competence to businesses seeking new employees. Some fields, such as plumbers, automobile technicians, and electricians, continue to use the apprenticeship model successfully, and the computer programming/hacking industry seems to be creating its own forms of apprenticeships.

Unlike apprenticeships, which often include a training wage and/or accommodations, internships tend to be unpaid positions. Further, many corporations and colleges have formed internship programs that benefit their mutual interests, but which often do not pay their interns nor give them valuable educational experience. A recent court decision about unpaid interns in the film industry indicates this unfair practice may be changing:

“The judge noted that these internships did not foster an educational environment and that the studio received the benefits of the work. The case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/business/judge-rules-for-interns-who-sued-fox-searchlight.html)

A recent follow-up article notes the changing landscape for internships as a result of this case:

“In addition to filing lawsuits, interns are organizing beyond the courtroom, using some of the same strategies as fast-food workers, freelancers and various groups of part-time, temporary or guest workers. For example, two students at New York University recently created a petition demanding that the university stop advertising unpaid internships on campus; more than a thousand people signed in a matter of days. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/jobs/unpaid-interns-silent-no-more.html)

Establishing an internship through your personal network can be a rewarding experience, especially if you define clear terms and expectations for all parties in advance. However, as these articles indicate, internships through institutional programs can be less than satisfying if you are not careful.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about apprenticeships and internships.

Mark Oldman. The Best 109 Internships, 9th Edition

Ross Perrin. Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. Verso, 2012.

Princeton Review. The Internship Bible, 10th edition (2005)

 Registered Apprenticeship
The US Department of Labor has state listings for registered apprenticeships. Their website notes, “The Registered Apprenticeship system provides the opportunity for workers seeking high-skilled, high- paying jobs and for employers seeking to build a qualified workforce. . . . The "Earn and Learn" training model of Registered Apprenticeship provides a unique combination of structured learning with on-the-job training from an assigned mentor.” You can search their program sponsor database here.

Grace Llewelyn. The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How To Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. Lowry House. Lowry House, 1998. Has a great chapter on apprenticeships.


Prove Your Knowledge and Earn College Credit

Thomas Edison State College  "does not award credit for life experience. Rather, we provide our students the opportunity to earn credit by demonstrating that they possess college-level knowledge, and we have several methods to help students do just that." Read this NY Times article about Thomas Edison State College to learn more. To apply you must be:

●      An adult 21 years of age or older (unless you are participating in a special college program).

●      A high school graduate or have successfully passed a General Educational Development (GED) test.

Gap-Year Programs

Taking time off between high school and college is called a “gap year,” and many students find this time well spent. Of course, you may decide that there are things worth doing you can do without going college, so the gap can allow you to build a bridge to a new destination.

This is a page full of interesting resources about gap years:

College Reality Chat: Gap Year(s)

Blake Boles

Blake writes about options to college and offers a variety of support to teenage learners.

Zero Tuition College

“Zero Tuition College is three things:

●      The idea that you don't need a college degree to find success.

●      A specific strategy for self-directing your education (as explained in the book Better Than College).

●      A community website that helps self-directed learners connect with each other.

A few things that we aren't: a brick-and-mortar college, a "free college for everyone" movement, or a business.” ZTC is operated by Blake Boles. 

Bear, Mariah. Bear’s Guide to College Degrees by Mail and Internet, 10 Speed Press, 2005.

Education Portal
Contains lists of online courses for college credit and information about high school, associates, college, and graduate school degrees.

Books and Articles That Are Critical of the Costs and Promises of Higher Education

Richard Arum. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. (University of Chicago Press, 2010).  A main finding in this book is that “Forty-five percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college.”

Ivar Berg. Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery (Beacon Press, 1971). Berg was a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and this work is one of the first critiques of society’s belief in certified programs as evidence of competence. Out of print, but worth hunting down for its conclusions and data.

The National Center for Education Statistics notes, “Between 2000–01 and 2010–11, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 42 percent, and prices at private not-for-profit institutions rose 31 percent, after adjustment for inflation.”

“Majority of New Jobs Pay Low Wages, Study Finds” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/business/majority-of-new-jobs-pay-low-wages-study-finds.html?_r=0

Number of US Adults With College Degrees Hits Historic High” However, this article goes on to note, “in terms of future earnings, education level matters less these days than in previous generations, and field of study matters more.” 

CNN report: “My Master’s wasn’t worth it” http://money.cnn.com/gallery/news/economy/2013/01/24/masters-degree-debt/4.html

Eighty-four percent of employers rate college graduates as unprepared or only somewhat prepared for the job.” From Is College Worth It? By Bill Bennett and David Wilezol

More Books and Resources about Alternatives to College

Better Than College

Author Blake Boles explores reasons to go and not go to college, and presents the reader with many options for work worth doing without going to college first.

Careers Without College Series.

These books might be in your local high school or public library, too. Here are some of the titles in this book series, FYI:

Careers Without College—Cars

Careers Without College—Computers

Careers Without College—Fashion

Careers Without College—Health Care

Careers Without College—Building

Careers Without College—Emergencies

Careers Without College—Entertainment

Careers Without College—Fitness

Careers Without College—Kids

Careers Without College—Money

Careers Without College—Music

Careers Without College—Office

Careers Without College—Sports

Careers Without College—Travel

Career Bookstore has a similar series to the above and it is more up-to-date. However, it includes careers that require college degrees mixed in with ones that don’t, so be sure to choose your book carefully—they’re expensive. See if your public library has these books.

Carroll, James L. College Credit Without Classes: How to obtain academic credit for what you already know. J.G. Ferguson, 1999.

Frost, Maya. The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education. Three Rivers Press, 2009.

Kamenetz, Anya. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Chelsea Green, 2010.

Hacker School

A three-month program in New York City for becoming a better programmer.


Dale Stephens' website that supports his work with "hackademics," a term he describes in depth in his book Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will, Penguin 2013.