Ian Kline ’15 didn’t exactly follow a normal school schedule in high school. Sometimes his family jetted off to New Zealand for three weeks in November, just for fun. He learned about coral reefs, and then snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reefs. He studied opium production in Thailand, and then explored the Golden Triangle. But Kline wasn’t skipping school to go on these expeditions; he was in school. Kline is one of Bowdoin’s few home-schooled students.
“It was the best education ever,” he said.
Marina Marlens ’16 had a different home schooling experience. Marlens switched to a more traditional high school for her last two years after having been taught at home for freshman and sophomore years. Her family didn’t follow a strict curriculum, choosing the path of “unschooling,” a method of learning based on “customizing the academic experience to each individual,” instead. Her parents objected to the idea of “uniform compulsory education,” and with a large community of home schooling groups in Marlens’ then-home state of California, the choice to home school was obvious.
“It was really good for [both my sister and I] when we were young,” said Marlens, “The culture that you are home schooled in is going to have a huge impact on the experience you have. In California, we were in this huge home schooling group, there were constantly events, like museum days or hikes.” Once the family moved to Colorado, however, things changed.
“Not as many people were home schooling for reasons similar to us. Most people were doing it for religious reasons. That definitely changed things,” said Marlens.
Kline’s family moved to Asia after his ninth grade year and instead of sending their children to a Singapore-American school, which cost 40,000 dollars per year, the family opted for home schooling, despite the cautions given out by Kline’s former Knoxville, Tennessee high school.
“Before I left, I asked my teachers, ‘Can you give me maybe a curriculum?’ They told me if you [homeschool], you’ll fail. You won’t get into colleges,” said Kline.
Marlens, too, was nervous when it came time to gather her materials and apply to college. “I think that it’s always sort of unpredictable how any kind of alternative application is going to be received,” she said. “I was definitely nervous.”
For Marlens, having the two transcripts, one alternative and one more traditional was an added benefit because she felt the high school transcript gave her other transcript a frame of reference. This was a reference Kline did not have.
Jumping into home schooling was a risk that the Kline family decided to take, but the transition wasn’t easy. Klein said that the first few months of home schooling were rocky. His mom found a curriculum online that had rave reviews, but it was incredibly Christian, and the first line of the curriculum’s Chemistry textbook was ‘Evolution is fake.” This curriculum wasn’t suited to Kline, who had been in AP Chemistry beforehand. Halfway through the year, Kline took it upon himself to find a new path of study, and ended up using an online resource called “Think Well” which consisted of online lectures.
“That first year was definitely about figuring it out,” he said. “What if those teachers were right, back in Knoxville? When we applied to colleges, it was really scary.”
The warnings from the teachers back in Tennessee haunted the family, especially when Kline got rejected from the first three schools he applied to.
“Oh, no, we were thinking. We’ve ruined my future. We were crying,” recalled Kline. However, he was then accepted to three schools on the same day, one of which was Bowdoin.
“It was like, okay, breathe,” he said.
Kline and Marlens are members of the small and relatively unexplored home schooled population here at Bowdoin.
Janet Lohmann, the dean of first-year students, noted that there have been home-schooled students on campus from time to time.
“I don’t necessarily see [home-schooled students] as having a collective or finding one another, but I would say that often times there are similar issues that they face,” said Lohmann, who has in the past been able to connect home-schooled students to one and other.
“I’ll say, you know, this might be a good person for you to talk to; they can help you figure out this place,” said Lohmann.
Lohmann has noticed that sometimes the transition to Bowdoin can be difficult for home-schooled students.
“I think there are certain articulated expectations here: how to meet deadlines, how to communicate with faculty,” explained Lohmann.
Lohmann described one occasion where a student did not realize that showing up for an exam at the time when it was scheduled was a requirement. It seems absurd, but the student explained that he had never had to show up to take an exam at a specified time. For home-schooled students, a big part of the adjustment is learning expectations, like what it means to go to class, meet deadlines, ask for help and use resources.
“While lots of people think of this place as very small, for home- schooled students, this place can feel very big,” said Lohmann.
Kline said that he does not know of any other home schooled students at Bowdoin, which Lohmann also noted.
“I don’t know what the critical mass is,” said Lohmann, “I certainly could talk with Admissions and say, how do we identify those students and how do we create sort of a [community]. There are so few of them that it becomes hard to get a critical mass.”
“It would definitely be cool to talk to other people about their experiences. It was obviously a huge part of my life, but it isn’t something I think about day to day,” said Marlens, who also is not aware of other home-schooled students on campus.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Scott Meiklejohn said that Bowdoin gets between 20 and 30 applicants from home schooled students each year.
“It’s like everything else,” Meiklejohn said, “It’s really hard no matter where you’re from or what you’ve done. Some years we’ve admitted some home schooled students, and some years we haven’t.”
Marlens said that when she applied, with her transcript mainly from her home schooling and partially from her high school, she felt that Bowdoin was accommodating.
The Bowdoin admissions website specifies that “Home school applicants are required to submit ACT test results or SAT test results with two or more SAT Subject Test results. SAT Subject Tests should include a science and Math Level 1 or Math Level 2.” Applicants from regular backgrounds are not required to submit test scores, since Bowdoin is test-optional.
Kline took six SAT subject tests and five AP tests. His mother felt comfortable grading his English assignments, but everything else was based off of his grade on the AP.
“If I got a five on the AP, I got an A. If I got a four, I got a B, and so on,” said Kline. “It was all based on that final grade.”
Meiklejohn said that though home schooled students send in slightly different materials, Admissions reviews their applications like all others.
“We see academic achievement and talent and promise and personal qualities and ways to add to Bowdoin community. The review is not any different, but the contents of the application are sometimes different,” said Meiklejohn.
Marlens does not regret the way she conducted her education. However, she does think the application process would have been easier had she switched to traditional schooling freshman year of high school.
“If I could do it again I would absolutely still home school up until that point,” said Marlens, adding that she “probably have decided to start going to school freshman year. It would have been less stressful.”
Lohmann said she thinks students who are admitted to Bowdoin are usually prepared to take on the challenge.
“I think while every student has transitions, some students are fine with figuring this place out on their own. I think students find their way here,” she said.
While Lohmann may have heard of some students struggling to adjust, Kline found the switch from homeschooling to Bowdoin relatively easy.
“I found it way easier academically here,” said Kline, “because I had people telling me what to read, when to read it, and what to write a paper on.”
Back at home, Kline’s mom would have him pick a book that he liked, design a schedule around it, read it, discuss it and write a paper on whatever he wanted.
Marlens also enjoyed the switch from home schooling to the more traditional model, because she craved more structure.
“I like a lot of structure. [Home schooling] works in different ways for different people,” said Marlens. “I am pretty self-motivated and I was able to get a lot done, but I wanted external requirements and guidelines.”
Kline felt similarly, saying, “I was very used to doing things independently, so when I came here, having other people structure things, it was very easy.”
Home schooling was never easy for Klein. He recalls handing in his first ever paper, and having his mom rip it up, declaring that they needed to work on his writing skills.
“She really made sure that when I made a point, I knew how to defend it,” said Kline, “I was able to write argumentative papers very well coming into college.”
Marlens said that her education was rigorous, but also incredibly untraditional. She just picked it up on her own.
“Kids want to figure it out,” said Marlens, “It depends on the person, but kids want to learn things. Kids are naturally curious, I think.”
The biggest benefit of Marlens’ home schooling was her time spent outdoors.
“I cannot emphasize enough how much time I spent outside as a child. An unbelievable amount of time...that’s the biggest thing I cannot imagine. I can’t imagine being inside for 8 hours a day my entire childhood,” she said.
In terms of the social adjustment in coming to college, Kline and Marlens felt very well prepared, though they have both found that home schooling stereotypes still exist and often get surprised reactions when they mention their backgrounds. However, both feel that being home schooled enhanced their social abilities.
According to Kline, the nice thing about home schooling is it did not limit him to talking to only people of his same age. With a family that traveled a lot, Kline got to talk to people who were anywhere between the ages of four and 87. “You get to meet people from all walks of life, and you learn how to talk to people from all walks of life,” said Kline.
As a result, Kline has friends on campus from all over the world.
“I’m really lucky because I’m friends with Allison [Voner] in the mail center, Sue [O’Dell]from the science library, Guy Mark Foster, an English professor, Sandy, on the housekeeping staff,” said Klein. “I have a lot of people whom I consider really great friends who are not students here. And I feel like that’s because of home schooling.”
Marlens too found herself in groups of people outside her own age range while being home schooled, noting that it feels almost unnatural to be kept alongside kids of only her age, as in the traditional school setting.
Growing up, Kline initially felt forced to meet people outside his age range, but eventually, he started looking out for friends who were different than him. In Singapore at outdoor eating areas, Kline would strike up a conversation with the people cooking.
“I got whoever I could interact with,” said Kline.
Kline feels like the biggest transition for him was switching from spending his time with his family to living with roommates not related to him, but even that didn’t trip him up too much.
Home schooling worked for Kline. He found his way around Internet censorship in China, and smuggled educational resources into the country. He bought himself textbooks and watched biology experiments on YouTube. Each Sunday, he would write out a schedule for himself, and by the end of the week, he made sure everything had been accomplished, even if he had to scoot things around to accommodate for unexpected outings in Singapore, like mid-day family hikes. Kline would write his own exams trying to trick himself.
“I’m very self motivated. Homeschooling works when you have that self-motivation,” said Kline, “It might not work for somebody else.”
“It’s so dependent on the individual. For some kids, [traditional] school is great, and for some kids, it’s destructive,” said Marlens.
Home schooling, according to both Kline and Marlens, gives students the opportunity to explore. Both studied what interested them and read what they enjoyed.
“There’s a difference in the work that you do when you have a consciousness that you are doing it of your own volition,” said Marlens. “Most kids don’t really think about school as something that is optional. I think I had a greater awareness, like, I don’t want to waste my time here.”
“I feel that flexibility is really powerful in education,” said Kline, “I feel like you can’t learn something if you don’t feel motivated by it. And I felt motivated by what I was studying, so that got me to study more.”