How to Build a Super-Easy Homeschool Portfolio Website

Posted: May 7, 2015

Homeschoolers have a lot of advantages in the college search. They have more time to work on special projects, more freedom to choose interesting classes, more time and freedom to find opportunities for leadership and community service. Even the most highly selective colleges are happy to accept homeschoolers in large numbers. In fact, in 2014 Stanford University accepted 27% of the homeschoolers who applied, vs 5% of the conventionally-schooled students. 

But homeschoolers do have a big disadvantage: their "school" experience is so outside the norm, they need to find a way to communicate all that they are to Admissions officers. Colleges who are unable to see that you are ready for higher education and capable of doing the work will not admit you. Traditionally, this explanation has been done via physical portfolio. It still is, but there's a much easier way to create and share all this information. 

Creating a website
For those who have not done this before, the very idea is intimidating. "I don't know how to code! What is HTML? Don't people do this for a living?" New free hosting sites like Weebly and Wix take all that scary coding stuff and replace it with easy to use templates and drag-and-drop functionality. I'm going to focus on Weebly because that's the site I used to build the sample portfolio website, but the same thing can be done with Wix or Wordpress. (Another option is a Linked In resume, but I find having a website is more easily customizable and less unwieldy.)
1) Picking a site name and template are the first things you have to do. Keep the name simple and professional--the student's name, for example. Whatever you pick will be added to ".weebly.com" if you choose a free site, so you want to keep it easy to type. 
     Templates come in a multitude of colors and styles. You should be able to find one to fit your personality. If, after working with the site for awhile, you decide you don't like it, you can easily pick another, and all the content you've added will stay where you put it. 
     Your site should be clean and well organized, so Admissions officers and scholarship judges can easily find what they're looking for. In the detail below, you can see that the About Me tab links to a personal statement page, it also shows a drop down menu of specific pages for grades and for honors and awards. In addition, there's a button on the home page that goes directly to the transcript page because the transcript is likely the first thing Admissions officers will look for.


2) Colleges want to see some specific things from an applicant. The three most important things to include in a homeschooler's portfolio, as distinct from a traditional school student's portfolio, are the transcript, the standardized test scores and the work samples.
  • The Transcript - has the student been successful in the most rigorous classes available? For homeschoolers, this can be difficult to determine, but regardless of the classes you've taken, the transcript is where this information is found. For the transcript page, I used Teascript (now called TranscriptMaker) to create the sample transcript as a pdf, then added it to the transcript page as a jpeg.

Picture
A note about the transcript webpage: You'll notice the header uses a different picture of the student from the home page. The template I'm using was designed for a yoga studio and had yoga pictures preloaded as headers. These templates are fully customizable, so you can change everything that doesn't fit the image you're trying to project. Try to find a header image that fits the subject of the page.

  • Standardized test scores - GPA is always difficult to interpret, and even harder with no other students to compare to. The fact that many homeschoolers teach for mastery doesn't make this any easier. ACT, SAT, AP, and SAT II test scores are important because they allow the Admissions Committee to compare the student to the other applicants on a somewhat level playing field. Test scores are usually reported on the transcript (with reports also sent to the colleges for verification), so they can be included on the transcript page or put on a separate page, depending on your preference.
  • Work Samples - Work samples allow the Admissions officers to judge for themselves how rigorous a program your student has completed. This can be as simple as a list of class and project descriptions (does a class on "The Great Books" mean what Admissions thinks it means?) and a list of books read, maybe broken down by grade, maybe not. It can also include links (green arrow) to actual papers and projects uploaded using the File element from the Editor menu. Weebly hosts these documents on their servers for you for free. Admissions officers and scholarship judges can look at them at will.

Picture
You may notice the picture at the top of this page is a professional image that I was able to download and use royalty-free from Hubspot. Unsplash.com is another good source for royalty-free images. If you choose to use commercial images on your site, please follow the rules for crediting them (Creative Commons, etc.). Please don't steal images.

3) The following sections will be similar for homeschoolers and traditionally-educated students.
  • Honors and Awards - Has your student competed in National History Day or a science fair? Did he or she join an honor society or win a special scholarship? Breaking this information out separately highlights everything he or she has achieved, and shows that the student's accomplishments are recognized by people outside the family.
  • Leadership/Community Service - Colleges are looking for leaders, and service to the larger community is where homeschoolers can really shine. Put this information on its own tab to draw attention. On the sample page, I used a picture gallery and captions to quickly summarize volunteer projects. Another student might also choose to use a blog page (like this one, with comments open or closed) to write summaries of his or her experiences, what was accomplished and why it was meaningful.

Picture
Candid and other personal photos are great at telling your story. However, if there are other people in them, please let them know you will be publishing their photo on your website. Be especially careful with photos of small children. Images can get stolen, cropped and used for all kinds of purposes you may not have intended. Ask when you take the picture, "Do you mind if I put this on my website?"

  • Extracurricular activities - Anything the student does on a regular basis can be counted as an extracurricular. Obviously, community service is an extracurricular, and it can be summarized again on this page, with a link to the more-detailed Community Service page. Cross-indexing links are super-easy to add on Weebly. Just highlight the words to be linked, click the link icon in the formatting bar at the top of the section, click "Standard Page" and choose the tab you want from the drop down menu. Pictures can also be linked, by double-clicking the photo and using the link tab in the photo-editing box that pops up. Don't assume that because you've laid out your site in a certain way that that is the way visitors will see it. They will more than likely jump around to the bits they find interesting and relevant. Make sure you have at least a token mention of community service on, say, a leadership page or the extracurriculars page, for example. An invitation to a special academic summer program or sports clinic might be listed under Honors and Awards as well as Extracurriculars.
         Extracurriculars are highly individual, so these pages can be subdivided and organized however seems to make the most sense to you. Because our sample student was able to travel quite a bit while in high school, the sample website has an extracurriculars page (under "More") with two subpages: Travel and Hobbies. Ideally, the Travel page would include a blog or written summaries of his experiences in addition to the slideshow, but it is only a sample, after all.
  • Other pages - The number of pages or tabs that you can use is almost limitless. Have some open letters of recommendation? Add a recommendations tab. Have transcripts and certificates from online classes or community college? Upload them to the Work Samples or Transcript pages. Newspaper clippings, pictures and video of soccer or hockey season? Make a Sports tab. (Video will require you to pay to upgrade your site, though.)
Speaking of extracurriculars, any project your student has done that is particularly important may rate its own tab. This student spent a year training for and walking a series of marathons to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Although this is arguably community service, I chose to break this information out to its own page to show its importance to him as a person. Text interspersed with photos tells the story. I encourage you to find your own particularly meaningful story to showcase. Think of it as a photoessay for college.

Although it takes some time, creating a portfolio website will save your student a lot of time and hassle when applying to colleges and scholarships. No papers to copy, snail mail addresses to track down or concerns about how to get certificates, Word documents and memorabilia into a single file. Creating their own website is also a great project for your student to demonstrate his or her 21st Century skills. Homeschooled teens are very attractive candidates for admission to the colleges of their dreams. A portfolio website is the easiest way to get there.

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