How did our 21 year old daughter get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in three years? There are more options than you think! Allow us to share with you some myth-busting ideas.
BETH (mom): Welcome! I’m glad you stopped by Home to Home today. Did the title catch your eye? Are you exploring college options for yourself or your children? Well, you came to the right place. I’m excited to share this blog post with and about my darling daughter Serena. But let me assure you, this is not about showing off our prodigy child and making you feel badly. I can assure you Serena is not a prodigy child. This is about exploring new ways to do college and helping your young adult embrace a life of learning. It’s about transitions and letting go. It’s about faith and entrusting your child to her Creator who knows her future. Let’s begin! Serena will start us off.
SERENA (daughter): I just turned 21, and I’ve just finished up my master’s degree. No, that’s not a typo, I just graduated with my master’s degree in education from Seattle Pacific University on June 12th. In the last two years, I passed my endorsement area tests for Washington state and rode the roller coaster of student teaching for four months at a super diverse school. I completed and passed my final teaching portfolio (edTPA, the assessment for teacher certification)…the whole enchilada, habanero sauce and all.
When I tell people this, I usually get a string of questions: “How? What? Really?” My answer: Yes, really.
I took two full years to earn my master’s degree, but I pursued my undergraduate degree in a unique way that allowed me to finish four years of coursework in only a year and three months. In short, I went through an accelerated learning program called CollegePlus, earning most of my bachelor’s degree through credit-by-exam and online classes. I usually get a whole set of assumptions and questions after I explain that, so let me do a little CollegePlus myth busting for you.
BETH (mom): My husband and I found College Plus at a homeschool convention. With several children getting ready for college, the word “college” piqued our interest and made us stop. There was no one at the booth, just some pamphlets and a video that looped with information.Talk about a low-pressure sale! Later in the day we caught a CollegePlus representative, and she helped to field some of our questions. She explained to us that CollegePlus, in simplest terms, is a “middle man” to help students negotiate the ins and outs of an online college education. However, they are so much more than that, as you are about to read. But that day, I will admit, my husband and I walked away with a “this is too good to be true” attitude. However, we found out, it is true, and it is good!
Myth #1:“Well, it’s just because you’re smart and blew through your courses quickly.”
SERENA (daughter): Although I did get decent grades in high school, it’s not like I was valedictorian or president of the calculus club. I just pursued my bachelor’s in a unique way that allowed me to earn credits for what I already knew and to learn new subjects at a rapid pace. Ninety percent of my degree was composed of credits from taking CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests. College Board, the same people that provide AP and SAT testing, also administer the CLEP tests. Essentially, they’re standardized, multiple-choice tests that are the equivalent of walking into a college class on the last day and taking the final exam. Each test earned me three to six semester credits for about $80 per test. I typically studied for them one at a time, spending an average of three weeks to study for each test. I earned the remainder of my credits through online college classes.
BETH (mom): Serena’s homeschool background helped her adapt to the CollegePlus style of independent learning. She had been a self-directed learner for quite some time. However, that was not always the case. In her junior high years, I can remember many nights she had to finish her homeschool assignments because she had dawdled the day away. Her dad and I simply, matter-of-factly, held her accountable to finishing her assignments. Learning to manage her time and her studies paid off and set the foundation for higher learning.
Myth #2:“Oh, okay, so you just spent every waking moment doing schoolwork, right?”
SERENA (daughter): Not exactly. I averaged about 25 study hours per week…some weeks a bit more, some weeks a bit less. Because my schoolwork was mostly self-directed, I was able to set my schedule to fit it in with work, family, and friends. The average amount of time that it takes a student to finish their degree through CollegePlus is about two years. I did have a little bit of a head start due to some college credits that I earned while in high school.
BETH (mom): The CollegePlus schedule seemed to fit easily into her social schedule and our family’s schedule. She had plenty of “extra” time which enabled her to do “fro yo” with her sister and sister-in-law, be a docent at the local observatory (star gazing is still one of her favorite pastimes.), attend college Bible studies, and be the playful craft-loving girl she has always been. I also will add, a traditional college academic schedule gives its students 3 1/2 months off. Serena did not have to stop her college education and wait for winter, spring, or summer break to be over. This also sped up her academic progress.
Myth #3: “Didn’t you have to pay for a four-year degree in a year’s time? How did you pay for it all?”
SERENA (daughter): Since I only had to pay $80 for each test (and a very minimal amount of money on books), the total cost of my degree came to (drumroll please)…………..$9000. For my entire bachelor’s degree. And that included three online classes from a traditional college. Guess how much I had to take out in loans for my bachelor’s degree? About $3500. That’s all.
BETH (mom): Serena is a frugal girl. She knows how to budget money. Serena also opened her own business, “Serena’s Housekeeping, Tutoring, and Babysitting Services”. Owning her own business provided her with additional flexibility and a higher wage. She was able to keep up with paying for tests and books right up until the very end when she had to borrow a small amount for her online classes. During the summer, she also worked at a KOA camp as a “Summer Shiner” (a Christian outreach program). Even though she was away from home, she was still able to take college courses during the summer and save money for the winter months.
Myth #4:“CollegePlus is probably a scam. You must have gotten your degree from weird, wacky school that nobody’s ever heard of…”
SERENA (daughter): Okay, I can’t promise that you’ve heard of the college, but it’s called Thomas Edison State College, and it is a regionally-accredited school, which means my degree is a recognized, quality degree. There are lots of other colleges that have partnered with CollegePlus as well, so I had several other colleges that I could have chosen to pursue my degree from.
BETH (mom): I spent a lot of time researching CollegePlus to make sure this was not a scam. I can assure you it is not. The folks at CollegePlus are dedicated believers and have been doing business since 2004. They have served more than 10,000 students from all 50 states and 22 countries around the world. (Serena is not alone in this kind of success.) When I called to set up a telephone appointment, I was impressed with the CollegePlus representative. He enthusiastically shared their vision to serve students, and boldly shared CollegePlus’ commitment to a Biblical worldview. All our doubts were waning.
Myth #5: “So, you got your degree from taking tests. Don’t you lack a lot of real-world experience?”
SERENA (daughter): On the contrary! Yes, most of my bachelor’s degree was just tests. But because my schedule was so flexible, I was able to pursue work in the field of education. While earning my bachelor’s, I had the opportunity to work with students in a family camp, in one-on-one tutoring, and as the primary leader in a kid’s Bible study for troubled youth at my church. Additionally, because I saved so much money on my bachelor’s degree, I didn’t have to stop my education. I was able to enter Seattle Pacific’s Master of Arts Teaching program. For two years, I was given the opportunity to hone my skills and learn from dozens of experienced educators. Also, getting my BA in natural sciences and mathematics in one year enabled me to get a higher paying job while earning my master’s degree.
BETH (mom): Serena’s College Plus mentor encouraged and helped her set goals to gain real-life working experience in her passion as well as goals in all areas of life. It was very balanced. As a mom, I received bi-weekly updates from her mentor summarizing her college goals. Her mentor was very knowledgeable on the subject of credit-by-exam and online classes, but what I was most impressed with was her genuine love for God and how she inspired our daughter to deepen her relationship with Jesus.
Myth #6: “All right, you must have received your degree from some school that just offers a handful of online degrees.”
SERENA (daughter): CollegePlus allows you to pursue fields ranging from accounting to pre-med to psychology. You aren’t limited by degree choice. In fact in some cases, you can even design your own degree.
BETH (mom): I am impressed with their list of degrees. Our son, Serena’s twin, is presently pursuing a degree in computer programming, and our younger daughter (age 15) is already eyeing a degree in her passion, history.
Myth #7: “You were at home all the time…so, you had no social life.”
SERENA (daughter): While pursuing my degree through CollegePlus, I had more time to spend with friends and family than I ever did before. Because I had such a flexible schedule, I could take random days off to go have lunch with a friend, take a weekend trip, or spend the afternoon with my sister. On top of that, because of the CollegePlus forums, I was able to connect with students both in my area and worldwide, which has been an awesome experience.
BETH (mom): My husband and I had many conversations with Serena weighing the “college experience” (dorms and social life) versus online learning. She came to the conclusion through much prayer that she could finished her bachelor’s degree and then go away to college for her master’s degree. Through CollegePlus’ student forum, Serena made friends all over the United States and has had the opportunity to visit some of them.
Myth #8:”It sounds hard. You must have almost died!”
SERENA (daughter): I don’t think I died. I’m still writing, so I must not be dead. I’ll be honest with this one: it was hard, at times. I definitely questioned my sanity on more than one occasion. It took a lot of self-discipline and some serious blood, sweat, and tears. But it was doable. More than 10,000 students have done their degree this way, so I knew I was in good company. There’s a growing list of resources that are available that include practice tests, study guides, computer-based test prep, and detailed test feedback on the CollegePlus forums. Additionally, one of the services offered by CollegePlus is bi-weekly phone calls with a Life Coach, a personal mentor. My mentor helped me set goals, recommended resources, provided guidance through the process, and offered encouragement and prayer all along the way. Even though it was hard, I didn’t die.
BETH (mom): There were times in Serena’s journey that were very difficult. We shared moments of tears and “I don’t know if I can do this” discussions. I think as a mom, these moments were equally hard for me. It put me in a place where I sat on the edge of my seat as I watched my child’s journey unfold. All I could do was pray and trust God. It’s in those moments that I had to remind myself that love believes.
I needed to trust God’s plan for my daughter and believe that God had equipped her to meet the challenges. Proverbs 31:21 also reminded me that…
“She (the Godly woman) is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are ‘clothed in scarlet’.”
“Snowstorms” shaped Serena into the woman she is today. My role was to trust that she was covered with “scarlet robes” of royalty. After all, we have told her since she was little that she is the daughter of the King of Heaven. God’s word is no fairy tale: it’s real life. I was far from perfect in this role. I ebbed and flowed like the shifting tides in faith and in letting go.
Myth #9: “Wasn’t a bachelor’s degree enough? Why did you leave home (rural, northern California) to go into a master’s degree program in a strange new city, (Seattle, Washington) at age 19? What were you thinking?”
SERENA (daughter): I was thinking and praying. I wanted to be a science teacher. This path seemed like a great way to further my education. I opted for a Christian school, mainly because I wanted to be able to line up my educational philosophy with my spiritual one. Though religion was not an explicit part of my studies (I didn’t take any classes on religious philosophy or Biblical history), it was still the foundation from which everything else came. I suppose some people might still ask, “Wasn’t it hard to maintain your faith in a ‘liberal city’ like Seattle?” I feel like that’s the wrong question entirely. It’s hard to maintain faith, period. Or, more accurately, no matter where you are—the middle of the Bible belt, or the middle of Capitol Hill in Seattle—faith takes work. Did I stop investing in my faith simply because I moved away from home? No. In fact, I poured more into my faith than ever before…because guess what? I kind of love Christ a lot.
Here’s the thing though: yes, my faith was challenged. Yes, I went through weeks where I wrestled with what I believe and why I believe it. It took me over a year before I officially settled on a home church and an additional year before I found a Bible study that felt like a fit. But in the end, my journey did nothing but strengthen my relationship with Christ. And now? I live in a Christian community house with five incredible Christian women. I LOVE the church that I attend. I have seen one of my best friends (who previously challenged my faith) come to Christ. One lesson through all of this? I learned to keep my faith active. I’ve found that I have to be intentional about building and maintaining Christian community for myself. It takes both effort and time.
BETH (mom): The Sunday after Serena’s graduation we went to her home church. I think I cried more in that service than at her graduation. Our daughter’s faith in Jesus has become her own. We worshiped our God together not just as mom and daughter but as sisters in Christ. Faith grows when the believer chooses Christ. It doesn’t grow when culture, tradition, or family mores lead. Faith is forged behind closed doors searching His Word in difficult moments and reaching out to the body of Christ for help and encouragement. It grows when we trust our God who wants us to take whatever talents He has bestowed to you and me and give it back to Him many times over. I know my faith has grown over these last three years.
SERENA (daughter): I am grateful for the opportunity CollegePlus gave me. Students (like me) can earn a regionally-accredited degree in two years or less for under $10,000. I was able to choose almost every single class for my degree. I didn’t have to sit through any of those peculiar mandatory classes. And yes, I now have my master’s degree and Washington state teaching credential at age 21. I live in a cool city with equally cool people who love the Lord. That’s just how I roll….and this is just the beginning of the adventure. I’m excited to see what God has in store!
BETH (mom): Serena has had a heart for missions since she was a little girl. This past year, she fell in love with her sixth-grade students who call her Miss Mora. Her students love her. One of them nicknamed her Miss Frizzle (from Magic School Bus Science series). The school she serves has students who speak 40 different languages and is mostly comprised of low-income families. Her skills as a teacher are only beginning to be tested. I am proud that she is not shirking back.
I will be the first to tell you that Serena is extraordinary, but I will also tell you all my kids are! That’s the mom in me. That’s my job, to believe that God made and called my kids to do extraordinary things. Looking back to my earlier homeschool years, if I had to do it all again, I would have believed that statement a little more. But I get it. Sometimes it’s hard to believe when you are teaching an eight-year-old division and you are implementing the 18,000th teaching method before the lightbulb illuminates over your kid’s head, or you are stuck for months on the concept of “what is a noun?”
Be encouraged! Homeschooling works! Many studies show homeschoolers are not only ready for higher learning, but are prepared and ready to put their talents to the test! They are hungry for real-world challenges. That’s why colleges seek to recruit them.
I feel it’s our job as home educators to prepare our children academically for their future. (Preparing our children spiritually is primary but that’s another topic.) Here’s what stumps me as a home educating mom, I. don’t. know. the. future. How can I prepare my children for it?
Does “preparing your child for the future” mean that all children are college bound?
I don’t think that’s what it means.
Not all our kids went to college. One of our sons went to mechanic school; he is a master mechanic for Mercedes. Another son, who completed four years serving our country in the Marines is presently attending the sheriff academy. One son is considering organic farming, and another son plans to apply for his captain’s license to captain a sport-fishing boat. One son holds a bachelor’s degree in restaurant management and Serena’s twin is going through the same CollegePlus program and is one year away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer programming. The ones that earned a college degree and the ones that did not all have one thing in common: they continued their learning and gained useful skills. How would I as a homeschool mom predict what each of their futures held? That’s the point. I can’t.
So back to my original question,“How do I academically prepare my child for the future?”
My husband and I can and do set the standards high, so whatever God calls them to, the lack of education won’t be an obstacle. Our job is to prepare them for a lifetime of learning, not just for college.
“For I (Only God) know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
We taught our boys and our girls, God has a plan for each of them.
Matthew 25:14-30 is the parable of the talents. Through this parable, Jesus ascribes value to the servants who not only use but multiply their talents. He saves harsh words for the servant who holds back and does not invest the Master’s talents. As far as I can tell, this parable is not gender specific. Our daughters are instructed to invest and multiply their talents. And it’s my husband’s and my role as parents to encourage them to do just that. If a college degree will enable our daughters to multiply their talents then college it is. Serena desires one day to be a wife and mom, and I know she will make an excellent wife and mom, and God will use her talents to bless others. Her master’s degree will open doors for useful service.
Another issue that surrounds getting a college education is cost. Why spend all that money on a girl’s education when she wants to be a stay at home mom? Serena and her dad have spent time mapping out and managing her financial plans. Thankfully, CollegePlus helped her cut costs on her bachelor’s degree. Serena has a two-year plan to repay her student loans she incurred from SPU, and she added two years to her financial plan to save money for a down payment on a house. Lord willing, if she reaches her goal, that puts her at age 25. If and when the Lord brings prince charming, she will be well on her way to becoming that Proverbs 31 woman. Her education will also bless her children, our grandchildren, and ultimately the body of Christ and the world.
Another concern about college is it draws young people away from faith. There are many things that draw a person away from faith. I think of John Bunyan’s depiction of the Christian journey in Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian, the main character, encounters many temptations before he reaches the Celestial City. We run a race that resembles a US Marine training obstacle course rather than a paved racetrack. Our faith will always be challenged this side of heaven. Each person’s journey and choices become their own. There is much we as parents can do to cultivate faith (I’ll save that for another post), but the growth of the seed is God’s miracle. He alone gets the glory.
SERENA (daughter): It’s been a wild ride. But I can honestly tell you I wouldn’t change a thing about it, because it was so worth it. If you’re sitting here and thinking to yourself, “I could never do that…I’m not really that smart/focused/patient/[insert other excuses here]”, remember, Christ’s power is always made perfect in your weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Many thanks to my CollegePlus mentor, Angelina Talley, who encouraged and prayed for me faithfully throughout my adventures with my degree. Also, muchas gracias to my lovely friend Kati, who helped me solve my college struggle woes over hot cocoa during my time at SPU. Thank you to my five roomies for putting up with endless stories about my sixth graders and offering ample hugs when I needed them. Additionally, I want to thank my family for rooting for me and praying for me since day one. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.
BETH (mom): Thank you for allowing Serena and me to share candidly her journey and a few of our thoughts on sensitive issues. We hope it gave you some food for thought and prayer. Thank you CollegePlus for your service to our family and many other families. Thank you SPU for helping shape our “little girl”. Thank you to all of Serena’s roommates in Seattle, you ladies are beautiful, and I am so glad you are in Serena’s life. A mother couldn’t ask for more. Two more thoughts. Homeschool teens, set your learning goals high! Homeschool moms and dads, place your confidence in God who is molding your kids to do extraordinary things.
From Our Home to Yours,
You might like this link: The Education of our Daughters