Cassie Bottorff has always been a bit of a social butterfly. And though she spent her formative years being educated at home on a curriculum designed by her homeschooling co-op, making friends came naturally to her, and college was no exception.

But going from being homeschooled to attending a medium-sized state university in Kentucky presented other challenges. Namely, Bottorff wasn’t accustomed to setting her own boundaries. In her first months, she even called home to ask her parents if she was allowed to leave campus.

“It took some time to work out where my freedoms lay,” she admits. The trick was in being open to trying new things. By testing the waters, for example, she discovered she could make friends at college who were wonderful people — even if they were nothing like her homeschooling friends growing up. “I was trying to figure out who I was when I stepped out from under my parents’ wings,” she says.

College is an adjustment for everybody, and it’s common for students from all walks of life to struggle with the new-found freedom campus life has to offer. Homeschooled students, however, tend to bring different strengths and vulnerabilities to the college equation.

Shouldering the (Course) Load

One area where they tend to excel over traditionally educated peers is in handling the course load. According to a 2009 study that compared students at one doctoral university from 2004-2009, Students coming from a home school graduated college at a higher rate than their peers ­— 66.7 percent compared to 57.5 percent.

Hannah Deadman, who was homeschooled in the Chicago area before attending a local community college, agrees that being homeschooled put her in a stronger position going into her freshman year.

Academically, homeschoolers typically are significantly better prepared for the transition.

Donald Grafton

“I was already used to an independent and flexible workflow, so I was confident that I was self-disciplined enough to be productive in my time between college courses on any given day,” she says. She later transferred to Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.

Donald Grafton, the registrar of New Hope Christian College in Eugene, Oregon, has also noticed that students who have come from a homeschooled background have an advantage when it comes to hitting the books. “Academically, homeschoolers typically are significantly better prepared for the transition,” he says, noting how for some, the extra pressure they put on themselves can cause anxiety.

“In my homeschooling circles, doing well and excelling were highly valued. I definitely felt some serious pressure, especially for the first year, and I know quite a few homeschooling kids who have worked through some pretty serious anxiety issues because of a similar performance complex,” says Jason Rueger, a former homeschooler who now works as an analyst and staff writer for

In his sophomore year, Rueger made a concerted effort to find more balance between schoolwork and social activity. “Sometimes, it is just important to hang out, have fun and not be worried about the next thing,” he says, adding that if he were to do it over again, he would have made the effort even sooner.

“I feel like I wasn’t as laid back and chill as I could have been with friends, missing some opportunities to learn and grow with people who were different than me.”

Finding the Right Learning Style

A lot of homeschooled students are also accustomed to having a more bespoke curriculum that accommodates their learning style — something colleges don’t always offer, at least not in the first year.  “My challenges came in the form of learning material differently,” says Tara Parsell, a former homeschooler who went on to study at the University of Dayton, a private Catholic school 10 hours away from her home in Upstate New York. “The idea of sitting in a classroom and hearing professors share information was different than how I know I learn well.”

Parsell knew she learned better from reading than from listening, so she overcame this challenge by playing on her strength — the ability to study independently and hold herself accountable for deadlines.

Making Friends

The stereotype is that homeschooled kids have a harder time socializing than their peers, and for some students this is true. Jason Rueger’s wife, Abby, was also homeschooled, and says that as a result, she spent a lot of time with her parents and other friends who were significantly older. She thinks the experience might have made it harder for her to connect with peers her own age when she went to college.

“I got along with my professors very well, but I did miss out on the community that I saw a lot of my classmates creating with each other,” she says. “I regret not working harder to befriend the people in my class, which in part was influenced by my homeschooled background.”

This is not an experience shared by all homeschooled students — Deadman, for example, says the notion that she lacked social skills due to her being taught at home “couldn’t be further from the truth.” Still, for those who do find socializing in college difficult, getting involved on campus is the first step. Grafton advises joining sports teams and participating in other social activities. This could include peer tutoring, which he says is a place where former homeschoolers tend to lead. Another idea is to find other former homeschoolers on campus, and discuss the shared challenges presented by campus life. Some colleges even have formal organizations for homeschooled students. The main thing, says Grafton, is to “get active.”