Writing Course Descriptions

What are they? Why keep them?

A few years ago, when I was tutoring a public school student, I saw pieces by Shakespeare, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Dickens, and a variety of modern writers in the high school literature book. I also saw something shocking. Not only was this shocking material in the textbook, but a local high school teacher had assigned it to students. I’m sure most parents had no idea that this is what their child was studying and would be upset if they realized it. After all, how could reading stories by Dr. Seuss–the same stories read when their child was four years old–help prepare their child for college? Had high school standards really dropped that low?

Most high school English classes never finish their literature books. Their teachers pick and choose what they’ll cover. That’s true in public schools and homeschools alike. While most never think to question what’s taught in a typical public school, college admissions officers and employers alike might question the quality of education received at home. Course descriptions are one way to help show what your child’s been taught.

Course descriptions aren’t required by Florida law for home education students, but smart homeschool parents will keep them for their high school students (and even middle school students who may be doing high school work). These descriptions could help a college admissions officer or possible employer know the quality of the education a student received. Were they getting the Shakespeare and Twain sort of education? Or the Dr. Seuss and beginning reading books type of education?

Course descriptions are the sort of documentation that might never be needed, but in my experience, when needed, they are needed NOW. So it’s a good idea to keep them as you go along even if you might not ever need them. They are certainly much easier to keep as you go along rather than trying to back track and figure out what your kids learned a few years ago.

One caveat: Don’t send course descriptions to anyone unless they ask to see them. When I volunteered for a college admissions committee, the Dean of Admissions told us that extra paperwork could be all it took to get a tired committee member to put a file on the reject pile.

Our course descriptions for all of high school were nine single-spaced pages. Some of our courses involved no textbooks. Many involved activities or homeschool support group clubs as part of the course. I know from years of volunteering with a college admissions committee that courses that aren’t typical can be a very good thing, so don’t feel compelled to copy the schools even at the high school level.

Each course description included the following information:

  • Subject area
  • Course number (I used the numbers from the FL Dept of Education’s course listing for public schools. I picked the number that best matched what we did. When no course titles matched, I used the “transfer credit” number for that subject area. For courses taken at a local college through dual enrollment, I used the college’s course number)
  • Course title (The FL Dept of Education’s course listing helped in picking course titles that colleges will recognize. But for the college courses taken, I stuck with the college course titles but stuck the word “college” in them to make it clear that they were college courses as well as later listing the college from which they were taken), and the amount of credit (1.0 or 0.5) earned.
  • Text(s) or other resources used.
  • A description of the topics covered, including the source of the class if it was something we outsourced (such as the few FLVS courses or the college courses used). (For courses taken from other sources, the source’s description of their own class was used.)
  • Notable projects, activities, etc. are listed (if any apply. This section includes lists of the labs done, any major projects, etc.)
  • Awards earned, if applicable.

Some examples include:

We’ve already found these useful with my soon-to-be graduate as a way to prove his high school education to a Recruiting Officer. My other soon-to-be graduate may not need them, but will have them just in case.

Cheryl Trzasko

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