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A Homeschooler's Manual to College Success

Thoughts

“We are the dreamers; we are the music makers” - Willy Wonka

As children, we are awarded many stickers and participation awards. These come in varying sparkly colors and shapes, telling us that “We’re awesome!” and that "We can do it!" I think about the millions of affirmations printed every year, promoting the same message to thousands of kids who actually got tricked into believing we were all equal, and wonder who the sucker was. However, there was a difference between me and the kid next to me getting that same sticker: I threw mine away. I didn’t need validation because telling myself these messages proved far more effective than reading the glittery labels on the back of my hand.

I attended a small Montessori school from grades 6-11 before I was homeschooled. After that, I attended community college from ages 16-17, and then college again from 17 onwards. In short, I was your stereotypical socially awkward, “Too Young to Want to Befriend” kid, “Not Quite an Adult Yet” adult.

I received an interesting education from a parent that was never satisfied with the amount of work I completed or the level at which it was don seo. If you think of Miss Hannigan asking for her apartment to "shine like the top of the Chrysler building," you thought right. My parents worked during the day while I attended online lectures, which, as you can imagine, was difficult for a child between the ages of 11-15. My mother got off work in the late afternoon and would lecture from a textbook for the remainder of the evening. The first book I was assigned in middle school wasn’t “Animal Farm;” it was “The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Perhaps this was her way of telling me I might turn out to be like the title, should I veer from her curriculum.

My dad was never much into homeschooling, but my parents are divorced, and he never really had a say in my primary education. My mom is a psychotherapist and must have analyzed the "local population" before deeming that the public-school atmosphere would hinder my "mental development and aid in my moral destruction.” She also voted for Trump twice, so I’m not 100 percent sure her judgement was completely sound, but I seem to have turned out alright.

I graduated a few days after my Sweet 16, but there was no party. I celebrated my birthday by taking the last available entrance exam to a local college so that I could soon enroll there and begin my higher education. Did I get a car? No, but I did get my mother paying my entrance exam fee and a boxed-up mound of buttercream from Walmart. I drove myself to school every week after that for the next year (in her car), positively hating my existence and waiting for the day I would move up and out to a different school.

In the midst of all this, one could inquire as to my pursuits after this year of college. It was simple. My older sister aspired to be an actress, so I, of course, wanted to be an actress too. The perks of being a homeschooled student meant that I could have a semi-flexible travel schedule. If there was a part to audition for in Los Angeles, I could be there for a couple of days. Georgia? Same deal. I figured, in my young brain, that if I could get enough parts before graduation, I might establish the foundation of a career and have enough credits to get into a reputable drama program. The difference between my older sister and me, however, is that I did not want to weigh a career as a movie star against that of a waitress. So, after spending a few years as a child chasing these fantasies, I settled on journalism, which I deemed to be a practical job path.

Between theater and journalism, I had another passion that drove my academic pursuits: fashion design. I participated in several programs at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where I crafted garments out of reusable materials  and costumed a local theater company. I went to a portfolio review day for design programs at various art schools with high hopes and came out with them crushed. Due to a less traditional education, I didn’t take art classes or have an academic advisor to help me cultivate a portfolio. Confused and deterred, I abandoned the idea of art school altogether. Over the course of submitting applications, though, the idea of art school still danced around in my mind, spurred on by emails I received from schools like Pratt, stating that there was “still time to apply!”

I took my practical career theory to my mother in my sophomore year. She was thrilled and sat me down to my first SAT at age 14. I was too young to take it, so we bribed the local high school official (apparently, you can do things like that in wild and wooly southern Virginia). After that, I tested twice more before I got a score we were happy with. I had also been provided a list of writing programs to apply to: New York University, Annenberg at USC, Boston University, Emerson, American University. Being a homeschooled student also meant I had a lot of extra time on my hands: time to work on essays and get my volunteer hours in to make these applications look complete.

I remember taking a tour of the Smithsonian Art Museum in DC the day my decision letters came in from USC, Boston, and American. Afterwards, I sat in Sprinkles in Georgetown, contemplating this newfound major choice while deciding whether or not to take out my retainer in public to eat my cupcake. In that moment, I weighed my age against the practical plan I had laid out for myself and realized I just wanted to do what would excite me.

So why am I here, writing for The Prattler? Because, for once, I made the choice that would make me happy. Because one day, I received an email from Pratt Institute granting me an extension on my application. I had stumbled across Pratt in an internet search for art schools and had given my email address. They were the only art school not at that portfolio review.

That’s how, after reading the application extension email, I knew I needed to do something for myself. For most girls, that meant a day at the spa. It meant getting a haircut or going shopping. For me, it meant buying a grande black cup of coffee with one pump of peppermint and sitting down to fill out one last application. I got it in with less than 15 minutes to spare, and it was in that moment that I pledged to myself, no matter how few scholarships I was given or how many extenuating circumstances surrounding my acceptance there were, if God willing they accepted me, I would go.

I got into Pratt on my 17th birthday, and I had never felt more elated. It was as though I was suddenly showered in those sparkly stickers saying "I did it;” only this time, it actually felt that way. That was the day that possibilities opened up for me and I finally felt a sense of freedom. I looked at the opportunity to attend Pratt Institute as something new and exciting, and, like I promised before, no matter if I loved or hated it, I would see the four years through.

So, I’m doing that right now.

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Illustration by Tien Servidio

written by
Camille Bavera
January 11, 2021