Aria Montalvo



Current country

United States

When did you unschool?


In what state did you "graduate?"


Describe your childhood education (through age 12).

I was unschooled without any structure at all for my entire childhood. I was free to do whatever I wished with my time and nothing was ever forced upon me. I didn’t even have a bedtime. I constantly exercised my wild imagination — my days consisted of roaming around outside, playing with stuffed animals, and making all kinds of art. I also loved Minecraft, Legos, theatre, karate, piano, trampoline, and board games.

I chose to take some classes through my homeschool group like cooking, ballroom dance, drawing, and sexual education. However, I didn’t take a single “academic” class until I was 12 years old, when I voluntarily signed up for English and Math through the homeschool group. There were no tests or grades, and the homework was optional, but I always completed it because I found it interesting. I thrived in those classes because I WANTED to be there. 

Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.

My mom had several mom-friends that sent their kids to public school, but we were also part of various homeschooling groups, so I had a variety of friends growing up. In general, homeschoolers are inclusive of everyone and their siblings, so I was comfortable interacting with children and teens of all ages. I always loved hanging out with the moms at park day and interacting with random adults when my mom and I ran errands around town.

Who made the decision to unschool you?

My parents knew that they wanted to homeschool before they even had kids, but they decided to unschool after attending a homeschooling convention for the first time when I was two years old. 

Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).

I attended a public charter school for eighth grade out of sheer curiosity. The amount of senseless rules and busy work was astonishing, but I just laughed at the absurdity and managed to get straight A’s. That whole year, I woke up excited to go to school everyday knowing that I’d come home with a hilarious story to share with my family at dinner.

After two months of public high school, I dropped out because it felt like a waste of my time. The thought of losing the next eight years (four in high school and four in college) of my life to school and busy work was really depressing because I actually wanted to ENJOY my teen years. I started taking community college classes when I was 14 because I wanted to “get ahead” in school while still enjoying a large amount of free time. I started out with just one class and then took one to three classes each semester until I had enough credits to transfer to a four year university — that’s the story of how I got into UC Berkeley as a junior when I was 17.

Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.

I still had a few friends my age from public school, homeschooling, and theatre, and I met more through mutual friends.

Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.

In my teen years, most of my friends were older than me because I have a habit of stealing/sharing my older brother’s friends. I took lots of community college classes with my older friends and that was a great experience. I built connections with some of my professors and interacted with my college classmates everyday. Working in a cafe allowed me to interact with people of all ages, and I also worked with kids every summer as a camp counselor.  

Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?

Yes, I received the equivalent to a high school diploma by taking the California High School Proficiency Examination when I was 15.

During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?

Honestly, I just focused on having fun and enjoying my life as a teen! You could find me chatting with random strangers or driving down the Pacific Coast Highway with my friends, listening to bad music and wishing we could be young forever. I also pondered the meaning of life and spent a lot of time with myself. Those years helped me realize that I enjoy a slower-paced life and value human connection above all else, even though I classify myself as an introvert. 

How did you make the decision to go to college?

Well, it just sort of happened! When I dropped out of high school, I decided to take College Algebra at the local community college with my older brother because I love math. Then I continued to take one to three cool classes at a time and before I knew it, I was applying to transfer in as a junior to a four-year university when I was 17. When I got accepted to UC Berkeley, it was a no-brainer to attend. 

What did you study?

I majored in Art Practice and minored in Education, and I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree from UC Berkeley just two weeks after my 19th birthday.

What was the hardest part of the transition to college? What was the easiest part?

For me, the hardest part about transitioning to a four-year university was dealing with the never-ending workload. I felt like I was drowning at first, but I got really good at stress-management and time-management by the end. I also managed to pull straight A’s to look good for graduate school.

The easiest part for me was making connections with people. Since everyone was going through a similarly stressful time, I found it quite easy to bond with other people and build supportive relationships. It was my friends, classmates, professors, and counselors that helped me get through each semester.

Do you feel like your unconventional upbringing made getting into college more easy, more difficult, or both?

Being unschooled made getting into college way easier for me because colleges want a variety of students with different backgrounds, which means they love homeschoolers. Writing about my alternative educational upbringing in my college application essays definitely boosted my chances of getting into a good school. My stellar GPA from community college didn’t hurt either (I wasn’t some super genius teenager — it’s just pretty easy to get A’s if you only take one to three classes at a time).

Did you feel pressure to attend college?

Yes, my dad is very pro-college, so not going to college wasn’t really an option in my household. I’m super grateful for the opportunity and I’m really glad I did it, but I think that not going to college can be a great choice as well. 

Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.

I’ve been a cook for private catering events, a cashier at a vegan cafe, a theatre camp counselor, an after school art teacher, a city planning mentor for high school students, and most recently a virtual art teacher.

What is your current job?

I’m moving to Spain this school year to be an English Language Assistant at a bilingual elementary school.

Why did you choose your current job?

I chose this job because it’s the perfect way to spend my gap year before I begin graduate school to become an educator. Besides art, three of my biggest passions are language, education, and working with children, so I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity.

Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?

Being unschooled has allowed me to stay in tune with my interests and find the right jobs for me — the jobs that excite me every day. When you’re excited about the work, employers will be excited to hire you!

What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?

It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. Do what works best for you, and trust that the rest will fall into place. Check out classes, groups, and events to see if you like them, and do what excites you!

What advice would you give to their parents?

Befriend like-minded parents and learn from them! Keep in mind that each family is different, so experiment with more/less structure to see what works best for yours.

If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?

I definitely hope to unschool my future children because unschooling was such a positive experience for me growing up. I love the homeschooling/unschooling community and I’d love to raise my children in such a welcoming and positive environment where they are free to be themselves. However, if my children wish to experience a more traditional educational upbringing as they get older, I will most definitely respect their wishes because it’s really up to them!

Are there any other thoughts you want to share?

Unschooling has given me the freedom to follow my interests and live a life that excites me every day! Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at

Published: September 2020