When did you unschool?
In what state did you "graduate?"
Describe your childhood education (through age 12).
I was unschooled for my entire childhood. We always had workbooks available, which I could work on as much or as little I wanted, but the majority of my learning was self-motivated through my love for animals and science. I was an early reader without any curriculum or lessons. I loved checking out books from the library (usually about animals), and I would end up finishing them in the car before we even got home. I moved from lower level reading to chapter books by the time I was ten. I learned about science and biology through hands-on learning at homeschool group field trip days and through looking up questions I had about science with my mother. I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned fractions through cooking, grammar through reading, history through American Girl books, and math through practical applications such as determining medicine dosages for my pets.
Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.
We were never involved in co-ops, but I have always been active with sports, music, and hobbies. I had weekly classes for soccer, tennis, gymnastics, horseback riding, and knitting. Once we moved to North Carolina I was very involved with martial arts, 4-H, and music. I made friends easily through these weekly activities, and I interacted with kids my age and those younger and older than me.
Who made the decision to unschool you?
Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).
I was unschooled throughout my teen years. When I was 16, I decided to begin working towards my associate degree at a community college. I continued learning English through self-directed reading and math through practical applications. Most of my learning remained unstructured, but about a year before I started classes, I gave myself more structure by using Khan Academy videos in preparation for a college course load.
Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.
From ages 13-16 I played on a soccer team, participated in a 4-H group, attended weekly horseback riding lessons, played guitar and sang in a small band, and participated in martial arts 3x/week. I interacted with people my age through those activities. I also began working part-time at an animal hospital at age 16. This allowed me to gain career experience, because I knew I wanted to work with animals.
Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.
I interacted with people younger than me within our 4-H group, martial arts classes, and babysitting jobs. I interacted with people older than me at the animal clinic, older siblings of friends, and students in my community college classes. I found these interactions extremely important now that I am working in a field that requires being comfortable working and communicating with those younger and older than myself.
Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?
During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?
Before ages 15-16, I was very involved in extracurricular activities. I obtained my black belt in martial arts, crafted items for the state fair, and competed in horseback riding shows. Around age 15, I realized I wanted to work with animals. I did my own research about veterinarians and about what was needed education-wise to apply to veterinary school. I used online resources to prepare for college courses and took the Accuplacer test, and then I began attending a community college.
I took community college courses for three years before receiving my Associate of Science. When I was 18, I transferred to North Carolina State University to pursue my Bachelor’s in Animal Science with the goal of applying to veterinary school.
How did you make the decision to go to college?
I wanted to attend veterinary school and knew that I needed to begin taking college classes to work towards fulfilling the prerequisites for applying to veterinary school.
What did you study?
I have an Associate of Science and a Bachelor’s in Animal Science. I’m now applying to veterinary school, where I hope to obtain a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine.
What was the hardest part of the transition to college? What was the easiest part?
The hardest part of the transition was figuring out the nuisances of how to take an exam. Since I had been unschooled, I was not comfortable with scantrons, trick questions, and how to properly prepare for exams. I knew how to learn material that I thought was interesting and become fully educated about the topic, but realized that learning to understand and use the information gained, and learning only to be tested on the information gained were two very different things. Through office hours and fantastic professors, I gained better study skills and quickly adapted to college courses and the format of learning.
The easiest part was making new friends and finding people with similar interests to hang out with. I became friends with other homeschoolers, unschoolers, and people interested in veterinary medicine.
Do you feel like your unconventional upbringing made getting into college more easy, more difficult, or both?
I feel like my upbringing made getting into college both easy and difficult. The transition into college course work at community college was challenging, but the uniqueness of my unschooling experiences made my application stand out when I transferred to a four-year institution.
Did you feel pressure to attend college?
I did not feel any pressure to attend college from my family or outside my family. I chose to attend college by myself because I knew it was a stepping stone towards my veterinary degree.
Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.
At age 15, I worked at a pottery painting store, where I helped customers pick out pieces and paint them.
At age 16, I worked at a small animal clinic as a veterinary assistant for a year.
At age 17, I completed a paid summer internship at NIEHS doing research.
From ages 18-20, I worked at a different small animal clinic as a veterinary assistant.
At age 21, I worked at two summer veterinary camps.
What is your current job?
I’m working full time as a veterinary assistant at an exotic animal clinic during my gap year while I apply to veterinary school.
Why did you choose your current job?
To gain more experience in the field I want to work in before beginning veterinary school.
Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?
Easier. I felt more comfortable networking with those older than me and I felt confident asking around to find opportunities that interested me.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?
Do not worry about being “up to par” with people who attended traditional school. People might try to compare you to others in an attempt to test your knowledge against theirs. You might not be able to take a test as well as them, but that does not mean you’re not as smart as them. Some people will try to put you down because they’re jealous of the freedom you have to learn what you want to learn, when you want to learn it. You have to be ready to tell them that you are proud of the way you are learning and that their concept of knowledge is based around how well students take an exam. You are smarter than you think you are.
What advice would you give to their parents?
Don’t let curriculums, structure, and testing overwhelm you. I found my passion through self-directed exploration, activities, and learning on my own, not through coursework. Figure out what works best for your children and go with it!
If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?
Ideally, I want to unschool them as well. I know that I will have to figure it out when the time comes, as I will be working as a full-time veterinarian.
Published: August 2020