When did you unschool?
Where did you "graduate"?
Describe your childhood education (through age 12).
I was unschooled my whole childhood. My parents did not set a curriculum for my sister and me, but they encouraged us to join homeschool co-ops related to our interests. They went through periods of trying more structure with us, usually when they weren’t sure if they were doing the right thing.
During most of my childhood we were allowed to do anything with our time. We played a lot of video games (I learned to read playing World of Warcraft). I don’t remember imposing any structure on myself until I was a teen. When I was young, I usually spent part of every day building a contraption or taking something apart. I just naturally did things that interested me. Other times, I did things that my parents suggested I might find fascinating, like Lego Mindstorm camps, inventors club, marine biology, and homeschool classes.
Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.
I was involved in weekly homeschool playground meet-ups and an inventors club that my mom put together with some other homeschooled families. I enjoyed talking with adults when I was younger; I usually got along with all ages. I also did karate for many years in my childhood, and a lot of my discipline and drive came from the years I spent practicing.
Who made the decision to unschool you?
My parents decided. When my sister and I were younger, my parents wanted to travel around the country with us, so they started to look into alternative ways of schooling.
Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).
During my early teenage years, I began to focus more on electronics and building stuff. When we lived in Florida, we met a guy named Josh who worked at a nearby Radio Shack, and my mom asked if he would be interested in tutoring me and some friends in electronics. He agreed, and he set a small curriculum for us. I was around twelve, and this is when I really began to move towards my career.
When I was 15, I took my first math course at an academic homeschool co-op, and I started community college when I was 16. I only took a couple college classes at a time, along with the co-op classes, to allow myself time to adjust to academics.
Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.
I was involved with a couple co-ops with other teens. I also went to weekly game days and meet-ups for homeschoolers around our area. I was on a swim team for a couple years when I was younger. I also practiced jiu-jitsu for 3 years, where I met a lot of good friends.
Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.
Some of the co-ops I attended had a large age range in the classes; it was always nice to have multiple perspectives in the class. In my first job, I worked at an aquaponics farm, where mostly older people volunteered, so I got to hear lots of good stories about their lives.
Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?
I received a diploma. The diploma was more symbolic of becoming an adult than of finishing high school. I had already finished a couple years of community college, so my diploma felt like a small celebration of successfully completing my first few years in formal education.
During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?
I learned I really liked math and electronics, so I began working towards becoming an engineer. From about age 14 on I began to focus more on taking classes and other ways to prepare for a 4-year university.
How did you make the decision to go to college?
I’ve always had a passion for electrical things and taking them apart, and I felt the only way I would really get to do that as my job was by attending college. I also enjoyed my academic experiences before college, so I wanted to pursue similar experiences.
What are you studying?
I started off at a community college in a general engineering associates program, but I transferred to UT Dallas as a sophomore before I finished the associates program. I plan to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering by August 2020.
What was the hardest part of the transition to college? What was the easiest part?
It wasn’t very hard to transition into college. I was able to build up my academic load over several years, so there was no shock in going to college. The hardest part for me was probably catching up to everyone else, since I had really not taken an academic course before I was 15.
Do you feel like your unconventional upbringing made getting into college more easy, more difficult, or both?
Getting into college as an unschooler is probably more difficult than coming from high school. In high school, kids have more opportunities to show universities that they’re capable of work required for college. Because school kids are more easily able to show their work (through extracurriculars, teams, clubs, and more practice with standardized tests) this allows them to get better scholarships (at least at the university I am attending). There are ways to show universities you are able to do the work as an unschooler/homeschooler, like national fairs/competitions and scoring high on standardized tests, but I was not able to use these to get many scholarships compared to my other friends that had went to high school.
Did you feel pressure to attend college? Did that pressure come from within your family or from outside of your family?
I definitely felt pressure from people outside the unschooling community to prove that an unschooler can do anything a public school kid does (both in school and in their careers). That pressure helps drive me towards my goals, but it is only a small reason I chose to go to college.
Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.
I’ve only had two jobs so far, and they’re quite different. My first job was at a small aquaponics farm where I worked mostly one-on-one with the owner doing normal farm stuff (building raised bed gardens, cleaning the chicken enclosure, cleaning stuff, etc).
What is your current job?
My current job is completely different from my first. At my current internship with Texas Instruments, I work with data collection for the integrated circuits that tell your phone what percentage of battery you have left. I also write application notes documenting what I do for customers to help with their designs.
Why did you choose your current job?
Internships are very competitive. I applied to around 50 different positions for an internship. Texas Instruments is the only company that gave me an offer after the interviewing process.
Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?
I think unschooling made it easier to get a job, because I genuinely love the stuff I do. I was always involved with club competitions and doing extra stuff on top of my college courses. The passion I showed while talking with the interviewers definitely helped me get my internship.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?
Don’t listen to people that tell you that you’re not learning, or that it’s impossible to be successful as an unschooler. In reality you’re learning the important stuff: how to be curious, imaginative, and self-directed. Even if it doesn’t feel like you are learning these things, you are.
What advice would you give to their parents?
My best advice would be to get involved as much as possible and guide your kids where they want to go. I would’ve missed out on countless wonderful experiences if my parents hadn’t found out about opportunities and asked me if I was interested.
If your child is interested in attending college, you should definitely take advantage of early college start programs.
If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?
I would like to unschool my kids, but I would always leave the option open for them to go to public school if they wanted to.
Are there any other thoughts you want to share?
Always encourage curiosity! Unschooling was a great journey for me, but always do what’s best for your family. If you have any questions about my journey feel free to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published: July 2019