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Help! I need a Reference: Tips and Etiquette for the Homeschool Student

Jan 23, 2023

References are a part of life, and at some point or another, everyone will need to provide a reference. Though most people tend to think of references in relation to the workplace, students will actually need references throughout their young adult and adult life. References are needed for college applications, scholarship applications, trade school applications, military enrollment, volunteer programs, extracurricular programs, and beyond. It is a good idea to begin building a reference pool when your child is in high school. In the public-school sphere, students generally use teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors as references, and if a public-school student is unaware of the need of references prior to submitting applications, chances are they have at least made enough connections throughout their high school career that they can easily find people to intercede for them when the time comes. However, because these roles are not as blatantly integrated into the homeschool student’s day to day life, it may be more difficult to secure references. The homeschool student should plan for references since an oversight in this area could be more difficult to remedy for them. The guide below will provide both tips and etiquette for securing references for homeschool students.

  1. The first step is to become aware of the various types of references. Some reference types that you may encounter are character, academic, experience or skill, employment, personal, and even spiritual. It is unlikely that a homeschool student will need all of these references at a single given point, but it is good to keep these categories in mind as you build your reference pool, particularly if you are not sure what you will do beyond high school. A missionary gap year will require a different set of references than a military enlistment, for example. A program working with rescued animals will require a different set of references than applying for a specific program within a college. Here’s an example. When applying for grad school, I had to provide 3 academic references, 2 professional references, and 2 personal references.


  2. The second step is to realize who can be a reference. The types of references are various; therefore, people in various roles can be references. Because many students are going into trade schools or colleges, teacher references are common, but it is a misconception that academic references are the only ones that matter since many applications require various references and not just one type. Coaches, youth pastors, pastors, mentors, bosses, supervisors, music instructors, theatre directors, dance instructors, and friends can all provide necessary references at specific times. Here’s an example from my own family. One of my children volunteers at the local library as part of the Teen Advisory Board. In order to be accepted into this volunteer program, she needed two teacher references. Now that she is a volunteer at the library, she can add her supervisor, the Family and Children’s Librarian, to her list of references for future positions or applications in addition to the two teachers who have already acted as references for her.
  3. The third step is be an active participant in your programs, classes, and activities. Your teachers, coaches, instructors, supervisors, etc. will be more inclined to agree to be a reference for you in the future if you have been an active participant. If you remain quiet and out of the way, you likely will not receive a recommendation as it could be difficult for the person to remember you well enough to give an honest recommendation. If you only do what needs to be done to get by or you do not fulfill your obligations, the person will not feel comfortable giving you a recommendation (nor should they). Therefore, it is important to actively participate and give it your best effort. How about another example from my life? When I was applying for college, there was a specific teacher I really enjoyed. I wanted this teacher to write a reference for me; however, because I was not active in class, he was not comfortable being a reference for me even though I aced his class. He honestly could not remember me well enough to answer the questions he knew he would be asked.
  4. The fourth thing to be aware of is that someone writing a reference for you is doing you a favor. This may seem obvious, but you need to ask nicely for a reference. Never assume someone will be a reference for you, and never give out their contact information unless the person has agreed to be a reference for you. When asking for a reference, make sure you remind the teacher (or whoever) which class(es) and year(s) you were enrolled in classes (or whatever the program). Clearly communicate the instructions for submitting a reference, including the due date. Lastly, give the person you are asking plenty of time to submit the reference. Emailing on a Friday for a letter of recommendation due on a Monday is not a good idea. The more time you can give a person to write a letter of recommendation, the better.

Jess Woods graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor's degree in English Education and from Arizona State University with a Master's degree in English. She began her career teaching in a public high school; however, since 2013, she has been teaching middle school and high school English courses online.  Jess is a life-long reader and writer.  She comes alive in the company of words and music, and she has a passion for literature that reaches through every part of her being.  She believes wholeheartedly that each person has a relevant voice and perspective, and she eagerly teaches her students to embrace their individual voices by exploring their own thoughts and learning to confidently articulate them.  It is her desire to encourage growth in all students (regardless of their love for English courses…or lack thereof).  She considers it a tremendous success if she can awaken a love of literature and/or composition in her students. Jess currently resides in Alabama with her pastor-husband, Josh and their three kids. They also have a lot of animals and plants.  While reading and writing are clearly on the top of her hobby list, Jess also enjoys all things musical, cooking competition shows, gardening,  hiking, and traveling.

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Excelsior Classes, LLC or the consortium of teachers.