When Amanda Bergson-Shilcock started school, she had never waited in class for a bell to ring or navigated a crowded cafeteria. Considering that "school" was the University of Pennsylvania and she was 17 at the time, she was no ordinary first-timer.
But Ms. Bergson-Shilcock, who was homeschooled, was confident. "A lot of times when people go away to college, they have a lot of new experiences, like their first checking account," she says. "I'd had my own ... since I was a child.... I'd already shopped for groceries, done laundry; this was stuff I'd been living and experiencing for 17 years."
As homeschoolers head off to college, some parents and educators wonder how these students - accustomed to spending more time with their families and often lacking in traditional classroom experience - will fare.
Adjusting can take time. But many young people say they feel better prepared than their peers. And schools find that being taught at home does not put prospective students at a disadvantage.
"They are eligible ... to be admitted just like anybody else," says Jonathan Reider, an associate director of admissions at Stanford University in California. He reviews thousands of applications each year, including some from homeschoolers.
"We admire homeschoolers; we think they are often very bright and independent thinkers," he says. But, "We are also very careful. If a student goes to [a prep school], for example, we're pretty sure they've been prepared for college, but in homeschooling, we don't know if they've had the kind of work that will prepare them for Stanford."
The university has no statistics on how many homeschooled students it accepts, but Mr. Reider says he thinks about four or five are admitted per year. "We may be seeing more in the future, which is fine with us," he says.
Across the country at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., homeschoolers are also treated like other applicants. "When a homeschooler gets in, they have our vote of confidence that they'll not only pass, but do very well," says David Illingworth, senior admissions officer. He believes that those schooled at home "perform as well as other Harvard students."
Figuring out how many US homeschoolers go on to college is difficult since the movement to school at home is still young and few numbers are available. Susannah Sheffer, editor of Growing Without Schooling magazine in Cambridge, estimates that the total number of children being schooled at home is between 600,000 and 1 million.
Many students who do go on to college say homeschooling is good preparation.
"I really felt like I fit in very well, both socially and academically," says Emily Bergson-Shilcock, Amanda's younger sister, who attends Beaver College in Glenside, Pa. Because of her training, she was "used to [motivation] coming from within ... following schedules, meeting goals, not having a teacher tell me, 'You have to do it.' "
Another homeschooler, James House, tutored fellow students when he attended the University of North Texas in Denton. Mr. House decided to go to college to continue studying math, says his mother, Bettie House, because at home "he had maxed out on all the math he could get. He'd found everything and learned everything in six months."
The Bergson-Shilcocks were often asked a familiar question: How did they adjust to interacting with people since they didn't go to public school?
"I had already been out in the real world, dealing with real people of different ages and different personalities," Amanda says. "I had experienced teachers who were challenging and confusing."
Emily says it's good to be around people of different ages, "because that's the way the world is once you get out."
Both sisters took classes with various teachers during their homeschooling experience. And they both worked creatively with people their own age. "My friend and I directed a dance group," Emily says. "She was from a different school district and was a school person."
Reider says homeschooled students who want to go to Stanford benefit from community involvement. "There's no tennis team and no student council. You're the whole population," he explains. "Go out and get involved in the community, we don't care how. Show that you're interested."
Still, not all homeschoolers have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Hanna Eastin, a sophomore at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., grew up on a Tennessee farm. "When I got [to college]," she says, "being in this huge group of people was intimidating, because I was used to being alone most of the time.... It seemed sort of crazy with all these crowds.
"The morning before classes, I had a nightmare that I missed my first whole week," she says. "I woke up three hours early and thought, 'I can't do this.' "
But after a few weeks, she began to love college. "[I]t got to where it was great," she says. "Midterms came along and I said, 'Hey, I'm doing all right.' "