As the number of homeschoolers in the U.S. has grown—from an estimated 1.7% of the student population in 1999 to an estimated 3.4% in 2012 (source)—colleges have begun to include information for homeschoolers as a regular part of their application process. On most college websites, you can find a subsection on the admissions page specifically for homeschoolers, explaining the application process and any supplementary materials required.

Handy.

In most cases, homeschoolers fill out the same application as traditionally schooled students, which today is the Common Application. The Common App has made the college application process about three million times easier than it used to be because now, students only have to fill out one application, which can then be sent to each and every school to which they plan to apply. Although most colleges use the Common App now, some do require supplemental materials—additional essays, short answers, or other information—to be submitted as well. Still, the Common App is a huge step up and a major time saver. And that's true whether you're in homeschool or traditional schooling.

We'll talk about the Common App a little more in a bit, but before anyone starts filling out applications, there are a few other things you'll want to consider.

Getting Ahead of the Curve

Whether you've just decided to homeschool high school or have been doing it for a few years already, you'll want to make sure you've got all your ducks in a row before college application time rolls around. To that end, take a look at our article on homeschooling through high school. There you'll find information about assigning grades, registering for standardized tests, dual enrollment opportunities, and graduation requirements.

You'll also want to check out our piece on creating a homeschool high school transcript, as the transcript is one of the forms you'll need to provide to colleges during the application process.

Finally, you'll want to head over to our College 101 section and our College Planning Tool to be sure you've covered all your application bases.

Plus, let's talk timing. For the most part, you'll want to be getting into these things during your child's junior year. That will allow you to make your way through all that necessary information and give you plenty of time to get into the application process, without having to rush or stress out.

Applications are generally due beginning in the second semester of senior year, although many schools have early action and early decision options with deadlines as early as November. Be sure you know the deadlines you'll be working with so you can plan accordingly. (Again, College 101 will help.)

Set Up your Common App Accounts

We told you we'd get back to the Common App, and here we are. The first thing you'll want to do when your child is ready to start assembling application materials is have him establish an account at the Common App website.

Most schools accept the Common App these days, and even those that require extra materials beyond the basic application typically allow those materials to be submitted through the Common App portal. Meaning, this is the portal to start with. Seriously.

To be safe (because we wouldn't want you to waste any unnecessary time), double check to make sure the schools your child is interested use the Common App. In case you hadn't guessed, we bet they do.

Then get in there.

Once your child has logged in and set up an account, he'll be able to add his schools and see their deadlines as well as any supplemental materials that need to be completed as part of the process.

So, all done, right? Not quite. If you take another look at the subheading above, you'll see that we wrote accounts, plural. That's because you, as the supervisor of your child's education, will also need to create an account for your school. You should establish an account as your child's counselor by entering your homeschool name—Smith Academy? Fill in your last name or make up something snazzy as needed. Whatever you decide as the name will stand for the school. This will allow you to input all of the necessary information about your homeschool as well as the necessary information (GPA, etc.) about your child.

It's worth noting that you may find yourself answering "No" or "N/A" to many of the questions, such as when you are asked about your child's rank in her class or whether or not you use a weighted grading system. Fill out as much information as you possibly can, including information about your school profile. (My school what? Read on.)

Your School Profile

Some homeschoolers create their own school profiles, following the same format used by high schools in the U.S. Once created, this profile can be uploaded to the Common App as a .pdf. This approach will allow you to provide a more complete picture of your homeschooling approach and your graduation requirements, and will save you the trouble of trying to explain it all in the comment boxes at the end of the school report section.

Here's a sample school profile you can model yours after (or choose to completely change). Either way, it's worth taking a peek. And here, also from the College Board, are a few tips for creating your school profile.

Not sure about that CEEB thing? Your CEEB code as a homeschooler will likely be 970000, but you may want to double check that to make sure it hasn't changed. (Psst. Just do a Google search for "homeschool CEEB code" and you'll find it quickly.)

In addition to your school profile, you'll need to save your child's transcript as a .pdf so you can upload that as well. And in case you forgot, here's the link to our article about making a transcript for homeschooled students.

Staying on Track

More about the Common App. One of its many nice features is that it helps you keep track of the application process and see, from your counselor dashboard, exactly what documents have been turned in, as well as when they are due.

It also walks you through the entire process of filling out the application and lets you know when each section that you are required to complete is finished. And since you can save information as you go, you can work on it a little bit at a time to keep the process from becoming overwhelming. Thanks a bunch, Common App.

What do colleges think of homeschoolers, anyway?

We know this question has likely been hovering in the back of your mind, even as you've been getting pumped about the Common App and other aspects of this whole application process business.

So here's the answer. College admissions officers these days tend to look at homeschoolers in pretty much the same way they look at traditionally schooled students.

Not as exciting as you were hoping for? Well, let's get a bit more detailed.

To be sure, this means that just like with traditionally schooled applicants, those admissions folks will be looking for strong standardized test scores and a couple of laudatory recommendation letters, but more than just that. Simply being a homeschooler isn't enough to make an applicant stand out. But overall, that's a good thing. It means that in general, colleges have a much better understanding of homeschooling these days, and that allows them to evaluate each student on an individual basis—the same way they look at all of their other applicants.

You may be pleased to hear that Marilyn McGrath, the Director of Admissions at Harvard University, says that colleges do not frown upon homeschooled applicants, and that Princeton University has an article called "Tips for Home Schooled Students" in its "Apply for Admission" section. So clearly the Ivy League is open to homeschoolers (even if they do continue to separate the term into two words—homeschool—which most homeschoolers don't. Grammar takes longer to catch up than society, it seems).

So your child's chances of getting in? Are just as good as anybody else's.

Still, if you know from the get-go that your child is going to want to apply to a highly competitive program, you might want to check out this chart from Homeschool Success to make sure she's pursuing all of the necessary academics.

Whichever way you slice it, applying to college is a long and tough process. And getting started early and keeping a good spirit is the most important part—and that's true whatever kind of schooling you're dealing with.