Have a Gameplan: A Study of Homeschooler Anticipatory Memorable Messages About the College Choice

Home School Researcher, Volume 38, No. 3, 2023, p. 1-12

Gina Reynolds

Assistant Professor, Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, reyno183@purdue.edu


Homeschooling in the United States provides many children with a unique educational background that may present different perspectives when considering college attendance. This study examines the memorable messages homeschooled students received regarding college, the message source, and the message’s impact on the student. A qualitative study using surveys gathered reports of the nature, meanings, and effects of memorable messages through the lens of sense-making. Sense-making, in general terms, involves how individuals make coherence between beliefs, ideas, and actions (Schildt et al., 2020). Messages from others can be “pulled forward” to aid sense-making (Knapp et al., 1981). Those involved in the lives of homeschooled young adults must understand their needs and the potential influence of messages they have received on their college decision. The results of this study may inform homeschool parents, college admission offices, and current and future homeschool students about what homeschooled students hear about college and how memorable messages impact them as they make college-choice decisions. This study also furthers the research on the need for the proposed theory of memorable messages.

Keywords: Homeschool, Anticipatory College, Memorable Messages, Theory of Memorable Messages.

Families across the United States send their children back to school each fall. However, some families choose not to send their children to school but instead instruct them at home. With the Covid-19 crisis, even more families have explored their children’s education alternatives. Based on Census Bureau household pulse surveys, it is estimated that there were 3.2 million homeschool parents pre-pandemic, which increased in the fall of 2020 to 5 million homeschool parents (Duvall, 2021; USCB, 2020). Homeschool students are primarily taught by their parents, who may or may not have college experience. Many homeschooled students attend college and adjust to the academic and social challenges this change brings.

This study examines the messages homeschooled students received before deciding and facing the decision to go to college. This study will add to the scholarship on homeschooled students and further our understanding of the significant impact that anticipatory messages have on homeschooled students. The research on homeschool students’ anticipatory college messages adds to the research on memorable messages, sense-making, and homeschoolers.


The body of research on homeschoolers reveals unique challenges in defining and accessing quantitative data regarding homeschoolers. For instance, in 2010, Ray defined homeschoolers as one whose schooling has been 51% parent-led. Most research only classifies families as homeschoolers if they educate at home, but few have asked how long or how. The 2021 Census Bureau report measured the number of parents who reported schooling their children at home at five million. However, the report does not consider how many children each parent instructs.

Furthermore, the report does not give a clear idea of how many children are homeschooled. This report also does not give attention to the circumstances regarding how much of their education takes place at home or if it is in conjunction with a private or public school. This information does not allow us to know if these students received 51% of their instruction at home and qualify under the definition used by Ray (2010). Duval (2021) discusses this report and acknowledges that only some educators would consider all the parents included in the census bureau figures as homeschool parents. Figures can also be challenging to determine since each state has different laws about reporting and recording homeschoolers (Kunzman & Gaither, 2020.) Even with the challenges, the number of homeschoolers is growing (Duvall, 2021).

Homeschoolers are taking advantage of many opportunities to blend with public schools, and the distinctions and the classification of “homeschoolers” are getting harder to define (Kunzman & Gaither, 2020; Thomas, 2019). In attempts to distinguish between homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers, some state homeschool organizations, such as the Indiana Association of Home Educators (IAHE), have attempted clarification with a definition that includes “… parent-directed, home-based and privately funded” (Gilstrap, 2014). IAHE further points out that virtual charter schools are not considered homeschools, whereas Lois (2016) specifically states in her longitudinal study of homeschoolers that charter schools are essentially homeschools. Future research will need to determine these conceptualizations of homeschoolers. Other cultural and social conceptions of homeschools may also need to be re-examined. While the definition of who qualifies as a homeschooler may need to be clarified, for this study, it may be best to allow the participant to classify themselves as homeschoolers.

Homeschoolers represent people from a variety of backgrounds. Often, homeschoolers are viewed as religious, conservative, white, and academically superior (Fields & Williams, 2009; Paulson Special, 2010). Although some of these stereotypes may be true for some homeschoolers, research shows a different picture. Ray (2010; 2017) pointed out that homeschoolers came from many political, economic, racial, and religious groups. Minority populations choose to homeschool at an increasing rate (Ray, 2017). Fields and Williams (2009), for example, note that Black home educators chose to do so to overcome norms and structures in the public school system that may work against Black students. In a discussion regarding the National Education Survey data from recent years, Kunzman and Gaither (2020) conclude that homeschooling is becoming more diverse.

One of the biggest misnomers about homeschooled students is that they lack socialization or social skills. According to Medlin (2013), the myth of socialization has been debunked, and the focus needs to turn instead to the socialization process. This study considers existing literature on socialization and homeschoolers, primarily focused on current homeschooled students though a small section addresses homeschoolers who are now adults. In this section, it is noted that there are “too few” studies on homeschooled students’ adjustment to college (Medlin, 2013, p.292). However, the report indicates that students “adjust well to college and are at least as socially involved as others…” (Medlin, 2013, p. 292). While citing Medlin (2013) as a significant portion of the findings on socialization for adults who were homeschooled, Kunzman and Gaither (2020), in a survey of existing research, support that homeschooled adults generally meet or exceed standards for socialization as adults. However, they note that most research on homeschoolers has been self-reported and lacks large random samples (Kunzman & Gaither, 2020). However, despite evidence indicating adequate socialization, in a study of four-year university institutions, 78% of admission officers thought of homeschoolers as academically bright and expected them to do well academically. Only 44% of admission officers expected former homeschooled students to cope well socially (Jones & Gloeckner, 2004). Community college admissions officers expected that 90% of homeschooled students would be well prepared academically while expecting only 50% of homeschooled students to be socially prepared (Sorey & Duggan, 2008). Parents or college admission staff may have concerns about social skills, and academic success may impact the messages they communicate and the advice they give to these young people.

Homeschoolers are well-prepared for and successful at college (Cogan, 2010; Drenovsky & Cohen, 2012; Murphy, 2014; Payton & Scott, 2013; Ray, 2016; Snyder, 2013; Yu et al., 2016). While success can be measured in different ways, Kunzman and Gaither (2020) in their comprehensive review of homeschooled literature note previous literature measures success by academic standards, retention, economic, leadership and involvement. Most homeschool families choose and plan to use homeschooling as preparation for a college program (Kelly, 2015). Not only are most homeschool families preparing their children for college, but their efforts are succeeding (Ray, 2017). Homeschool students scored, on average, 10% higher in GPA than their traditionally schooled counterparts and maintained a 50% higher college completion rate than other students (Cogan, 2010; Jones & Gloeckner, 2004). Besides studying the academic success of homeschooled students, other research areas should be considered about their college experience. Though academic success tends to be the first goal of college, other areas, such as socialization with the academic world, independent living skills, and the development of relationships and support, may also be essential to the college experience.

Research on how homeschoolers make college choices could further the understanding of homeschooled student needs for college admission departments and parents (Thomas, 2018). Other groups of students, such as international students, have different experiences and needs. Schools have staff and orientations catered to international students to help meet unique challenges and could do the same for homeschoolers (Thomas, 2018). Because homeschoolers have a different academic experience than private or public schooled students, they may have different needs. One of the needs already expressed by some colleges involves the differences in intake materials that may be challenging for homeschooled students, such as transcripts and testing (Sorey & Dugan, 2008). Other needs such as information, advice, support, knowing classroom expectations, and even navigation of academic organizational structure may be different for the homeschooled student. The present study focuses on understanding how homeschoolers make college choices to answer the call for more research (Thomas, 2018). Understanding how homeschooled students make these choices may give college admissions staff insight into ways to be better equipped to help these students and, by doing so, facilitate a better intake process for the student. By recognizing and addressing the unique needs of homeschoolers, the University may take steps to allow for a more equitable experience. The following section describes the memorable messages framework used in the present study to explore homeschool students’ memorable conversations about college.

Memorable Messages Framework

Memorable messages are verbal messages people receive that they find influential and significant in some way (Knapp et al., 1981). For homeschooled students, these could be pivotal messages they received about the big decision of college recalled from an earlier time. Participants used memorable messages to perform actions related to their behaviors and attitudes (Nazione et al., 2011). For instance, in their study, students reported going to class more, studying harder, and thinking more positively about themselves due to recalling and acting on their memorable messages. The recalled memorable messages impacted their attitudes and behaviors. These results from Nazione et al. (2011) illustrate important components of memorable messages.

Memorable messages contain four characteristics (Wang, 2014). First, they are perceived as personal and legitimate and usually deal with an important issue (Stohl, 1986). They are often specific things told to the student at a particular past time (Smith et al., 2001). Secondly, these messages are stored in long-term memory. These are recalled messages given to them from a previous time. The third characteristic is that they are internalized and taken to heart (Knapp et al., 1981). Finally, they have a lasting and continuing influence (Stohl, 1986). Memorable messages can have positive or negative contents and interpretations (Crook & Daily, 2017; Rubinsky et al., 2019; Rudiger & Winstead, 2013; Sheldon, 2010). Generally, messages about college have tended to be more positive. Kranstuber et al. (2012), in their study on memorable messages from parents as indicators of student success, used six themes, with only one being considered negative. Their study’s negative theme related to the message containing advice on what not to do. Besides the tone of the message, another critical factor in accessing the memorable message is the message source.

In education, the source for memorable messages is not only family (Nazione et al., 2011) but also, most often, a person who is higher in status and older than the student (Knapp et al., 1981; Stohl, 1986). The perception is that the person is older and wiser (Knapp et al., 1981). The person who gives the message is viewed as benevolent with altruistic motives (Albrecht et al., 1994). These messages came from people in the students’ social networks and had frequent contact with the individual (Stohl, 1986). These sources are similar to the five sources of socialization listed in anticipatory situations (Jablin et al., 1987; Jablin,1985). These sources are educational institutions, family, peers (including friends), media, and part-time jobs (Jablin et al., 1987; Jablin,1985). Because socialization research and memorable message research support the family as sources, it is not surprising that the family plays an essential role in anticipatory situations.

Family helps to create social identity and socialization of the student (Medved et al., 2006). Researchers have studied how parents use messages in the socialization of their children (e.g., Ellis & Smith, 2004; Medved et al., 2006). Memorable messages are a way that parents communicate with their children (Kranstuber et al., 2012). Research shows these conveyed messages impact children in navigating new experiences.

In 2011 memorable messages were used to study how college students navigate college life (Nazione et al., 2011). College can disrupt life, often requiring relocation, establishing new relationships, stresses, and changing family ties. Memorable messages served as a tool for researchers to explore how communication can influence people for a positive change. Researchers have used memorable messages to study other anticipatory situations. Cranmer and Myers (2017) used memorable messages to explore the anticipatory experiences of Division I student-athletes. Memorable messages served as a framework for understanding how the athletes adjust. For example, one swimmer in their study acknowledged, “one message that really stuck to me before becoming an athlete was that time management is a vital skill to have through your four years of competing. In order to do the best that you can, you must plan enough time for school work to be done around your practice schedule” (Cranmer & Myers, 2017, p.135). This message helped underscore the educational commitments an athlete faces. These memorable messages allowed researchers to see how communication played a role in their anticipatory socialization.


Memorable messages are typically considered an atheoretical framework (Cook-Jackson & Rubinsky, 2018). However, some studies using the memorable message framework employ the general idea of “sense-making” (Kranstuber et al., 2012; Barge & Schlueter, 2004). Memorable messages may serve as a sense-making device for the classroom and may contribute to the students learning in school (Krasntuber et al., 2012). Knapp et al. (1981) described this sense-making as verbal messages considered influential that can be recalled or “pulled forward” by an individual to help make sense of or interpret a situation. After a survey of sense-making literature, Schildt et al. (2020, p.6) conclude that sense-making is created by “… the ongoing creation of coherence by connecting salient observations, beliefs, and actions as reasons for one another.” Kranstuber et al. (2012) found that students’ satisfaction depends on the positive sense-making in which they engage. Memorable messages can be a tool in the sense-making process and should be recognized as a powerful heuristic device.

Cooke-Jackson and Rubinsky (2017) make a strong case for creating the theory of memorable messages (ToMM). They cite the 30 years of research that have laid the groundwork for this theory and the consistent application method as reasons for a new theory. More research is needed before the theory fully emerges. This research adds to the body of research on memorable messages and increases the body of literature for use in exploring memorable messages as an existing framework.

 To extend the body of research and answer the call for more research regarding homeschoolers and college (Thomas, 2018), as well as the research on memorable messages, I propose the following research questions:

RQ1: What memorable messages do homeschool students receive about attending college?

RQ2: From whom do these messages come?

RQ3: What actions do college students report enacting, if any, as a result of recalling memorable messages?  


A qualitative interpretive method was used to thematically analyze the participants recalled messages and study their interpretation of those memorable messages. An online questionnaire approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) collected data from 48 homeschool graduates at a mid-size midwestern university. Responses to open-ended questions were coded into themes.

Participants and Procedures

Participants represented homeschool students who graduated from homeschool. All participants were over 18, considered themselves homeschoolers, and had graduated from homeschooling. Because homeschooled students’ experiences may differ, the criteria for participants included that they were homeschooled through their high school years and graduated as a homeschooler. Beyond that, because defining how to determine who classifies as a homeschooler remains problematic, as previously discussed, the participant’s voice was valued, and their own determination of their homeschool status was accepted. Purposive and snowball sampling served as participant recruitment methods for this study. Online homeschool support groups and Facebook pages served as the primary place for recruitment. The researcher’s network of contacts created initial opportunities to find groups, asking for the invitation to participate forward to those they knew who might qualify to participate. The network of contacts included both religious and secular homeschool sources. Groups were contacted and asked to share the link to the online questionnaire.

The participants were asked how many years they were homeschooled. The mean was 10.69 years, with a median of 12 and a mode of 13. After removing ineligible participants that stated they were not homeschoolers, 45 participants remained, ranging in age from 19 to 37, with the mean age being 24 (mode 20 and median 22), with an SD of 5.965. Eighty-Two-point two percent (n = 37) of the participants were White, 6.7% (n = 7) were African American, 2.2% (n = 2) were Asian, and 8.9% (n = 4) listed other as their ethnicity. Thirty-one-point one percent of participants (n = 14) were male, 66.7% (n = 30) were female with 2.2% (n = 1) listed other as their sex. Most participants were from the Midwest, with Michigan having the highest percentage at 42.2% (n = 19) and Indiana at 22.2% (n = 10). Six other states were represented, including California (6.7%, n = 6), Texas (8.9%, n = 4), and North Carolina (8.9%, n = 4). Eighty-eight point nine percent of participants were either in college now or had attended college in the past (n = 40), and 11.1% (n = 5) had not attended college. Of the 11% who had not attended college, 67% (n = 4) either definitely or probably plan to in the future, and 33% of the participants who had not attended college said they probably would not or plan not to attend in the future (n = 2). Appendix A includes the survey. See Table 1 for demographic details.

Data Analysis

Participants completed a web-based survey questionnaire. Responses to open-ended questions about messages were organized by the primary researcher and examined using primary coding and constant comparative method, looking for the emergence of salient themes. In this thematic analysis, message sources were also analyzed and coded into their categories. Categories for messages were built, named, and described, then used to connect categories, creating themes that span several categories (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002). Codebooks aided in creating the themes. The thematic analysis developed themes following Owen’s (1984) guidelines of recurrence, repetition, and forcefulness.

Table 1


At the beginning of the survey, a definition of a memorable message was provided. Memorable messages were defined as ‘… verbal statements that have been told to you which you may remember for a long period or has stuck with you in some way. These statements may also have influenced your life in some way” (Crook & Daily, 2017, p.923). Each participant was asked to recall a memorable message and then, later in the survey, asked to recall another memorable message. Not all of the participants offered a second memorable message. This process resulted in a total of 87 recalled memorable personal messages. Other open-ended and scaled questions asked participants to name the source of their message and how they felt about the message on a six-point Likert scale from extremely negative to extremely positive. Participants were also asked on a four-point Likert scale what impact their message had on their college decision, from no influence to strongly affected. They were also asked demographic information and a final open-ended question about any other message they would have for homeschoolers about college.

Results and Interpretations

In response to the first research questions asking what messages homeschoolers received about college, 87 personal memorable messages were first coded into primary categories. The primary codes were then collapsed into five secondary thematic codes. The codes were memorable messages about a) expectations, b) college experience, c) success in life, d) financial concerns, and e) support. Each theme will be discussed in the order of its salience. Table 2 contains examples of each theme.

Table 2

Memorable Message Themes

Message About Expectations

Many of the messages contained information about what was expected of the participant regarding college. This theme was the most frequent, with 26.6% (n = 25) of the memorable messages fitting this category. The most common response had to do with the idea of the expectation that they would go to college. This response was interesting because part of the definition for memorable messages contains the qualifier of “verbal” message. However, some participants added to their given messages comments about there being possibly “unspoken” messages as they recalled a memorable message. In response to if they would go to college or not, participants noted, “I felt it was expected of me to attend college,” “College is mandatory in our family,” and “I don’t really remember any messages like that. It was never really a decision I had to make; it was more an unspoken understanding in my family.” Except for the last comment stating that “I don’t really remember any messages like that,” all the references to “unspoken” were added as additional comments to their already stated message. An example of this was from a 20-year-old male who said, 

If you’re going to go to college have a gameplan. My father has worked in universities ever since I was very young so for me it was always just understood that I would go especially since I have always loved learning. Just as may have been predicted, I attended and graduated university and had an amazing time. For this reason, I can say that not attending was never even a consideration. It was just an unspoken desire that I have always had and an unspoken expectation from my parents.

Though he first gave the message regarding having a game plan, he continued to elaborate, citing upspoken expectations. In his further description, he also states that there was a prediction that is unclear whether this is verbal or part of the non-verbal content. In this way, this message references a verbal message but may also contain a non-verbal component. This phenomenon in the data will be discussed later in the discussion section.  

A few others received messages of expected behaviors regarding if they would go. A 20-year-old female from Michigan received this message from an unnamed source, “Women don’t need to go to college because their husbands will support them.” She went on to share how this message impacted her:

This idea that women are purely ‘home-makers’ is incredibly toxic to the success of females. Beyond that, it seems wrong to just assume you don’t have to participate effectively in society because you would prefer for someone to take care of you. It seems unfair to put that type of responsibility on someone else purely because they are male. This message enforces the idea that women don’t need to seek their own careers, which essentially holds them back (and the society as a whole).

In her comment, she seems to be engaging in sense-making in trying to make this message conform to her own beliefs by saying things like “it seems” to indicate she is wrestling with what this means and its impact on her beliefs that women should not be held back.

Some others received the message that they did not have to go to college. A 21-year-old male from California said, “the most memorable thing I remember hearing about college was that I didn’t have to go; I could teach myself a vast majority of what I needed to know and pay a far smaller amount for professional tutoring.” He found this “… moderately positive because it meant one would not have to take out loans for it necessarily and could study all while working a full-time job and having hobbies, too.” He went on to say that he feels “somewhat empowered and responsible, I can now take my education into my own grasp and do with it what I wish.” Again, here we see another example of sense-making used to process the message he received and then use it to support his desire not to take out loans and work.

With the expectation to go or not go to college came admonitions of expected behaviors and results once at college. One respondent recalled the message given by her dad about expected high achievement, stating “that it didn’t really matter what degree I got, just as long as I completed it and got straight A’s.” This 27-year-old from Michigan reflected on how this message impacted her:

In some ways, it devalued a degree, ‘It doesn’t really matter what you get as long as you get it,’ but then that message was always accompanied with some version of ‘get that 4.0!’, so it also told me that the work I did while there should be some-thing I should be proud of.

Expectations also included other life events. A message given by one parent stated, “you can’t get married until you graduate with a four-year degree.” This message encouraged this homeschool participant to form a plan to guide her children in her own family now, “We plan to have the same rules for our children–they must go to college, and they must focus on school first while in college.” She saw this as a positive message in her life, as evidenced by her continuation with her children. Continuing with her children also shows how these messages are used for socialization within the family (Kranstuber et al., 2012).

Messages About College Experience

Messages about the college experience were the second most salient messages, receiving 22.3% (n = 21). The messages in this theme talk about what life will be like at college and advice for the time there. Here some of the advice was in the form of warnings about the negative impacts that college life could have. One 20-year-old female from Michigan said:

In my community, it was very common for mothers to look down on college students. They constantly said, “really good kids go to college, and come out the other end immoral.” Keeping in mind my homeschool community was very religious (mainly Christian and Baptist), this became a sort of mantra. College, unless a private institution, was where people went to party, nothing more.

Others echoed some of these sentiments giving messages of, “Christians need to be well-grounded in their faith before and during the college years. The classroom and social environment of secular (and many Christian) universities can destroy young people’s faith.” This message was attributed to parents, speakers, and a pastor by the 35-year-old female who received this message.

There were also predictions about the workload and the participants’ ability to handle it. One message said, “homeschoolers have an easier time in college and are more prepared than most.” There were basic instructions like “study hard” and “get good grades” as well as specific messages like, “…professors would be much more stringent on grading, especially when it came to papers”, or “it will be a lot more challenging than high school.”

Some participants received messages that spoke of the relationships made at college. “College can lead you to some of your lifelong friends” was a message a lifelong homeschool student from Wisconsin received. Furthermore, a 23-year-old received the message, “You will create friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime,” from various sources. Others received a message about the givers’ experience building relationships when they attended college.

Some general messages were given like, “everyone changes their major at least once” or “seek out knowledge in college, not just a 4.0.” Furthermore, there were also conflicting messages about the reception homeschoolers might receive. One message said, “I was told by several professors at more than one university that they were relieved and excited I was homeschooled because I could teach myself.” However, another message simply said, “that it is hard for homeschoolers to get into college.” This message was given by “a fellow homeschooler who was trying to discourage being homeschooled through high school.”

Memorable Messages About Success in Life

The theme of success in life received 21.3% (n = 20) of the responses. Success in life encapsulated the messages about what college would do for the receivers of the message in terms of life fulfillment, success, and financial security. The ideas here centered around rewarding careers and income potential. Many message givers saw more income as a desired outcome of college. “College graduates earn more money, and you need a degree to be hired by a company.” A 35- year-old from California reflected on her message of earning more money by saying, “I thought it was (a) positive (message) because I liked the idea of being rich.”

The success of the receiver’s future would be more certain with a college education. “…Choosing to go to college would help me have a more promising, secure future”, was a message received by a 20-year-old female from Indiana. The idea of “opening doors” was also mentioned in several messages, “that college will open many doors in my future and attending a post-secondary school of some form will help me later on.” While these comments indicate “going” to college would be an essential step for their futures, the phrase “go” does not necessarily mean to go physically. This lack of clarity may be indicated in the second comment, where the participant states, “attending a post-secondary school of some form.” It is unclear what this could mean, but it could include online attendance or other options like trade schools. Other messages also were not entirely clear in their direction.

A 23-year-old from North Carolina who was homeschooled his whole life saw his message of “attending college will put you one step ahead of the other guy” as a mixed message. He said, “It gave me determination, direction, and motivation to succeed.” This message, which he received from “almost everyone I know,” felt like it was a mixed message because while it was positive for those who attended college, it looked down on those who did not attend college.

Messages About Financial Concerns

The financial concern’s theme occurred in 14.9 % (n = 14) of the messages. Many of these messages revolved around the high financial cost of college, with “it’s expensive” and “still paying off student loans” as common themes. Some of the messages contained the notion that college is expensive but also evaluated the cost-benefit of that expense. “Your education is the best investment you can ever make. No one can ever take it away from you”, or conversely, “college will burden you with debt with no payoff.”

The strategy of taking loans to cover the financial costs of college was also mentioned in many messages, most times in a negative light. An unnamed source warned a 20-year-old male from Texas warned, “don’t take out huge loans.” Another given to a 22-year-old female from Michigan quipped, “still paying off student loans,” which seemed to be a caution from the giver’s personal experience. One 20-year-old from Michigan felt the expense of college greatly affected her life, “well, I go to a college I hate because it’s cheap, so it’s debt-free.”

A 20-year-old male from Michigan saw these “don’t take loans” messages as a mixed message, “…because it was like a go to college, but you’re gonna have to work hard to earn money to get through without loans.” Others saw this type of message as extremely negative as a 19-year-old male from Wisconsin voiced, “…because its’ sole purpose was to discourage me was even attempting to further my education”. When asked when he recalls this message, he went on to add, “…after I come home from a dead-end job and think about how I’m going nowhere… I really wish I had gone to college and allowed myself to better my life or further my career of choice.” In this case, the sense-making process of using this message in his life has led to a disconnect and disconnect with his ideas and goals. He said that this has strongly affected his life.

Messages About Support

The last theme, support, occurred in 7.4% (n = 7) of messages. These messages contained encouragement or support for the respondent. Much of the support was for the person in general, such as from one set of parents saying, “if that’s something you want to do, we’ll support you.” However, some of the messages were directed at college, for example, “consider your options, and we will support you wherever you go.” These were direct messages of support, but other interpretations of messages also reflected support. For instance, “I simply felt like my family believed in me” was how one participant explained their message, “…you are capable of going to and thriving at college.”

In answer to the second research question, “who do these messages come from?” As expected from previous literature (Knapp, Stohl & Reardon, 1981; Stohl, 1986), the family would play a significant role. For the personal memorable messages, when asked who gave them the message, the most reported person was a mom, with 47% in the initial message and 33% in the second message. The next highest was “other” at 29% for both initial and second messages. Many participants listed “other” as a mix of mom and dad, another family, or society in general as their answer. All other options, like a friend, pastor, or sibling, were less than 5%. The choice of guidance counselor and college personnel each received 7% but only in the second message recalled.

To answer the third research question, which pertained to the message’s impact, many participants felt that memorable messages they received impacted their decision to go to college. While the question did not ask if it affected them positively or negatively to go to college, the fact that 88.9% (n = 40) of participants indicated they were in or had been in college would suggest many of the messages to go to college were favorable. Of the 11.1% that were not in college or had not yet gone, four of the six indicated that they had plans to go in the future.


This study makes an essential contribution to the research on homeschoolers. It adds to the body of research on memorable messages by describing which messages are most salient to homeschool graduates before college decisions. These findings, in possible contrast to Thomas (2018), find that in this group of homeschool graduates, most are long-term homeschoolers. Most participants indicated that they had been homeschooled for over 12 years (64%), with only 6% saying they had been homeschooled for less than five years. The findings do not support that more homeschoolers use multiple school choices and move between them often (Isenberg, 2007). Thomas (2018) suggests that homeschoolers are blending more with other educational options, but the majority of homeschoolers in this study did not appear to represent that trend. It could be possible that the age demographic plays a role in this occurrence, and the demographics of this study, homeschool graduates, do not yet reflect this direction if it is only in younger homeschool students.

This research supports previous research with evidence that homeschoolers are prepared and succeed in college (Cogan, 2010; Drenovsky & Cohen, 2012; Murphy, 2014; Payton & Scott, 2013; Ray, 2016; Snyder, 2013; Yu et al., 2016). Many responses indicated they had graduated, were proud of their degrees, and felt successful. This research also supports Kelly’s (2015) idea that most homeschooled students attend college. A vast majority (85%, n = 40) of the participants were either in college, had already gone to college, or had plans to go in the future. This high percentage of students going to college may differ from non-homeschooled students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017), in 2016, 69.7% of all high school graduates went to college. Because this was a non-randomized sample, it is not clear if this represents all homeschoolers. However, it would appear that the participants in this study chose college at a higher rate than the general population.

Homeschoolers reflected a struggle with college costs that is not unique to the homeschooled student. While this may not be unique to homeschoolers, other socioeconomic factors may influence this occurrence. For example, could the parents’ ability to work be impacted by the necessity of schooling the children and therefore place them at an economic disadvantage? Many of the messages echoed concerns over the high costs of college and the distaste for large amounts of student loans while at the same time seeing the value in education for future success in life.

Many of the homeschool graduates struggled with expectations put on them by family. This expressed struggle may be a struggle with which many young adults wrestle. According to the U.S. Fed News Service (Lippman et al., 2008), nine out of 10 families expect their children to go on to some formal schooling after high school. Some participants cited an “expectation” or an unstated “knowing” that they were expected to go to college. This message was often coupled with the notion that college is expensive but essential for success. This message created sad feelings or anxiety for some who got the message that it was necessary but also got the message that they should not take out loans, so they were understandably conflicted and felt like it was a mixed message. More plausible solutions are needed to help homeschool graduates navigate these two seemingly contradictory messages.            

As with this study, the idea of expectations being placed upon young people surfaces in other memorable message research. In Wang’s (2012; 2014) studies involving first-generation college students’ themes emerged around the idea of not letting others down, setting a good example, and being a success in empowering others. Horstman et al.’s (2020) study on using metaphors about miscarriage explores self and societal expectations within the messages received and how these expectations impact the individual.

Memorable message research often cites the giver of the message as a family member (Knapp et al., 1981; Stohl, 1986). This research furthers the notion that family is a vital giver of memorable messages. Most often, the homeschoolers were given messages by family, particularly mom. Families should consider this message-giver role as they choose what to say to their children regarding college.


This research extends the scope of memorable message research into the homeschool demographic and suggests another avenue of investigation regarding memorable messages. The remembered messages fit Stohl’s (1986) definition of recalled and remembered messages. These messages were long-term, impacted the participant, and were given as verbal messages. This data contained some unspoken messages that some participants recalled as part of their memorable message, even after being given the definition that included “verbal” messages. Though the participants could not recall the words that led to the “understanding” or “unspoken” nature of their message, this message was likely expressed verbally to them in some way at some point. This recall of unspoken messages may be a misunderstanding of the instructions or indicate a need for expanding the definition of memorable messages. Another study found participants giving non-verbal implicit messages and expanded their definition of memorable messages to include those non-verbal recollections (Astle et al., 2022). Like Kranstuber et al. (2012) found, in this study, messages regarding college tended to be positive. In this study, parents also found memorable messages a supportive way to impart information and encouragement into their child’s life.

Throughout the data, references were made regarding faith and religion. These mentions support some notions of homeschoolers being very religious (Paulson Special, 2010). Examples included statements like, “I have been influenced by Baptist schools”, said an 18-year-old female from Texas or, “I wanted to grow spiritually while at school and not coast with the culture. I wanted to be involved in Christian campus ministry and fellowship and also with my family and home church”, from a 35-year-old female. While not every participant reflected on this, it may be that this religious or faith culture is prominent with homeschoolers.

Another area that may reflect some unique characteristics of the homeschool demographic is their comments about messages they would give to other homeschoolers. Many comments reflected their uncertainty about their status as prospective college applicants due to their homeschool background. Speaking of college, a 27-year-old from Michigan said, “It’s an incredible experience and so much more rewarding (and less scary!) than I thought it would be.” From another, “it may be scary since homeschoolers don’t grow up in that type of environment, but it’s worth it and will help you grow as a person.”, from a 23-year- old male. Furthermore, still another from a 36-year-old female, “A homeschooled student can be just as successful as a student who attended public or private school.”

Their situation as homeschoolers also came out as an advantage in the minds of several participants as they penned their ideas on messages they would give. The idea was that because they were homeschooled, they were trained to learn differently. One 19-year-old reflected, “I think sometimes that it’s easy to feel inferior as a homeschooler going into college, but the reality is that they don’t really need to be. Not that homeschoolers are all geniuses, but normally there is an advantage that pays off in college due to how we are able to study and figure things out on our own.” As a group, it would be evident to most that homeschoolers received their education differently, and at least these homeschoolers felt like that was an advantage.

It would be helpful for parents and colleges to understand some of the concerns expressed to help the potential college student navigate the transition to college. Knowing that some of the homeschool demographic may have religious or spiritual concerns and uncertainties might help colleges tailor interviews, tours, and orientation information to address those concerns. These concerns may or may not be unique or heightened in the homeschool demographic. Parents can be encouraged to know that the homeschool graduates in this study offered advice, saying they were well prepared and able to do well.

Theoretical Implications

Memorable messages are a rich source of information. This research extends the call for a ToMM (Cooke-Jackson & Rubinsky (2018). If a ToMM model were a recognized theory, it would be very applicable in this study. Sense-making plays a part in the analysis and may be useful as a guiding theoretical concept. However, framing the messages similarly to the past body of memorable message research, which has primarily been atheoretical, makes the most sense. The homeschoolers’ responses echo those of other studies on memorable messages and fit the definition of memorable messages (Wang, 2014).

Limitations and Future Directions

Because no data with direct comparison to public or private school students were collected, this information is of limited use in understanding what might be unique to the homeschooled student. Without the comparison, it is impossible to know what attitudes or actions of homeschool students may be the same or different from non-homeschooled students.

Using a survey to measure open-ended qualitative responses results in less participation than surveys with few open-ended questions and leads to many surveys with incomplete responses. Conducting interviews allows could also allow for more complete answers and clarification of statements that are unclear, however, it can be problematic to get participants to commit to more lengthy interviews and typically qualitive interview project involve less participants. For this study, an open-ended survey was used to get a wider variety of voices from varied geographic locations with a demographic that generally considers themselves busy and with little extra time for voluntary research. Funding was not available to offer incentives to increase participation. This decision while it led to collecting a good amount of data was limited by the participation, incomplete responses, and lack of a mechanism for dialog between researcher and participant.

Another limitation that could be explored in future research that has this opportunity for richer dialog between researcher and participant would be the lack of direction on the phrase “go to college” in this study. While under review, a reviewer pointed out that it would be interesting to tease out the distinction between obtaining a college education and going to college. It would be interesting to explore thoughts about physically going to a college compared to thoughts about obtaining a college education by other means (such as online, perhaps). This study did not expressly point to this distinction in the word “go,” so participants may have interpreted this differently. While survey interactions limit the dialogue between researcher and participant, they also lend themselves to a non-diverse sample.

Survey data collection methods were also by purposive and snowball techniques, which may not accurately represent the homeschool graduate population. A more diverse sample could include participants of more varied ethnicities and from more states or countries. Using these collection methods also made it less possible to determine demographic information other than what was specifically asked about in the survey.

Previous studies indicate that some of the unique features of homeschoolers may be influenced by socioeconomic status or parents’ education level; future research could include more demographic information such as socioeconomic status. Furthermore, religious ideas were represented in the data; however, religiosity was not asked about in the demographics. Future studies could differentiate between those who had strongly held religious beliefs and those who did not in order to notice any differences in messages received. Future research could also have a comparison sample to make inferences between the general and homeschool messages received.


As parents explore alternative ways to educate their children, it will be critical for colleges and parents to consider how homeschooled students have learned differently and the impact that may have on young college students’ anticipatory experiences and decisions. Exploring the messages students receive gives insight into the unique needs of the entering homeschooled college student. It will be critical to understanding the homeschooled student’s perspective to offer the best guidance for the student regarding college. Considering the theory of memorable messages can aid in understanding the purpose of these messages, how the receiver uses them, and further the support for a call for theory creation in the academe.


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Appendix A


  1. We can think of messages we remember as Memorable Messages. Memorable messages are verbal statements that have been told to you which you may remember for a long period of time or has stuck with you in some way. These statements may also have influenced your life in some way (Crook & Daily, 2017). Keeping this definition in mind please answer the following:
  2. What is the MOST memorable message you remember receiving about the decision to attend college or not? (open response)
  3. Thinking of the message you described in #2, do you consider it a positive, neutral, mixed or negative message? (scaled response)
  4. Why? (open-ended, coded)
  5. Who did this message come from? (Mom, Dad, other family member, friend, college personal, guidance counselor, sibling, pastor, other) (coded)
  6. When was this message given to you? (open response)
  7. How did you feel about the message? (open response)
  8. What was the second most memorable message you received related to attending college? (If none, skip to 10) (open response)
  9. Was the message (s) you described in #6 positive, neutral, mixed or negative? (scaled response)
  10. Why?
  11. Who did this message come from? (Mom, Dad, other family member, friend, college personnel, guidance counselor, sibling, pastor, other) (coded)
  12. When was this message given to you? (open response)
  13. How did you feel about the message? (open response)
  14. To what extent did either mentioned above effect your choice to go to college or not? (scaled)
  15. How do either of these memorable messages, if at all, impact your life now? (open response)
  16. At what times do you recall these messages? (open response)
  17. Are you currently or have you attended college? If yes, How do these memorable messages impact your college experiences? (If no, did you graduate? Ever go? Plan on returning?)
  18. What message would you give a homeschooled student about college? Why?
  19. How many years were you homeschooled? (1 or less, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10+)
  20. Did you graduate from homeschool?
  21. What is your age?
  22. What is your sex?
  23. What is your ethnicity?