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Home-schooler Finds Easy Transition to College Life

Michelle Shannahan comes from a family of six children, all of whom were home-schooled. With a family that values individualized education, Shannahan was highly selective in making her next educational move.

“Being from a home-school family, being close to home was important,” she said. “I wanted to go to a truly Catholic university, one that taught philosophy and theology true to the teachings of the Church. St. Thomas met both of those criteria. The fact that UST had a Music Department was even better.”

Shannahan, a La Porte area resident, graduated from UST in 2009 with a music degree. After graduation, Shannahan stayed at UST to serve as an Admissions Counselor until she was accepted into the Texas Woman’s University occupational therapy graduate program.

The home school population in the U.S. is estimated at about 2.7 million, and is increasing 7 to 15 percent each year. While at UST, Shannahan was part of the growing home-school community. About 7 percent of UST’s incoming freshman were home schooled.

“UST has a family atmosphere,” she said. “The personal attention I received from faculty was similar to what I got at home. At UST there was a caring supportive environment, both inside and outside the classroom. It was very easy to transition to college life,” she said.

Arthur Ortiz, UST director of Freshman Admissions, said homeschoolers are a natural fit at UST.

“Home-schoolers are outstanding additions to the UST student body,” Ortiz said. “Home-schooled students typically score above the national average on the SAT and ACT tests. They tend to be very well-read and have excellent writing and study skills. Based on their educational background, many home-schoolers are attracted to the classical, liberal arts curriculum, individual attention and the religious emphasis at UST.”

With six children in her family, Shannahan worked hard to excel academically and subsidize her education with scholarships, financial aid, part-time jobs and loans, which she paid off less than a year after graduation.

“With good grades, I was able to get a lot of scholarships, not only from UST, but from a number of outside sources. I qualified for financial aid and the little that was left, I took out student loans,” she said. “Working in Admissions after graduation, I was able to pay off all my student loans. It was very comforting to go into grad school with no undergraduate debt.

“Your college education is one of the biggest investments you can make,” she said. “If you get into tough financial times, someone can always come repossess your home or your car, but they can’t take away your education.”

An award-winning pianist, Shannahan said music has been her passion since she was in third grade. At UST, she was able to grow as a musician, but also balance her love of music with other academic interests. Though she says she will always cherish her music degree, Shannahan was eager to pursue an advanced degree in occupational therapy.

“I have been interested in OT since I was little,” she said. “I saw how physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy helped my sister, Mariah, who was born with Down Syndrome. I saw that the therapists got a lot of fulfillment out of their jobs. When I graduated, I was looking at career options and this seemed like the best time to pursue the OT degree that I had always had in mind.

 “I studied music because I loved it, not because I wanted to pursue a music career” Shannahan said. “Getting  a degree from a place like St. Thomas that has a liberal arts foundation enables you to change paths and change careers after you graduate. It makes that investment even more worth it. Had I gone to a conservatory, I would have found it much more difficult to go back and pursue occupational therapy as a second career option.”

Learn more about the home-school community at UST at a Home School Open House at 9 a.m. Nov. 13.

Arthur Ortiz can answer all your questions about admitting a home-schooled student to the University. Contact him at 713-525-3848 or