Homeschooling, community college aided high-achieving Moorestown family

At Burlington County College , Ryan Snell (left) tutors freshman Tomaz Powell as a volunteer. Snell, who was homeschooled, has applied to Penn and other prestigious colleges. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
At Burlington County College , Ryan Snell (left) tutors freshman Tomaz Powell as a volunteer. Snell, who was homeschooled, has applied to Penn and other prestigious colleges. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 18, 2013

Ryan Snell, 18, racked up almost enough college credits for two associate's degrees before earning his high school diploma.

Homeschooled by his parents, the Moorestown teen simultaneously took 30-some classes at Burlington County College for more than 100 credits.

He has applied to Wharton and a handful of other prestigious schools.

While his accomplishments are impressive, they are not unusual in the Snell family.

Both of Ryan's older brothers, Jake and Tom, took dozens of classes at the county college while being homeschooled. And then they went on to the Ivy League, entering through the regular admission process as freshmen.

Jake, 24, graduated from Yale in 2010 with a degree in biomedical engineering and is working on a master's in computer science at the University of Toronto. Tom, 22, is a senior at Harvard, finishing a degree in applied mathematics with a concentration in economics.

"I knew they were going to go far," said Dotti Pursley, the county college's director of recruitment. "They're extremely intelligent and very driven. They absolutely knew exactly what they wanted to do, and they did it."

Charlie and Lori Snell shared responsibility for homeschooling. Charlie, an electrical engineer with a bachelor's degree from Virginia Tech, a master's from Johns Hopkins, and an M.B.A., taught calculus, physics, and Latin. Lori, who has a bachelor's in chemistry from Virginia Tech and an M.B.A., handled everything else.

But there were some courses, mostly labs and other technical areas, that the couple would have had a hard time teaching at home. So they turned to the county college in Mount Laurel.

All three Snells began taking classes there when they were in their early teens. Tom and Jake were student ambassadors, giving tours, meeting with prospective students, and helping incoming freshmen with class schedules. All three were in the honor society and tutored, often helping students many years older than them.

"It was very good for them," Lori said. "They had to apply their knowledge to help other people learn."

The Snells said they did not envision two - possibly three - of their sons going to the Ivy League when they started homeschooling. But all three proved to be exceptional learners. "I accelerated them," Lori said.

Both Jake and Tom were national Merit Scholars. Jake scored in the 97th percentile on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

"So exposure to material he took at BCC definitely helped him achieve a high score," Lori said.

Charlie said they weren't specifically seeking the Ivy League.

"The real issue is finding a good fit, and that's what we were able to do with the older two sons so far, with academics as well as extracurriculars," he said, noting that Jake was captain of Yale's skeet and trap team and Tom a "walk-on" to Harvard's fencing team.

Ryan said it was "nerve-wracking" when he began taking college classes at 14. He wasn't sure how people would react, but he quickly became comfortable. He decided to tutor, he said, because he wanted to help others.

"The students request him over and over again," said Danielle Zimecki, director of the tutoring center.

Ryan will receive associate's degrees in graphic design and digital media and art & design in May.

But he plans to enter college as a freshman and major in a business-related field: "I'd like to do something aviation-related."


Contact Susan Snyder

at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

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