Online High School: 5 Things to Know

Online high schools become more popular, viable and convenient each year. They provide a flexible means for both traditional and non-traditional students like you to acquire a quality secondary school education at your own pace, on your own time and in the privacy of your home.

There are thousands of online high schools and virtual high school diploma programs to choose from, and you probably don’t have time to evaluate each one. Instead, bear a set of criteria in mind to aid your search.

A potential online high school of your choice must fit these criteria in order to provide a diploma that enables you to go on to a college of your choice. The following list of five things to know about online high schools can help you narrow down your candidates:

  1. Cost: Public or Private?

Similar to brick and mortar schools, the cost of public and private online high schools ranges from $0 to more than $10,000 annually. Online public high schools are invariably cheaper, and sometimes you get what you pay for. Curriculum at online public high schools is typically rather limited, and corresponding guidelines are often very rigid.

However, because online public high schools receive government funding, they feature very low tuition rates or none at all. Depending on your family’s economic situation, free or dirt cheap tuition is advisable. On the other hand, while private online high schools offer a plethora of diverse and challenging

  • Curriculum
  • Electives
  • Gifted and talented courses
  • and AP classes,

tuition can be quite steep.

If price isn’t a barrier, consider online private high schools, which engage students in well rounded, challenging, competitive curriculum that prepares them for highly demanding college level work.

  1. Availability of Schools: Location, Location, Location

If you’re leaning toward online public high schools, check first that there are schools in your area, and then review their eligibility requirements. Only certain states and districts have online public high schools. You must be

  • a local resident
  • and a minor

in order to enroll, and residency criteria vary greatly between schools, districts and states. Check with the online public high school’s website or with your local Board of Education to confirm.

Private online high schools don’t have strict residency requirements, thanks to their inherent boundlessness and little to no government oversight. You’re welcome to apply to any private online high school whose enrollment criteria match your skill set and application profile. Private online high schools usually have curriculum tailored to both traditional and homeschooled students, with emphases on

  • specialized degree paths
  • individual attention
  • and unique learning styles.

Unfortunately, private online high school programs aren’t always properly accredited, a very important detail that you should remember when evaluating your future online high school.

  1. What Are Accredited Schools?

Accreditation refers to a validation process. In the case of schools, an accredited school is one that a review board or authority evaluates according to sets of standards for

  • teachers
  • curriculum
  • programs
  • and materials.

A diploma from such a school is an accredited diploma, which serves as a form of academic currency, one that other accredited high schools, colleges and universities recognize.

Only agencies and authorities that the U.S. Department of Education officially recognizes have the power to accredit online high schools and their programs. Many of these authorities exist regionally or nationally, although regional accreditation is occasionally sufficient for an online high school to teach curriculum and bestow diplomas that other accredited institutions accept nationally.

Look for accreditation information to be prominently displayed somewhere on the website of any online high school. If it’s hard to find, be suspicious. Most online high schools want you to know this. As stated above, some online private high schools treat students to dynamic, vibrant, complex curriculum and programs that are not accredited.

As a result, many wonderful courses or entire curricula do not transfer to an accredited institution of higher learning. This produces “gaps” on your transcript, or curriculum that doesn’t officially correspond to a nationally recognized course in

  • humanities
  • math
  • or foreign language.

This makes evaluating your transcripts tricky if you have to apply to a new high school or when you apply to college. Your transcript might be deemed insufficient, and you might have to repeat certain subjects to meet academic requirements.

  1. Speaking of Academic Requirements

Each state has its own academic requirements that you must meet in order to graduate high school with minimum honors. These requirements often mirror the basic academic criteria that colleges and universities look for on your transcript when considering you for admission.

As you narrow down your online high school choices, make sure that each offers curricula that meets certain local and national standards, whether it’s

  • Common Core
  • aligned to Common Core
  • or curriculum designed to help students trounce certain key standardized high school tests.

Theoretically, an online high school’s curriculum should prepare you to exceed the academic requirements of a city college, state college or even the Ivy League.

Although high school academic requirements for graduation and university admission are generally the same nationwide, each set of requirements differs slightly from state to state. The list of specific academic requirements and exit examinations is available on the website of Virginia’s department of education.

  1. Word of Mouth: School Reputation

To get the first-person inside details on any online high school, ask around. Check for free forums on online high school websites, or use a search engine to track down

  • local and national student forums
  • ranked lists of online high schools
  • and review websites of online high schools.

Create a list of questions beforehand or a basic outline of the things you most want to know and feel are important to your final decision.

Do Your Homework

Finding the best online high school for you is a job well worth doing. By the time you check off all the items on your research list, a clear idea of which schools are best for you should begin to emerge. Suggestion: Organize your list according to needs first and desires second, and then see which schools have more points in the first category.