It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has piqued the interest in online learning. Granted, a traditional school has adapted to distance learning with different degrees of success. However, an online school and its teachers already have years of expertise under their belt, providing engaging, highly-structured, and meaningful instruction in a remote capacity.
An online high school can be a way for a student to take classes and graduate with a high school diploma at their pace, without the adherence to stringent schedules and the distractions that a traditional high school ushers in.
Therefore, if you believe that in-person learning isn’t ideal for you, you can consider online learning. With that being said, we’ll delve into the best online high schools in the US, how they work, and why an online high school could be the perfect fit for you.
The Pros and Cons of an Online High School
There’s a myriad of ways to compare remote learning and a traditional high school. Doing so gives clarity on the next approach to take if the conventional approach isn’t working for a given student for whatever reason, such as family obligations, social angst, and severe medical conditions. Before deciding to enroll a teen in an online program, we’ll explore the pros and cons of an online high school.
Pro: Learning As Per Your Schedule
The online classes are categorized as asynchronous learning, which implies a high school student doesn’t have to be simultaneously in attendance as other online high school students. They also don’t have to be online at the same time as the teacher. In turn, teenagers have the flexibility to do the online course when it best fits their schedule.
A conventional school doesn’t offer the same flexibility as online learning as it requires a student to be physically present for the same rigid hours daily. Online learning makes sense for a student to diminish their stress levels, which is a significant perk of enrolling in online classes.
Con: It’s not easier Than a Traditional High School
The common misconception is that the best reason for enrolling in online classes is that it’s significantly easier than a brick-and-mortar school. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, factoring in that all US states must conform to the curriculum standards required for a high school diploma or online degree.
If your motivation behind online learning is your assumption that it’s easier, you’ll be in for a rude shock. Although it’s academically rigorous, there’s no denying that distance learning is engaging and fun.
Pro: Learning where it’s Best Suited for You
Attending a traditional high school entails being on the premises to attend classes. You must sit in the available desks and chairs in every classroom, which may not be an ideal fit for you. However, when you enroll in online education programs, you’ll enjoy the flexibility of engaging your learning where and when works best for you.
If that involves sitting in front of a PC, you have free rein to do so. If you need a change of pace, you can grab your laptop and do your online course from the comfort of a couch. You can also head down to your local coffee shop a few blocks away from your home if that’s your preference.
After all, all you need is a tablet, desktop, or laptop with a stable internet connection and web browser, and you’ll well on your way to getting a high school diploma. Having the ability to select your study methods and schedule is unarguably a major perk of learning remotely.
Con: An Online High School Results In Isolation
Courtesy of the ongoing research by Joseph Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia (UVA), we understand the importance of close teenage friendships among high school students in mitigating social stress and ushering in healthier adult relationships.
However, the social isolation assumption concerning online learning is a myth. For starters, each teacher who delivers online education includes a boatload of opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions in the program.
Furthermore, teen students are encouraged to maintain friendships with their peers outside the online classes. Granted, they may need to put more effort to make it happen, given that they won’t automatically see their friends every day as they would in physical learning. However, it’s not difficult to do.
What Kind of Student Is Best Suited for an Online High School?
Regardless of the perks, online classes are not the best fit for all types of students. As such, an online high school is an ideal fit for the following types of learners.
Online classes are not an ideal fit for you if you lack a strong level of self-discipline. Whereas a learner in traditional classes has peers and an instructor to hold them accountable for work, an online high school learner is forced to depend on their discipline and organizational skills to complete the coursework on time. Usually, this includes scheduling time every day for regular coursework and studying. Keeping a to-do list and schedule is crucial.
You don’t need to be a tech expert to succeed in online learning. Nonetheless, a fundamental level of technological competence is unarguably handy. Online classes typically include the use of search tools for research, resource centers, email tools, and discussion forums. If you complete your classes remotely, there’s minimal assistance unless you have a more tech-savvy family member to rely on for help when need be.
Remote learning is the go-to alternative for an online student who easily gets distracted in classrooms. The distractions can include movement and sound during assessments, frustration ensuing over the discussion-oriented nature of physical classes, and the need to observe other students’ movements constantly. If you focus and thrive on tests and work in a quiet place of solitude, enrolling in an online high school is a better fit.
How Does Attending an Online High School Impact College Applications?
Granted, a student can be hesitant to attend an online private school due to the fear that college admissions officers may not view the virtual institution as a ‘real’ school. Although it’s a valid concern, colleges usually don’t distinguish between a traditional high school and its online counterpart. Most admission requirements are standard irrespective of the type of school; high school credit hours for electives, math, languages, and science. The mention of an online private school on a college admissions page is a rarity.
Nonetheless, homeschoolers are mentioned and welcomed with open arms, including at prestigious colleges. Whether or not the online high school is regionally accredited is what concerns the admissions department. It’s only then that a college admissions officer will consider an application. They keep an eye out for a challenging high school curriculum that offers the electives you won’t find in a traditional public school. They include Latin, digital arts, and life sciences.
As part of college planning, the admissions department will want to see an upward trajectory of strong grades that prove an online student is a hard worker. In such instances, an online high school works well for a student who has struggled in a physical school because they cannot focus on completing the AP courses and elevating their grades.
The officer will also look into out-of-school or work experiences that some online high school learners have under their belt due to auditions, employment, or athletic training schedules. The admissions essay is also of interest to college admissions officers.
For parents and learners with concerns that online private schools will be an automatic strike against them, the essay is a great place to alleviate those worries by emphasizing the challenging coursework, the discipline acquired from attending an online high school, and how it permitted students to overcome various challenges, becoming stronger members of the community.
Importance of Accreditation for an Online High School
Accreditation refers to a detailed, rigorous evaluation process that independent organizations conduct to ensure schools adhere to the stipulated standards. Although it’s not a one-time process, it calls for periodic formal renewal and review and self-evaluation.
Regional accreditation implies that the curriculum provided exceeds or meets the same standards that every private or public school in the country must meet. The US is divided into geographic areas, each of which has its association. However, the accreditation standards are uniform across all regions.
The US Department of Education maintains a list of all the recognized national and regional accrediting agencies. If an online high school you’re considering lists an accrediting agency that’s not on this list, keep in mind that it’s not regarded as a legitimate accreditation body.
Legitimate agencies demand that an online school undergoes rigorous self-evaluation in all aspects of its operation. They range from operations, academics that include student achievement and finances to staff and faculty quality.
The accrediting body then validates the school’s claims in these areas. Illegitimate accrediting bodies conduct limited school evaluation, for instance, reviewing the monetary aid that the school functions as per its advertising, or the accreditation body rubber stamps an online school’s application after simply accepting a given fee.
The worst type of illegitimate accreditation is an organization created by the school to appear like a separate business when the truth is that the school is merely accrediting itself.
Due to these unethical practices, it’s advisable to confirm that the US Department of Education recognizes the accreditation body, and if not, to conduct the due diligence to determine if the agency is an outside organization that thoroughly reviews the schools it accredits.
Keeping that in mind, these are the six regional accrediting bodies readily recognized by private and public schools nationwide.
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Accreditation Commission
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
There’s a myriad of reasons why accreditation is essential to K-12 online schools. A school that receives accreditation has proven to its respective accrediting body that it meets the stipulated educational standards.
A multitude of parents is on the quest for an accredited online high school due to the assurance that each student will adhere to the stipulated benchmarks and acquire top-notch education. If the school your student attends is unaccredited, there’s the likelihood that an accredited institution will recognize the credits they earn.
In turn, this can be problematic if you decide to transfer your learner to another online program. Similarly, a boatload of colleges won’t recognize a high school diploma from an unaccredited institution. Attaining a diploma from an accredited virtual high school makes it easier for learners to get admission into their preferred college without the need to sit an equivalency exam.
The military has a tiered classification system that considers the high school education for anyone who wishes to enlist. Tier I institutions are accredited with the highest level of recognition. Anyone who graduates from a Tier I school receives preferential treatment over a learner who graduated with Tier III or II education status. Tier II status implies that a learner acquired an alternative to a high school diploma, for instance, a GED. With Tier III status, a homeschooled student lacks a high school diploma or alternative credentials. Usually, a student who graduates from a non-accredited school is regarded as Tier III.
Lastly, many employers will confirm the accreditation of the high school in which potential employees acquire a diploma. In turn, this guarantees all individuals at institutions or companies acquire education of a specific quality.
What to Look for in an Online High School
Upon deciding you want to earn your high school diploma online, the next course of action is to select a school. A quick Google search will generate a wealth of options, which is why you’ll need some criteria to help you select the ideal fit for you. With that being said, we’ve rounded up a few key points to consider that will permit an informed decision.
Given that online learning is an emerging medium, the last thing you need is to trust your education in a virtual school that’s still experimenting with online programs that include a summer program. Keep your eyes peeled for an accredited institution with years of expertise in administering online programs in addition to a stellar reputation for investing in the top methods and technologies for virtual learning.
Whether you’re enrolling in a conventional school or an online high school, you’ll want to ensure it is accredited. Generally, an online high school diploma from accredited institutions is more widely accepted by colleges. An accredited online high school usually displays its accreditation details in its ‘About Us’ section.
Convenience and Flexibility
It’s no secret that flexibility is one of the main perks of online education, and you can search for a school that provides asynchronous learning, which implies you can log in to class on your schedule as opposed to set times. It may include participation in discussions that span a few days as opposed to real-time, watching coursework videos at your preferred pace alongside scheduling exam times that fit your calendar.
Orientation for New Learners
Online learning differs from the face-to-face option, so it’s essential to select a school that supports students as they transition to this digital era. A boatload of accredited institutions has personal dual enrollment advisors whose role is to support you throughout the process.
Furthermore, keep your eyes peeled for schools that offer sample mini-courses for free or a trial period, allowing you to try out remote learning without any financial commitment.
One of the major perks of online high schools is that they provide a vast assortment of programs. Program diversity paves the way for you to pursue a myriad of electives and seamlessly change majors if your goals or interests change. By selecting a school with strong program diversity, you can stick with it throughout your student career as you transition into college.
As is the case with a traditional high school, finding an online option with a considerable amount of college resources is crucial for the search process. Getting to the point where you have your high school diploma but no assistance in finding a suitable college is the last thing you need. Given that colleges are becoming increasingly competitive, you need all the support you can get.
Level of Tech Support
Imagine you’re sitting at your computer for hours on end trying to complete your mid-term assignment. After clicking ‘send’ to turn it in, you receive an error message, or there’s no response. An ideal online high school will have a tech support center that is available 24/7. A student in this predicament will simply reach out to the school’s tech support and troubleshoot their issue. Learners that attend online high schools with a subpar tech support team with limited hours will be pulling their hair out for hours until it re-opens.
As is the case with physical high schools, tuition costs vary by program and online school. If funding online education for your child will be a problem, plan to research and compare the tuition costs for a broad range of schools. In addition to that, ensure you conduct your due diligence on any extra costs you might be expected to pay, independent of the tuition.
A properly-structured learning environment can be the make-or-break between disappointing and delightful online classes. The best virtual high schools have online classrooms that are a breeze to navigate and use, even for online students that are not computer experts. Their advanced classroom technologies permit peer-to-peer and instructor-to-peer intuitive interactions, delivering a personal feel to the online learning environment.
Choose a school with mobile access to online classrooms, more so if students have constant access to tablets or smartphones. Moreover, make sure the type of computer and other technical requirements match the devices at home. Most of the best online high schools provide a learning environment that is easily accessible from the most generic platforms.
Some of the full-time courses that an online high school student learns are:
- Mathematics: Integrated Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Math Models and Applications
- Language Arts: Public Speaking, English 9, English 12 British Literature, English 10, and English 11 American Literature
- Science: Biology, Physics, Physical Science, Chemistry, and Environmental Science
- Social Studies: Economics, World History, US History, and US Government
- Electives: Psychology, Introduction to Computer Applications, Sociology, Introduction to Business, Health and Fitness, Introduction to Accounting, Business Management, Finance, Art History, Marketing, Music Appreciation, Computer Engineering, Digital Photography, Biotechnology, Introduction to Tech Science, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Forensic Science, Life Skills, Astronomy, and Sports Medicine
- Foreign Language: Spanish I, Spanish II, German I, German II, French I, French II
Top Online High Schools in the Country
We’ve rounded up some of the best accredited online high schools in the US that also offer financial aid.
- Stanford University Online High School
Operated by the faculty at Stanford University, the Online Education Program for Gifted Youth is the most touted and well-known virtual high school. Nonetheless, quality education comes at a steep price of $15,000 annual tuition. Besides boasting an in-house faculty trained at a doctorate level, the charter school offers college-level computer science and math courses. Moreover, 13% of enrolled online students receive financial aid. A dual credit program is also available.
- Indiana University Online High School
With each course costing less than $250, this public Ivy has been operating a high school program via remote learning since 1925. Compared to Stanford, its elite west coast sister, Indiana University Virtual High School, is a steal and offers financial aid scholarships. Gifted learners can take their pick from the array of AP classes available. Its remote student body consistently scores above average on the ACT and SAT. It’s a program that has been availing accredited high school diplomas since 1999.
- University of Missouri Online High School
Comprising 180 online courses, including the humanities, core studies in science, Gifted Studies in Japanese and other foreign languages, and AP courses, the Missouri program delivers quantity and quality rolled into one. As a regionally accredited virtual high school, learners can choose their courses individually a la carte.
- University of Nebraska Online High School
It’s been in existence since 1929 when the institution started availing paper-based correspondence to non-traditional learners and rural youth. Students enrolled at the Nebraska virtual high school surpass the national SAT, ACT, and Reading and Writing averages. Alumni have been accepted to West Point, Stanford, Yale, and other residential universities across the globe.
- University of Texas Online High School
Founded in 1999, this remote learning institution offers courses in 60 subjects that include AP and IB. Located in Austin, parents or guardians can expect to pay $3640 tuition with the IB program available for non-Texas residents. Graduates have been accepted to top colleges such as MIT, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Cornell, and USC. The available courses have approval from the NCAA for future collegiate athletes that meet eligibility requirements.
Other excellent options to consider are Laurel Springs, James Madison, North Star Academy, Florida Virtual School, Oak Meadow School, and Davidson Academy Online.
Academic success from an online high school program is marked by:
Excellent Writing and Reading Skills
Writing and reading are the major ways to communicate in online classes. While some hard copies of learning material might be required, a student must be comfortable reading a wealth of documents on a computer screen along with the ability to type.
Some assessments have multiple choice questions, but most assignments will entail writing long or short answers. Students who type less than 25 to 30 words per minute could benefit from a typing software program before enrolling in an online high school.
Effective Communication Skills
These are crucial in online learning because a student must seek assistance as need be. Instructors are willing to help learners, but they can’t pick up on non-verbal cues, for instance, the look of confusion on a student’s face. Therefore:
- Use the tools that the school provides to effectively communicate with your teachers. They come in handy for college prep. A boatload of online high schools and their programs deliver different ways for learners and parents/guardians to communicate with staff and teachers.
They range from chat room office hours, text messaging, and email to discussion forums. The staff and instructors want to help students excel in their classes and answer all queries raised to them. However, it might feel awkward to communicate with your instructors this way, fret not.
If your teacher has a cell phone or chat room, don’t feel shy about using these tools as a means of communication during office hours.
- Use appropriate language and style for school. When communicating with other students and instructors, write in complete, grammatically correct sentences. Additionally, ensure every word is spelled correctly. After all, many students are used to informal writing styles in text messages, blogs, and chat rooms.
Consider the tone that your communication depicts to other students and instructors. Keep in mind they can’t see your facial expression or hear the inflection in your voice. It’s important to show others the same level of respect you expect in return.