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Selecting The Right Online High School for Your Homeschooler

By: Thomas Nixon

Virtual School

Online high schools have been growing at an astounding rate. While colleges that offer distance learning programs have become increasingly competitive with each other, there is still room for growth in the secondary market. This room has spawned a number of intriguing possibilities for homeschooled students.

With the announcement of the sale of Insight Schools in Washington to the company that owns the University of Phoenix and the entrance of educational powerhouse Kaplan into the market, it has suddenly become cool to own an online high school. Within the next couple of years, these two companies will single-handedly change the face of online high schools.

What some fail to understand is that the online high school phenomenon is greater than just homeschoolers. Yes, it is driven by many of the same issues that concern homeschoolers. However, many of the high school age students participating do not identify themselves as homeschoolers and do not come from traditional homeschooling families. This can be a positive and a negative for the homeschooling community.

The positive is that this growth provides more opportunities for homeschoolers, but the negative is that these folks are not commonly calculated into statistics for homeschooling.

Selecting the Online High School

Selecting an online high school is not very different from selecting an online college. You need to look at many of the same features such as:

  • Accreditation. If it does not have recognized accreditation, you should be careful. Yes, there are some acceptable programs that only have state approval. Be careful, though, that the approval includes oversight and is not just a license to do business. You can find recognized accreditors at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
  • History. How long has the school been offering instruction in any manner and how long has it been offering an online course. While there are distance learning high schools that have been in existence for over a hundred years, they have been offering online courses for fewer years than that.
  • Teacher contact. Online high schools offer a variety of contact possibilities, from no teacher contact all the way to a required five-day-a week virtual classroom. Decide now what it is you need. Are you just looking for someone to teach geometry or do you need an entire program and someone to assist you on a daily basis? You can now find schools that fit any of these criteria.
  • Cost. This can vary widely from free to $10,000 a year or more. Is there a difference in quality based on cost? There can be, but there doesn't have to be. There are some quality programs at affordable rates.

The Pitfalls

While there are many excellent options in online high schools, there are also many that are not good choices. The typical problem is acceptability. Colleges typically require the high school to have accreditation in some form. While not an absolute rule, one needs to be careful.

A few things to consider when looking at an online high school:

  1. Fake schools, not surprisingly, have been known to invent fake accreditation.
  2. Yes, your friend with the 7-day high school diploma got a job. However, if she gets caught, and she will eventually get caught, she will likely be fired. Even if, and this is important, even if she did not know it was a fake school.
  3. Assertions of vast numbers of students aside, thousands of graduates means nothing except that some "school" was able to find that many people who did not know what they were doing.

My email is full of students, both high school and college, who come to me to help them fix their mistakes. The most common mistake is investing money into a school that was not a school. Do your own research; check its accreditation at Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). If the accreditor is not listed there, it is likely a phony. CHEA will also respond to email questions.

Importantly, you cannot earn a high school diploma by taking a test online. You cannot earn a high school diploma in one week or one month. High school diplomas require real work.

Free programs

My most common question is whether there are free online high schools. Yes, they do exist, but there are limitations. The free programs come in two forms:

  • Programs started and administered by state departments of education. More of these programs seem to offer only courses and not diplomas, but you will want to check with your home state's department of education website to clarify your unique situation.
  • Charter schools. While public schools, they operate with fewer rules. However, the free part only applies to certain geographical areas, commonly states, but also counties and regions. Most of these schools limit themselves to high school-aged students, but there are some that go as high as twenty-one.

Find the right program

In your search, you may wish to check out my latest book, Complete Guide to Online High Schools. Feel free to get your local public library to order a copy. I also highly recommend reading the articles on this site. Before you choose your school, you need to understand the choices you are making. Homefires will help you on that journey.

Thomas Nixon

About Thomas Nixon

Thomas Nixon is the author of Complete Guide to Online High Schools: Distance learning options for teens & adults as well as other book and articles on distance learning. He is the manager of Best Online High Schools. For regular comments, check out his blog at Best Online High Schools Blog.


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