Why go to online high school? It’s a fair question. What are the advantages? And is it worth missing out on the scintillating hallway conversations passed between students hurrying to class? Is it worth seriously diminishing your odds of being voted homecoming king or queen? Is it worth depriving yourself of character-building experiences such as rope-climbing in gym-class, oral presentation in history class, or your first true opportunity to be peer pressured.
Granted, these experiences are an important part of the formative years, at least for some people. For others, online high school presents an exciting alternative to the otherwise difficult — possibly even impossible — pursuit of a traditional high school diploma.
On the surface, the desire to attend high school online is kind of obvious. Getting up in the morning is a drag. Standing in the cold awaiting a bus is purgatory. Jamming yourself into a half-chair, half-desk torture device for an hour-long math class feels like punishment for something horrible you’ve done in a past life.
It’s easy to see how completing your studies from a comfortable remote location might be an attractive option. But there’s more to it than avoiding buses, desks, and that weird odor emanating from the science hall on dissection day. (I don’t know about your school, but the advanced classes used to dissect little sharks at my school. For a month afterwards, the whole east wing would smell like a seafood restaurant with refrigeration problems.)
Anyway, there’s more to it than avoiding the unpleasant parts of traditional high school. Depending on your situation and the opportunities available to you, attending high school online could actually be a great option. Online high school is in the early stages of its evolution, which means full curriculum is not available for all students. Opportunities may be limited based on your state of residence, your level of need, or your placement in advanced programs.
With that said, both full-time online programs and individual online course offerings are becoming increasingly available for aspiring high school graduates. As these offerings grow, so too do their advantages. Whether you’re an adult learner returning to school, a strong student seeking dual credits, or a high school student living in an underserved community, online high school could be a perfect fit for you.
We’ll explore these arguments (not that we intend to be argumentative), and we’ll follow with a few tips on how best to pursue your high school education online.
If you’re already sold on the idea, check out The 50 Best Online High School Diplomas here. Otherwise, read on to learn more!
Adult learners have easily one of the most compelling reasons to go to high school online. If you are a working adult, a parent, or serve in the military while pursuing a high school degree, online options could allow you to earn your diploma on your schedule. And let’s be honest: if you’re in your 30s or 40s, your shot at homecoming royalty was pretty low to begin with. You don’t have much to lose in bypassing the social dimensions of high school.
At present, opportunities for adult online high school completion are limited but growing. New, emerging programs target the 29 million American adults without a high school diploma. One such program is made freely available to adult learners through a joint partnership between education company Cengage Learning and a number of public libraries nationwide.
Another endeavor, The National External Diploma Program, is available in seven states at the time of writing. These programs work with the scheduling, occupational, and financial needs of working (or otherwise obligated) adults as they pursue a high school diploma.
For those wondering about an online GED test, the official test can only be taken in person, never online. Visit the FAQ at the official GED site for GED study aids, online practice tests, and details about the GED testing process, scheduling the test, locations for testing, and much more. You can also check out our discussion on the difference between earning a High School Diploma Versus the GED.
Advanced Learning Opportunities
A student with great potential should not be limited by the shortcomings of a poor school or an isolated district. Some schools simply don’t offer sufficient Advanced Placement (AP) opportunities for gifted and ambitious students. For learners in cash-strapped urban districts, small towns with limited resources, or rural areas with low access, online AP courses can be a gateway to content and AP credits that would not otherwise be available.
A new program in Illinois provides this very gateway by targeting the state’s underserved rural populations. As led by the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, ten rural high schools will participate in a pilot program that gives students access to online AP classes. The lieutenant governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti, pointed out that “AP classes help prepare students for college and can even make college more affordable. But unfortunately, access to AP classes is extremely limited in rural areas.”
Seventy-five students will participate in the new program, which Illinois officials hope will lead to an even wider effort to reach underserved students with online courses. In addition to creating greater opportunity and overcoming geographical obstacles, the program gives bright students a taste of the independence, time management, and self-guided learning that will greet them in college.
Safety and Health
Geographic limitations are not the only obstacles to educational access. Online high school programs and courses represent an amazing opportunity for students who have been injured, are living with debilitating illness, are physically disabled, or are struggling with depression or other mental health conditions. Every student has his or her own unique set of needs. For students learning while managing any one of the conditions above, the chance to attend high school online offers a powerful and flexible solution to these unique needs.
The same is true for students victimized by patterned bullying, which has made regular school attendance unbearable. We’re learning more all the time about systemic bullying and the real and damaging impact it has on students. Online high school attendance is a rational alternative for students who remain committed to their education even as they navigate the challenges of bullying.
In fact, online education is a valid alternative for all students who feel their school does not provide a safe or healthy learning environment. For students in districts blighted by crime, schools impacted by routine violence, or neighborhoods where even the daily commute to school feels dangerous, online high school provides learning in an atmosphere absent of these dangers or distractions. It can also be a portal to worlds that would otherwise be unreachable for students living in troubled neighborhoods and communities.
Credit Recovery and Dual Enrollment
While a complete online high school diploma program is not always an option, there are a few compelling reasons to take a few select courses online. One good reason is to earn credits — be they high school credits that you need to graduate on time or university-level credits that could give you a jump on your college degree. Online high school courses can provide a pathway to either one of these opportunities.
For students who failed necessary courses, piled up school absences, or suffered a sustained lapse in high school attendance, credit recovery programs exist. If any of these scenarios threatens to prevent you from earning your diploma, taking online credit recovery courses (while continuing to go to your actual classes of course) could help you graduate on time.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re on schedule to graduate and you’d like to start chipping away at your college credit total, a number of universities offer courses online that can qualify as credits toward both your high school diploma and your university degree. Many AP-level online courses are offered in collaboration with nearby colleges or universities. If you are a strong student and you believe you can balance your day-to-day high school responsibilities with a few college-level courses, this could be a good move for you.
To learn more about this and opportunities like it, check out Seven Ways to Earn College Credit In High School.
College Preparation and Career Readiness
Test and college prep courses are perhaps the most commonplace of online options for high schoolers. If you could use extra support as you study for your SAT, ACT or AP tests, there is no shortage of online course options designed to instruct in test-taking methods, exam content, and study techniques.
The same is true of courses aimed at helping prepare you for college. AP courses and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, for instance, may offer instruction in critical thinking, time-management, and language skills. These courses can both improve your readiness for your college studies and earn you credits toward your undergraduate degree.
Valuable online courses are available for students considering moving straight into the job market after high school. You may be able to take skills-based career-readiness courses that prepare you for entry into the job market. If you can balance the completion of your high school studies with a few relevant online courses, you could be on the way to both your diploma and certification in a field of your choosing.
Online course are also a great option for homeschooled students. While homeschooling can carry a great many advantages — curricular flexibility, opportunity for independent learning, and freedom to pursue projects of personal interest — it may be socially isolating.
Online courses may help homeschooled high school students be a part of a class. The right course will connect you with classmates, instructors, and a community of other learners. Try taking courses that employ project-based learning so you can collaborate with your classmates. It could be a welcome balance to the experience of homeschooling. It can also create access to new materials, curricula, and ideas, producing an altogether more well-rounded educational experience.
To reiterate, online high school programs and courses are not available to everyone. An array of factors, including your state of residence, financial means, and academic ability, will determine your access. This path is also not recommended for everyone. Your learning style, personal situation, and educational goals will play a big part in that decision.
Now that we’ve explored the reasons you should go to online high school, we’ll take a look at some of the factors you need to consider as you proceed. Stay tuned next week when we provide a few Quick Tips for Online High School Students.