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Online Schooling for High School Diploma
An online high school diploma may be your ticket for graduating high school and your springboard to a first-rate education.
A high school diploma has significant advantages over passing the GED, or the General Education Development test, which is supposed to certify academic skills at the high school level, but sets the bar much lower than a good high school education.
Many reasons exist why people are discouraged or prevented from traditionally completing high school. It’s important to realize, however, that adults with a high school diploma or GED earn an average of $11,000 per year more than adults who haven’t finished high school (US Census Bureau). Furthermore, those with diplomas make considerably more than those with GEDs. For more about the advantages of a diploma over a GED, see our article “High School Diplomas versus the GED.”
The variety and availability of online high school diploma programs can be both annoying and frustrating. Diplomas from quality online high schools are academically equivalent to those earned in the traditional high school setting, and should be recognized as such by potential employers and colleges and universities. However, searching for an online high school diploma program without knowing certain facts and pitfalls can waste time, money, and energy.
In determining the quality of a potential online high school program, accreditation and state approval are of prime importance. Programs accredited through agencies recognized by the USDE (U.S. Department of Education) are your safest bet regarding legitimacy. These are usually regional or national accrediting agencies.
Regional accreditation is the most accepted regarding transferring coursework or pursuing a college degree. If a school isn’t up front about their accreditation status or the accrediting agency isn’t recognized by the USDE, you may want to look elsewhere. Legitimate online high school programs must also be state-approved. This means they must be approved in the state from which the diploma will be issued, regardless of the state in which the student resides.
In determining the value of an online high school program, you will want to consider the following: rate of successful program completion, ease of communication with the school and with teachers, flexibility and delivery of classes, counseling and tutoring services, individualized programming, availability of specialization (engineering, religion, arts, etc.), dual credit offerings, and extracurricular activities or clubs.
The Best Online High School Diploma Programs
1. Stanford University Online High School
Under the umbrella of one of the most competitive universities in the nation, Stanford OHS is a private independent school that offers a rigorous college prep program. Stanford OHS serves academically gifted students in grades 7–12. Students are up against tough competition for admission to the program.
Stanford OHS offers over 24 post-AP and university-level courses and more than 65% of the faculty members hold doctoral degrees in their fields. According to the school’s profile, their student mean SAT score is 1500 with a mean composite score of 33 for the ACT.
In addition to academic studies, the school sponsors events, meetups, online clubs, weekly virtual homeroom, science colloquium, and assemblies.
- Accreditations: WASC, CAIS
- Price: Tuition is $22,850 for full-time enrollment (4–5 classes).
- Need to know: Stanford OHS operates on a traditional school calendar; thus, interested applicants need to apply in the fall semester prior to attendance.
2. GW Online High School
George Washington University Online High School is a private college-preparatory high school that operates entirely online and is one of the nation’s first virtual high schools to be affiliated with a major research university.
GWUOHS serves academically talented students who seek to pursue a college preparatory diploma. For that diploma, the school requires 24 credits.
GWUOHS uses best-in-class curriculum from the online leader, K12. K12 is renowned for its rigorous, research-driven design, compelling interactivity, ease-of-use, and integrated blend of online content with hands-on materials and outstanding books. Courses contain asynchronous readings, activities, assessments, and videos, as well as live sessions conducted by the teacher at preset times. Upperclassmen can declare an area of concentration: science and technology, entrepreneurship, liberal arts, or design their own. In addition, all students participate in the unique, four-year-long Journeys Symposium.
Students are encouraged to take Advanced Placement classes and equipped to do so through initiatives and resources such as Summer AP boot camp, an AP Coordinator, and an assigned faculty AP Mentor. Additional programs/initiatives include college planning and preparation, 1:1 Orientation, Peer Mentoring, dual college credit courses, and student interest clubs and activities.
100% of graduates have been accepted to universities (ranging from Harvard to UC-Berkeley — there are too many top-tier schools GWUOHS have been accepted into to list here).
- Accreditations: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools
- Price: Tuition is $12,000/year.
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3. University of Missouri High School: Mizzou K-12
The University of Missouri High School: Mizzou K-12 is part of the University of Missouri’s College of Education. The school enjoys the distinction of being the only program in the country supported by a consistently ranked College of Education at a research-intensive flagship university. The program aligns with national and Missouri standards and offers NCAA-approved classes.
Students may choose from one of two diploma program options: Standard Path(24 credits) or College-Prep Diploma Path (25 credits). Course options include AP, honors, special topics, and NCAA-eligible classes. Graduates have been accepted into some of the most prestigious and traditionally selective institutions in the United States, including Princeton, MIT, Dartmouth, Cornell, Rice, Carnegie Mellon, Wake Forest, and the University of Michigan.
Beyond academics, the school hosts student clubs, such as NHS and Math Club.
- Accreditations: Accredited by AdvancED and the NCA CASI
- Price: Each class (half credit) costs $500.
- Discount/payment plans: After course enrollment approval, a 50% tuition scholarship rate may apply for students with a permanent Missouri address or US students admitted into the University of Missouri High School Diploma Program.
4. Mother of Divine Grace
Based in Ojai, CA, Mother of Divine Grace (MODG) is a private school founded in 1995. The purpose of the school is to provide parents with the information, resources, and support necessary to educate their children according to the classical tradition. Mother of Divine Grace School offers a Catholic, classical approach to schooling.
Dual enrollment credits are an option for students; they need to enroll via their local community college.
Recent graduates of MODG have been accepted into Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Penn, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Rice, UC-Berkeley, Georgetown, UCLA, and Carnegie Mellon. To earn a diploma, MODG requires completion of 22.5 credits (225 units).
MODG also promotes the fine arts with courses in music, visual arts, and performing arts. MODG offers families three program types based on the level of independent learning desired: assisted, directed, and enhanced directed. Mother of Divine Grace also offers supplemental course attendance, apprenticeships, homeschooling assistance, and teacher services/learning support.
- Accreditations: ACS WASC
- Price: Tuition is $820 when using one of the three payment plans; otherwise, a one-time payment of $720. There is a menu of extra fees (for things including different courses, Adobe labs, support) so be sure to review costs carefully.
- Need to know: MODG provides a Special Services Program as a supplement to their Teacher Review Program to help families who have children with special needs.
5. University of Texas High School
As an operation of the University of Texas, UTHS offers online classes for high school students. At present, the school serves more than 300 full-time students and has partnerships with over 250 school districts around the globe. Part-time and full-time students have access to coursework 24/7.
Qualified UTHS students have the benefit of selecting a dual-credit program through University Extension (the University of Texas at Austin online college program), which offers courses and exams in more than 60 subject areas. In addition, students may choose to take online AP classes, NCAA-approved classes, or classes for credit recovery. Since the state of Texas requires students to earn 26 credits to earn a highschool diploma, students typically enroll in 6–7 courses per semester to complete the required 26 credits in four years and graduate on time.
- Accreditations: Texas Board of Education
- Price: Each course costs $225. For full-time enrollment (12 semester courses), yearly tuition is $2,700.
- Need to know: Many courses are textbook-free. All courses and exams are designed by expert teachers and approved by NCAA and College Board.
6. Oak Meadow School
Based in Brattleboro, VT, Oak Meadow School was founded by a group of parents and teachers seeking to reignite their children’s spark for learning. The school takes a progressive, compassionate, and child-centered approach to education.
Students must complete 22 credits for the diploma and Oak Meadow School provides plenty of pathways to earn those credits, some of which are unique to this school. For instance, because Oak Meadow School supports the education of the whole person, the school offers credit for students’ work experiences and extracurricular participation (music, sports, arts, etc.). The Life Experience Elective Credit program permits enrolled students to earn up to one full elective credit per year for extracurricular involvement. Students may earn up to four credits towards their diploma through this program.
The school accepts credit for Advanced Placement, computer science, and technology courses taken through Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth online program. Oak Meadow School also accepts transfer credit from CYTOnline, dual enrollment music credits through Berklee College of Music Online, and science credit for Cornell’s challenging home study course, Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology. Oak Meadow School also offers credit recovery.
In keeping with the spirit of independent learning, enrolled juniors and seniors are required to participate in a self-directed, credit-earning Advanced Study Project over the course of a semester.
- Accreditations: The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA), NCA CASI, WASC, NAAS, SACS, and the New England Association for Schools and Colleges (NEASC) NOTE: Oak Meadow is the first distance-learning school ever to receive such recognition in NEASC’s prestigious 130-year history.
- Price: High School Tuition is $1,800 per course for the 10-month school year/$1,080 per course for the 5-month semester.
- Discount/payment plans: Oak Meadow School offers a 10% sibling or military discount. Parents may either pay in full or put 40% down and pay the rest in monthly payments.
- Need to know: Many classes are NCAA-approved. The school also has a thriving National Honor Society program.
7. International Virtual Learning Academy
International Virtual Learning Academy (IVLA) is a year-round, online, private K-12 school based in California. Students may enroll and begin courses at any time, and all course material is delivered online, optimizing flexibility for students and their families.
The self-paced coursework accommodates a diverse learning environment, as do the six different curriculum options: Accelerate, Alpha Omega’s Ignitia, Apex Learning, GradPoint, Odesseyware, or Plato Learning. The school also offers five different diploma plans: Standard, College Prep, Honors, STEM, and Career. The school also offers AP and Honors courses. In addition, IVLA elective courses are designed to let students experience a wide range of life learning experiences to earn elective credit. A maximum of two credits will be awarded for outside activities or life experiences.
IVLA welcomes adult learners; in fact, the school offers an entire Adult High School online program specifically for non-traditional students.
- Accreditations: AdvancED
- Adult learners accepted.
- Price: Annual tuition is $3,779 with a $150 yearly registration fee.
- Discount/payment plans: 10% discount for military families and 10% multi-students discounts available (only one discount per family). Can pay in three installments, 10 monthly installments, or five semester installments. Add an additional $75 for each AP and Honors course.
- Need to know: Many core classes at International Virtual Learning Academy are NCAA-approved.
8. Laurel Springs School
Founded in 1991, Laurel Springs School is an online private school that focuses on a college preparatory experience with a vast range of academic offerings. Since 1998, Laurel Springs School has offered courses approved by the University of California for transfer credit.
Laurel Springs School delivers instruction through a series of asynchronous courses. The interactive grade book provides 24/7 access to each student’s progress and archives past quizzes and tests that can be reviewed online at any time.
This Upper School at Laurel Springs School, grades 9–12, has a unique range of core and elective curriculum. Students are encouraged to shape their education outside of core courses, with over 25 electives available.
Additionally, the online high school at Laurel Springs School has a Gifted and Talented Academy to accommodate students with exceptional learning needs. Students in this program participate in a more elaborate, in-depth study of major topics, and engage in problem-solving that integrates knowledge across systems of thought. The school also offers AP classes and has a chapter of the National Honor Society (NHS). There is a strong focus on college preparation, and students meet monthly with a personal coach to guide them along the college selection, readiness, and application process.
Laurel Springs requires 23.5 credits for its standard diploma.
- Accreditations: WASC, AdvancED, and SACS CASI
- Price: Tuition is $690/semester course or $990/year-long course. Tuition includes full enrollment, all course materials, syllabi, teacher services, semester evaluation, transcript, learning styles profile, and diagnostic assessment for grades 9–11.
- Discount/payment plans: 10% discount to families of military or with more than one child attending the school
- Need to know: According to the website, if upon enrollment at Laurel Springs School, you know that your child plans to apply to a University of California college, you should tell your admissions coordinator and school counselor. The team will work with your family to ensure that your child’s academic plan is created with attention to UC standards.
9. Christa McAuliffe Academy School of Arts & Sciences
Inspired by her life, and acting in her memory, Christa McAuliffe Academy School of Arts and Sciences (CMASAS) honors Christa McAuliffe by educating the next generation of leaders, scientists, philosophers, artists, and others to be fully prepared for the dynamic world of the 21st Century. CMASAS opened in July 2009 and is headquartered in Lake Oswego, OR.
CMASAS upholds a personalized education philosophy, using curriculum and teaching methods based on current brain and educational research. The academy also offers several high school diploma options based on student goals: standard, college prep, and career prep. Many extracurricular activities are available, such as language clubs, a student newspaper, and a technology club. Other programs offered include honors and AP coursework, adult high school completion, service promotion, and a global adventure program. For the diploma, students must earn 24 credits.
As a year-round school with asynchronous instruction, live interaction and assistance is available from instructors and educational facilitators. Instructors have times each week for discussion in the online classroom; they are also available by appointment.
The school has an active and thriving National Honor Society as well as a credit recovery program and counseling services.
- Accreditations: AdvancED/NWAC, NCAA-Approved
- Price: Tuition can be paid by year or semester. Annual tuition ranges from $5,495-$8,495 for high school students. Semester tuition ranges from $3,495-$3,995. There is a registration fee of $150 for semester enrollment and $25 for yearly enrollment.
- Discounts or payment plans: The school offers a Family, Military, and Friends Saver Plan. When two or more individuals from your immediate family enroll full-time at CMASAS, your family will receive a 10% reduction in tuition for new, subsequent student(s). Military families can enjoy 10% off tuition. Families automatically qualify regardless of number of family members enrolled. Discount applies to all self-paid military dependent enrollments.
10. International Connections Academy
Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Columbia, MD, International Connections Academy is an online school that serves students around the world.
This school is the winner of numerous awards in the field of educational technology, garnering the Cool Tool Finalist Award from EdTech in 2015 for IVA’s Virtual Music Tools and the Visionary Award in 2014 for its education management system. The school has also received CODiE Awards from the Software Information Industry Association, and ComputED Gazette’s Education Software Review Awards (EDDIE and BESSIE), just to name a few.
Students may choose from honors and AP courses or dual enrollment classes through ICA’s College Acceleration program. The program allows students to complete a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time. The school profile indicates that the average student’s ACT composite score is 25 with an 1159 as the average combined SAT score. In ICA’s 2015 class, 100% of students graduated on time, and 100% of the students who applied to colleges were accepted.
In addition, the school has a partnership with Connections Academy schools and offers weekly National Counseling LiveLesson® programs that enable students and families to learn more about academic, social development, and career topics. During these real-time sessions students can ask guest speakers questions about their career choices and experiences.
- Accreditations: MSACS, AdvancED, NCAA-Approved.
- Price: Yearly tuition for upper school: $6,880 (8% discount if paid in full) for academic year. Other discounts available; monthly payment plans with 0% financing are available. Tuition covers all course materials.
- Discount/payment plans: Various discounts for siblings, children of military personnel, early enrollment, or early decision.
Types of Online High School Diploma Programs
There are four types of online high school diploma programs: private, public, charter, and college/university sponsored. Many parents of homeschool students turn to programs offered by private, accredited high schools for curriculum and assistance. Each program type has its place; it’s up to you to figure out which is right for you.
Online Charter School Diploma Programs
Public and charter school programs are government funded, are offered by particular states or districts, and are free to resident minors. They are usually accredited regionally and are state-approved. Online public schools have rigid guidelines, have limited course selections, and often cater only to certain resident populations. Charter schools offer more flexibility with either specialized or individualized programming, but they run the risk of losing funding and are viewed as less stable. They are also often not available to students outside of certain districts.
Each state’s department of education maintains a list of funded online programs, including charter schools. Because these programs are based on each state’s approved curriculum and are restricted to certain populations based on residency and age, it is meaningless to rank these programs.
Online Private High School Diploma Programs
Private online high schools vary greatly in terms of quality, recognition, and cost. This avenue demands the most research (which we’ve greatly assisted in) but also offers some top-notch education programs at great values. Private online high schools are usually offered nation-wide and have limited government oversight. They offer great programs in terms of catering to the needs of individual students, offering specialized interest programming, and meeting a variety of learning styles.
Homeschool graduates most often use private online high schools for the curriculum, even though they may receive their diplomas through their resident states. Many of these private schools have programs that cater specifically to the needs of homeschool students. The drawback of private schools: They can be very costly. Furthermore, even the most exciting programs need to be properly accredited for a valuable education.
University Sponsored Diploma Programs
University sponsored online high school diploma programs offer many programming advantages and often have regional accreditation. Most university sponsored programs offer a high quality education, flexibility, and advanced and dual credit programs. However, these programs often have more selective admission standards, have less interaction with instructors or services, and can be expensive.
University sponsored programs tend to work best for students who can monitor their own progress and work independently. Motivated students may have the opportunity to complete a full year of college courses by the time they graduate from high school. This can be a significant value for students planning to pursue college degrees. For the purpose of classifying high school diploma programs, programs offered by colleges and universities are usually not public, even if the institution is a public college or university.
Methodology for Ranking the Top High School Programs
To compile this list of the best online high schools, we kept the following factors in mind:
Distance education programs can carry the reputation of being “less than” their on-campus equivalents. With each school on this list, that is not the case. Every school listed in this article has received accreditation; many of them have been accredited through AdvancED or one of its counterparts. AdvancED is a nonprofit accrediting organization that conducts rigorous, on-site reviews with the goal of ensuring that educational institutions support all learners in realizing their full potential.
Through creative, challenging, and appropriate coursework, the best online high schools will prepare students to successfully transition into college studies or the workforce. Preparing students for success after high school includes offering college credit or dual enrollment programs, as well as career preparation, such as career certificates or training courses.
What makes a program affordable varies according to each person’s individual means; however, it always pays to look at the fine print regarding tuition, discounts, payment plans, and any additional fees. Likewise, if you have a student on the path to a college degree, consider if the online high school you’re interested in offers any dual enrollment classes. Dual enrollment classes give students the chance to earn both high school and college credit for the same course, saving money on future college classes. “Early college” or “pre-college” programs may even allow students to complete their associate degree while finishing their high school diploma.
All of these programs do come with fees, of course, but we’ve sought to compile a list that considers a diverse array of financial situations. Every school has a different tuition schedule; where one school may offer a generous payment plan, another might offer discounts. It’s important to remember that the price listed is for tuition only unless the amount is noted to be “in total for the program” or “all-inclusive.” Schools retain the prerogative to impose additional fees apart from the standard application and registration fees, including costs for transcripts, diploma copies, textbooks, exam proctoring, and more. Be sure to consult each school’s website to obtain up-to-date details on all fees, hidden or otherwise. Better yet, email a representative or schedule a call with an advisor to learn more and to see if there are any scholarship, grant, or discount options due to your financial situation — sometimes you have to ask to find out.
When information was published and available, we have included any available payment plans and special discounts, financial aid, or scholarship opportunities. Please note that all published fees are valid as of June 2018.
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