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How to Choose an Online High School

Thomas Nixon advises how to make sure you choose the right online high school


Updated February 28, 2012
According to national statistics, the number of adults without a diploma is rising. Interestingly, the number of ways to earn a high school diploma—whether you're a teen or an adult—is also increasing. One of your options is to choose an online high school, but how do you go about choosing the right one? I've got some advice for you.

Online High Schools Are for Adults, Too

Online high schools are increasingly becoming the destination of choice for adults. They aren't just for teens. There are a number of reasons online schools are attractive to adults:
  • They save embarrassment. Adults may be embarrassed that they haven't earned a high school diploma, and may not like the idea of attending a face-to-face diploma program (like at a high school or an adult school). A key advantage of online schools is that they can be rather faceless. If you don't tell the other students you're an adult, they won't know how old you are, what you look like, or why you're in the program.
  • They're easy to use. Think about what it takes to attend a regular high school program. You need to go to the school to enroll. You need to show up in a particular place a couple of times a week. You need to find parking. You need to do everything on the school's terms. Online schools allow you to sign up online, work on the course when it's convenient for you, and still earn that elusive piece of paper.

Find the Online High School That Is Right for You

Once you have decided to entertain the thought of attending an online high school, the first thing you'll discover is that there are a lot of them. Search for "online high schools" and you'll discover hundreds of them. Here's an important point to remember: not all online high schools are created equal.

What should you consider?

  1. Does the school accept adults? Clearly this is key for you, the adult student, and it is not as simple as one would think. With some schools it is very easy to find age requirements on the school's website. Other schools may require you to call them. Still, this is relatively simple.
  2. If the school is free, is it legitimate? There are some online high schools that are free. Typically, these are public schools (and, most often, also charter schools). Almost all of these do not accept adults. There are a few charter schools that accept students up to age 21. Still, most readers here will need to look elsewhere.
  3. How much will online high school cost? There is a wide variety of costs. You will find some schools that cost $1,500 for the entire program, and you will find others that are several thousands of dollars. Don't be discouraged by cost. Many of these programs have payment plans. I encourage you not to choose an online high school diploma program based solely on cost.

Be Sure the School You Choose Is a Real School

There are indeed fake online high schools, just as there are fake colleges (called "diploma mills"). In order to determine if a school is real or fake, look at who recognizes, or accredits, it. There are a number of different groups that do this, including:
  • State Departments of Education. Be careful here. There are other state governmental bodies that might provide some sort of recognition, but that is closer to being a business license than attesting to the quality of the program. If the Department of Education in the school's state does not recognize the school, it may not be valid.
  • Public School Districts. Some school districts are now creating their own online high schools. This is certainly solid recognition.
  • Regional or National Accreditors. Be careful here as well. Just as there are fake schools, there are also fake accreditors. So who is real? The organizations listed below certainly are, but this is not a complete list. It is merely a starting point. The organizations listed below have some governmental recognition, so it makes it easier to determine their legitimacy.
    1. Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
    2. The secondary school organizations of the Six Regional Accrediting Organizations.
    3. AdvancED

Where To From Here?

I hope this brief introduction to online high schools gives you the desire to earn your high school diploma. Increasingly, we have become a society that is concerned with credentials, and of particular note, educational credentials. Consider making an online high school the first step toward more education and better employment opportunities. The time to begin is today! Good luck!

Note from Continuing Education Guide Deb Peterson

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