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Online High School: Is IT Really Right For You?

Online high schools provide flexibility, convenience and a sense of privacy. This might sound amazing on paper, but for many people online high schools are not a good fit.

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Factors to consider when determining whether to enroll in an online high school include a student's life situation and learning environment, as well as the program's curriculum, costs and technology requirements.

Ideal Students for Online High School

Online high schools serve a variety of students for differing reasons. These programs may be ideal for those who live in military families or in families that move often due to a parent's job, for example. Online high school students also include those who are involved in extracurricular activities that make sticking to a traditional school schedule a challenge. In some cases, students enroll in these programs if they're homeschooled or have learning challenges that need individualized attention they're not getting in a traditional school environment. Many programs are designed for adolescents, but there are also a number of online high school options for adults.

Common Curriculum

Online high schools offer a curriculum that is generally in keeping with state standards for secondary education. This means students can expect to take a considerable amount of core general education classes as well as electives. One advantage of virtual programs is that they might offer a larger variety of course options than a traditional high school. Distance learning students could take courses in the following areas:

  • English
  • Math
  • Science
  • History
  • Social science
  • Computers and technology
  • Health
  • Foreign language
  • Technical education

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Sciences
  • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies
  • Medical and Health Professions
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Visual and Performing Arts

Learning Environment

One of the perks of online high school is the students' ability to learn from home. Some programs require students to complete assignments and take tests by certain dates, but others allow for self-paced study. For the wrong student, this can also be a drawback. Because there is typically, but not always, less structure in an online program, one who is not self-motivated may find it difficult to keep up with their studies. While programs may feature virtual instructor interaction or learning assistance from parents, distance-learning students generally have to take the initiative to study, read books and work on projects on their own. Online students may have to spend up to eight hours a week working on just one course.

A virtual classroom environment does, however, offer opportunities to not only engage with teachers, but also with other students. Class discussion in forums may be a regular component of an online high school class. Some of the communication methods in online programs may include:

  • Email
  • Video chatting
  • Message boards

Keep in mind that students' homes are the physical classroom, so noisy or distracting settings could negatively impact learning. Additionally, students must be comfortable working with computers and typing. Solid writing and reading skills are also important.

Costs

Some institutions offer free online programs affiliated with public school systems. In other cases, students have to pay tuition and fees to stay enrolled in the virtual high school. Some institutions offer payment plans or charge a monthly tuition while the student is taking classes. Another cost to keep in mind is that of learning supplies. While traditional public schools supply textbooks to students, distance-learning students typically have to purchase their books from an online store.

Technology Requirements

Online high schools may also have certain technological requirements for students' computers and Internet connections, which could be an added expense if their current equipment isn't up to those standards. Although specific requirements vary by course, some general technological necessities include:

  • Desktop or laptop with a certain amount of memory
  • High speed Internet
  • Office software
  • Certain Internet browsers
  • Webcam
  • Microphone
  • Printer
  • Scanner

When deciding whether to enroll in online high school, prospective students should make sure that they are ready to meet the academic requirements, and that online study is consistent with their learning style.

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