Online High School: How to Select a Program

When deciding between online high schools, it is important to consider the school's accreditation status, online program delivery options, program costs and the programs strengths and ability to prepare them for jobs or college.

Inside Online High School Options

Students turn to virtual high schools for a number of reasons. Some are adolescents who move around a lot or have unique extracurricular schedules that make a rigid, traditional school program difficult to keep up with. Others have learning challenges or desire more advanced coursework than what's offered in their local school system. Online programs can also be a flexible option for adults who want to earn that diploma or high school equivalency that they missed out on during their teen years. It's important to consider a few factors when choosing a program, including the following:


Accreditation is a sign that a high school program's curriculum meets certain academic requirements and standards set by education systems, accrediting commissions and other organizations. Programs may have regional accreditation, such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and approvals or affiliations from national bodies like AdvanceED. Earning an accredited diploma is important because it could impact students' eligibility for college or employment.

Scheduling and Instructor Support

Distance learners should consider their learning styles and what kind of instructor support they need when comparing programs. Some online high schools use audio and video feeds and involve live interaction with instructors. Others might have less live interaction and instead rely more on texts and methods of independent learning. Some programs provide more structure and scheduled class meetings, which could help students stay on task more easily.

Computer Skills

Online high school classes involve typing and working with a virtual environment. Online classrooms may contain lectures, assignments, tests and other interactive learning materials. Students might have to prepare reports or projects using various office application or other software programs. Those who lack basic typing and computer skills could have a rough time in virtual courses. However, some programs do offer home correspondence courses in which assignments are completed at home and submitted by mail.

Program Costs

Although cost doesn't necessarily indicate quality, more advanced programs are a bit more expensive. Additionally, unlike students enrolled in a traditional public school, distance learners in a virtual program may have to purchase textbooks and other supplies for studying at home.

Schools might have standards for students' computers, so those lacking up-to-date technology could face more expenses when upgrading. Often, online schools post general technological necessities on their websites, although additional software may be needed for certain courses. Some of the general technology requirements may include:

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

Program Strengths

While online high schools can generally provide students with more course choices than traditional high schools, their strengths vary. One may have a strict technical influence, for instance, while another may focus more on the arts.

Career/College Preparation

Prospective online high school students should consider not only what line of work they're interested in but also the requirements for admission into colleges they're interested in. Some universities and colleges require applicants to have completed certain high school courses in areas like English, math and the sciences.

When selecting an online high school, it is important to make sure that the school can meet the student's academic needs and provide the educational preparation they need for future success.

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