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Best Online High Schools

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by ConsumerAffairs Research Team

An online high school, also known as cyber-school or virtual school, is an alternative to the traditional classroom-style setting. The curriculum and instruction takes place via the internet using various tools such as conference software, chat and email.

The instructors and students are generally in remote locations and students often participate at their own pace. Online high schools are a small portion of the high school landscape in the United States, but they are one of the fastest growing options.

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Epic Charter Schools
Read 112 Reviews

Epic Charter Schools are online public schools for kids in Pre-K through high school. Epic is a public school, so it is tuition-free and accredited by Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Whitmore School
Read 84 Reviews

Whitmore School is an accredited online high school and was founded in 1994. With a 24/7 program available for students, our students can enroll anytime and start at their earliest convenience.

K12
Read 77 Reviews

Founded in 1999, K12 is the largest for-profit online education company, with 58 schools including free public and tuition-based private schools and supplemental curriculum providers. K12’s available schools vary by state.

Laurel Springs School
Read 15 Reviews

Founded in 1991, Laurel Springs is a fully accredited, online private school for grades K-12. Laurel Springs assists students to enter their top choice for college and has a current college acceptance rate of 91 percent.

James Madison High School
Read 20 Reviews

James Madison High School allows traditional high school students, homeschoolers and older people who have not yet received a high school diploma to study at their convenience and fulfill requirements to graduate.

Penn Foster High School
Read 10 Reviews

Penn Foster offers students the ability to customize their curriculum and schedule to meet their academic and other needs. Users can choose between online and print textbooks so they can learn in the way that's best for them.

The Keystone School
Read 12 Reviews

The Keystone School offers customized educational programs online. Students can enroll in a comprehensive program or take individual courses not available at their brick-and-mortar schools to supplement their education.

Florida Virtual School
Read 9 Reviews

Florida Virtual School is an online school that offers coursework for K-12 students in the United States. Homeschooled students and those in public and private schools can take courses.

Connections Academy
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Connections Academy is a tuition-free virtual academy. It offers courses in select areas for students from kindergarten through high school. Users can input their zip codes to find out what services are offered in their area.

Provost Academy

Provost Academy offers online high school classes in Georgia, Ohio, Colorado and South Carolina. It sets up each student with a mentor to ensure the highest-quality possible education and individualized instruction.

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What features matter most for online high schools?

Curriculum offerings

Many families choose online high school due to the need for an alternative education. Online high schools can offer curriculums that are tailored to the needs and goals of the student.

  • Honors/AP classes: Gifted students, especially those in underserved areas, can benefit from a full range of Honors and AP classes offered by online high schools.
  • Technical training classes: Students who would like more preparation in specific areas, beyond a general high school curriculum, may find appropriate classes for credit at online high schools.
  • No curriculum: For those who are looking to obtain a high school diploma based on life and work experience, some online high schools offer an assessment in lieu of coursework.

Accreditations

National and regional accreditation ensures online high schools are in compliance with federal regulations and are using high standards of academic quality.

  • National accreditation: There are national accrediting bodies for online high schools, the most recognized being the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
  • Regional accreditation: Regional accreditation is more common in the online high school industry. Some trusted examples are the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI).
  • State accreditation: Some online high schools are public schools and are accredited by the states in which they operate, just like their brick and mortar counterparts.

Alternate ways to earn credit

With some online high schools, students can get credit from previous education, life and work experiences. This can save time and money.

  • Credit for experience: Some online high schools offer credit for life and work experience. This is especially attractive for older learners. Usually an assessment is necessary to earn the credit.
  • Transfer credits: Often, a student's credits from other accredited high schools can be transferred. In some cases an assessment test may be necessary.
  • Earn college credit: Some online high schools offer students the ability to earn college credit while still in high school. These credits can be used towards a high school diploma as well as a college degree.

Payment options

Payment options can be a big factor for some families. Many online high schools offer different types of payment options from flexible to free.

  • Free tuition: Some online high schools are public and therefore free of charge.
  • Flexible course purchase: While some programs require payment of full tuition for an academic period, other online high schools allow for payment of individual courses if a student just needs supplemental course work.
  • Financing: Some online high schools offer financing which can often be free of interest and financing charges.
  • Scholarships: Those needing assistance with tuition and equipment costs may be able to find online high schools that offer scholarships.

Academic support

A student's success can often be traced back to the support they receive in their educational journey. This is also true in the world of online high school.

  • Academic counselors: Most online high schools provide parents and students with an academic counselor. The counselor works with families to create an education plan that meets the goals and needs of the student.
  • Peer support: Students at online high schools can often find many ways to enjoy peer support either through forums, chat rooms, social media and sometimes in-person community events.
  • Teacher support: Families may turn to online high school as a way to provide their child with more one-on-one support from teachers than is possible in the traditional academic setting.

What are the different types of online high schools?

Education Management Organization (EMO)

These virtual schools are operated by an organization focused specifically on education. EMOs can be non-profit, but are more often for-profit.

Non-EMO

Virtual schools that are operated by states and school districts are considered non-EMO schools and are often charter schools, chartered by the state to provide education. However, many districts contract with an EMO in order to provide students an online curriculum option or other educational support services.

Private

Most private online high schools are aimed at gifted students and often serve as a feeder program into major universities. There is a tuition charge which can be significantly higher than the other types of online high schools.

Who attends online high schools?

Students with other commitments

This includes Olympic athletes, musicians, actors and artists, or those dedicated to an alternative schedule that conflicts with traditional high-school hours.

Advanced Placement (AP) students

Gifted students, students interested in college-prep and those with a specific focus can benefit from online high school offerings.

Home-schooled students

Some home-schooled students choose to supplement their education with online school to obtain a diploma.

Working adults

Adults who have not yet earned a high school diploma and are looking to advance their career and increase their employment options often turn to online high school.

Military families

Families who move often may opt for online high school to keep education consistent in varying locations.

Online high school expert reviews

Whitmore School

Whitmore School by CompuHigh started in 1994 by parents looking for alternative education options for their children. The accredited school’s mission is to put students in charge of their own education.

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Epic Charter Schools

Epic Charter Schools are free, public schools for students in Pre-K through 12th grade. It lets students complete their classes online, but it doesn’t require students spend a certain number of hours online each day. The school also hosts in-person activities, like field trips, prom and a graduation ceremony. In-person events usually take place in Oklahoma City.

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James Madison High School

James Madison High School is a self-paced school that provides full academic support including teacher support, a blog and a question and answer forum. James Madison is an accredited school and has graduated tens of thousands of students.

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K12

Founded in 1999, K12 Inc. is a for-profit education corporation. As of 2017, it is the largest online school company, operating 58 separate virtual schools with nearly 77,000 students enrolled in the 2011-12 school year. K12 owns free online public schools, tuition-based online private schools, and online supplemental courses and is accredited by AdvancED, the largest homeschool accrediting agency. Interested caregivers can use the search feature on K12’s main page to find what offerings are available in their home states.

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The Keystone School

The Keystone School is a private, tuition-based online school. Started in 1974, The Keystone School was one of the first in the industry to develop distance learning and online schooling. The Keystone School has had students from all 50 states and nearly 100 countries.

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Laurel Springs School

Founded in 1991, Laurel Springs is a private online school with a large course offering and full academic support. It is designed as a college preparatory school geared toward the personal interests and aptitudes of each student. Laurel Springs also focuses on community and building a sense of school pride.

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Provost Academy

Provost is an online public high school serving the states of Colorado, South Carolina, Georgia and Ohio. The school is tuition free and governed by individual state charters.

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Connections Academy

Connections Academy is a virtual education organization that provides a free public online school for grades K-12, as well as a tuition-based online private school. Connections Academy is a division of Connections Education LLC.

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Western Christian Academy

Western Christian Academy is a small, accredited Christian online school for Pre-K through 12th grade. Based in Prather, California, Western Christian Academy was founded over 32 years ago and has over 700 students in all 50 states.

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Penn Foster High School

Accredited in 1972, Penn Foster High School is located in and licensed by the Pennsylvania State Board of Private Licensed Schools. The school has a focus on lifelong learning as well as traditional high school education.

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Florida Virtual School

Florida Virtual School is an online school located in Florida but open to students throughout the United States. Classes are free to Florida residents and available on a paid basis for those outside the state.

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Compare Reviews for Top Online High Schools

Western Christian Academy

Western Christian Academy is a tuition-based Christian online school for students from kindergarten through high school. It offers more than 50,000 multimedia options in its online academic and religious courses.

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ConsumerAffairs Research Team

The ConsumerAffairs Research Team believes everyone deserves to make smart decisions. We aim to provide readers with the most up-to-date information available about today's consumer products and services.