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.

Top 9 Best Rated Online High Schools

Laurel Springs has been offering college preparatory programs to high school students since 1991. It is accredited by several agencies and assists users in preparing to enter their top choice for college.
K12 offers one-on-one lessons online to students from kindergarten through high school. High school students can receive individualized instruction at their own pace and graduate from high school when they are ready.
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.
The Keystone School offers customized educational programs online. Users can take either all of their high school courses through this company or individual courses not available at their schools to supplement their education.
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.
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.
Western Christian Academy offers Christian-based online education for students from kindergarten through high school. It offers more than 50,000 multimedia options in its online academic and religious courses.
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.
Florida Virtual School is an online public high school that offers students around the United States the ability to take unique, interesting and necessary coursework in order to graduate from high school on time.

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What features matter most?

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.


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 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.


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.


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's it for?

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.

Company reviews

  • 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.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students, working adults and military families.
  • K12 Inc.

    K12 Inc. is the largest online school company. This EMO operated fifty-eight full-time virtual schools with nearly 77,000 students enrolled for the 2011-12 school year. K12 Inc. owns the rather well-known Insight Schools and Kaplan Virtual Education.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students, working adults and military families.
  • The Keystone School

    Keystone has been providing education for forty years. Started in 1974, Keystone has been one of the innovators in distance learning and online programs. Keystone has had students from all fifty states and nearly one hundred countries.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students and military families.
  • Laurel Springs School

    Founded in 1991, Laurel Springs is a private online school with a large course offering and full academic support. Laurel Springs also focuses on community and building a sense of school pride.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students and military families.
  • 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.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students and military families.
  • Connections Academy

    Connections Academy is a robust organization that provides free public online high school as well as affordable online private school. Connections Academy is a division of Connections Education LLC.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students and military families.
  • Western Christian Academy

    Western Christian Academy is accredited christian school offering pre-k through twelfth grade online education. The school is thirty-two years old and serves all fifty states.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students and military families.
  • 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.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students, working adults and military families.
  • Florida Virtual School

    Florida Virtual School is a public online high school located in Florida. Classes are free to Florida residents and available on a paid basis for those outside the state.

    • Best for Students with other commitments, home-schooled students, working adults and military families.