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Best Online High Schools

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Read this guide to learn about and choose the best online high school for you or your child. We compared national and regional accreditation services, payment options, curriculum and educational tools, including conference software and virtual textbooks.

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Choosing an online high school program

A high school diploma is of vital importance, as 90% of jobs in the US are inaccessible to a high school dropout. Unfortunately, some of us simply cannot go to a physical school or traditional homeschool for a number of reasons. The solution is an online high school, and we can show you how to choose the best one.  

1. Study the virtual school’s accreditations

National and regional accreditation is vitally important when choosing your online high school. The proper accreditation ensures online high schools are in compliance with federal regulations and are using high standards of academic quality. The difference between an online high school with the right accreditation and one without also means your diploma could be illegitimate in the eyes of college admissions and job hiring professionals.

  • 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. AdvanED, the world’s largest educational accreditor, is the parent organization of the following regional accreditors: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS-CASI), North Central Association Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA-CASI) and Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC).
  • 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.

2. What is the online high school’s curriculum offerings?

Many families choose online high school due to the need for alternative education. Whether you need to learn a skilled trade or want to finish out the rest of your remedial studies, online high schools can offer curriculums tailored to the needs and goals of each 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.
  • Vocational 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.
  • College preparatory: These courses are ideal for students planning to attend a 4-year college or university. Remember, colleges around the country accept online high school graduates as long as the diploma is from an appropriately accredited school.
  • General studies: Geared toward students planning to attend a community or technical college, or who are going to join the military or workforce after graduation.

3. Look for alternate ways to earn credit

With some online high schools, students can get credit from previous education, life, and work experiences. Make sure to approach the school’s admissions and see if they offer any of the following, this may be able to 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 and learners employed in the trade they are studying. Usually, an assessment is necessary to earn credit.
  • Transfer credits: Often, a student's credits from other accredited high schools can be transferred, especially if the previous schooling credits earned in remedial classes like basic math or science course. 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.

4. Ask about all payment options

Payment options can be a big factor for future students, especially if the student also happens to be the breadwinner splitting time between work and school. However, many online high schools offer different types of payment options from flexible payments to sliding payment scales to public opportunities that may even make your experience free. Don’t be afraid to speak with the financial aid and billing departments about payment questions, as well as these options.

  • 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.

5. Inquire about 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. For those returning to school after a few years (or decades) of absence, you may need extra help to acclimate back into school life.

  • 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.


Virtual schools operated by states and school districts are tuition-free public charter or magnet schools, chartered by the state to provide education. Many districts contract with an EMO to provide students with an online curriculum option or other educational support services.


Some private online high schools serve students who need a flexible schedule not available in traditional schools. This includes Olympic athletes, musicians, actors, artists, or those dedicated to an alternative schedule that conflicts with traditional high-school hours. Many 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.

Online high schools FAQ

Can you get your high school diploma online for free?
Yes, it is possible to earn your high school diploma online for free. Before choosing an online school, thoroughly research the program to guarantee you know what you’re getting into. Make sure the online school of your choice is legitimate and accredited before registering for classes. Accreditation is important because other schools, organizations and companies may not honor certain free online diplomas.

If you are a minor and your area offers government-funded public and charter online high schools, you can attend those for free too.

How much does online high school cost?
Online high school can cost anywhere from $0 to over $10,000 per year. When comparing online high schools, remember that annual cost is just one factor, along with the program’s qualifications.
Is online high school a good idea?
Yes, online high schools are a good idea for many people, including those who:
  • Didn’t have the opportunity to earn their GED diploma
  • Do not thrive in a traditional high school environment
  • Have special situations which require flexible learning opportunities

These students may also benefit from tutoring.

Do colleges accept online high school diplomas?
Yes, almost all colleges accept online high school diplomas from accredited programs. Accreditation is key to determining whether or not an online high school program is legitimate or a scam.
Can you start online school in the middle of the year?
Most online schools allow you to begin classes at any point in the year. However, certain programs may be on a set schedule due to the teachers’ plans or curriculum.
Is online high school accredited?
Yes, many online high schools are accredited. Be sure to verify that an online high school is accredited before enrolling. Nearly all colleges accept high school diplomas from accredited online high schools.
Is online school year-round?
With the flexibility of online school, students can attend these programs year-round. Online schools often allow students to customize their course schedules to meet their educational and personal needs.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Online high school author 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.

    • Accreditation: Whitmore School is accredited by AdvancED, an organization formed by the merger of three regional accrediting groups, SACS CASI, NCA-CASI, and NWAC. The US Department of Education recognizes AdvancED.
    • Mastery approach: Whitmore’s educational approach is centered on the idea of mastery. Students can begin a new course at any point during the year and they have up to one year to master course material. This approach develops personal responsibility and determination by removing the pressure of learning something in a given period of time.
    • Open enrollment: Because Whitmore has an open enrollment policy, students may start at any point during the year. This feature makes the school a convenient option for those looking for a new high school mid-semester or over the summer.
    • Individual courses: Students enrolled at another high school can sign up for an individual course at Whitmore School. These courses can be used to fulfill a general requirement or to explore an area not offered by the student’s other school. Tuition fees are listed online.
    • Electives: Whitmore offers a wide variety of electives to help students receive a well-rounded education that prepares them for college or a career. Options include stress management, Spanish 1 and 2, art history, computer science and more.
    Read 317 Reviews
    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 to 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.

    Read more about Epic Charter Schools
    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.

    Read more about James Madison High School

    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.

    Read more about K12
    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.

    Read more about The Keystone School
    Laurel Springs School

    Founded in 1991, Laurel Springs is a fully accredited private online school for students in kindergarten through grade 12 and beyond and has reimagined the educational journey through a student-centered focus. The Laurel Springs School staff consists of exceptional faculty, academic support specialists, and college counselors who share an enthusiasm for meeting each student where they are, while challenging them to grow and expand their potential through self-discovery.

    Read more about Laurel Springs School
    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.

    Read more about Connections Academy
    Penn Foster High School

    Accredited in 1972, Penn Foster High School is located in Pennsylvania 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.

    Read more about Penn Foster High School
    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.

    Read more about Florida Virtual School
    ASU Prep Digital

    ASU Prep Digital is an online school for grades K-12 offered in conjunction with Arizona State University. ASU Prep is an accredited, diploma-granting school. The digital program from ASU Prep lets students carve their own path and personalize their learning experience to match their pace, schedule and knowledge level through advanced placement and college credit opportunities.

    • Curriculum: ASU Prep has programs in place for grades K-12, and its curriculum includes English, science, social studies, math and language coursework. The program also offers fine arts electives and general electives, including courses in creative writing, entrepreneurship, fitness, psychology, game design, video production and guitar.
    • Student engagement: Students have access to direct instruction from their teachers via live group video classes and one-on-one video calls, phone calls, texts and emails. ASU Prep also has learning success coaches in a mentoring and support role for students.
    • Advanced coursework: ASU Prep students can earn university credit by taking Arizona State University courses concurrently with their high school studies or through ASU’s Open Scale program. ASU Open Scale courses let students take college courses and only pay for the credit when they pass. Students completing this advanced coursework can earn a digital certificate from ASU.
    • Tuition: Tuition for Arizona students is free. Tuition for out-of-state students varies, but the school’s tuition calculator estimates a projected cost of $6,900 for full-time high school enrollment in a U.S. state other than Arizona at the time of publication.

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