Considering Online High School: 8 Questions to Ask

online high school

A month or so ago many of us were still dreaming of August Back to School shopping. I love images of kids and their new backpacks waiting at the bus stop! Optimism was bliss. Somehow it’s almost August and the idea of our kids returning to a brick-and-mortar school seems more dream-like than ever. And not in the hopeful sense but in the “keep dreaming” sense. Is online high school the norm now?

Many (maybe most) of our kids aren’t going back to school this fall, at least physically. Granted, all school divisions are coming up with hybrid or online or virtual or who-knows-what-to-call-it options for remote learning. Many of us will navigate those uncharted waters and it will be fine. We’ll be in good company. Some parents, however, are DONE. The options are too confusing, the schedule too wonky. You have serious reservations about your school divisions ability to pivot to the virtual world and worry what your kid might miss in the meantime.

Whatever it may be, you’re just done with the uncertainty (and the administration’s uncertainty) of what school might look like next year for your kid. Enter the private online high school option. These are the schools that can confidently say, “this isn’t out first rodeo” when it comes to virtual education. If you’re one of those parents who is frantically searching for a Plan D and considering an established online high school, here are some helpful questions to ask:

1. Is the school accredited?

Look for an online school that is regionally accredited. This means it is accredited by one of the Associations for College and Schools. (Acronym ends in ACS – for example, the Southern Association of College and Schools, the Western Association for Colleges and Schools, the Middle States Association for Colleges and Schools etc.) Don’t get bamboozled and fall for schools that are accredited by what SOUNDS like a fancier, more prestigious accrediting agency. The regional ACS accreditation is the one you want.

2. Does it offer the caliber of coursework your kid needs?

Being “college prep” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a rigorous curriculum. If your kid envisions attending a selective college in the future, you need to choose an online high school that utilizes some of the nationally recognized programs for college prep work. Look for a program that offers AP, IB, Cambridge, or a partnership with a college where actual college coursework and credit is offered.

3. Is your student an athlete?

If your kid is potentially an NCAA contender be sure to select a school whose courses are NCAA D1 and D2 approved. Not sure? Ask NCAA.

4. Does the school offer any specialized education services my child might need?

Don’t assume that online school options will be able to provide any accommodations your public school was providing. Some do, most don’t.

5. Is the administration accessible and helpful?

Test it out. Call/email frequently as you begin your research. Are they responsive? Are their responses helpful? As the parent, you will be communicating with the administration frequently regarding your child’s educational path. If you find the administration difficult during the research phase of your journey, I wouldn’t suggest enrollment.

6. What does the school profile look like?

The school profile should be posted on their website. If it’s not then ask for it. The profile should show you things like the average SAT scores for its most recent classes, the colleges recent graduates have gone on to attend, and some information about its faculty (how many have advanced degrees, average years of experience teaching, etc.). These things are important because you need to have a sense of who is teaching your kid, what typical outcomes might be, and also a sense of your kid’s “classmates.” While interaction looks different with online schools, it still exists. Essentially, you’re helping to “choose the company” your kid keeps and you want to select a school that looks like one in which your particular kid will thrive.

5. What’s the format?

Are you looking for synchronous or asynchronous learning? Some schools are just asynchronous, and some are just synchronous. Some are a combo. Make sure you know not just WHAT courses will be delivered but also HOW those courses will be delivered. It needs to be a good match for your needs and expectations.

RELATED: No, Colleges Aren’t Going to Cut Tuition for Online-Only Classes

6. Does the school employ a school counselor who is readily available to assist your student?

Just as in a regular public high school, kids in online high school should have access to a school counselor for a host of reasons, not the least of which include both mental health counseling and college/career counseling.

7. Does the school offer socialization opportunities?

This may or may not be important to you. Even as an at-home learner, many students are still very involved in their community activities or sports. They wouldn’t need additional social opportunities through the online high school. But if your kid is not particularly involved in your community or athletics, does the online school offer virtual socialization opportunities for classmates?

8. How much is this going to cost me?

Many of the highly reputable online high schools aren’t cheap. The tuition for some rival what you’d pay for college tuition. They are, after all, private high schools. I hate to be cliche, but the adage “you get what you pay for” does have some merit in terms of online education. Just do your research. Know what your budget is and find the best fit for both your needs and budget.

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