by Penny Ross

Homeschooling high school is different, even if you’ve already been homeschooling for multiple years. It’s all about the “D” word – diploma! Applications and interviews for the rest of your student’s life will likely ask if a high school diploma was earned.

A diploma is more than a certificate of attendance for Grades 9-12. It usually means completion of a certain number of classes in specified subject areas: a course of study spelled out by the institution granting the diploma. And, yes, a homeschooled student can earn a diploma!

Additionally, in California, a high school diploma or the student’s eighteenth birthday marks the end of compulsory school attendance. So, the question becomes – what next? The answer to that question is of key importance when planning your high school student’s education. In the lower grades, what to study can largely be determined by the student’s interests and abilities as well as your family’s goals and values. While these are still crucial in the high school years, education now needs to reflect more of the outside world’s criteria as well. If your student hopes to attend a college or university, the high school classes must be planned to comply with college admissions requirements. If your student is planning to seek employment sooner rather than later, then the high school coursework must satisfy the demands of the workplace.

The outside world will evaluate the quality of your student’s education through a document called a transcript. A transcript is like a resume of the student’s high school experience and includes all the report card information from Grades 9-12 plus test results, graduation (or targeted) date, and oftentimes a brief summary of extracurricular activities. Transcripts are prepared by the school the student is enrolled in. If you are your own school (you file a PSA – private school affidavit), then you will be responsible for producing the transcript. There are multiple websites that will walk you through the process of preparing one for your student as well as several vendors who will do it for you for a fee. CHEA has a free transcript service for members although it is temporarily unavailable.

Besides the diploma and transcript, another major difference in high school is the fact that coursework is measured in credits. A standard, year-long class in a campus-based setting earns 10 credits (or 1 Carnegie unit in other parts of the country). So coursework in your homeschool, which covers an equivalent amount of content, will also receive 10 credits. A semester’s worth of content can be pro-rated to five credits and so forth. Sometimes, credits are based on time, rather than content – especially for classes like physical education. If your student is enrolled in a private school satellite program (PSP) or public school-at-home program, then that program will specify how to calculate credits and determine when graduation requirements are completed. If you have filed a PSA, you will determine when and how credits are earned and what the graduation requirements will be from your school. To learn more about credits, transcripts, and graduation requirements in California, I recommend The High School Handbook by Mary Schofield, available at the CHEA Store.

Because the diploma is earned upon completion of certain courses and credits, students who find it necessary to change programs during their high school career should understand that it is up to the incoming institution to determine which credits and classes will be accepted. The new school has total latitude in this process. Sometimes public high schools are reluctant to accept transfer credits from a homeschool program. There are ways around this obstacle, such as the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) or dual enrollment in community college. But you would be wise to carefully evaluate high school options before your student begins ninth grade to minimize the need to transfer programs part-way through high school.

One of the challenges of homeschooling at the high school level is fulfilling academic requirements while, simultaneously, prepping for post-graduation plans without losing the freedom and flexibility that comes with home education. For example when teaching Algebra I, you need to cover specific skills and topics in order to adequately prepare your student for Algebra II. However, you still have the flexibility to choose from many different resources, learning approaches, and pacing of the material to master the skills and concepts. Don’t allow yourself to be strait-jacketed into a curriculum or method that doesn’t work for your student or for your family just because you’re homeschooling a high schooler!

Be careful not to lose sight of the individual God has created your student to be. He has created your student for a purpose. High school can be an exciting time for both you and your student as you seek to discern some of that purpose and to uncover the gifts, talents, and abilities God has placed within your student to achieve that purpose. In other words, while the diploma, transcript, and credits of your student may look semi-standardized, the actual education received by your student can still be very much individualized.

For example, my daughter studied Latin along with her older brother in middle school and high school. He was content to stop after the minimum college admission requirement for foreign language. However, my daughter loved her study of a foreign language so much that she went on to study American Sign Language (ASL) and Spanish while still in high school. The flexibility of homeschooling allowed us to customize her schedule to accommodate group classes and dual enrollment in community college to pursue her interests and passions in foreign languages.

Legally, homeschooling high school is the same as in the lower grades. You can still choose from private independent homeschooling (filing a private school affidavit) or private homeschooling through a private school satellite program. A diploma can be earned through either of these options. With a professional-looking transcript plus good college admissions test scores, your student can gain admittance to most colleges and universities (although some will have additional requirements for homeschooled students; check each institution’s website to verify). The major difference between high school homeschool options is who determines the requirements for your student’s diploma. A customized diploma with an individually tailored high school education is usually most achievable through private homeschooling.

Homeschooling high school offers a wonderful opportunity to interact with your teens in an entirely different manner. As their analytical skills mature, you have the opportunity to engage in great conversations and to further think through how our Christian faith is impacted by our society, culture, and current events. I think I learned more about a Biblical worldview as I interacted with my teens than in many years of church attendance! We lived out the truth of Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (ESV).

Yes, it can be quite challenging to cover the content of a high school education, but there are options such as tutors, co-ops, and group classes that can help you. Don’t panic at the thought of teaching high school. Instead welcome the opportunity to disciple your teen and to teach important life skills as he or she prepares to transition into adulthood.

Want to learn more? Join Penny this summer at CHEA’s 36th Annual Homeschool Convention in Pasadena as she and other experienced homeschoolers share how-tos, resources, and encouragement for homeschooling in high school. Registration is open now.

CHEA is excited to offer a FREE College Prep and College Fair Night on July 11 as part of this year’s convention. While the event is free, registration is required.

To get your copy of The High School Handbook by Mary Schofield, visit CHEA’s online store.

Penny Ross runs her own homeschool business, Tools for the Home Educator, in Torrance, CA offering consultations and training for homeschool parents as well as selling gently-used curriculum. She has over 30 years of homeschool experience through teaching her own three children and then serving in PSP leadership at Hope Chapel Academy in Hermosa Beach. She is happily married to her college sweetheart and loves helping homeschool parents do more than just survive homeschooling, but thrive.