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Free Online High Schools 101

What You Need to Know About No-Cost Online High School Programs

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Most states offer at least one way for students to earn a high school diploma at no cost.

Zak Kendal / Cultura / Getty Images

What is a Free Online High School?

A free online high school is a program that allows students to study through the internet without paying tuition. Free online high schools are considered public schools. In some states, they may be run by the state's department of education. In other states, free online high schools are administrated by local school districts or by private organizations that receive permission by forming charter schools. While some free online high schools only offer a few courses, many provide students the opportunity to earn an entire high school diploma.
 

Do Free Online High Schools Offer Legitimate Diplomas?

The short answer is: yes. Free only high schools can award graduates diplomas that are the same as diplomas from traditional brick-and-mortar schools. However, many free online high schools are new and are still trying to become properly accredited. Whenever a new school (traditional or virtual) begins accepting students for enrollment, it must go through an accreditation process to prove that it offers a high quality education. The process can take some time and a school is not guaranteed to receive accreditation. Before enrolling, you can check a free online high school's accreditation status here. If the school is not accredited, you may encounter trouble transferring to another program or having your credits accepted by a college after graduation.
 

Are Free Online High Schools Easier Than Traditional High Schools?

As a general rule, free online high schools are not easier than traditional online high schools. Different schools have different curricula and instructors. Some free online high schools may be more difficult than their traditional counterparts, while others may be easier. Some students tend to thrive in the self-paced, independent atmosphere that online high schools provide. Others have an extremely difficult time trying to navigate their assignments and study without the face-to-face assistance offered by teachers in traditional programs.
 

Can Adults Enroll in Free Online High Schools?

As public programs, free online high schools are designed for teenagers. While the rules vary from state to state, most free online high schools do not permit older adults to enroll. Some programs will accept students that are in their early twenties or younger. Older students interested in earning an online high school diploma may want to consider private online high school programs. These programs do charge tuition; however many are targeted to older learners and offer students the possibility of earning a diploma at an accelerated speed.
 

Who Funds Free Online High Schools?

Free online high schools are funded in the same way as traditional high schools: with local, state, and federal tax funds.
 

Can Free Online High School Graduates Enroll in College?

Yes. Just like traditional high school graduates, online high school graduates may apply to and enroll in colleges. College administrators look for the same types of grades, activities, and recommendations as they do for traditional graduates. Some online high schools offer different tracks for students depending on their academic preparedness and their desire to either attend college or learn a trade. Students that plan to attend college should enroll in college preparatory classes and should find out what courses their desired college requires of new freshmen. Additionally, college-minded students should make sure that their free online high school is properly accredited and is in good standing with the accrediting organizations.
 

Can My Teenager Enroll in Any Free Online High School?

No. Because online high schools are usually partially funded by local taxes, schools are location-specific. For example: A high school student from Dallas, Texas could not enroll in a free online high school funded by Los Angeles, California school districts. Students are only permitted to enroll in programs that are designated for their state or city. In some cases, students must live within a particular school district in order to enroll in a particular online high school. Additionally, some online high schools are only open to students that regularly attend traditional schools that the online program contracts with.
 

Can My Teenager Enroll in a Free Online High School While Traveling Abroad?

Because of the stringent residency requirements, enrolling in a free online high school while abroad can be a bit challenging. Generally, if students are retaining their American citizenship, they will still have a home state. If the parents remain in the U.S., the student may enroll in free online high schools permitted by the parents' address. If the whole family is traveling abroad, residency may be determined by their mailing address or P.O. Box. Individual schools may have their own requirements.
 

How Do I Find a Free Online High School?

To find a program for your area, check out the About.com state-by-state list of free online high schools.

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