For students attending brick-and-mortar public schools, high school graduation requirements are pretty clear. The state where the school is located sets guidelines for required credit hours, attendance, and demonstration of competency, which are shared with students and their families when they enter high school, typically in the ninth grade. Guidance counselors work with students to help them develop a course plan for fulfilling the requirements on their path to graduation.
It’s no different for students attending online public high schools like Connections Academy!
What Are the High School Graduation Requirements for Virtual Schools?
High school graduation requirements for accredited online high schools are set by the state where the school is based and mirror the state’s brick-and-mortar schools’ graduation requirements. Students enrolled in both types of public schools typically do the same number of credit hours, attend school the same number of hours/days, and must pass the same or similar state competency tests to graduate and receive their high school diploma. Here’s a breakdown of these top three graduation requirements:
1. Core and Elective Classes
High school students must earn credits in both core subjects and elective classes to fulfill graduation requirements. The total number of credits required to graduate varies from state to state. In most states, one credit is equivalent to a two-semester class. For example, a freshman taking Algebra I in both the first and second semester of their freshman year would earn one credit for that class. Students receive .5 credits for classes that are only one semester long. These classes are typically electives.
Core classes include:
- Language Arts
- Social Studies, which often includes a required course in U.S. History
It is recommended that students finish the core class requirements as soon as possible. If the state’s graduation requirement includes only two credits of social studies, in most cases it’s best to take those classes as a freshman and sophomore instead of trying to fit them in during the student’s junior or senior year.
Elective classes are offered in several different subject areas, but often include classes in art, music (band, chorus, or orchestra), physical education, and foreign languages. Students can choose which electives they want to take to meet the required elective credits for graduation.
Students must demonstrate competency in their classes to be eligible to graduate, which is usually achieved by receiving a passing grade for the class and meeting benchmarks on any state-mandated tests.
2. Attendance Requirements
Along with class credit requirements, states often include attendance in high school graduation requirements. The number of hours and/or days students must attend school during the school year to be eligible to graduate varies from state to state.
While online schools offer more flexibility than brick-and-mortar schools in terms of daily schedules, online school students are expected to complete their lessons every day. Attendance should be recorded to ensure students meet the state’s high school graduation requirements.
3. Advanced Placement® (AP®) Classes*
High school students who plan on attending college after graduation may also consider taking AP classes, which are college-level courses that are offered by many brick-and-mortar and online high schools. AP classes count toward high school graduation requirements, but can also give students an advantage in college, as many colleges award college credit for AP courses or allow students to skip introductory college courses based on their AP test score.
Taking advanced placement classes and other honors classes can also help online high school students graduate early.
*AP® and Advanced Placement® are registered trademarks of the College Board. Used with permission.
Preparing for Life After Graduation
Sometimes a questioning teenager might ask:
- What is the point of math?
- How will this [insert any class they dislike] help me in life?
- Do I need to graduate high school?
High school graduation requirements are designed to ensure students take the classes they need to prepare for life after graduation, whether that is going to a college or trade school, enlisting in the military, going straight into the workforce, or heading out to explore the world. To support students on their learning journey through high school, many online schools offer college-prep or career-readiness elective classes. Students are also encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities that offer opportunities for them to explore their passions or discover new interests while connecting with other students.
A Word About Private Schools
Many private brick-and-mortar schools and private online schools follow their state’s graduation requirements. However, they do have more flexibility, so their graduation requirements aren’t always the same as the public schools in that state. Be sure to check with each private school to fully understand their graduation requirements.
Navigating graduation requirements can be overwhelming as students work through their schedules to fit in all the required courses in time to meet their graduation date. Online high schools have guidance counselors to assist families and students to ensure they meet their requirements while having a great high school experience that prepares them for wherever they go next.
Curious about the graduation requirements for high school students by state? Find a virtual school near you to learn more.