The world is online more now than ever, and virtual high schools are no longer just a rarity. They are a respected option that many parents and students seriously consider. Especially as more and more students get college degrees online, attending a virtual high school can serve as preparation to eLearning when the content is rigorous and the expectations high.
High school is a very important time in your child’s life, and online schools can give you and your child greater control over their learning environment. But choosing this alternate path requires research, planning, and a bit of self-reflection. Here’s how to begin.
1. Take a Learning Assessment
Your child may have already taken an early career or learning style assessment in school. It’s time to revisit the results or take a new assessment. Devised to give direction to a possible major or career, these assessments also tell you– and your student –how they learn best. For example, if your student is a kinesthetic learner, an online learning environment may present some challenges. That isn’t to say they can’t succeed at a virtual high school. In fact, they might thrive given that they won’t be bound to a desk. It’s just important to identify what your child will bring to and need from the learning experience before you determine which schools will be a fit.
2. Virtually Visit Schools
Just like you wouldn’t send your child to a new school without a visit, you need to do the same for their virtual school. In the case of online schools, start with their websites. Look at their programs, curriculum, and affiliations—many online schools are connected to brick-and-mortar institutions. Explore the school philosophy and mission. Do they align with your own? Get to know the school by strolling through all the pages of their virtual campus. Then, get on the phone. Talk to a human and ask your questions. Get the answers you need to feel confident that the school is a good fit for your student.
3. Affirm High School Accreditation
At the top of your list of questions should be information about a school’s accreditation. Accredited schools go through a rigorous review and certification process to ensure that they meet important educational standards. They are critical to ensuring your child will get a good education from a school that colleges and universities will recognize and respect. Most institutions of higher education will not accept transcripts from non-accredited schools.
4. Assess Academic Rigor of the Virtual High School
If college is part of your child’s future plans, high school academic quality is very important. Look at the types of classes taught—the range of subjects and depth within each subject. Read the online course descriptions. This will show you more about course objectives, goals, assessments (and academic integrity), and level of difficulty. It should also let you know how many synchronous (classes meet online with instructors in real-time) or asynchronous (course work and learning is done on a student’s own time) are offered. Neither one is necessarily better than the other; it’s all about what is best for your child.
5. Review Instructor Profiles
Find out who will be teaching your student. Will the same caliber of teacher provide instruction to online students as your student could receive in person? Look into the instructors’ backgrounds. If they are not listed on a school’s website, ask the school to provide this information. Make sure the teachers are qualified to teach the subject matter they will and that they have previous experience teaching at the high school level.
6. Research the High School’s Reputation
Because online high school instruction is relatively new, you may need to look to the school’s larger institution to research its reputation. But do it. How long have they served the needs of students and how well have they done it? Look at reviews on the school website, but also online. Do they even have a Wikipedia page or are they so new that there’s no reputation to explore? Research the school, its teachers, graduates, and community.
7. Confirm High School Resources
Check to see what career, professional, and mental health counseling resources are offered through each school. These services can be valuable as your student makes their way through high school and prepares for college and life beyond.
8. Extracurricular Opportunities at the Virtual High School
High school is about much more than academics. It’s a time where children develop responsibility, build connections, and further explore their interests. See how an online school nurtures interests outside of the classroom. Whether it’s club sports or extracurricular passions, how will the school support your child’s full self?
9. Success Rates of High School and Graduates
After all is said and done, sometimes you just need to see some success data. Most schools will list success metrics directly on their website. If they do not, ask them to provide them. Look at important factors like graduation rate, average SAT/ACT score, college acceptance rate, top-tier college acceptance rate and median income after college.
10. Determine Virtual High School Cost
Tuition will vary from school to school, but it’s important to measure cost against value. One would argue that the value of a Harvard education, regardless of its price, far outweighs the value of another school with limited resources and a less-than-stellar reputation. The tuition may also be offset by financial aid. Also, be sure to factor in the savings accrued by attending school online rather than on campus if your other option is a boarding school.
11. Prepare to Apply to the Virtual High School
Work with your child’s current school to gather transcripts, test scores, teacher recommendations, and other components to their application file. Get online and register with the schools you consider to find out their application requirements and make sure you compile everything you need.
12. Connect with the School’s Graduates
As you get closer to making a decision, Schools will obviously give themselves glowing reviews, but it can be worthwhile to hear from students and families that are in similar situations to your own. Many school websites will display reviews. You can also look at third-party reviewing sources, or ask the school to provide reviews, or put you in contact with current or former school families.
Online high schools are a convenient and flexible option that can prepare students for success in college and a career beyond. With their popularity increasing, it’s important to do your research and consider how each school rates on the above criteria. Weight each aspect by its priority to you and your family and decide accordingly.
Gravitas is an online college preparatory school that is a global, virtual extension of The Stony Brook School (SBS) in New York. SBS has been providing a top-tier academic, character, and college preparatory education to students from around the world for more than 100 years. Gravitas offers a flexible and challenging curriculum that’s built to help students excel in college and a career beyond. Contact us today to learn more about this exciting new chapter of The Stony Brook school.