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Homeschooling High School

There are many decisions to make when planning for the high school years. There are many options available to homeschooling families. This page is designed to give an overview of the pathways most often used, and a few links to get you started in your research. I could not possibly research the details on every option and still have time to homeschool my own children! Please use this page as inspiration to get you started, but understand that you will have to do some legwork to figure out which option is best for you. There is no “best path” – which route you choose will depend on your own goals/values/abilities/beliefs, and those of your student. What is the right choice for one student may not be the right choice for another. Please also understand that, while I do work towards accuracy on my site, I am far from perfect. I have not homeschooled a high schooler, so most of my understanding of these options and issues comes through listening closely to those who have walked this path. Obviously, you will need to carefully research the options for yourself before deciding which path is right for you. I have written this page from the perspective of Pennsylvania, but much of the information is applicable to homeschoolers in other states. 

Things to Consider When Choosing a Diploma Route

When planning for the high school years, homeschoolers have many options available. Looking into diploma/transcript options at the beginning of the high school years can help you plan ahead, and may affect the records you decide to keep as you go along. There are many obvious things to consider when choosing your path -- your style of homeschooling, your student's future goals, and so on.

School districts in PA generally do not issue diplomas/transcripts for homeschooled students (though there may be exceptions). However, there are a number of other options. Some families create their own diplomas and transcripts; these are sometimes referred to as "parent-issued", or "home-brewed" documents. Others prefer to have documentation from outside the family (such as "third party" diplomas and transcripts, a GED, a correspondence school diploma, etc.). As of the October 2014 change to the home education law, there is now an option for a supervisor-awarded, evaluator-signed, state-recognized diploma for home education students, which is likely to become popular. Depending on your situation, some diploma options are likely to be a better fit than others. What's right for one student may not be right for another. Here are a few things to take into account as you consider your options:

Documentation: In general, it's not so much the diploma that's the important part, it's the transcript of your high school studies that most people (employers, colleges, etc.) will be interested in. Depending on how you have homeschooled and where you are headed, you may want a school-style transcript which lists courses (and maybe even grades) along with course descriptions, and/or you may want to create a portfolio of your work. You may want to keep copies of your evaluations and/or affidavits. You may want to create a document that explains how you have met the graduation requirements in the PA home education law. If you do not plan to undertake further schooling, it may be particularly important to document your high school studies with an eye towards the long term. The more you look into your chosen path (college, military service, technical school, the arts, a trade, etc.), the more of a sense you will get of the kinds of things people may ask you to show in the future. Once you have researched the likely requirements for your chosen path, you will be in a better position to choose how you will document your high school years, and what kind of documentation you may need.

7th & 8th grade Documentation: It may make sense to document some of what your child does in 7th or 8th grade, especially if you plan to use a diploma program. The Pennsylvania law requires certain courses sometime between 7th and 12th grade -- it may be wise to get some of these out of the way early. Also, if a particular activity, project, or course is special, unique, or would otherwise be of interest to colleges or employers, you can add it to your transcript or college application materials, even though it was done in middle school.

College Financial Aid: If you live in Pennsylvania, before you decide on what, if any, kind of diploma your child will get, you may want to consider the issue of PHEAA funding for college. (Note that this does not affect all families, or all financial aid.) PHEAA requires proof that you have completed high school in order to qualify for their financial aid; their requirements may be different than what the college needs for admission purposes. There are several ways to meet this requirement.  See my PHEAA Issues page for more info on this complex topic.

Entering the Military: If you plan to join the military, the kind of high school documentation you have can affect rank, salary, and other important things. You will want to research this carefully, as early in the high school years as possible, as it may affect your homeschool record-keeping and your approach to the diploma/transcripts. Different branches of the service have different rules, and they have changed often in the past few years. Check and re-check.

College Athletics: If you plan to play sports in college, you may need to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. It is best to research these as early in the high school years as possible, as it will affect your homeschool record-keeping and your approach to a diploma/transcripts. Some diploma options, such as a PA diploma program, can simplify this process by helping you to bypass the normal process for homeschoolers. See the NCAA's web page, which has several pages of eligibility information specifically for homeschoolers - find them under the "resources" tab.

College Admissions: Colleges vary widely in their admissions procedures and requirements. For example, highly selective colleges have quite rigorous requirements in terms of both the documentation you provide and the high school course of study. At the other end of the spectrum, community colleges have significantly fewer requirements. There are several good books which cover the homeschooling-to-college transition, and about a zillion on college admissions in general. If you are aiming at the more selective tier of colleges, I suggest you read up on college admissions in general as early in the high school years as possible, because it will help you to plan your course of study and how you will document it. For more selective colleges, in most cases, you will need to document your high school work, often in the form of a transcript, sometimes with additional supporting documentation. In general, it seems that the diploma itself is not anywhere near as important as the high school course of study and the documentation/transcript thereof. The hs2coll Yahoo Group is an extremely valuable source of information for those on this path.

Choices for a High School Diploma

No Diploma

If you do not need or want a high school diploma, or if you are philosophically opposed to them, you may choose to go without one entirely, though this choice is not without risks/consequences. Consider carefully what kinds of alternate documentation you will keep of your high school work, and how you will respond to requests for your diploma in employment, military, or college admissions situations, before choosing this path. Look ahead, and consider how this choice may impact you in the years beyond high school. It may be difficult to create documentation if you find you need or want it many years after graduation.

Parent-Issued Diploma (without Evaluator Signature):

Many homeschooling parents across the country issue their own diploma to their child. (This is sometimes called a "home-brewed" diploma.) This kind of diploma may or may not be recognized by schools, employers, or state agencies. The actual diploma/certificate can be simply printed out on a computer (see DIY diplomas below). Keep in mind, though, that the diploma itself is often less important than the documentation that backs it up. Many folks who choose this option also make up their own transcripts, resumes, portfolios, and/or summaries of work to further document what they have done during the high school years, especially if they are applying to college. (See sample transcripts below.) Some also include letters of recommendation from adults who have worked with their children (scout leaders, athletic coaches, tutors, employers, mentors, etc.), or from their evaluator. Lacking a more traditional third-party diploma or GED, documentation of other kinds becomes more important. Consider carefully how you will document your high school work. (Note that the new supervisor-awarded, evaluator-signed, state-recognized diploma option, created by the October 2014 change to the home education law, may be a better choice for many families.)

Supervisor-Awarded, Evaluator-Signed Diploma: <-- New!!!

The October 2014 home education law change gives home educators a new option for their child's high school diploma - a state-recognized diploma awarded by the supervisor and signed by an evaluator. For this diploma:

  • The student receiving the diploma must have completed all of the graduation requirements in the home education law, while enrolled in a home education program that is in compliance with the home education law.
  • The diploma must be on a standardized form developed by the PA Department of Education, which is (or should be) available on their website.
  • The diploma must be signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator in confirmation of the student's suitability for graduation.

If you want to award this type of diploma to your student, you should discuss with your evaluator what she wants to see in the portfolio so that she can confirm that the student has completed the graduation requirements and is therefore suitable for graduation.

The graduation requirements include the following minimum courses in grades nine through twelve:

  • Four years of English
  • Three years of mathematics.
  • Three years of science.
  • Three years of social studies
  • Two years of arts and humanities.

In addition, at some point in grades 7 through 12, "...the following courses shall be taught..". Some people interpret the law to mean that these courses are part of the graduation requirements; others do not.

  • English, to include language, literature, speech and composition;
  • mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra and geometry;
  • science;
  • social studies, to include civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; geography;
  • art; music;
  • physical education; health; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires. 

As with any other parent-issued diploma, you should carefully consider whether you will also create a transcript, portfolio, or other documentation of the student's high school courses, credits, activities, etc., to further document what they have done during the high school years, especially if they are applying to college or the military. 

This is a new option which is likely to fill a need for many home educating families.

PA Diploma Programs: 

A Pennsylvania student may fulfill the requirements of a home school organization to receive a home school diploma.  There are several of these non-profit programs available. Many are run by homeschoolers, for homeschoolers, and have been around for at least a decade. Many of them cost under $100. Each program has its own guidelines for earning credits and meeting the graduation requirements in the home education law. PHAA is the oldest and has been the most widely used in the past; the newer programs such as Erie are becoming more well-known. For those wanting a third-party diploma, a diploma program is probably the most flexible option, as unlike most correspondence schools, diploma programs allow students to earn credits in many different ways, and to combine credits from several sources (study at home, co-op classes, on-line classes, community college classes, etc.). See my PA Diploma Programs page for lots more info about the programs, links, addresses, etc.

Non-PA Diploma Programs:

There are several diploma programs based in other states. They function very much like the PA diploma programs. However, in general they cost about ten times as much ($1000 and up), so they are rarely used by homeschoolers in PA, though they are used by homeschoolers in other states. It is unclear to me whether a diploma from one of these programs will meet the requirement for PHEAA funding. Here are a few programs – there are probably many more:

Correspondence or Private Cyber School: 

You may use a correspondence school or private cyber school to earn a diploma. A disadvantage to correspondence programs is that you usually have to do most or all of your high school courses through the program in order to get their diploma. (Another option is to take courses through a correspondence or cyber school and use another diploma option, such as a parent-issued diploma or a PA diploma program, to combine these credits with those earned elsewhere.) You may want to check to see whether a diploma from the particular school you are interested in will qualify you for PHEAA funding. Here are several schools to consider. There are probably many more. 

GED: 

You may pass the GED test and receive the Commonwealth Secondary Diploma. While some are concerned that the GED bestows a “dropout” stigma, others find that it is useful to have a widely-accepted credential which can be produced if needed. Generally speaking, you must be 18 to take the GED, though there are exceptions. (See 022 Pa. Code § 4.72. Credentials other than the high school diploma for details on the exceptions.)

In Pennsylvania, students who have completed one year (30 semester hours) of college work can get a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma (equivalent to a GED) from the state, without taking the GED test (see below).

If you plan a career in the military, please research their requirements carefully - having a GED may or may not be a good thing, depending on your situation.

College: 

If you have taken some college courses, you may be eligible for a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma, which is equivalent to a GED. See 022 Pa. Code § 4.72. Credentials other than the high school diploma.

"A Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma may be issued to any Pennsylvania resident who does not possess a secondary school diploma and who is at least 18 years of age upon presentation of evidence of full matriculation and the satisfactory completion of a minimum of one full year or 30 semester hours of study at an accredited institution of postsecondary education located in the United States."

Some homeschoolers take college classes (often at a community college) during the high school years which may help them to qualify for this option. (It is unclear to me whether dual enrollment courses will count, because of the "full matriculation" requirement.) If you won’t have enough credits for this diploma at the end of high school, please note that you may want to think ahead about how/if you will qualify for PHEAA funding for the freshman year of college.

You will of course need to get into college in the first place. For this, you may need transcripts or other records of your high school work. 

  • To use this option, you will need to contact the PDE (see below), who will send you information about the procedure and the appropriate form.
  • Pennsylvania Department of Education
    Commonwealth Diploma Program, Attn: Mary Cain
    333 Market Street, 12th Floor
    Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
    Tele (717) 783-6871 / TDD (717) 783-8445
  • Applicants must complete and sign a form certifying that they meet the criteria for award of a Commonwealth Diploma.
  • Proof of Pennsylvania residency is required - a copy of a driver's license or other proof from the PDE's list of acceptable items needs to be included with the form.
  • The form (with proof of residence) must be submitted to the Registrar’s office of the school from which academic credits were earned, with a request that it and an official transcript be sent to the Commonwealth Diploma Program office at the PA Department of Education. The official transcript of college credits must come directly from the college.
  • Applicants between the ages of 16 and 18 must obtain a letter from their school district superintendent recommending issuance of the diploma in order for it to be issued before the 18th birthday. Diplomas will not be awarded to applicants under age 16.

Public Cyber Charter School: 

You may wish to consider one of PA's cyber charter public schools. In this case, you will be enrolled in a public school, and will not legally be considered a home educated student. In these schools, the work is done at home, much like a traditional correspondance school, rather than attending a school in-person. Obviously, this has pros and cons to consider. See my Public Cyber-Charter Schools page for more info and a list of public cyber-charters.

Public or Private High School

Some homeschoolers put their children into public or private bricks-and-mortar schools for high school. Reasons include one-stop-shopping for classes, access to experienced teachers and facilities (such as labs), freeing mom up to focus on younger children, getting some experience in traditional schooling before college, or just that it seems to be the right fit for a particular child. 

If you are considering private school, you should start looking in the spring of 7th grade, narrow down choices in the fall of 8th grade, and take entrance exams around December of 8th grade. Many schools host open houses for prospective stdents in the spring and fall. Having experience homeschooling can help you look beyond the hype and pick the school that is the best fit for your child.

Other:

There may be other options, depending on the student's path.

Sample Transcripts

A diploma should be accompanied by a transcript, which gives more detail about the courses taken in high school. Here are a number of links which will help you to get an idea of what transcripts typically look like, and how you might go about creating your own.

Do It Yourself Diplomas

If you are doing a parent-issued/home-brewed diploma, there are a variety of resources to obtain or create the actual diploma certificate for your student. A few are listed below. (However, remember that although the diploma itself can be useful, transcripts may be needed to back it up, especially for college admissions.)

Note that if you are using a supervisor-awarded, evaluator-signed diploma, it must be on a standardized form developed by the PA Department of Education, which is (or should be) available on their website.

College Admissions Testing

If you are applying to college, you will probably (but not always) be expected to take the SAT or ACT, and perhaps some of the SAT subject tests (previously called "SAT II subject tests"). Check early in your high school years with colleges that may interest you to see what they require. You may also wish to take the PSAT test, see below for details. In addition, you may want to look into AP tests and/or CLEP tests; both are ways to earn college credits for work done in high school. Sign-up for most of these tests is several months in advance, though you can sometimes register late if you pay extra. For most of these tests there are limited testing days each year; make a rough plan to be sure you can fit everything you need into your schedule.

PSAT: The PSAT test is taken in the fall of the junior year of high school, and can be taken in the sophomore year for practice. It is most useful for students who expect to score highly and thus qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Qualifying for this program can result in significant merit scholarships at some colleges, and can be a strong asset for admissions to others. It is also useful for students who may qualify for the National Achievement Scholarship Program, which provides recognition for outstanding Black American high school students. College-bound students who aren't likely to score high enough to qualify for the scholarship program may still wish to take it as relatively inexpensive practice for the SATs, especially if they have limited experience with standardized testing in group situations. This test is given on only one or two specific days each year, usually in October. Unlike the SAT, for the PSAT you will have to call around to find a public or private school who will allow your homeschooler to take the test with their students. The school will have to order an extra test for your student; don't wait until the last minute. The College Board, which administers the PSAT, says on their web site, "If you are a home-schooled student, contact a principal or counselor at a local public or independent high school to make arrangements to take the PSAT/NMSQT at their school. Be sure to do so well in advance of the mid-October test dates, preferably during the previous June."

School Codes: The general SAT "school code" for homeschoolers is 970000. The ACT code is 969-999. The PSAT code varies by state. If you are using a PA diploma program, they may have their own code, which you should use instead. Make sure your child knows this code on test day, because the person running the testing may not. (Note that, when you sign up for the test, the 970000 SAT number comes up as "homeschooled - NY", however I've called the College Board and they said it was for homeschoolers nationwide. I also urged them to make this clearer, but they were not particularly responsive to my suggestion!)

Photo ID for Testing: You will need a photo ID for the SATs. There are many options, including:

  • Driver's license - A good choice if you have one, however many testing students are not yet old enough to drive, or may only have a learner's permit.
  • State-issued photo ID - This is a PA "driver's license" for non-drivers. It is available for students age 16 and up, and costs only $12. It's also handy for a non-driver to have when flying, and for other ID purposes. You can have both a state ID and a learner's permit.
  • U.S. Passport Card - At $35, it is less expensive than a regular passport and more versatile than a state-issued photo ID. It is available at any age and good for five years. (Note that this "passport lite" card does not have the full range of use that a regular passport would. It can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. It cannot be used for international travel by air.)
  • Passport - They are quite expensive, however if you already have one, you're good to go.
  • There are other options, see here.

More Resources for College-Bound Students

National email groups that discuss homeschoolers and college. 

Below are several; all are very informative, and worth subscribing to early in your child’s high school years.

  • hs2coll Yahoo Group <--Very Valuable Resource!!!
    In my opinion, this is the single best resource for parents of college-bound homeschoolers.
    "A group for parents of teenaged homeschoolers who are aiming toward college. We discuss preparing to apply for college; what colleges might want; what courses, materials and curricula work for us and our kids; filling out college applications; how our older kids who are already in college are faring; particular colleges; SATs, SAT IIs, ACTs and AP tests; and other topics related to homeschooling teenagers." An inclusive list, with extremely valuable information.
  • Homeschool2college Yahoo Group
    Another one for parent-to-parent discussion of homeschool-to-college issues and information.
  • Transition of home schooled students into post-secondary education [HSC-L@LIST.PACE.EDU] - This one is more for asking questions of the college admissions folks on the list. There is less “chat” on this list. To subscribe, put "SUBSCRIBE HSC-L YOUR NAME" in the message area of an email (no subject is needed), and send it to LISTSERV@LIST.PACE.EDU (Obviously you would write in your own name where it says YOUR NAME.) 

Books about Homeschoolers and College:

Pennsylvania Required Subjects & Graduation Requirements – Secondary School (Grades 7-12)

"At the secondary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include language, literature, speech and composition; science; geography; social studies, to include civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra and geometry; art; music; physical education; health; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires. Such courses of study may include, at the discretion of the supervisor of the home education program, economics; biology; chemistry; foreign languages; trigonometry; or other age-appropriate courses as contained in Chapter 5 (Curriculum Requirements) of the State Board of Education."

The above courses must be taught some time between 7th and 12th grade. The requirements for graduation, below, must be met between 9th and 12th grade. If you are using a diploma program, you will want to ask about their standards for meeting these requirements. If you are not using a diploma program, the supervisor of the home education program sets the standards.

“(d) The following minimum courses in grades nine through twelve are established as a requirement for graduation in a home education program: 

(1) Four years of English

(2) Three years of mathematics.

(3) Three years of science.

(4) Three years of social studies

(5) Two years of arts and humanities."

If you don't feel comfortable teaching a particular secondary school subject, you may wish to use an on-line or correspondence class, enroll your child in a homeschool co-op or class, hire a tutor, take a class at a community college, or see if a local high school will let your student take the class. For resources in SE PA, check out my homeschool groups and co-ops page.

PA Compulsory Attendance Law

24 PS 13-1327 Compulsory school attendance

(a) Except as hereinafter provided, every child of compulsory school age having a legal residence in this Commonwealth, as provided in this article, and every migratory child of compulsory school age, is required to attend a day school in which the subjects and activities prescribed by the standards of the State Board of Education are taught in the English language…
(d) Instruction to children of compulsory school age provided in a home education program, as provided for in section 1327.1 of this act [the home education program part of the law], shall be considered as complying with the provisions of this section...

24 PS 13-1326 Definitions

The term "compulsory school age," as hereinafter used, shall mean the period of a child's life from the time the child's parents elect to have the child enter school, which shall be not later than at the age of eight (8) years, until the age of seventeen (17) years.

The term shall not include any child who holds a certificate of graduation from a regularly accredited senior high school. 

The phrase "regularly accredited senior high school", according to the PDE's interpretation, does not include graduating from a home education program. Thus the PDE believes that homeschool graduates who are not yet 17 must still meet the compulsory schooling requirements. See more discussion of this on my compulsory school age page.

The above info is based on excerpts of the law – you may want to read the whole thing, as it is complex and there are several exceptions. See my page on the PA Law and Code.