New and even experienced homeschoolers may homeschool high school for a year or two thinking they will be able to transfer their credits smoothly into a public high school. They may run into roadblocks.
Transferring credits earned while homeschooling does not always work.
Public high schools do have to let teens enroll after homeschooling, but they do not have to accept high school credit for work done at home.
Not what homeschoolers want to hear.
But in fact, it's really common for public high schools not to accept credit for work done at home as a homeschooler during the high school years.
Your teen may have earned several years' worth of credit as a homeschooler, but upon entering high school, they may be told they must start over earning public high school credits as a freshman—even if they are 17. They might have to re-take algebra, geometry, English 9 and 10, history, biology, and even PE classes in order to qualify to graduate with a diploma and transcripts from that public high school.
Recently, I've even had acquaintances who were delivered this news after having been enrolled in public high school for several weeks. In a matter of minutes, they went from thinking they were in 10th or 11th grade to finding out they were in 9th grade.
We'll get into working with the public high school for a better outcome and the whole "that's not fair" aspect—but first, let's look at what this means as far as planning your child's education.
Homeschool Through High School or Start Public High School by 9th Grade
The safe advice for homeschoolers is to either plan to homeschool all four years through high school and graduate your homeschooler yourself or to enroll your child in public high school by 9th grade. Since many kids do take at least a few classes for credit in 8th grade (commonly algebra and/or a second language), you may even want to enroll your child in public school by 8th grade. Find out what your local and state homeschool organizations advise.
If you homeschool your child all the way through high school, you can create homeschool high school transcripts, which can work well as part of your child's college or employment applications. Homeschoolers are at an advantage when applying to colleges (they bring a unique experience to campus!), and a parent-generated transcript is seen as completely legitimate even by highly selective colleges and universities.
(Don't worry—just because your local public high school won't transfer homeschool credits in to meet graduation requirements doesn't mean colleges have the same concern about homeschool credits.)
You and your teen may have thought you'd homeschool through high school, and your teen suddenly wants to enroll to play football or attend with a best friend or just to have a new and independent experience. You may have had a change in the status of your job, health, finances, or marriage. Teens are famous for changing their minds, and family situations often change over time, too.
Your teen won't love hearing that the high school won't accept homeschool credits they have already earned. Begin talking with your child about this in early middle school, so they have some forewarning.
"Ideally," you might say to your teen, "if you want to go to public high school, you should start in 9th grade; otherwise, the high school might make you repeat your homeschool high school credits." If attending public high school is an option in your family, just let this be part of the informational landscape as your child ages into the teen years.
Earn Credits a Public High School Will Accept
Public high schools do typically accept credits from an online public school offered by their same school division or state. These are the online schools that are free to students and paid for with taxpayer funds. So, another option is to enroll your teen in an online public school and do "public school at home" through high school instead of homeschooling. That way if your child ever wants to enroll in the local brick and mortar school, the transition may be smoother.
- Look into the pros and cons of public online schooling because it's not a great fit for all students.
- Before enrolling your child in online public schooling, ask at the high school about transferring credits during the high school years
Some state departments of education (DOE) also specify private schools and private online schools from which public high schools must accept transfer credits. Check your state's DOE website and ask your local high school about this before your child is high school age. Remember you'll have to pay tuition for any private school classes or private online schooling.
Understand That Accreditation Does NOT Guarantee High School Credit Transfers
Just because your student's credits come from an accredited homeschool program—note that I said "program" and not "curriculum" because curriculum cannot be accredited—does not guarantee that a public high school will accept those credits toward graduation.
To say the same thing another way (just so we are clear!): accreditation is usually meaningless when transferring homeschool credits into a public high school.
This is disappointing to many parents who have paid extra because a program was promoted as "accredited."
Online schooling providers may seek accreditation because accreditation may make their program eligible to be offered "free" to public enrolled students and paid for with tax dollars. That said, it doesn't mean public high schools everywhere (or anywhere) will accept their credits. For one thing? There are many different accrediting agencies, and some are outright scams.
The bottom line: Do not think that using an accredited program will guarantee your child will get transfer credits when enrolling in public high school in the future.
The weirdness: Yes, your state might be the one exception. But you need to have done your homework to know whether it is.
Make a Case for Homeschool Transfer Credit with High School Administrators
Homeschoolers do report that sometimes they are able to get some high school administrators (commonly guidance counselors) to accept homeschool high school credits. Here are some tips for better outcomes if you try this.
Plan ahead (perhaps several years ahead!) with the specific high school for possible future enrollment and transfer of credit.
- Speak with the guidance counselor to ask whether homeschool credits are transferrable and to find out documents you may need if your child decides to enroll during their high school years. Needed documents might include transcripts, class descriptions, test results, and books used.
- Know what homeschool records to keep. Check with the guidance counselor to see what records of your child's studies you should keep and provide them if your child enrolls in public high school.
- It is not enough to ask if your child can enroll in high school after homeschooling—you must find out if they can transfer in homeschool high school credits to meet graduation requirements—and if so, what are the guidelines.
- Get the guidance counselor's recommendations in an email or in writing. Remember, by the time your child enrolls in high school, the guidance counselor you spoke to may have moved on.
When you approach the school at time of enrollment, have ideas for how your child can meet school guidelines for credit without retaking the class for a whole year.
For example, if homeschool credits are initially turned down, you can propose:
- The student taking the tests and final exam that were given for the same subject at the high school
- The student taking the Common Core-aligned assessment (or other state test) for each subject
- Asking the teacher of the high school class how the entering student can demonstrate having already learned the material—a paper? Project? Presentation?
Parents who are attempting to support other parents who are trying to get their student's homeschool credits to transfer to a public high school should remember that schools may be more flexible in some states and in some communities than in others. Sometimes people make uninformed remarks on social media, or school officials give incorrect information about homeschooling while homeschoolers give incorrect information about school policies. Be careful when you crowdsource education information.
School administrators also come and go. Those who stay in their positions may receive new guidance, and they may be required to enforce new policies that may be more restrictive, so things change over time as well as from school to school and administrator to administrator.
Schools are in charge of the schools, and they decide placement when a student makes a transition from homeschool to public school. Just because one school accepted one teen's homeschool credits toward graduation (not common) does not mean another school will do the same.
There is no requirement for public high schools to accept homeschool high school credits or to count them toward meeting graduation requirements.
If the High School Says No To Homeschool Credits
You and your teen may find yourselves really disappointed if the high school says they absolutely won't transfer homeschool credits. You may feel you have let your teen down with this unanticipated turn of events. Talk to other homeschoolers for support and offer your teen some other paths that are also well-tested in these circumstances.
There are still some good education options.
- Your teen can enroll or remain enrolled in public high school and double up on classes and attend summer school to earn credits that will get them back on track to graduate when they expected
- Your teen can remain enrolled in school and take the extra year or two it will take to graduate
- Your teen can remain a homeschooler, and, in places where it's allowed, they can enroll part-time in public high school. In some school divisions, this may allow participation in sports or extracurriculars. It may give the student at least some of what they are looking for in terms of school attendance. Check to see whether part-time enrollment is allowed in your state and at the specific school your child would attend. Before speaking with your teen, find out what school activities may or may not come along with part-time enrollment. For example, varsity sports may have their own specific full-time attendance requirements.
- Your teen can remain a homeschooler and broaden horizons by taking community college classes through dual enrollment. They will meet new people and have a new academic experience, and they can even get started on a plan to get a college degree without debt! Many homeschoolers start by taking one community college class in a semester and adding a heavier course load in future semesters as they adjust. Tracking their community college credits will help them to choose courses that can apply toward a college degree if they plan to transition to a four year college.
- Your teen can remain a homeschooler and attend an academic homeschool co-op that may have more of the trappings of a public or private school. Some larger academic co-ops sponsor proms, have graduation ceremonies, and have clubs and activities.
Why Public High Schools Don't Accept Credits
Now to address the "it's not fair" part of the conversation.
It doesn't seem fair that homeschooled teens may have to repeat credits they already covered as homeschoolers when they enroll in a public high school. You really have to look at it from the institutional point of view to try understand why public high schools may take a hard stance here.
When institutions offer diplomas and transcripts, they are attesting that the students who receive them have completed the program of study offered by that institution—or equivalent to it.
Homeschoolers have such wide flexibility in their studies that there is no way for institutions to know if they really completed courses that are equivalent to the high school courses.
In fact, public high schools also may also not accept credits from many private schools, online schools, international schools, and out of state schools—for the same reason. Their courses may not all be the same.
If it were easy for all credits from homeschool or private school to automatically transfer into any public high school, many students would homeschool or attend a non-public school until their senior year and transfer credits in just in time to qualify for graduation from public high school.
From the school's perspective, that would dilute the value of the high school diploma. In fact, there might not be much reason to attend high school at all.
Why are colleges and universities okay with homeschoolers' transcripts and credits, then?
Because when a student attends college, their high school credits are only reviewed for admission; regular high school credits don't transfer in and count toward graduation from the college. In fact, many people have had the experience that when you transfer from one college to another college, you do "lose" a lot of credits that the new college won't transfer or apply toward their college requirements.
Similar to the homeschool-to-public-high-school transfer, colleges don't want to confer degrees on students with courses that aren't part of their own course of study.
Of course, the reality is, many homeschooled students (and private school students, for that matter) have learned content and skills that do indeed equal or surpass what is expected of students in local high schools. Some homeschoolers who are transferring into public high school will find sympathetic guidance counselors who are willing to take time to assess their learning and advocate for homeschool credit being transferred in and counted toward graduation. There may be more flexible policies at some schools, or some counselors and administrators may be more willing and able to go to bat for formerly homeschooled students.
But homeschooling parents and their teens need to know that school administrators don't have to do this, and they may even think it's unethical or not fair to other school students who attended the high school's in-person classes for the years it takes to graduate.
Approach the high school years with your eyes wide open, knowing that there could be difficulties for your teen if they want to transfer credits into public high school after 9th grade (or even 8th). Try to prepare ahead and make that homeschool-or-public-school decision before credits come into play.
If you and your teen are just encountering the "the-school-won't-accept-the-homeschool-credits" scenario and it feels "too late," take a deep breath. You may or may not be able to change school administrators' minds with the advice in this article.
There are options for attending school anyway and making up those credits—or continuing to homeschool through high school successfully.