For some students, traditional high school just doesn’t work out. Perhaps you’re from a remote area, or you’re dedicating most of your life to an extracurricular activity that’s incompatible with a standard high school, or you just want to do more work. For anyone who identifies with one of these criteria, online high school is an option that could redefine your high school experience.
Stanford University Online High School (OHS) could be considered the crown jewel of online high schools. Students are able to enroll as full or part time students—they can either supplement their existing high school workload or get their diploma directly from OHS. As one would expect from Stanford, the classes are designed to be rigorous, with each expected to take up 8–10 hours per week (including class time). However, unlike loosely structured programs like Coursera or Open Yale Courses, OHS is a fairly regimented program—and with good reason: for the majority of students, it is their entire high school education. Students take five classes per semester and meet at scheduled times, just like a normal high school class would. For classes, OHS uses a videoconferencing technology designed to mimic features of a traditional classroom; students have the ability to virtually raise their hands, write on a whiteboard, and mark up notes onscreen. Stanford has provided some sample videos, which you can watch here. It’s safe to say that online high schools are really taking advantage of the internet as a flexible, open medium.
As for courses, students can study whatever they like. For those interested, AP classes are offered. However, it’s easy to go beyond that level to truly advanced subjects, like multivariable calculus and linear algebra. The humanities are strong too, with courses offered in specialized areas, like an entire semester spent on Moby Dick. A friend of mine, after completing one year as a part-time student, was even suggested to skip a level of English and begin taking a class that Stanford sophomores would traditionally enroll in. It’s evident that OHS is flexible, and without the traditional brick-and-mortar bureaucracy to get in the way, students have free reign over their education.
But what about the other parts of high school? Wild as it may seem, OHS even has extracurriculars. The selection of clubs is surprisingly diverse, with some niche ones like the OHS Lego Guild, For The Birds (an ornithology club), and the Medieval Club. These activities are both a way to explore interests and meet new people.
Speaking of meeting new people, how does one go about that at an online high school? Stanford integrates a social aspect through its summer program. New and returning students spend two weeks on Stanford’s campus in August meeting classmates, doing labs, and getting oriented for OHS. Though this program includes academic components, there’s time to get to know fellow students and explore the area. Graduation Weekend, which occurs at the end of a student’s OHS career, is another opportunity to meet classmates in a non-virtual setting. And though students may only physically be together during these two events, OHSers say that they maintain friendships in the same way that they do their schoolwork: virtually.
What happens after OHS? For nearly all students, it’s college. OHS is home to two college counselors, who fill the role that a guidance counselor would play at a traditional school. The school even boasts a fairly impressive matriculation list.
Admission into OHS is based on a standardized test and a specialized application, which is a little bit like a college application. It features various essays designed to delve into the candidates personality. Once admitted, full time OHS students pay a tuition of $17,250 per year. This is no small chunk of change, especially when there are brick-and-mortar schools that cost less. But for some students, OHS is nearly the only option. At the very least, it exposes them to courses that few traditional schools can offer.
So, if you find that your high school is too easy, too far, or too traditional, online high school may be a great option. It will require a lot of time and a new perspective on what “school” really is, but it’s guaranteed to allow motivated students to pursue something they’re truly passionate about.