Choosing an online school that caters to a student’s strengths

The right online high school can offer students an enormous amount of flexibility in their education. However, there is a scale when it comes to flexibility. The right online school not only offers flexibility to complete classes anytime from anywhere, but it also affords students an educational experience tailored to their unique learning styles and passions.

Students and parents should look for online schools that offer the best combination of online course design, student and parent support, nontraditional credit earning opportunities, further education assistance and social activities that match the personalized needs of the student.


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  • look for online high schools that partners with brick-and-mortar schools
  • seek schools that offer work study, service learning and independent study
  • understand the course structure that best matches student needs
  • select an online school that creates community
  • search for a school that offers orientations for new students and parents

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  • be content with only online courses
  • shy away from blended models of online and in-person teaching
  • choose a school based solely on cost, advertisements or giveaways
  • assume it will be easy
  • be consumed with school performance framework records

Kaci Sintek‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do look for online high schools that partners with brick-and-mortar schools

Regardless of how interactive an online school’s courses may be, sometimes students need to work hands-on in a physical classroom with people face-to-face. The best virtual schools partner with other brick-and-mortar schools to create a combination of online and hands-on learning opportunities that cater to the students’ individual learning styles.

While rare, the best online schools give students the opportunity to complete tuition-free concurrent enrollment, where students can earn high school credit and college credit simultaneously. This allows students to get the hands-on interactive piece that most kids desire, while also earning college credit and fitting their online courses around college classes.

Do seek schools that offer work study, service learning and independent study

Choose an online high school where students can earn credit through work study, service learning or independent study courses. Whether students are competitive athletes competing regularly, musicians who travel, interns who work, volunteers who serve or anything else in between, almost all successful online students transition to online school for a very specific reason.

Many times, these students are spending countless hours outside of school working on extracurricular activities. Choose an online school that gives students credit for working, serving or completing an independent study project. Students are certainly learning in these extracurricular activities, so choose a school that creates differentiated courses that support student passions and inspire learning in ways personalized to student interests.

Do understand the course structure that best matches student needs

Online courses can be set up in multiple ways. Some are more self-directed with minimal teacher/student interaction, where students work primarily at their own pace. Others are more teacher-driven, where students are expected to interact with their teacher and peers, while also adhering to firmer due dates.

In addition, some classes are set up to be completed in a 9-week quarter. And some are scheduled to be completed in an 18-week semester. Students who need to catch up or want to get ahead on credits may choose to complete a course in a quarter, while those who need extra time on a difficult subject may want to take 18 weeks to complete a more challenging class. Therefore, be sure to choose an online program after weighing important course structure aspects, including the level of interaction needed, level of structure needed and the timing/pacing of courses.

Do select an online school that creates community

Many online schools continuously struggle with retention because the feeling of isolation that online education breeds drives students back into brick-and-mortar schools.

The best online schools face this challenge head-on by offering opportunities for students and their families to get involved and feel connected. Look for an online school that offers social activities, such as school BBQs, dances, volunteer opportunities, clubs and more. Choose an online school where teachers interact personally and continuously with their students through multiple avenues, such as online or phone communication, virtual or face-to-face tutoring and/or in-person homeroom blended learning methods.

Also look for an online school that matches a student with an advisor. Flourishing online schools will have both teachers and advisors who regularly connect with students to keep them on track in their courses, motivated to complete high school and inspired to make a plan to pursue their passion.

Do search for a school that offers orientations for new students and parents

Transitioning to an online school can be incredibly challenging. Not only is the learning model completely different, but students have to fight through computer challenges, software updates and navigation of a whole new learning world.

If students are not set up for success at the very beginning of their shift to the new online school, they likely will become discouraged and frustrated as their courses proceed. Find a school that offers new students an orientation, where they can learn how to properly use all online programs and meet their teachers so they feel comfortable reaching out if questions arise.

The most valuable online schools also help parents transition to the online platform. Choose a school that offers parent orientations, where parents learn how to navigate the online systems so they can check on student progress, grades and attendance.

Kaci Sintek‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not be content with only online courses

Online courses are great. But they also afford students only one way to earn credit. The best part about online education is the flexibility to complete coursework around other things. Find a school that creates learning and credit-earning opportunities around the other things, such as concurrent enrollment, service learning, work study and independent study. It is important to find a virtual school that continuously motivates students to get involved with the school and community in order to feel engaged and connected.

Do not shy away from blended models of online and in-person teaching

Many students choose online education simply based on its flexibility to complete schoolwork anytime from anywhere. While this flexibility works perfectly for some students, the lack of structure and social interaction can quickly lead to some students falling behind and/or feeling isolated. It may feel inconvenient to come into a brick-and-mortar school on occasion, but a blended model of online and classroom-based instruction can create a perfect balance of flexibility and structure that some students may require to stay on track.

Do not choose a school based solely on cost, advertisements or giveaways

There are many virtual schools that have advertisement after advertisement on the radio, blare free tuition over their loud speakers and may even give out a free computer to every student who signs up. However, don’t be blinded by the hype. Sometimes, these virtual schools are worried more about the bottom line than they are about the students. They spend more money on their advertisements and slick give-a-ways than they do on the educational, support and extracurricular programs they offer.

For athletes, it is imperative to spend time researching an online school to ensure that the school’s credits are accepted by the NCAA. Some schools who have the most advertisements are also those whose credits are not accepted by the NCAA.

Do not assume it will be easy

Many people have a highly false perspective of online schools. Countless believe that online schooling is for students who simply couldn’t cut it at a traditional school, forced into online education as a last-ditch option. However, this could not be further from the truth. Successful online students are highly self-motivated, incredibly responsible and have go-getter attitudes.

In order to be successful, students must work on their own — without having their hand held by a teacher in a classroom at all times. While online students can work at their own pace through much of the coursework, full-time online students should also expect to work in their courses just as much as a typical traditional student, likely about seven hours a day.

The most prosperous online students usually have strong parent support behind them. Parents must take an active role in motivating students to keep up with coursework, developing study schedules and getting them involved in socially interactive activities to keep up a healthy lifestyle.

Do not be consumed with school performance framework records

School performance records provide schools with very helpful data that identify areas of achievement and concern. However, performance data should also be evaluated with context in mind. For example, many online schools have low graduation rates and high dropout rates.

At first glance, this seems highly discouraging. However, this must be looked at in relation to the context of how online schooling fits into people’s lives. Many times, students come to online schools for a few years while they compete in sports, travel abroad, work in an internship or participate in other extracurricular activities. Therefore, many students may attend an online school their sophomore and junior year, but return to a brick-and-mortar school to graduate their senior year. Therefore, graduation rates of online schools may seem low when comparing them to traditional schools.

Drop-out rates are also sometimes high for online schools simply because they are the last option for struggling students. While quality online programs will try to find alternative schools for academically struggling students to attend, acknowledging that online education may not offer the support the student needs to be successful, online schools are required to take these specific students regardless.

The online option is many times the last option that districts have with these students. Therefore, some online programs are hit with high dropout rates simply because they are the last school the student attended before becoming an official drop-out. As a result, use school performance data as one tool to choosing an online school, not the only tool.


When choosing an online high school, don’t base your decision off the flashy advertisements, the false draw to an easier education or purely on school performance data. If you do this, you may be setting yourself or your student up for a lackluster education. Instead, find a virtual school that provides multiple credit-earning pathways, creates community, designs courses in a way that matches student needs and offers orientations that support both students and parents in their transition to the online platform. The right online school can cater to students’ academic and personal goals, allowing students to accomplish far more than traditional school models have afforded them.

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