Posted in HS4CC

2 Ways to Calculate 1 High School Credit

As a homeschooler, you have a lot of freedom to direct your teen’s learning, but one of the most common fears parents have is when it comes to calculating a high school credit. What exactly = 1 credit, and how can you be sure your teen is doing “enough” for you to count it? What about honors? Here are 2 rock-solid options.

THE way? Sorry, that’s untrue.

I’ve read lots of comments or articles over the years that give homeschooling parents a hard rule for calculating 1 high school credit. I don’t think they intentionally are sharing incorrect information, rather I think they are just repeating the one method they’ve heard or used (usually from a public school official) and assumed that everyone else should follow that method too. In fact, there is no universally “approved” or “correct” way of calculating 1 high school credit. Schools differ in how they do this, and you have the authority to do this for your school too. Unfortunately, sharing misinformation as truth is really harmful, so in this post you’re going to learn 2 different ways to calculate a single high school credit accurately and with confidence.

Disclaimer: Of the 50 states, a few have rules / suggestions / laws that may require tracking a student’s hours. As a legal homeschool, you’ll want to be sure you follow those rules. If you need help understanding your state’s homeschool laws, I recommend a quick visit to Homeschool Legal Defence Associations’ State Law Summary Page. If your state does not require tracking hours, you are free to use any method (or methods) you like!

  1. Carnegie Units
  2. Calendar (year / semester)
  3. Competency Based
  4. Finish the Book
  5. Dual Enrollment

Carnegie Units

Carnegie Units are the most popular method used by group schools and colleges of every type. Typically, a school will calculate a minimum number of required hours, and this method is called Carnegie Units. In the Carnegie Unit system, 1 high school credit is equal to 120 hours. The Carnegie Unit was established in 1900 by the Carnegie Foundation. Part of the adoption of this model was to assure that teachers met the hours required to receive a pension. As you can guess, simply spending time on the subject is not the same as learning, so the Carnegie Foundation announced in 1993 that they found their system flawed, but by then, so many schools and colleges had adopted it, that most weren’t interested in changing.

Why it works: it’s easy. Calculating hours gives an easy metric for a parent to use and also helps create a schedule that’s easy to follow and predictable. Having school 5 days per week for 50 minutes per day assures hitting 1 credit in 1 academic year. It’s neat and tidy. In states that require logging hours, Carnegie Units are typically used.

Challenges of the method: It’s a lot of extra work to keep track of every hour (and partial hour) of every subject if your school schedule isn’t perfectly consistent like a group school. In addition, 120 hours in a 1-on-1 setting is a LOT of time. Parents who homeschool report that their teens can finish an entire Algebra book in less than 120 hours, leaving them unsure about how to proceed. In addition, students who master a subject feel obligated to serve out their time instead of using their time to learn something new. In high school, where time is extremely precious, waiting for 120 hours before moving on will take away opportunities to move at your own pace. If, on the other hand, a student didn’t learn a subject well, stopping simply because you’ve hit 120 hours seems inconsistent with the benefits of homeschooling.

Calendar (year / semester)

Using a calendar, is a great way to align your homeschool schedule with a dual enrollment college schedule. Since colleges typically use a semester system (about 16 weeks) this breaks a school year into 3 distinctive blocks of time.

  • FALL (roughly Labor Day through mid-December)
  • SPRING (roughly New Year’s week through end of May)
  • SUMMER (June-July-August)

Why it works: In this system, your teen studies a half-credit subject for 1 semester (fall or spring), and a full-credit subject for both fall and spring. Lining up high school subjects to “start” and “stop” with the college classes usually aligns well with textbooks and curriculum. It’s not uncommon to see a textbook with 16 chapters (or 32) which are intentionally designed to match a typical semester schedule. Having a structured schedule helps many students stay organized, and it’s easy for a parent to see if their teen is on pace to finish a subject. This system also builds in regular school breaks

Challenges of the method: Using the calendar does provide some structure, but structure can also drift into unnecessary rigidity for a homeschool. Like the Carnegie Unit, following a calendar doesn’t take into account a student’s level of learning or pace of mastery. Many of the same challenges of Carnegie Units apply to this method as well. One other challenge is that your family schedule will match that of most other families. This makes it less practical to take a vacation in September or break in February.

Not totally satisfied with one of these 2 methods?

Don’t worry, there are several other ways! In the HS4CC Learning Guide, we’ll explore 5 ways in depth, and you’ll learn to easily, accurately, and confidently calculate high school credit. Wondering about how to upgrade a course to “honors” credit? We’ll cover that too.


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit