Posted in HS4CC

What’s the best amount of credit to earn in high school?

This is a popular parent question, and a really important one as you plan your teen’s high school schedule. You might hear different numbers, or that it depends on what college they attend, but there is an actual number.

  • High School Graduation/ Diploma Requirements
  • College Admissions Requirements
  • College Graduation /Degree Requirements

This is not a trick question, there are actual numbers of credits your high school student might need to graduate, but we are going to look at the big picture. The “actual number” is not the same for everyone! And for that reason, you’ll hear different numbers – which can be super confusing. Let’s get to the bottom of this question once and for all so you can confidently move forward with your teen’s high school plan.

Before we begin, a word about school types…

Public/Private High School Students: If you are not the one who issues your teen’s high school diploma (private/public/umbrella/charter) then THAT SCHOOL sets the credit and graduation requirements in accordance with state law and institutional preferences. The one who issues the diploma makes the plans. If that’s not you, then you simply must follow the requirements set up by your student’s school.

This post is for families who are legally homeschooling in the United States.

In a homeschool, the parent has full autonomy for credit decisions to the full extent that they follow their state’s homeschooling laws. Some states have minimum requirements. As such, it is the parent who issues the high school diploma and makes the rules/decisions beyond those minimum requirements.

High School Graduation Requirements

I want you to be VERY AWARE that high school graduation requirements for public and private schools are likely not your graduation requirements. Group schools are always regulated by the state! That is to say if your teen attends public school in North Carolina, Mississippi, or Texas, there are very clear and regulated graduation requirements. Often, parents confuse the graduation requirements of a public school student with the requirements of a homeschool. This mistake can limit your ability to bring extra opportunities into your homeschool, and cause you to spend time and stress (and money) on subjects your student doesn’t even need.

It is not “better” to follow the public school’s requirements or to assume that they have planned an optimal schedule. Remember, the requirements differ in every state, so if the professionals can’t agree, isn’t it fair to say that there is no “best” way? I think so! In addition, schools have to serve a large group of students and don’t have the privilege of catering the education to an individual. You’re missing an opportunity if you give up that privilege. Now, I do think it’s a good idea to know what your state’s public schools require; not because you should mirror that, but because you’ll want to pick on on advice errors. It’s very common to get incorrect information as it relates to homeschools, that would be correct if it related to public school. Often dual enrollment counselors, college admissions reps, high school employees, district employees, etc. may accidently give you incorrect advice because they are reciting the public school requirements to a homeschool family. Public School List

Homeschool Laws

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but in order to graduate your teen with a valid high school diploma, you must comply with your state’s laws! Since you want your teen’s high school diploma to be legal and accepted, you’ll want to be sure you homeschool legally. If you don’t know your state’s homeschooling laws, you need to look them up ASAP! State Law Lookup

Homeschool Graduation Requirements

Only a small number of states actually have homeschool graduation requirements. If yours does, you’ll have to plan those into your homeschool program first, and then work other subjects in and around those. For instance, in Pennsylvania, you must teach your student a safety course that covers the prevention of fires. In North Dakota, parents must teach the same subjects taught in public schools. In New York, students need 4 credits of English but only 2 credits of Math. As you can see, you can’t make a plan until you know exactly what your state does or doesn’t require.

College Admissions Requirements

Once you’ve made sure that your teen will meet your state’s homeschool graduation requirements (where applicable) you can move forward and begin to think about how to meet the college admissions requirements for after high school. This isn’t as easy as you think, because almost 80% of colleges are open enrollment or nearly open enrollment and don’t have subject-based admissions requirements other than being a graduate of high school. As an example, when a student applies to a college that has open enrollment, their transcript is validated. Validation simply means they are looking to see that the student has finished high school, and may use their grades or GPA to help place them into classes, but the process does not sort students into the category of “accepted” or “denied.” All students who meet the admissions requirements are admitted.

Unlike validation, students who apply to colleges that do not admit everyone must have their transcript evaluated for fitness. Evaluating a transcript is done to pick and choose the best candidates from the applicant pool. Each college or university defines “best candidates” a little differently, but most are looking for a strong academic foundation with good grades and academic challenges. Some may evaluate whether or not the student took advantage of rigorous classes by taking Advanced Placement or college-level subjects, while others may look for special subjects that indicate a level of serious interest like courses in music, computer science, or even culinary arts.

Your student may not have a target college picked out, but you can help them by looking at many potential colleges to get a feel for the types of requirements that are typical for the types of colleges they are considering. Remember, your teen does not have unlimited time, so it’s impossible to do everything. Parents who push for everything do that because they don’t have a target. This is an effort to cover your bases and keep options open, but remember that keeping your options open is in direct conflict with hitting a small target. Hitting a target requires precision.

Basic High School Plan

This chart is not a recipe to qualify for admission at every college, but this list can help you make sure your teen is on track with what most colleges may look for UNTIL you have a clear target.

Language Arts3 credits of high school language arts.4 credits of high school language arts.1-2 credits of high school language arts and at least 2 AP or college level courses in English Composition, Literature, or Speech.
Math2 credits of high school math to include Algebra 1 plus one other.3 credits of high school math to include Algebra 2 and Geometry.Algebra 1, 2, Geometry
and additional AP or college level math as allows. (College Mathematics, College Algebra, Precalculus, Statistics, Calculus)
Social Science2 credits of history. (U.S. History plus one other)2 credits of history (U.S., World, Western Civilization) with 1 credit of American Government.>4 credits of high school, AP, or college level history to include: U.S. History,
U.S. Government,
World History, Geography,
and Economics.
World Languageoptional2 credits of the same language>2 credits at the high school level.
Artsoptional1 credit in music or art2 credits in music or art
Technology1 credit of Introductory Computer Skills1 credit of Introductory Computer Skills1 credit of Introductory Computer Skills and 1 credit of a Computer Language

College Degree Requirements

As a Homeschooling for College Credit family makes a plan, they immediately realize that they’ve managed to complete their state’s graduation requirements and their college’s admissions requirements with room to spare. This happens because a college class only occupies 1 semester of time, but awards 1 full year of high school credit. So, at this rate, students taking college classes in high school almost always finish high school early- BUT WAIT! DON’T GRADUATE!

Graduating high school stops your student from accumulating college credit at a reduced cost, and can turn them into a transfer student. It is almost always in your student’s best interest to stay in high school and keep earning college credit. Students can check off a lot of degree requirements, and sometimes even finish a degree when they are mindful of these requirement ahead of time.

For families that discover this strategy early enough, they may decide to take another route entirely. For families who anticipate using college credit in high school, they can make the most of their teen’s high school career by resourcefully planning. This resourceful approach shifts the focus away from college admissions (which is what 89% of high school students are worried about) and instead uses a plan that simply starts working on degree requirements right now. Since so many colleges have open enrollment, this bold approach is relatively easy to do, and takes your student out of the competitive (expensive) rat race focused only admissions. Since college credit earned in high school is a lower cost, your student also cuts the cost of their degree significantly.

As you look at the typical plan image, you’ll notice that admissions is front and center. That’s because the student’s high school schedule is guided almost entirely by what a future college may or may not demand for admissions. In this diagram, the student’s college degree is not considered. In this scenario, college classes (or AP classes and exams) are likely used for the purpose of college admission. This strategy works when your teen is aiming for one of the top colleges or universities that are the most selective. In selective admissions, colleges aren’t interested in awarding a lot of college credit for your work, instead, they are using college credit to measure your aptitude for challenging academics at their institution.

This resourceful plan is much more aligned with what Homeschooling for College Credit teaches, and the intent here is deliberate. In this plan, a family uses one class to meet all high school, admissions, and college requirements. For example, the likelihood of a college degree requiring English 101 is nearly 100%, so a family that is resourcefully planning might have their teen take English 101 through a dual enrollment college program instead of a traditional 12th grade Language Arts class. English 101 backfills to meet the high school graduation requirement as well as a future college admissions requirement. The huge bonus here is that it is also likely to meet the degree requirement later!

Besides the effort that is streamlined using this approach, the cost is probably the number 1 reason a family makes this kind of plan.

College credit earned in high school never counts against a student’s freshman application status, and the classes are often deeply discounted (or free). A family that may not have a college fund or big budget can usually cash flow a few classes in high school.

  • Average cost of English 101 taken during high school at any college: $0-$500
  • Average cost of English 101 after high school at a community college: $300-$800
  • Average cost of English 101 after high school at a university: $900-$5,000

Some families choose alternative options like Advanced Placement, CLEP, Sophia, Studycom, DSST, or other non-traditional course providers. These options, when used at a carefully selected college, can bring the cost down in crazy amounts. These work best when you’re not focused on “where” your student goes, and you can choose a college based on their credit acceptance policy instead of name brand.

  • Average cost of English 101 using CLEP: $0
  • Average cost of English 101 using DSST or Advanced Placement: $100
  • Average cost of English 101 using Sophia, Studycom, Straighterline: $150

Whatever your student’s goals, they will benefit from having your guidance. A parent who has taken the time to learn their state’s homeschool graduation requirements, prospective college admissions requirements, and possible degree requirements is ready to build a plan! Resourceful high school planning can help your family make college affordable, and can give your teen an enoromus head start!


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit