Earning a High School Diploma Online

Several states and counties across the country allow adult residents to earn a high school diploma partially or fully online. Read on to find out more about online high school diploma options, including preparation and course requirements.

Can I Get a High School Diploma Online?

The availability of an online high school diploma depends upon the county or state in which you live. High school diploma programs for adults are regulated by state public school systems or other local municipal agencies, such as county libraries. In some states, such as North Carolina, public community colleges partner with the state Department of Education to offer high school diploma programs. Some, but not all, of these colleges offer programs that you can complete online. In some cases, you may need to attend an initial orientation session or class on campus, however. More commonly, states delegate the administration of high school diploma programs to county libraries, which offer adult residents the chance to complete a free accredited online program culminating in a high school diploma. Many such programs require an in-person interview with library staff, but all other graduation requirements can generally be completed online. Some programs hold optional monthly meetings or study groups at the library, or allow students to come to the library and work with a qualified staff member or teacher who will help them in any class they need. In addition to a diploma, you'll typically be awarded a career certificate in your field of choice after completing required online courses in that area.

Online Program AvailabilityOffered completely or mostly online by some, but not all, county libraries or community colleges
Course Requirements18 credits of English, math, science, social studies, and career training classes
Diplomas vs GEDsNot the same thing; some postsecondary schools may not accept GEDs
Diploma Mill Warning SignsFor-profit corporations charging money for diplomas are usually scams

What Program of Study Do I Need to Complete to Earn an Online Diploma?

Online high school diploma programs generally require completion of 18 credit hours of coursework in the core subjects of English, social studies, math, science and sometimes health and/or physical education. These courses will teach you the same things you'd learn in actual high school classes. Common topics include:

  • Literature
  • Grammar and writing
  • Algebra
  • Biology
  • Earth science
  • World history
  • Economics

You'll also need to complete four credits' worth of career education courses in your chosen field, which will result in getting your career certificate. Many programs require you to complete resume-writing or other career preparation work in order to earn these credits. Career education course options may vary, but may include areas of focus such as:

  • Hospitality
  • Childcare/education
  • Customer service
  • Home health care
  • Commercial truck driving
  • Office management
  • Homeland security
  • Private security

If you've already completed some high school upon entering the program, you can very often transfer up to 14 high school credits to be applied toward your online diploma, thereby shortening your completion time. Because online diploma programs are self-paced and often geared towards adults who have work, family or other responsibilities, the time needed to complete the program varies, but often averages around a year. Most public libraries who offer the programs give diploma-seekers a maximum of 18 months to complete them.

Is a High School Diploma the Same Thing as a GED?

A high school diploma and a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) are not one and the same, and there are several important differences between the two. For starters, completion of a high school diploma will result in an actual diploma from an accredited high school. These programs are based around completing required coursework, as opposed to passing a test, although many GED programs do require completion of prep classes. Additionally, career education, training, and certification are always a part of high school diploma programs, but are usually not required to earn a GED. Last but not least, if you're planning on continuing your education by enrolling in college or a career training institute, some schools may not accept a GED and will require a diploma instead.

Are There Any Types of Programs I Should Avoid?

Sham organizations attempting to sell students high school diplomas are so common that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created a website warning consumers against them. Scam diploma programs will often pop up right away on internet search engines if you look up a phrase like 'online high school diplomas,' but you can generally spot these 'diploma mills' from a mile away if you know what to look for. The most obvious warning signs are organizations that promise students will be able to earn their diplomas almost instantly, and the charging of fees to take a test or earn a diploma. Legitimate diplomas themselves are always free, according to the FTC. The only things you may have to pay for are classes or an entrance exam, although even these are uncommon. Earning a diploma also almost always requires a significant amount of education, as evidenced by the 18 credit hour requirements discussed above. Last but not least, legitimate diploma programs are always offered by public institutions like libraries or community colleges, not for-profit corporations.

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