Earning a high school diploma through distance learning used to be a low prestige undertaking. Not any more. These days America's top universities — think Stanford and Indiana University — are in a race to build the best online high schools for gifted students.
Moreover, the global appetite for a system of elite virtual high schools appears unlimited. An estimated 275,000 students enrolled in online high schools in 2011 and forecasters predict double digit growth as the decade progresses.
Online learning is 100% portable. Famous online learning alumni who have taken advantage of learning on the go include tennis pro Venus Williams and basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal. Virtual high schools are perfect for youth who travel, such as Olympiads and pro athletes.
And the classes can be easily tweaked to support any special needs curriculum, including Advanced Placement (AP) and college prep. Both gifted youth — the Brains — and professional athletes on the go — the Jocks — are swarming virtual high school quads.
According to the Speak Up Survey from Project Tomorrow, 27 percent of high school youth opted for an online course in 2011. In 2010, only 13 percent made this same choice. High school students, whose social lives increasingly radiate from digital networks, are in love with virtual learning.
If you're searching for the best accredited online high schools, the Get Educated editors recommend the following virtual high school programs. All hold regional accreditation — the most widely accepted form of academic accreditation — and all enjoy national reputations as top choices for AP, honors, and college prep online courses.
The Online Education program for Gifted Youth operated by the faculty at Stanford University is the best known and most touted virtual high school. One word of caution: be prepared to crack open your bank account — tuition is $15,000 per year. Financial need scholarships are available. This virtual high school offers college level math and computer science courses and boasts an in-house faculty trained at the doctoral level.
At under $250 per course, this public Ivy, which has been operating a high school program through distance learning since 1925, is a steal compared to its elite west coast cousin, Stanford. AP courses are available for gifted students. Its virtual student body consistently scores above average on the SAT and ACT. This program has been offering accredited high school diplomas since 1999.
The Missouri program features 180 online courses ranging from AP and Gifted Studies in the foreign languages — including Japanese — to core studies in science and the humanities. A regionally accredited high school degree program is available online, or students can select their courses individually a la carte.
This virtual high school program has been around since 1929, when the university began offering paper-based correspondence courses for rural youth and non-traditional students (correspondence degrees have always been popular among non-traditional college students). Nebraska virtual high school students exceed the national averages on the SAT, Reading and Writing, and the ACT. Alumni have been accepted to residential universities worldwide, including Yale, Stanford and West Point.
Did we miss anyone? Help others Get Educated about choosing a high school program online. Share your insights. Let us know who you'd add to this list of the best online high schools and virtual learning programs. If you're an alumni or teacher at any of these distance learning programs share your insider experiences.
About the Author: Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees - Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College.