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What the Best Online High Schools Offer Students Today

December 12, 2020

As online learning becomes more popular, families must sort through the benefits of various types of online schooling to determine which kind of virtual high school works best for their needs. With so much information available, though, researching the differences between various online schools can be confusing or even overwhelming. Read on to learn more about what the best online high schools can offer students, and how to find the school that best matches a student’s unique needs.

There are countless reasons to consider an online high school, from flexibility to diversity, from safety to personalization. Here are just a few aspects that families should consider when exploring online high schools:

1. Customized and Flexible Scheduling

Having an online curriculum offers students more flexibility to create their own class schedule. They can adjust when and where they study to meet their own needs -- so, if a student spends much of their time training for a particular sport, pursuing an outside passion, or travelling with family, it’s easy to access their classes and other school materials at a time (and a place) that works best for them. Have a long training session in the middle of the day? An online high school means you can dive into your coursework later in the day, or first thing in the morning -- whatever works for you! 

best online schools for high school

Families considering an online program should understand the flexibility offered by the school, though, because a range of options are available, and not all online schools are the same. At one end of the spectrum, some programs are completely flexible and are modelled after self-study programs that the student can progress through at their own pace. At the other end, the more academic online schools also offer structure, providing deadlines, class times, and expectations for course completion. Since flexibility requires significant student responsibility, the right online high school will give students tools they need to succeed as well as resources and support to help them stay on track and engaged.

2. Live Class Experiences

Another key question to research is: does the school offer an authentic school experience? The best online schools provide students with real-time, virtual classroom seminars in which they interact with instructors and each other similar to the way they would at a bricks-and-mortar school. Students in the best online schools understand that stimulating class discussions and group work can occur online just as they can occur around a classroom seminar table. Debating and exploring ideas with peers is essential to developing skills in collaboration and communication.  

After establishing that a school offers live classes online, families may also want to dig deeper and ask about the nature of class participation:  is class attendance expected, or is it optional? What is the average class size? Are the classes discussions between teachers and students, or are they lectures? While any live class interaction can be valuable, a program which offers both online class seminars, in which students are discussing topics relevant to the subject of study, as well as the opportunity for office hours and individual tutorials, is ideal. Finally, families should determine when live classes take place, and whether their child can attend. The best online schools provide personalized class scheduling and offer various options for class times.

3. Diverse and Rigorous Course Options and College Guidance

From Advanced Placement courses to exciting electives, the right online high school will offer diverse and challenging courses to pique students’ interests and further their academic pursuits. An academically rigorous curriculum will foster a healthy appetite for education and give students a chance to explore what they’re truly interested in. Students should be placed by level and should be able to choose from various electives, levels of rigor, and world languages. The best online high schools offer more personalized experiences for students than traditional high schools, and that includes courses they might not access elsewhere, with teachers experienced in teaching online and a network of peers from across the world. This diversity of location often leads to a diversity of perspective, further enriching the online high school experience for students.

Likewise, college guidance is critical in a high school education experience, and parents should understand what guidance is offered by the program. Are students assigned a college counselor? How many students does the counselor work with at once? Do parents typically hire their own college counseling support, or is the school’s program sufficient? The best online schools have dedicated college counselors experienced in working with online students, as well as long and deep relationships with the best colleges and universities. The school should be able to demonstrate their track record of facilitating students’ admission to top schools. Finally, you’ll also want to research whether the online high school program you’re considering offers any special programs, such as International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement options, special education, or more.

4. Teachers Who Understand Students’ Unique Needs

A traditional high school is designed for the traditional student. But what if you’re not a traditional student yourself? An online high school is filled with faculty who understand that each of their students has individual needs and goals, and builds a curriculum that welcomes a students’ personal passions and preferences. This kind of personalized experience can also cater to various learning styles and academic needs, and can help spark a passion for learning.  For example, if you’re spending a lot of your time pursuing a dream, whether it’s pre-professional dancing or performing, soccer or tennis, the best online high schools won’t just acknowledge the importance of your dreams -- their teachers will help you construct a schedule that balances your goals with your academics. The best online high schools understand that “one size fits all” is an outdated mode of education.

Additionally, teachers in the best online schools are experts in online pedagogy and how to use it to reach different types of students. Families should find out what training teachers have in online teaching methods. Are they leaders in their field? Do they teach other teachers in their craft? Are they adept at catering to various learning styles, strengths, and challenges? Positive answers to these queries are all signs that an online program is a quality one. Additionally, teachers should be available after-hours and should excel in building relationships and encouraging learning in an online environment. Good questions to ask when exploring different programs are:  What’s the student-teacher ratio? How does my child contact the teacher if help is needed? How long has the average instructor been teaching at this school? In the best schools, teachers are invested in student learning, committed to building the culture and community of the school, and devoted to continuing the best school traditions while continuing to innovate to personalize learning for unique students.

5. A Built-In Community

To those who only know brick-and-mortar schooling, it can be hard to understand how an online school fosters community and collaboration, but the answer lies in the ways a school uses the tools available to nurture student connection and collaboration. 
In a great online high school, students will interact with each other in immediate, organic ways. In fact, online learning uses a variety of tools, including podcasts, file sharing, discussion boards, videos, and social media, to spark conversations about the coursework and other ideas relevant to the topic, and offers a range of clubs and activities that help students build bonds. Students working remotely are forced to collaborate in fresh ways, which activates their learning and builds comprehension and communication skills. Finding out what kind of community exists in an online school is a key area of exploration as you evaluate that school.

6. Regular, integrated residential opportunities

As successful as a purely online school can be, the best online schools have realized that optimal online education is supplemented by opportunities for students to come together in person. The best online schools offer students the chance to meet each other and their teachers in person and live the experiences that are essential components of education. While such residential opportunities may not be possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents searching for a school should find out what residential opportunities are offered in normal times. Whether it’s the opportunity to come on campus to meet with a teacher or a tutor, or to participate in extracurricular activities, to join school trips, or to participate in more focused residential experiences around particular topics, such opportunities and meet-ups are a valuable supplement to an online education and are critical to building the relationships that make schooling a success.

At Dwight Global Online School, we focus on all this -- and more. We believe every kind of student can succeed when the right online high school is available to them. If you are interested in learning more about the personalized programs available at Dwight Global, contact us here. We can help you with even more questions you may have about an online education.

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