Can I Take Online Courses in High School?

These days, more and more students are wondering, “Can I take online courses in high school?”

Yes, you can take online courses in high school.  In some cases, you can earn credits for high school and college at the same time (known as dual enrollment).

Your high school cannot prevent you from taking online courses, but at the same time, they do not have to give you credits for taking those courses.  Before enrolling in an online course, it is a good idea to ask whether your high school will give you credit for it.

There are many other factors to consider before enrolling in online courses.

Ask if You Can Earn Credits

One thing to consider is whether or not you can earn credits for an online course.  There are two separate areas to consider: high school credits and college credits.

High School Credits

To find out if an online course will offer high school credit, ask your guidance counselor.  You may find out that your high school does not accept online courses for credit.  Don’t worry.  There are still a few ways to make your case.

First, ask if your high school will approve online courses accepted by nearby high schools.  This will involve some research on your part.  You might talk to guidance counselors or department chairs at these nearby schools.

You can also band together with other students who want to take online courses for credit.  If there is enough interest, the school may take notice.

In addition, you can write up a proposal and provide documentation, such as a course syllabus, to show that the online course covers the material.  Finally, you can appeal to the school committee for help in your efforts.

College Credits

To find out if a college will accept online courses for credit, you will normally need to ask an academic advisor or a department chair.  Often, they will want to see a syllabus for the course, to make sure that the course covers the material they would expect.

Many colleges have agreements with other schools to accept credits.  Sometimes, a group of colleges in a geographic area will form a consortium.  This means that if you are a student at one college in the consortium, you can cross-register for classes at other colleges in the consortium.

If one college in a consortium accepts an online course for credit, then the others might.  However, there is no guarantee.  Your best bet is to get in touch with the college in question and ask about your course specifically.

When Can I Take Online Courses?

Many online courses will be offered by colleges concurrently with traditional on-campus courses.  This means the usual 14 or 15 week semesters in the fall and spring.  I have also taught online courses during 15 week and 10 week semesters over the summer.

I have even taught intensive 5 week classes in-person, although these might be offered online as well.  You can even find extremely fast-paced 2 week courses (4 hours a day, 5 days a week for two weeks in a row, for 40 classroom hours).

If you take one of these intense courses during the summer or winter break, you can quickly jump ahead of your classmates.  You can also catch up if you are behind.

Some online courses are offered by experts who teach what they know, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee.  It is less likely that you can earn high school or college credit for these courses, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Online Course Format

An online course shares some common elements with in-person classes.  However, you may not get the chance to ask specific questions in real-time as you would in a classroom.


Sometimes, an online course instructor will give a live lecture.  This can be over YouTube live, a Skype conference call for small groups, or some other type of video software.

Other times, the lecture videos are prerecorded, so that you can watch them at any time.  This is often preferable, since it offers you more flexibility in your schedule.

Some courses will have animation with voice over to explain concepts and express ideas, without anyone on camera.  Still others will have slides, documents, and other resources for you to review.

There are courses that will use a combination of some or all of these elements to deliver the content to you.  The syllabus should outline the method of delivery, but if not, ask the instructor before you start!

Learning Management Systems

A learning management system is a type of specialized software. This software is used by course instructors and students to keep track of online course materials, deadlines, and progress.

Learning management systems can link to external sources, but they can also host course materials, including lecture videos, folders, and files.

Some examples of learning management systems are:

  • Canvas (I use this for my online courses)
  • Blackboard
  • Moodle

Learning management systems are often used to host discussions, which allow students to engage with each other and with the instructor to discuss ideas relevant to the course.


Discussions allow students to think more deeply about a particular course topic.  They also require students to piece together different information they have learned in the course.

Discussions can be individual or group assignments.  One benefit is that you can learn from other students and their viewpoints on a topic.

Often, I will ask students to provide definitions first, then examples, and then answer a question prompt, using what they know about the topic.  I also ask follow-up or “challenge” questions, to make them think a bit harder about the topic.  Sometimes, these questions require knowledge from earlier in the course.

Some students love discussions, and others think they are a waste of time.  I think you get out of them what you put into them, as is the case with most things in education (and in life).

Homework and Quizzes

Homework and quizzes are submitted online, and in many cases, can also be completed on your own schedule.  In the math courses I teach, we often use a platform called MyMathLab, which is accessed through Canvas (our learning management system).

MyMathLab allows you to use preexisting homework and quizzes from your textbook.  You can also create your own custom assignments using question banks provided by the software.

MyMathLab has several helpful features, including “Help Me Solve This” and “Ask My Instructor”, so that you can easily get help with anything you don’t understand.


There are many benefits to taking online courses while still in high school.  If you aren’t sure whether to enroll, think about some of the following.

Get a Sense of College-Level Work

When you enroll in online courses, you will have an idea of the type of workload you will see in college.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that online courses are easy!  Online courses will usually cover the exact same material as an in-person class.

The instructor might actually expect more from you, since an online class allows you to work on your own schedule.  In theory, this will make some students more productive.  Others, however, will crumble under the pressure.

If for no other reason, take an online course in high school to learn a lesson in time management.

Meet Other Motivated Students

When you take an online course, you will meet other motivated students.  Your classmates could be college students looking to do well in an introductory course in their major.

They could also be fellow high school students looking to cover ground to gain an edge in college admissions.  You might even meet some continuing education students, or adults returning to school after many years away in the workforce.

In addition to meeting students who will challenge and motivate you, you might also make some friends who are not the same age group as you.  This happens much more frequently after high school, but there is no reason you can’t start now!

Review Material

You might have passed a high school class, but done poorly for some reason.  Perhaps it was due to an illness, the death of a loved one, a move, or some other family emergency.

In any case, taking an online course can help you to review material that is rusty for you, or that you never learned well in the first place.

Taking an online course is an excellent idea if you are planning to take an AP exam or a class that has a prerequisite. Brushing up on the material over the summer will help you to succeed.

In some cases, your instructor will not allow you to enroll in an advanced class unless you have mastered the prerequisites. In this case, enrolling in an online course and doing well may be the only way to prove that you have what it takes to succeed in the more advanced course.

Recover Credits

If you failed one or more classes in high school, you can sometimes recover the credits by taking an online course.  As mentioned before, you should ask your guidance counselor or a department chair if the course is an acceptable substitute for the class you failed.

Taking online classes over the summer can help you to graduate on-time, and allow you to graduate with your group of friends.  It also allows you to enter college or start working one year earlier, which means that you are one year closer to your goals!

Boost Your College Applications

Many schools offer AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) courses, which many colleges will accept for college credit.  Some high schools, however, may not offer the advanced courses you want.  In other cases, you cannot enroll as a junior if the class fills up with seniors.

In those cases, online courses can help you to achieve the same thing.  You can learn more advanced material, earn college credit, and boost your resume for college admissions.

If you do well, you might even earn a recommendation from a college professor.  This would hold a lot of weight, especially if that professor teaches at the school you want to attend!

Home school students can also take advantage of online courses, either for topics their parents cannot teach them, or as a supplement to what they are already learning.

Graduate Early

If you have planned far ahead, you might be able to map out a route where you graduate from college early, in 7 semesters (3.5 years) or possibly six semesters (3 years).  There are also dual degree programs (3/2, etc.) where you can get a Bachelors and Masters from the same institution in 5 years, instead of the usual 6.

If this is your goal, then taking online courses can help you to achieve the advanced standing you will need.  By completing college classes in high school, you can start off with more advanced classes in college, sometimes skipping freshman year entirely (since you already did it!).

You can also take more interesting electives in your major, since you have already completed some of your “core” requirements.  You might even be able to work closely with a faculty member on research.  In some cases, you can even earn some money as a research assistant or teaching assistant while in school!

As if these benefits aren’t enough, graduating early can also save you money on tuition.  In addition, you can start earning a salary earlier than your peers in your cohort, putting you further ahead.

Finally, many employers will look favorably upon your ambition to graduate early and achieve your goals sooner.

Do More

There are a few other interesting possibilities if you get ahead by taking online courses.

If you take enough online courses and AP classes to earn the credits, you can often free up an entire semester.  This would allow you to take the semester to study abroad at a foreign university.

You could also spend the semester working in an intensive full-time internship related to your major or desired job.

Some colleges will allow you to do an extensive research project, as long as you are caught up on courses in your major.

You can also learn about what it takes to start an online business, if that is part of your plan.  To learn more and get some ideas, check out my article, 20 Unique Remote Business Ideas.

Even if college is not part of your game plan, online courses can still help you!  If you are a worker in a skilled trade, such as a carpenter, electrician, or plumber, then take some online classes in business and bookkeeping.

That way, you can learn the trade as an apprentice, and then work for yourself later.  With business and accounting courses under your belt, you will be better able to find your own clients, keep tabs on your business finances, and pay your taxes accurately.


There are certainly some drawbacks to online courses, so in the interest of fairness, let’s discuss a few of those now.

Tons of Work

Online courses at the college level may assume that you are taking five courses per semester.  As a high school student, you may already be taking six or seven courses.

The additional workload will be difficult to handle, especially if you are preparing for AP exams, standardized tests (SAT or ACT), and playing sports at the same time.

Make sure that you have a plan for managing your time.  Also, know that there is a price for getting ahead by taking online courses, and make sure you are willing to pay that price.

Watch Your GPA!

Related to the last point, be careful about your GPA!  The intense workload could cause you to falter in some classes.  This might hurt your high school GPA, which is important for admission to colleges.  Don’t bit off more than you can chew.

Different than In Person

Online courses are different from in person classes in a few important ways.  Perhaps most important is the lack of face to face interaction.  If you have questions, you will need to ask them by email in most cases.  This will give you the chance to develop your writing skills!


Now we have discussed high school and college credits, along with the pros and cons of online courses.  If you are still intent on taking online classes, then I have a few pieces of advice for you.

Ask about Prerequisites

Ask the course instructor about prerequisites, and make sure that you have the knowledge necessary to succeed in the course.  You might need to review the pre-calculus course that you passed before you begin a college-level online calculus course.

Try it First

Before you enroll in an online course at a college, try one of the following options, if time allows.

  • MIT OpenCourseWare – this is a site where you can take free online courses in many different subjects.  The subjects lean towards technical topics (it is MIT, after all!), but you can find courses in architecture, business, economics, music, and political science, among others.  There are lecture notes for you to read, videos to watch, homework to complete, and quizzes to take – all at your own pace.  I have taken some of these myself, and the quality is quite good.
  • Udemy – Some of the courses here are free, and some are paid.  Some are good, and some not as good.  However, there are tons of different topics available.  In addition to the standard high school topics (science, math, social studies, English, language arts), there are many “career” oriented courses as well.  You can learn computer programming, web design, SEO (search engine optimization), and many other in-demand skills that can help you to land a job, no matter what you study in high school or college.
  • Udacity – similar to Udemy.  Offers “nano degrees” in certain subjects.
  • Coursera – this allows you to earn credentials from top schools, including Yale.
  • Treehouse – this site is more focused towards acquiring practical technical computer skills.

I encourage you to check these out – you might be able to earn your own “degree” in an area you are interested during summers in high school!

Take a Course with a Friend

You can try one of the above options with a friend, or enroll in your online course with a friend.  Either way, it is nice to have someone to talk to about the course on a more personal level.

Ask for Recommendations

If you enjoy an online course, ask the instructor or online classmates for recommendations about other classes in your area of interest.  You might find out about a course you will end up enjoying!


You can earn high school and/or college credit by taking online courses in high school.  However, there are many factors to consider before you enroll.  If you have decided to enroll, check out my article on how to succeed in online courses.

I hope that this article answers your questions, but it may have raised additional questions as well.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.

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