Overview: All about homeschool high school credits — how to calculate them, what counts and what doesn’t, and more. Ease your mind!
I love alliteration; can you tell? LOL
But seriously, I do think using alliteration makes a topic seem less intimidating, more friendly. Hopefully it worked that way for you with this title, but if not, just keep reading anyway, mkay? I’ve gotchu!
Truly, high school credits don’t need to be confusing, although it can definitely seem that way, especially when we’re first trying to understand them. But that’s why I’m here, to put things in a way that makes them easier to grasp — and therefore easier to DO. Clearing confusion is my mission! So let’s do that with the whole subject of homeschool high school credits. This is a topic you will want to understand as you are planning your teens coursework and preparing for college.
How do high school credits work?
What is a credit, anyway?
A credit is “a unit of study counting toward a degree or diploma,” according to Oxford Languages (as displayed by Google). For most states, in high school, a full-year course is given 1 credit, and a semester course is given .5 credit. So far, so good, right?
(A few states are not this way. Indiana, for example, counts a semester course for 1 credit and a year-long course for 2 credits. I’ve heard that Iowa, Idaho, California, New Jersey, Nebraska, and some places in Illinois are also different. If you are in one of those states, you might still be able to use the traditional method if your state homeschool law doesn’t specify. But keep reading regardless, because there is still lots of good information below which you can adapt to your own use.)
How to calculate homeschool high school credits
One of the confusing things is how to get a number for them, i.e. how to count the work your teen is doing. There are actually TWO ways to determine how many credits a certain amount of study is worth.
1) The first is to use the standard or stated credit(s) for a particular course or curriculum.
For instance, Algebra 1 is considered to be one credit, regardless of which curriculum you use, because there are certain topics that are included in any Algebra 1 course. When your kid finishes Algebra 1 with a passing grade, they get one credit for Algebra 1. This is true whether they finish in three months or it takes them two years to do so.
For other courses where there is no accepted standard, you can rely on what the curriculum provider says about their curriculum. If they say it’s a semester class for .5 credit or a year-long class for one credit, then when your teen finishes the curriculum, they earn the amount of credit specified by the curriculum provider — even if they took a different length of time to complete it (whether longer or shorter).
Let’s chat for half a mo about “finishing” the curriculum. Do you remember back in public school that you never actually got to the end of any textbook? There were always chapters left over that the teacher didn’t have time to cover, no matter what the subject, am I right?
Public schools fill many days with other activities such as pep rallies, movie days, and prep for state standardized tests (so they can get their government funding if students get good scores), so there is no way teachers can get all the way through the actual content of a course. They don’t even try. (I used to be one, so I know this personally.)
Guess what? That means YOU don’t have to worry about getting ALL the way done, either. While there is no standard of how much completed is “good enough” to give full credit for, my recommendation would be at least 80 percent or more. Some people go down as low as 75 percent; I’m not comfortable with that personally, but in truth it is your decision to make.
The reality is, then, that when your teen finishes “most” of the curriculum, not necessarily all, you can feel comfortable granting full credit. This should take some pressure off!
2) Or you can use time spent working to determine how many homeschool high school credits to give.
This works well for courses that YOU create, interest-led learning, activities for which there is no curriculum, etc.
I recommend that at least 120 hours of work be made equal to one credit for electives and 160+ hours to equal one credit for core courses. There is no set standard, but this is what was recommended when I researched this for myself lo those many years ago, and it is also what my conscience felt comfortable with.
And then when my LAST OF FIVE children was in her junior year of high school, I discovered that my state only required 100 hours per credit whether for core or electives! Aaaghh! So the moral of the story is find out what your state law says — but I still stand by my recommendation in the absence of any differing state-specific information.
Another way to look at it is that a credit would be worth about one hour of work each day, and with a 180-day school year (or whatever your state law specifies), minus some buffer days, you get about 160 hours for a core course that is worked on most days. Electives might not get worked on every day like a core course would, hence the fewer hours.
In order to know how much time has been expended, keep a log of your teen’s time working on the particular subject or activity. (Or make them keep a log. This has good points and bad points, as I’m sure you can imagine.) Or you can think back over time and add up what you know happened.
Example #1: My daughter was on a travel softball team. She had practice once per week for 2 hours. She had tournaments many weekends to the tune of sometimes five hours in actual practice or game time per day. After I added all of that time up over the course of a full year (summer included), it was more than enough for a full credit of PE.
Example #2: My teens all learned how to drive during high school. Our state mandates 40 hours practice behind the wheel before taking the test. Then there is time spent studying for the test, going to an interview with the insurance agent, visiting a junk yard — and then more time spent driving after achieving the license (a probationary period, if you will), which could be called “independent practice.” Enough for a total of 60 hours and a half-credit for Driver’s Ed as an elective? Sure.
After those examples, I know what you’re thinking, LOL. You are now wondering this, aren’t you:
What activities belong on the transcript as high school credits?
And this is a GREAT question, especially because there are differing mindsets about this. But I am here to EASE your mind, not add to your stress. You can count on me to give advice you can live with.
In fact, the answer to the question “Can we use X activity on their transcript” (no matter what X stands for) is YES you can! Just add up how many hours they’ve spent (either by using a log or by counting backwards, as explained above) and calculate how many credits that is worth.
BUT BUT BUT. Keep this in mind: that doesn’t mean we should add credits when they are not needed. This is where discernment comes in. If your kid already has enough credits on their transcript, then don’t list an activity for credit just to add more.
What is “enough” credits? I recommend anywhere from 5 – 7 credits per year, with 5 or 7 being an exception year but most years having between 5.5 – 6.5 credits. This is a normal amount, not too much or too little — either of which could be a red flag to a prospective college. So in the case of homeschool high school credits, more is not necessarily better!
Some say that extra-curricular activities (such as my daughter’s softball) should NEVER be counted as credits on the transcript. I completely disagree. All work and no play makes our teens very frustrated individuals. Trying to fill 5 – 7 credits per year with only academic work in a homeschool setting is an unreasonable expectation, imho. That’s that many HOURS PER DAY spent on schoolwork — ouch.
All of my kids had one to two credits per year that were based on activities rather than academic coursework (for my son it was his job that earned him two credits per year — more about that here: Getting Your Homeschooled Teen a Job), and they all got into college with scholarships. The proof is in the results, y’all. Don’t place a standard on yourself that is not reasonable nor reality.
If you decide not to place that activity on the transcript, however, it’s not wasted. It can get listed as an extra-curricular activity on the college application. (In fact, any activity that is NOT given credit also does NOT get listed on the transcript. More about what does and doesn’t go on the transcript here: Homeschool Transcript Essentials.) It could also make a great subject for an application essay!
Another quick thought: One of my daughters practiced violin 3 – 4 hours per day, which could have earned her 3 – 4 credits in violin alone. I only gave her two credits, though, because I wasn’t comfortable granting any more for a non-academic activity. This would be something else to consider as you make these decisions.
Other credit concerns:
(There’s my friend alliteration again! Just call me Alliteration Annie. (And she does it AGAIN! I’m so good.))
Can your teen get homeschool high school credits before 9th grade?
Absolutely. But be careful — I recommend only giving credit for objectively-graded courses like math, science, or foreign language. For other subjects it is harder to tell if your teen is actually DOING (as in what they output) high school level work. More about this here: High School Credit Before High School?
What about credits earned outside the home?
One tricky aspect of homeschool high school credits is the ones that were taken elsewhere. In general, if it was a subject for which you were the main supervisor for your child, even if you weren’t the instructor — such as an online class or a co-op class — then you can choose whether to include it on the transcript or not. If your kid got a bad grade, you might decide to leave it off and have the kid try that course again if it’s necessary to meet your requirements.
But if it was a course taken at an official institution — such as a public high school or a college (for dual enrollment) — then you have no choice; you MUST include it on the transcript. Bad grade or no. This is why it’s important to think carefully about whether to do dual enrollment — make sure your teen is ready. I’ve discussed this in detail here: Dual Enrollment for Homeschoolers.
Can high school credits be given for work that is not high school level?
YES. Go ahead and give credit for non-high-school-level work and put it on the transcript — just be aware that colleges might not count it towards their admissions requirements.
Remember, public school kids in special education situations still graduate high school even if they have never done work that is considered high school level. It is your freedom to determine your own graduation requirements (within the realm of your state homeschool law); they don’t have to look the same for everyone. More on that here: When You Fear that Your Homeschooled Teen is Behind.
There! That is “credits” in a nutshell! Hopefully this has been helpful. If you have questions about any of the specifics, you can find a more detailed discussion of credits in my book Taming the Transcript: The Essential Guide to Creating Your Teen’s Homeschool Transcript from Scratch (without overwhelm).
You’ve got this! I have confidence in you!