Embracing a credit based system for high school

Graduation Credit

The following post is written by contributor Cheryl Pitt of CherylPitt.com.

Homeschooling high school often marks a big transition in the way we homeschool our children. They go from babes at Mama’s feet to independent, self-directed learners. While we, the parents, go from hands-on facilitator to hands-off manager. It’s an exciting time as we watch our children grow and test their independence.

With two seniors at home, I’ve found these high school years to be a blessing beyond measure. Watching the boys learn to drive, go on interviews and land first jobs, start dating wonderful young ladies — it’s all been so exciting to see the first true signs of who they’ll be as adults.

However, even though it’s been exciting and fulfilling, and even though I’m not deeply involved in their day-to-day schooling, it hasn’t been without challenges. My biggest regret in raising my first round of homeschool graduates?

I wish I had let go of the elementary model of homeschooling earlier. Much earlier.”

Homeschool Graduation

You won’t hear me complain (too much) about teenage hormones, busy schedules or the like. No, what was the most difficult for me was something that should have been simple … going to the high school credit-based system.

Please tell me I’m not the only person who had trouble with is. I blame my Type-A, perfectionist tendencies.

If your state requirements are anything like mine, in the elementary years students are required to do “a little bit of everything.” We had to do English, math, science, history, health, physical education and safety every year. This was no problem; I checked all the boxes.

I like boxes.

I like routine.

Then came high school. We had to do all those same subjects. But some (like health) were only required once in the high school career. Others, like English, were required every year (4 credits). Others, science and math, were required only some years (3 credits).

This threw my lovely checklist out of alignment. There wasn’t the same order to our days. And I didn’t do as well as I could have with that. I tried to cram in-depth, high school courses into the elementary model.

Well, you can imagine how that worked. Unless you’re a very astute student, it’s difficult to do a tiny bit of “deep work” in nine different subjects a day. It’s much easier to dive deep into a few subjects per semester.

I stressed out my boys, and myself. What I should have been doing is dancing with joy over the FREEDOM the credits system affords us, rather than trying to make the credit system fit our old model.

I’m happy to say I finally figured it out (yes, in their senior year — better late than never). And I won’t be making that same mistake with the three children I have left to graduate.

Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and truly RELISH the opportunity your high school students have to explore what interests them and what they may want to do after graduation!

High School Credits

Cheryl’s tips for going to a credit-based system:

  • Plan in pencil — make a four year plan with all the check boxes you need, but write it in pencil. Be ready and willing to switch the plan as needed.
  • Knock out minimums early — complete as many of the credit requirements as early as you can so the senior year can be a time for community college, trade school, internships, jobs or specialized learning in the area of your student’s interest.
  • Switch it up — you don’t have to do English all year long. Your student can concentrate on English credit the first semester then science the next. Don’t be afraid to go deep into subject matter.
  • Get creative — your students don’t have to take the exact same subjects as the local public school. One of my boys detests math, so rather than expect him to make it to triginomotry, we did economics and personal finance. Math was less painful that year.
  • THROW OUT ANY PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS — high school is a whole different homeschool animal. Make a commitment to yourself and your student to embrace this new and exciting season!

Are there any mothers of homeschool graduates out there? What’s your best advice for embracing a credit based system?

About Cheryl Pitt

Cheryl has been homeschooling since 2001; she home educates 5 children from baby to teen. She is a brand consultant and avid social media user. Her heart for strong family values and the companies that promote them, led her to found the 2:1 Conference - the only conference for homeschooling parents active in social media. You can find Cheryl at her blog Cheryl Pitt.


  1. Thanks for sharing. We’re not even close to high school but this is something we all need to know!

  2. AWESOME! I am going to post a link to this blog post on my website. I am so enjoying the high school years.

  3. We are in the 7th grade year and just kind of found this rhythm accidentally! We started the year with 8 subjects and found 5 she was really interested in. So now we go in depth in the Math (nonnegotiable), English (also nonN), and Biology and History and Music. The other subject, Chemistry, we save for days when we need a change in our routine. Good to read in this article that I am preparing her for H.S..

  4. Can’t figure out how to edit my post. Fat fingers, sorry. Started the year with 6 subjects, found 5 she really liked.

  5. We are just in second grade, but it’s very interesting, thank you for sharing.

  6. Julie Roberts says:

    Thanks for the tips. I struggle a bit with the whole credit thing, but mostly struggle to find out how to fit in electives. My 10th grader spends so much time in his daily school work, like math, English and sciences that it leaves no time for electives.

  7. I would love to see specific examples of how this looks. I really want to embrace high school but am not sure how to go about it for our family. Anyone want to share what their day/ week looks like?

  8. This is SO timely for me as my oldest will be starting high school next year. I tend to also want to fit all the subjects in…every day. This gives me something to think about, though. I like the idea of getting through the requirements early on and transitioning into more interest-led, career focused studies later on.
    Jessica’s latest post: Maple Vanilla Crunch Granola (gluten, dairy free)

  9. This is a wonderful concept to consider! We get so bogged down getting the ‘basics’ in that we often let the more engaging (harder to plan) subjects get left behind. I’m inspired to see what kind of changes we can make to our homeschooling ‘plan’ and we are only in elementary. Perhaps a couple weeks of science only or history only… Thanks for the great idea!
    Kim’s latest post: FREE St. Patrick’s Day Word Search with Pictures

  10. Susan Saffery says:

    We just started high school this year and wow is it different !?! My son is taking 7 credits (classes) as he wants to finish high school in 3 years and needs 21 credits to do so. He opted for a schedule where he does one subject each day and doubles up 2 days with the *easiest* two subjects (Monday- English, Tuesday- Algebra, Wednesday- Science and Health, Thursday- History, Friday- Spanish and Computers) He works all day on that one (or two) subjects and when he completes the assignments that are expected of him- then he is finished for the day. This year is also very different from our K-8 experience with Calvert School- as he is able to do it all online instead of writing/printing it all out and mailing it in once a month. He takes the quizzes and submits them and they are graded instantly. Of course many assignments are submitted and need to wait for the teacher to grade them, but he gets feedback from the teachers and can communicate with other students through bulletin boards and discussion groups. My son has never been a fan of school but this seems to (at least in these first 6 months) be a good fit for my 15 year old. I wish I wouldn’t have been so particular and ocd in his first years as well. I am doing better with my daughter (who is 9 and in 5th grade with Calvert) She wants to attend a local Catholic high school (my alma mater) so I am trying my best to prepare her the best I can because that is going to be huge change for her as well.

  11. Mindy Oakley says:

    You can use outside activities to fill credits as well. We used Bot Scout Merit badges to fill credits like, science, PE, Home Ec, Art and so on. We used Dave Ramsey’s course for Adults at a local church for Economics (we took it with two of our sons together). My oldest was into computers, photography, videography so we gave him elective credit for those. He was also able to test into higher classes at community college by bringing his computer tower into the instructor and using it as his portfolio. He also subscribed to Lynda Online and took more classes that we gave him credit for. We printed out the state requirements for graduation and made what we were doing fit into what the state required. We have 2 that have graduated , one know has his BA in mass communication, the second has his Associates degree and will finish his BS in Psychology in one more semester. We are graduating our third son this year who opted to do a second senior year so he could continue to swim for the swim team and pursue computer programing to see if it is a fit for his college degree after high school. All three sons are Eagle Scouts. I do not have never been to college and have home educated our 7 children since 1995.

  12. Heather Dhondt says:

    I take a holistic approach, even for credits. All subjects are embedded. I take a topic and plan appropriate projects around it incorporating as many subjects as possible. High School can still be flexible and fun.

  13. When my oldest was in high school, I completely froze because of all the same issues you spoke of regarding credits…are you in PA? I was so strict with him because of wanting to comply so badly that eventually, he asked to go to school, and I relented. Now having my second in high school, I’ve learned from my mistakes. We’ve covered all the required subjects but have done it in such a way that it’s designed entirely around her interests. (It was much more fun coming up with the resources, as well!) While I’m still no pro, I’m comfortable knowing that the bases are covered, and she’s thrilled to be learning about things that are important to her. I’ve also given her the freedom to devise her own schedule- if any. That’s been a bit freeing, as well.
    Shelly’s latest post: Carnival of Homeschooling

  14. This is just what I needed! I have been trying to figure out how to keep track of my high school daughter’s learning/grades but we have been doing credit type classes without even knowing it and I was trying to fit them into an elementary grading system. Love to hear more about how you do this and keep records/transcripts.

  15. This is such a great article! My son is starting high school this year and I am trying to prepare myself 🙂 I would love if you would share more about high school topics in the future!

  16. As the mom of a senior with a freshman, and two younger kids coming up what I will do different is be sure and track every bit of volunteer work my kids do, all the activities, and awards they received. Also the senior year is crazy busy and scholarships should begin to be researched much earlier.

  17. We let our kids do high school using a college model! It works great AND they get college credit after each subject is finished. They have either an associates or a bachelors right about the same time as their high school diploma!

  18. Janie Gibson says:

    Great article! I’ve had 3 graduate so far & transition smoothly into college(2) /apprenticeship(1) with them planning how to get the subjects I required, plus the ones they wanted, completed. Also appreciated Barbara Edtl Shelton’s Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+u+la for helping me think outside the (my) box.

  19. My husband and I are both homeschool graduates (all 12 grades!) and we are in second grade with our first, with three (so far) right behind her. I must confess that I was a little nervous about the idea of homeschooling into high school and am glad to have run across this article. Thank you!

  20. My youngest is now in 9th grade and it was still a big transition even the third time around! She’s a pretty independent learner and we attend a weekly homeschool learning center on Mondays for Math, Science and English. Very nice because she is accountable to someone else. The hardest transition for me is doing a little bit of work in all subjects each day, not nearly as satisfying as delving deeply into one subject for awhile. We’re finding this necessary for Math and Science, but I try to coordinate the other subjects – English and History in particular so that it’s not so many little bits of info. It’s good to remember there is still flexibility in high school; my daughter loves art, crafting and photography; she’s keeping track of her hours and we’ll make that into a course after the fact (a Carnegie credit means that 120 hours = one credit). Love your tips to be sure to “plan it in pencil” and “get creative.”

  21. Thank you for this post! With one in high school and another one headed that way soon, I am trying to learn now!
    Sometimes though, my son can take a very long time to do his school work and it is difficult to count hours for credits.
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Week #28

  22. Heidi Engquist says:

    We have an almost 15yo who struggles to get things done. I, too, would LOVE to see examples of what this looks like on paper.

  23. Even though I was homeschooled through high school myself, the thoughts of homeschooling my children through these years does intimidate me a bit. I feel like my own experiences will help guide me in some ways, but then again times have changed a lot since I was in high school.

    I know that I was an independent, self-directed learner in high school and for the most part, my parents let me follow my own direction with some oversight. That was a good thing, but I also see where it would have been helpful for me to take accredited courses and have more course options. I think that with the internet and technology, that is one area where my children will have much more of advantage than I did!

    I was homeschooled using the Calvert program through 8th grade. I’m using the same program with my children (modified a bit as needed depending on their needs and learning styles). Calvert recently announced their 9th grade program and it looks very promising! We’re not there yet, but I definitely intend to keep an eye on it as they develop it and will most likely use it for my children when the time comes. Courses are accredited and lead to a MD state diploma. I believe they will also offer AP course options, so very exciting!

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