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How Do Colleges View the Best Online High Schools?

Updated: May 24

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Are you considering enrolling your child in an online high school? As you do your research, we know you must be full of questions. In this article, we will break down how colleges view online private schools, share the factors that will help you decide whether online private school makes sense for your child, and what to look out for in order to choose the best online high school to fit your child’s needs.

The Rise of Online Private Schools

In recent years, online private schools have gained popularity as an alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, even as we’ve moved well past the restrictions of pandemic lockdowns from a few years ago. The increasing prevalence and acceptance of online education, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggest that colleges are becoming more accustomed to and accepting of applicants from diverse educational backgrounds, including online high schools.

While the online education industry has grown a whopping 900% since the year 2000, more so than ever, a significant number of students and education leaders view online education as equivalent or even superior to traditional education. According to this article by Admissionsnly, around 76% of education leaders believe that the quality of online education is on par with or higher than traditional education, while about 52% of students in the US preferred the online learning experience to traditional classroom learning. Additionally, this article by “What to Become” states that students retain approximately 25%–60% of material through online learning, compared to a maximum of 10% through traditional methods. These statistics and insights illustrate the growing importance of online education in the current educational landscape, highlighting its impact on student preferences, learning outcomes, and career planning.

As technology continues to reshape education, the legitimacy of online private schools is a topic that has gained increased attention, and colleges are adapting their perspectives on applicants who graduate from online private schools. The way colleges view online private schools can vary, but several key factors play a significant role in determining the legitimacy of online private schools and college admissions officers’ perceptions.


First and foremost, accreditation plays a pivotal role in establishing the legitimacy of an online private school. Accreditation is a process through which an external organization evaluates a school's curriculum, faculty qualifications, and overall educational standards to ensure they meet predetermined criteria. Colleges generally do not differentiate between online private schools and traditional high schools as long as the school is regionally accredited. Ultimately, what matters most to admissions officers is not whether the student attended a traditional school or even the best online high school, but rather the student's grades, test scores, and other factors that demonstrate their fit for the college they are applying to.

Nevertheless,​ it is important for prospective students and their families to verify the accreditation status of any online private school they are considering. The best online high schools will readily provide information about their accreditation, and this information can be independently verified through the accrediting body's website.

Curriculum & In-School Resources

The qualifications of the teachers and instructors at an online private school also contribute to its legitimacy. The best online high schools and in-person high schools alike employ certified educators who are experts in their respective subjects. The credentials of the teaching staff are essential in guaranteeing that students receive a high-quality education that is comparable in comprehensiveness and rigor to what they would expect to receive in a traditional classroom setting.

The best online high schools offer a diverse range of courses that not only align with state and national academic standards, but are challenging and designed to prepare students for higher education. They will often provide Advanced Placement (AP) courses, honors programs, and other enrichment opportunities to ensure students receive a well-rounded education. Some online private schools may even offer dual enrollment programs with colleges, which will help set students up for success when they apply to college.

Additionally, the best online high schools will implement regular assessments to gauge student understanding and progress; teachers would provide timely and constructive feedback on assignments, quizzes, and exams, helping students improve academically. Similar to many top-notch brick-and-mortar institutions, the best online high schools will provide resources and support for college and career preparation. This includes guidance on college admissions, assistance with standardized testing, and information about various career paths.

Qualities Unique to Online Private Schools

Outside of teacher credentials, advanced curriculums, and college counseling, online private schools also offer several advantages that differentiate them from traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, and it can be argued that their uniqueness in fact gives students an edge. Online learning can help students develop important skills such as time management, self-discipline, and independent learning. These skills are valuable not only in academic contexts but also in personal and professional settings. On top of that, online learning inherently involves the use of various digital tools and platforms, which will help students develop essential technological know-how, and which are increasingly important in a world where digital literacy is crucial for both academic and professional success.

best high schools online

Motivations for Attending Online Private School

During the admissions process, colleges will consider the reasons behind a student's choice to attend an online private school. Many students opt for online private schools for a variety of reasons such as health issues, family circumstances, or the need for a flexible schedule due to intensive involvement in sports, arts, or music. According to the popular college admissions website and forum College Confidential, the key for college admissions officers is to confirm that the student has thrived in their educational environment and is prepared for the challenges of college life. Therefore, if an applicant can articulate valid reasons for choosing an online private school and demonstrate how they've successfully navigated the online learning environment, colleges may actually view the decision to attend an online private school more favorably.

The best online high schools will do much to ensure that the students feel supported and are set up for success during the college admissions process. They will have a robust technology infrastructure to support effective online learning, allowing students to achieve a high quality of education with little disruption and remain competitive with students from traditional in-person schools. The best online high schools would also create an engaging and interactive virtual learning environment. This involves the use of multimedia resources, interactive activities, discussion forums, and collaborative projects to keep students actively involved in their learning. The best online high schools further prioritize individualized support for students. This includes access to teachers for questions and assistance, personalized feedback on assignments, and resources for academic and career counseling.

Student Success & Achievements

Another factor influencing how colleges view online private schools are the academic performance and achievements of the students themselves. Colleges value students who excel academically, regardless of whether they attended a traditional or online private school. Like students from traditional schools, applicants from online private schools are evaluated based on their GPA, standardized test scores, and any additional academic achievements such as advanced placement (AP) courses, honors programs, or extracurricular activities. A strong academic record can offset any potential bias against online education. According to Sally Rubenstone, a former Smith College admissions counselor, “If [your] online grades are strong and if [your] SAT or ACT scores are solid (where required), and if [you demonstrate] engagement beyond [your] academics (e.g., volunteer work, paid work, hobbies), many selective colleges will welcome [you].”

Students are advised to highlight their online classes in their applications and discuss the skills they gained from the experience, such as time management and self-discipline​. It's important for students from online private schools to use their application essays and other parts of their applications to showcase how their online education has prepared them for college, focusing on the challenging coursework and the skills they've developed. Since online schools may not offer traditional extracurricular activities, students are encouraged to seek opportunities outside of school, such as community service, part-time jobs, or hobbies, to demonstrate engagement and well-roundedness.

The legitimacy of online private schools is also reflected in what these students do once they graduate. The best online high schools will have alumni who have successfully transitioned to colleges, universities, and the workforce, demonstrating that the education provided by the online private school adequately prepares students for their future endeavors. It's essential for prospective students to research the outcomes of graduates from any online private school they are considering in order to gauge the institution's effectiveness. The best online high schools will have high graduation rates, college acceptance rates, and a multitude of alumni success stories.

In summary, colleges are becoming increasingly open to applicants from online private schools, especially if these schools are accredited, offer a rigorous curriculum, employ highly qualified teachers, and tout a student body that can readily demonstrate academic excellence and professional achievements. As technology continues to influence the landscape of education, colleges are adapting their views to recognize the validity of various learning environments. However, it is crucial for students and their families who are considering online private schools to conduct thorough research and due diligence before committing. Choosing the best online high school for your child is a significant decision that can have a profound impact on their academic journey and overall future. By being selective and choosing the best online high school to accommodate their needs and goals, students improve their chances of gaining acceptance to colleges and universities. ICL Academy, ranked among the best online high schools nationwide, holds such accreditation and offers rigorous, customizable curriculums that will appeal to colleges everywhere. If you are considering an online private school, contact our admissions team today to learn more and see why ICL Academy may be the best online high school for your child.

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