Are you overwhelmed at the thought of planning a high school course of study?
Your brain feels fuzzy determining upper level math sequences. After all, the third grade math book displayed an enormous “3” on the cover. The Algebra II textbook doesn’t come with any such clue.
How many years of Spanish should you expect your son to slog through? He would rather not study any foreign language at all. Surely that’s not possible?!
You know you need to get this right. The high school years matter. You need to meet graduation requirements. The college entrance exams are looming. How can you guess what a university expects to see on the high school transcript?
None of this is a mystery. It doesn’t require a PhD. With a little research and a careful knowledge of your child, average moms (like you and me) can plan all four years of high school coursework in a single sitting.
Begin planning your student’s high school course of study early. If you can begin researching and planning when your student is in seventh grade, you will have time to adjust your pace, or catch up in areas in which you are a little behind. If you are planning in eighth grade, you’re not too late. But if at all possible, start before high school so that you can plan the ideal course of study and prepare your child to complete it.
Of course, if your child is mid-way through high school and you have just begun thinking about graduation and transcripts, begin where you are. Better late than never.
Expect hard work
We tell our kids early, and we tell them often, that they will work hard all the way through high school. State graduation requirements are the minimum standard. Don’t allow the government’s minimum standard to become your guideline for excellence in education.
Have you known high school students who only need two classes to graduate, so they spend an hour a day on school and no more? The young adult years are some of the most energetic years of life. Don’t allow your kids to waste the day sleeping in and checking social media. Our family doesn’t stop educating when we hit a certain number of credits. We push on for four full years.
I think even kids who won’t go to college need to be well educated and thoughtful in order to engage the world and bless their future family. Every child needs, and deserves, the very best education you can give them. You may choose to have your kids pursue work or interests that never make it onto the transcript, that’s okay. The guiding principle is that these years should be productive and prepare your child for life.
Design a senior year harder than the first year of college
As a consequence of expecting our kids to work hard, we design a senior year more challenging than the freshman year of college. Our high school course of study demands that our kids read challenging books. Our kids read books written as college text books or for adults. We expect them to manage their own time and pace themselves through courses. Every day we get up early and spend all morning studying. Then our kids spend their afternoons doing real world projects. After a senior year like this, there is a lot of free time in the first year of college.
There’s a bit of guesswork in this, because I am not exactly sure how challenging the freshman year of college normally is. In addition, some colleges are more challenging than others. But we’ve managed to do it twice. My two college students both had a freshman year that was ridiculously easy for them.
However, those easy freshmen years were a little discouraging. I admit I asked myself, “Why did I work so hard only to have the college throw all my hard work away?” There are two answers to this. First, I ultimately educate before the Face of God, in obedience to Him. Therefore, my best is always required. Second, upper level coursework at the college did provide challenge. Our high school efforts were not wasted. And, just so you don’t feel bad, plenty of my shortcomings as a teacher were revealed. I have a lot of shortcomings! (Ouch)
Research graduation requirements
Begin planning a high school course of study by researching graduation requirements in your state and admissions requirements of several colleges. These guidelines become your minimum requirements.
Once you have met these basic requirements, add a little more. Your child will naturally exceed these requirements in a few areas, whether those are subjects that appear on a high school transcript or not.
1. Check state graduation guidelines
Do a quick internet search. Type in “(STATE NAME) graduation requirements.” I checked a few states to be sure I was giving you good advice. All but one state had the information I was looking for readily available: what courses are required for graduation? In addition (this should go without saying) be familiar with homeschool law in your own state. If you are confused, check with some local homeschoolers. This is basic information that any parent of a homeschooled high school student will know (or can find quickly – I don’t store all this information in my head).
2. Check college admissions requirements
Your next step is to check college admission requirements. Check the websites of several colleges, especially if you are beginning early and have no idea what school your eighth grader will consider five years down the road. After looking at several university websites, you will have a good idea what colleges require on a high school transcript.
College admissions requirements will vary from state graduation requirements. Let’s say the college requires four social studies credits, but the state requires three. At the same time, the college requires three math credits but the state requires four. You will have to plan for your student to complete four social studies credits AND four math credits. That way you meet every requirement.
Again, even if you don’t think your child will attend college, go ahead and check those requirements. You never know what will happen three or four years down the road. And a good education never hurt anybody.
Customize your child’s high school course of study
You can meet all basic requirements in a high school course of study and still find plenty of ways to customize it for each of your children. I have four kids, and I will create four slightly different high school plans. My son did well in math and completed more courses than I expect my other children to master. My daughter loves to write, so we spend more time on composition. I asked my son what time period in history he was particularly interested in and he chose World War I. So I created a book list that took him about ten weeks to read, and we shortened the time we spent studying other periods in Twentieth Century History. I seek out as many biographies as I can for my daughter who loves to learn about history in that way. We tweak the basic high school course of study.
Ask your kids what they like. Then be willing to build that into their school year.
Allow plenty of time for high school coursework
The high school years will require more study time than ever before. Make sure you schedule enough time in the day for your child to finish their school work. You must be intentional about this!
- There is far less time for fun and games, or sleeping in. No child wants a life of all work and no play, but you need to set appropriate limits.
- Don’t let extra curricular activities take over. You and your teen cannot drive all over town to music, sports, and drama, while the math book is unopened on the shelf. There are so many possibilities in high school, so you’ll need to be diligent to focus on the most important things first.
- Your children are now old enough to work. Approach work wisely. Never let a job take all the time your student has for school work. Here’s a little caveat: there’s a difference between a minimum wage job and an internship or starting a small business. If your teen is earning money while building skills and knowledge, then that job may warrant more of their time. Use wisdom to tell the difference.
How to use this chart to make a high school course of study
Planning a high school course of study can be quick and easy. Take a look at where your student is right now, and therefore where your student will be when they begin ninth grade. Then plug in the requisite number of years in each area of study. One-two-three-four-done. Pick a few textbook publishers you love and just work through the high school sequence the publisher has planned. If you jot these ideas down, and save the paper, it will only take you a few minutes to transfer your plan onto an official high school transcript. This post explains exactly how to create a high school transcript for your student.
Now a few notes on how to use this information:
Did you notice I began the list with Algebra I and ended with Calculus? Some students will complete Algebra I in eighth grade. I would consider that ideal. But some students will tackle Algebra I in ninth grade. At the same time, not every student will make it all the way through Calculus. That’s okay! Once again, begin where you are and move forward. Especially in math, there is no point in placing a student in the “ideal” course if your child cannot complete the work. Your poor kid will know nothing but frustration and inadequacy.
Take time to build a firm foundation of basic math skills by completing “remedial” work if necessary. I’m not qualified to give advice on remedial work in high school, but I’ll say two things. First, don’t allow the fact that your student is behind to become an excuse for giving up. Have your child complete as much math as possible. Second, kids love to spend less time on the subjects they dislike (and probably struggle through). However, if your child is behind in math try to spend extra time teaching it, laying the foundation, and moving ahead. See if you can complete more than one math book in a year. Continue math through the summer if necessary. Don’t give up. Press on as far as possible!
Science courses are math driven. So students who are behind in math, should drop back in science as well. AP courses can be completed even if you don’t plan to have your child take the AP tests. They are also entirely optional. There’s no reason to push a child who hates science to complete an AP course. Our daughter never completed an AP Science course. When our son began high school my plan was for him to complete biology, chemistry, physics, and an AP course. After the first three years, I asked him which branch of science he’d like to study in more depth. They are all so different! While I always guessed he would most enjoy physics (he’s my math guy), we didn’t make the final selection until he’d tried all three.
Our family continues our regular history cycle through high school. We easily cover material that fulfills requirements for both World and American History. We don’t use a textbook that says, “World History.” But we cover more than enough material to fulfill the requirement and I don’t hesitate to list it on a transcript.
When selecting Electives your child has an opportunity to pursue a few of the areas they are passionate about, while receiving high school credit. College bound students should lean toward academic electives. HSLDA created an enormous list of Elective Possibilities. Every student should be able to find courses they are interested in.
We encourage our kids to focus their energies on specific skills in high school. These are, obviously, excellent choices to include as Electives. However, our kids spend hours and hours working – and enjoying – these pursuits. All of those hours will not be reflected on the high school transcript. That’s okay. The transcript is a document destined for others. Your child is the beneficiary of the extra hours of work and study.
I listed Bible as an elective because that’s how you should list it on your child’s high school transcript. In our family it’s not a true “elective” – which is to say optional. We consider Bible reading, memory, catechism, and church history to be just as important as the core high school classes. Read more about how we approach “Bible Time” as a family here.
Make a plan
Now it’s time to sit down with a paper and pen. You’ve checked the curriculum publisher’s website to verify the sequence they recommend for their books. You already know your child: where they are now and interests they want to pursue. Go subject by subject through all four years of high school and jot down what you expect your student to study. Now you have a big picture view for your child, but can adjust your plan as needed. If you save this paper, you can type the courses into an official high school transcript in just a few minutes.