Do I need a high school diploma?

You may find yourself at a disadvantage without any educational credentials, so it’s a good idea to plan to achieve some level of formal, recognized education. Most homeschoolers do in fact have their sights set on some form of post-secondary education such as college, university, internship or professional programs.

But, homeschoolers pose an interesting problem to post-secondary program admissions because they often want to attend these formal, accredited programs after an informal or unrecognized course of study in the high school years. Certainly, most people use a high school diploma to gain entrance to these programs. But just because most people do it, does that mean it’s required?

So, before I answer the common question, “How do I get a high school diploma as a homeschooler?” I thought it would be a good idea to make it clear that, depending on your situation, you might not need a diploma at all.


People often write me asking how best to go about earning a high school diploma in their particular situation. But, for most people, the high school diploma isn’t really what they want.

What they really want is to open the doors that a high school diploma typically opens. Do you want a high school diploma for its own sake, or do you want to get into university? Do you want to qualify for a particular college program or internship?

Furthermore, if you could achieve that larger goal without a high school diploma, would you still want to focus on the high school diploma?


If you plan to earn a university degree, no one will care about your high school credentials. If you plan to earn a professional degree (law, medicine, teaching) or a graduate (Master’s, PhD) degree, few will even care about your undergraduate (first) university degree.

If you are not planning on attending college or university, then you will likely want a high school diploma (or GED, an equivalent exam-based credential). Most jobs require at least a high school diploma or GED, and without credentials of higher education, the high school diploma becomes more important.

But, if your goal is a university degree, then the question you should be asking yourself is, “What do I need in order to be accepted into university?” Fortunately, we already know that most Ontario universities will admit you without a high school diploma as long as you have fulfilled their other admission requirements. (And, an “open university” such as Athabasca University will admit you without any prerequisites.)

But what about advanced degrees and professional programs? The same reasoning applies: if your goal is law school, start your educational planning by asking yourself, “What do I need in order to be accepted into law school?”


The typical educational path to law school looks something like this:

high school diploma -> university degree -> law school

But, did you know that a university degree is not a pre-requisite for law school? And, since a high school diploma is not required for university entrance, neither credential is actually required for admission to law school. (There are educational requirements that you must satisfy, but neither a diploma nor a degree is one of them.)

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider a high school diploma or a university degree if you want to go to law school (or medical school, which has a similar entrance process). But it means that you have options, and you may wish to explore them to find the path of minimum formal schooling that will allow you to focus on your education instead.


We do know that there are several ways to get into university without a high school diploma, but some college or technical programs may not support these methods. In short, though, if your educational path relies on a university education, then you can feel confident that you can avoid a high school diploma if you so desire.


High School Education, but nothing further:

While you may never need formal proof of your high school level studies, there is a good chance that at some point you will want to present formal educational credentials to an employer, an investor (if you start your own business) or to an organization (if you must meet certain criteria* to join or volunteer). Of course, you can still be admitted to university if you find you do need credentials down the road, but it will typically take years to earn a university degree. If you need a piece of paper, and need it quickly, you’ll probably choose to write the GED exams instead. Even then, there is studying involved and waiting until a test is offered, so be aware that while your opportunities may not be limited, the speed with which you can act on them might be.

Undergraduate Degree (your first university degree):

No, you do not need a high school diploma because alternative admissions are possible.

Professional degree (law, medicine, teaching, veterinary):

You need some level of university study, but since you don’t need a high school diploma to get into university, therefore no, you don’t need a high school diploma for professional programs, generally speaking.

Graduate Degree (an advanced academic degree such as an MA, MSc, PhD):

You need an undergraduate university degree, but since you don’t need a high school diploma to get into university, therefore no, you don’t need a high school diploma for graduate degrees, generally speaking.

College/Technical/Apprentice Programs:

In Ontario, these programs often do require a high school diploma unless you wait until age 19 or 21 (depending on the school) to apply as a mature student. Read admissions information carefully and look for “high school diploma or equivalent” to see whether there may be a loophole or some flexibility.


As you can see, it is possible to follow an advanced academic career without a high school diploma through alternative entrance to an undergraduate program.  But, it is important to make sure that the alternative path you choose is actually preferable to simply earning the high school diploma.

Some people will prefer being assigned a curriculum, having lessons planned and work graded externally to the more independent options such as studying for standardized tests. Some students will benefit from the social experience of attending a high school (even if only in an “it’s like watching a sociological experiment” kind of way!) and others may find that the high school really is the resource hub of the community with the best music, athletic or science equipment, and therefore opportunities, in town.

Responsible academic planning is as much knowing when to take advantage of a well-worn path as it is knowing when you can safely cut corners.  As always, think about which path offers the best combination of challenge and support for your child; a solid high school education requires both.

* a local husband-and-wife bowling tournament in our old neighbourhood required you to submit a marriage license with your application to prevent contestants from pairing up with ringers. So, you just never know when you might need an official piece of paper!

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How early do I have to start planning for university?

(This is a part of the document that I used to hand out at my Ontario University Admissions seminar. Just thought I’d get it up online.)

The answer to this question depends in part on how you intend to enter university. Below you’ll find some general tips and suggestions for your high school program that address credit courses, standardized test prep, “top six” and portfolio-based options. Of course, these are just some general, brief guidelines to get you thinking about the process.

To earn the OSSD: start taking credit courses in “Grade 9″ and plan to take roughly 6 – 8 credit courses per year for four years.

To write Standardized Tests (SAT/ACT): follow a challenging English/Math program of your choice through “Grades 9 and 10″ and begin specific test prep in the fall of “Grade 11.”

To take 12U credit courses (“Top Six”): follow a challenging English/Math program through “Grades 9 and 10″ and begin with one or two 12U credit courses in fall of “Grade 11.” Finish the rest of the six courses in “Grade 12.”

To prepare a Portfolio: document activities (begin to prepare a transcript with course names, descriptions, lists of texts used, tables of content followed) starting in “Grade 9.” Start producing samples of graded, admission-level work (projects, essays, tests) in “Grade 11.”

To enter an open university directly: follow a curriculum according to interest and ability in “Grades 9 and 10.” Choose more challenging/advanced programs in areas of future specialization. For interests in humanities, develop solid writing skills early. For interests in social studies, develop advanced reading comprehension early. For interests in math/science/engineering/technical areas, develop solid math skills early. Begin your first course or two in “Grade 11.” Choose an area of strength or interest to start. Look ahead to courses you might take over the next 2 years and if need be, study specifically to prepare for those courses. Complete 4 – 6 courses over the course of 2 – 3 years. Then, decide whether to continue studying by distance or transfer as a university transfer student to a traditional university setting.

General Admissions Timelines – “Grades 9 and 10″

Decide on an admissions strategy to aim for:

  • Standardized Tests,
  • 12U credit courses (“Top Six”),
  • Portfolio/Transcripts,
  • Mature student entry,
  • Transfer from an open university.

Research admission policies:

  • Homeschool policy already in place?
  • Homeschool contact person at university?
  • Contact universities to confirm policies and establish relationship.

Personal thinking/planning about future

  • Am I a “science” person? A “history” person?
  • Do I have a specific profession in mind?
  • Do I want to attend university right after high school?

Begin formal documentation for portfolios/transcripts

  • Consult Ministry of Education course descriptions for curriculum topics by grade
  • Collect samples of work, externally-evaluated if possible
  • Keep exhaustive list of activities and use edu-speak to translate into courses

Start regular, academic writing

  • Argumentative/persuasive writing
  • Report writing
  • Grammar and style
  • Research and documentation
  • Organization and structure

Analysis of texts and literature (fiction and non-fiction)

  • Reading for meaning and content
  • Understanding tone, perspective, and bias
  • Use of figurative language
  • Themes and character development in works of fiction

Regular diet of pre-algebra/algebra

  • Basic arithmetic and order of operations
  • Integers, fractions, decimals
  • solving equations
  • rate, ratio, percent and proportion
  • linear and quadratic functions
  • linear and quadratic equations and systems of equations
  • analytic geometry
  • polynomials and factoring

Establish/Develop areas of academic interest

  • Having an “academic speciality” can go a long way to being noticed as a university applicant.
  • Put together your own “survey course” in a particular field
  • Explore professional/industry/career organizations in that area and familiarize yourself with their suggested links/resources

“Grade 11″ – credit courses or personalized study program for standardized tests

Attend university fairs (usually in the fall)

Visit university campuses – when students are there!

Language Development

  • Continue regular writing and revising – style and sentence variety
  • Work on improving, enriching vocabulary – consider studying lements of Latin, Greek
  • Read challenging texts, including those which are open to interpretation
  • Studies in current events/world issues
  • Elementary Logic, especially logical reasoning and fallacies for the purposes of evaluating arguments, identifying faulty reasoning
  • Traditional Grammar Study for clear, concise communication

Mathematics Development

  • Humanities students: Continue studies from Grades 9 and 10, working towards proficiency in these skills, and/or SAT preparation
  • Business students: this should be a pre-calculus year with an added emphasis on statistics and probability””if possible, write AP Statistics exam this May””(or with the intention of pursuing this next year)
  • Social Science students: studies from Grades 9 and 10, working towards proficiency in these skills, and/or SAT preparation with an emphasis on statistics and probability (or with the intention of pursuing this next year)
  • Science students: this should be a pre-calculus year (physics students should also consider this a pre-linear algebra year)
  • Math/Computer science students: this should be a pre-calculus and pre-linear algebra year. Completion of the equivalent of 11U Mathematics (Ontario) or Algebra 2 (U.S.) should be the goal.

Standardized Test Route

  • Start prep for SAT (and any AP exams) in the fall
  • Write SAT (May or June)
  • Write one or two “easier” AP exams (May)

Credit course route

  • Take one or two 12U courses in first semester (easier ones)
  • Take one or two 12U courses in second semester

Research universities – Method A: By School

  • Close to home vs. far away?
  • Finances and Scholarships?
  • Size of campus/classes?
  • Size of city/town?

Research universities – Method B: By Program

  • Where is the program available?
  • Co-op or internship possibilities?
  • Specialization or general?

“Grade 12″ – STANDARDIZED TESTS or 12U courses

Visit OUAC website in the fall

  • Contact OUAC in September re: applying as a home schooled student to receive appropriate login information or paper applications
  • download copy of INFO (available late Sept/October) for specific program requirements and application information

Language Development

  • Read and respond to challenging, classical texts – explore the universal themes of classic works and the elements of language used by the author to communicate his or her message
  • Use academic journals (instead of newspapers) to explore current issues
  • Choose some subjects to be studied “from the textbook” and develop the skill of learning independently from a textbook (perhaps choose a text you may be using next year in university – e.g. intro to psychology)
  • Attend local seminars held by museums or local colleges/universities
  • Join or form a book club with deadlines for reading and discussion dates

Mathematics Development

  • Humanities students: No further mathematics is typically required beyond studies from Grades 9 and 10, and/or SAT, but you may wish to consider preparing for a SAT Subject Test (Math I) or your university program’s breadth requirement in math/logic/statistics
  • Business students: study calculus (formally or informally) this year with an added emphasis on statistics and probability if not previously studied. Plan to write SAT Subect (Math I or II) test and/or AP Calculus & Statistics in the spring, if not previously written.
  • Social Science students: plan to write SAT Subject Test (Math I or II) and AP Statistics in the spring, if not previously written.
  • Science students: study calculus (formally or informally) and possibly linear algebra. Write SAT Subject Test (Math II) and/or AP Calculus in the spring
  • Math/Computer Science students: study calculus and linear algebra (formally or informally) with the intention of writing SAT Subject Test (Math II) and/or AP Calculus.

Standardized Test Route

  • Revisit prep for SAT in the fall if you wish to rewrite this year (Before Dec.)
  • Start AP and/or SAT II preparation in the fall
  • Write AP exams (May)
  • Write SAT II subject exams (Spring)

Credit course route

  • Take two or three 12U courses in first semester (ideally, have 6 done!)
  • Take one or two 12U courses in second semester, if desired/necessary

Other academic options for Grades 11 and 12

  • Volunteer placements
  • Internships, job shadowing
  • Online university/college courses (for credit or “open study” such as MIT)
  • Competitions and contests (e.g. music, academic)
  • Special camps/activities hosted by universities or community groups
  • Offer tutoring and/or mentoring to younger students
  • Outside certification courses (e.g. cooking, technology, athletics, public speaking, technical writing, swimming) in areas of interest and/or teaching classes in these areas
  • Specialized research project
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