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.
ARE YOU ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION?
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?
ONLY YOUR MOST ADVANCED EDUCATIONAL CREDENTIALS MATTER
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?”
WORK BACKWARDS TO FIND THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
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.
JUST TO GO TO UNIVERSITY? THE SHORT ANSWER IS, “NO!”
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.
RULE OF THUMB BASED ON THE LEVEL OF STUDY YOU EVENTUALLY WISH TO ACHIEVE
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.
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.
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN BUCK THE SYSTEM DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD
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!