What Should we Study while Homeschooling High School?

What Should we Study while Homeschooling High School?

A very common question homeschoolers ask when they are in the middle school years and are approaching the homeschooling high school years is “What should we study if we are going to be applying to colleges?” “Where do I begin to plan our high school homeschooling years?”

(This is the third post in a series about homeschooling your high schooler.)

As I approached those years with my first one, I began getting nervous and unsure of our path even though I had taught high school level English and was used to the whole credit and college preparation process. The idea of making sure I was dotting all of my i’s and crossing my t’s with everything that colleges required for that important transcript and once we reached that stage there would be no going back to ninth grade and starting again had the effect on me of a deer caught in headlights.

(I have a free guide for a suggested scope and sequence for high school courses you can download to have on hand.)

Two Homeschool High School Graduates in College!

Now that I have graduated two and one is about to graduate from college and the other has started his first year of college, I’m wondering why I was so intimidated. I ended up just breaking the process down into steps and it turned out to be a whole lot easier than I originally thought. In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by the choices with community college classes and what horrors some homeschool moms shared of their experiences, advanced placement classes and CLEP tests, and ACT and SAT test scores, and earn your way to full scholarships for college.

Focus on where your high schooler is and who they are and where they want to go.

I had to focus on where my child was, where he wanted to go and what his interests were, and was it worth it for my family to pursue official advanced placement classes or CLEP tests or make our life revolve around studying for the ACT and SAT test scores or would they like to take community college classes. Once I narrowed down to feeling out my oldest about his options periodically over the end of his middle school years and throughout the high school years, we were able to determine our course. We chose his course of study and how to get there by what he was ready for and where he wanted to go. We spread out the time studying for the ACT and SAT over time and chose which test he seemed more naturally inclined and didn’t worry about advanced placement or CLEP tests or community colleges. His learning was more experiential and focused on his personal interests. It worked, because he was admitted into a four year college, has won a department award in his major, and will be graduating with top honors. All without the “bells” and “whistles” that I had been stressing about! Because of our study at home and his natural inclination toward language and writing, he was able to pass the college’s placement test for English, receive 4 credits for the Freshman English class and skip taking that class. So that is another option your high schooler may want to keep in mind when applying to college.

My other son took almost the same route, but his natural inclination towards math made it impossible for me to effectively oversee his math study in his Senior year. So, he took one semester of math at the local community college, tuition free, and it worked more smoothly for us than if we were to attempt it at home. He did not care to take any more classes at that time so he would have time to focus on his other interests during his last year in high school. He graduated high school with 4 credits of college math that occurred for us naturally without stressing.

First Things First

If there is any chance your high schooler may want to attend a two or four year college in the future, you want to make sure your studies include certain subject areas with a minimum number of credits per subject. Starting to think about around the start of 7th grade if your child is naturally inclined toward math is a good idea to help determine what math class you want your child to start taking in 9th grade.

Each state has different minimum requirements to graduate from high school and may have different requirements according to what kind of high school diploma to be awarded, whether it is technical or college prep.

From there, colleges require different minimum credits per subject, some requiring foreign language, some may not. It is always a good idea to scan any requirements of colleges your high schooler may be interested in attending or local community and four year colleges.

Nevertheless, colleges do expect to see a standard course of study of basic subject areas, including a variation of minimum credit hours and various electives.

Suggested Homeschool High School Scope and Sequence

This is a suggested outline to take into consideration and change or build on depending on your situation and your high schooler’s personal interests.

I’m a big advocate for involving my high schoolers in their course of study, subject areas, curriculum used, and the method of study. Remember, different subject areas can be studied in different ways, not just textbooks or online classes. I’m a believer in hands on and experiential learning. For example, writing and composition could be a class for your high schooler, but in the form of a blog or literary magazine for homeschoolers.

Here’s an example Scope and Sequence for the different high school years. You can reorder the sequence or substitute classes according to your needs. But, this can serve as a jumping off point. It’s important to note that more competitive and selective colleges look for students who have 4 years of each of the basic core subject areas and 3-4 years of a foreign language. (Credit hours are discussed near the end of this post.) The more competitive colleges also may require AP test scores for specific subjects as well to be submitted with the transcript.


Introduction to Literature or Writing and Composition or Combination of the two – General literature class covering drama, short story, poetry, speeches, essays, novels, fiction and nonfiction, across different time periods and geography. May include grammar review and an emphasis on writing a variety of expository essays in different formats with a concentration on organization and the development of a topic or thesis with details. (If your child is not ready to go into a deeper or more challenging literature or writing class, this might be a good introduction to polish up skills for high school.)

American Literature – A variety of genre across time periods from various American authors. You want to include a variety of writing assignments and at least one MLA or other formatted research paper. (usually expected by colleges)

British Literature – A variety of genre across time periods from various British authors. You want to include a variety of writing assignments and at least one MLA or other formatted research paper. (this or something similar expected by colleges)

World Literature – A variety of genre across time periods from various authors around the world. Some curriculum focus on more ancient or classical Greek and Roman literature. You want to include a variety of writing assignments and at least one MLA or other formatted research paper.

Other literature and writing course options (some may be only a semester or year long) – Shakespeare, Journalism, Short Story, Poetry, Creative Writing, Expository Writing, Speech and Debate and variations of specific geographic or time period literature (ex. Russian literature, Victorian literature)


Depending on your child’s abilities and interests in regards to math and career choices, you may want to start a specific area of math by a certain grade either in middle or high school. Some selective colleges want Calculus on the high school transcript which means your child would want to start Algebra I by 8th grade, take Geometry or Algebra II in 9th grade, take the other class in 10th grade, Precalculus with Trigonometry by 11th grade, and then Calculus by 12 th grade.

Otherwise – Algebra I – 9th grade, Geometry or Algebra II – 10th grade, the other class by 11th grade, Precalculus/Trigonometry by 12th grade. (The order of Geometry and Algebra II is a personal preference or determined by the curriculum you are using. Also, you might want to consider when your child will be taking standardized tests and if you want to make sure they have an exposure to Algebra and Geometry by the time they take the test and not just Algebra. Most colleges want to see an additional math class above Algebra II which is why I suggested the Precalculus/Trigonometry option.)


Most colleges remark they would like to see at least one physical science and life science with a lab component.

General Physical Science or Earth Science – 9th grade, Biology with lab – 10th grade, Chemistry – 11th grade, Physics – 12th grade.

Variations may include Astronomy, Anatomy and Physiology, Genetics, Marine Biology or a specific area of science your child wants to pursue.

Social Studies/History 

Colleges usually require 1 year of American History and at least a semester of Civics or American Government and additional history/social study type classes of your choosing.

You can coordinate the study of history with your literary time period. For example, American History and American Literature or World or British Literature with World or British History.

Or, some homeschoolers use a curriculum where history is studied in a chronological order where you might designate it as History I, History II etc or label it according to time period.

Other options include – Economics, Constitution, American and World Geography, World Government and Politics, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Humanities.

Foreign Language 

Colleges like to see at least a minimum of 2 credits or years of the same foreign language, while more selective ones require 3-4 years.

If your child is interested in pursuing American Sign Language, you will want to check with any colleges your high schooler is interested in to see if they accept that as a foreign language.

In addition to online classes or programs and curriculum and coop classes, a good way to utilize the local community college is to take a foreign language class if they allow it. Your student would earn high school and college credit.


Colleges like to see exposure to the arts such as art, music, or drama, so including at least a semester of one of those is a good idea. They also want to see 1 year of Physical Education and at least a semester or a half year of health.

Other than those – the sky’s the limit. See my post Homeschool High School Elective Options Part 1 for some additional suggestions for electives.

A Word about Credits

If your child takes advantage of a community college program, not only has he/she earned college credit that can be noted and designated on his/her transcripts, but he/she has earned 1 credit or 1 year’s worth of high school study in that subject and should be included in the high school credit totals on the transcript.

If you complete around 80% of a textbook or curriculum of a core subject, that can be counted as 1 credit.

The range for the number of hours of study applied to a core subject can be 120-180 hours, with an average of 150 hours. Homeschoolers tend to calculate our time spent more conservatively, so don’t stress about reaching 180 hours. Chances are you are not counting all of the time spent on that area.

Electives and 1 semester or 1/2 credit classes should be around 60-90 hours of time spent. Remember, this can be time spent in an experiential manner in that elective, not just book or class engagement.

The total number of credits colleges usually look for is an average of 24 credits.

Click here to download a copy of this High School Homeschool Scope and Sequence Guide to have as a handy reference.

I hope you have found this helpful in your homeschool high school planning. If so, why not share it with some of your friends or on Facebook or Pin it so it may help others approaching the high school years?

For the next post in this series and for suggestions about organizing your homeschool high school, read How to Schedule Your Homeschool High School.

If you want read all posts in this series in order, begin with reading Why Homeschool High School?