Calculating Homeschool Credits

NotebooksCalculating high school credits is one of the responsibilities of homeschool parents. Each homeschool needs to determine what will count for a high school credit and how it will be listed on the homeschool transcript. This article explores three different approaches for determining credits. Your homeschool may use one of these methods or a combination of approaches.

Method One: The Carnegie Unit

You may not have heard of the Carnegie Unit approach to calculating credit, but if you attended public school you have experienced it. A Carnegie Unit uses time in class as the basis of calculating a high school credit. The figures used vary from 120 to 150 hours of “seat time.”

Many states require 180 days of school. On the traditional schedule, courses meet for five days a week for fifty minutes, which adds up to 120 hours over 30 weeks. A full one year course on this schedule is a one credit course. A half year or elective course that meets on this schedule will typically be worth a half credit.  Examples of full year one credit courses are Algebra II, U.S. History,  and Biology.  Examples of typical half year, half credit courses are Geography, U.S. Government, and Creative Writing.

Calculating credits using Carnegie Units requires careful bookkeeping. Students and their parents must log the time students spent on each subject. That time could include a wide variety of tasks including: reading, watching lectures, writing, completing assignments, working on projects, reviewing, discussions, taking tests, and watching lectures.

The upside of this approach is that it can be helpful in keeping students on track with their work. Motivation can be a struggle for some adolescents and using the neutral method of tracking hours may provide parents with a concrete tool to measure the amount of time students spend on schoolwork. The downside of Carnegie Units for many families is that this kind of bookkeeping can be tedious and make learning seem more like a chore. Making learning about time on task is inconsistent with the values of many homeschooling families.

Calculating homeschool credits using Carnegie Units also may be poorly suited for the needs of students who learn particularly quickly or slowly. Also, most homeschool high school students find that the seat time required for different subjects varies widely. Most homeschoolers appreciate the flexibility to devote more time to subjects that require more time and less to subjects that are easier for the student.

Method Two: Mastery of Content

In this approach the homeschool teacher chooses a list of topics that must be studied and content that must be mastered. When this content has been mastered, the course can be counted for credit. There are several ways to go about arriving on a list of concepts that must be mastered. For more straightforward courses such as geometry it can be as simple as choosing a textbook and using the publisher’s materials to create a list of topics of that must be learned. Online courses will often have clearly spelled out learning objectives and a method of evaluation (such as tests or assignments).

how to calculate creditsIf you are not using a straightforward textbook or established course, you may seek out other resources to establish that the material covered is adequate for a high school course. Some homeschoolers find it helpful to look at course descriptions from public or private schools in their area to get an idea what is typically covered in a course on a particular topic.  State educational standards may also give expectations for the material required in core academic courses.

Mastery of content can also be established through assessing student’s through discussion, papers, completion of homework or testing. Some homeschoolers use tests such as CLEP, AP, or SAT subject testing to provide an official way to measure a student has mastered content. Subject testing can be helpful in demonstrating to college admissions offices that the student has mastery of the material they have studied While testing can be useful, if it is required for every subject it quickly can become a burden for many students. Testing for everything can be time consuming and expensive.

The upside of this mastery approach is that it emphasizes learning material rather than just putting time in on task. The downside is that it requires initial effort to determine content requirements and to decide what method will be used to validate the student’s work.  This method of homeschooling may also require some adaptation if mastery goals are not met and the school year is over.

Method Three: Meeting Learning Objectives

The final method to determine a high school credit is especially well suited for independent studies or self-directed learning projects. In this approach the student and parent work together to determine what will be required to earn a high school credit in a particular subject. The requirements might include reading a particular number of books, creating a website, producing a film, or writing a research paper. Engaging students in planning their own learning helps encourage homeschoolers to develop responsibilities that will serve them as lifelong learners.

The learning objectives method can be highly flexible. Parents need to decide if in their homeschool it is permitted to revise learning objectives as the year progresses. If the student becomes particularly engaged in a certain aspect of the subject they are studying can the learning objectives be adjusted?  Families should also decide if both parent and child will participate in deciding on objectives and determining if they have been achieved. As families decide on learning objectives it makes sense to consider how this information will be presented in homeschool documents during the college admissions process. College admissions expects homeschoolers to be able to explain their learning approach and show some outside validation for the transcript.

State Law
It is important to note that every state has different requirements and laws for high school credits. As your child enters high school take time to check the website for your state Department of Education and make sure you are following the individual requirements in your state. Look at state requirements for graduation and for completion of honor diploma tracks if your state offers them.  State requirements will indicate the expectations for completion of credits within different subject areas and the level of mastery of content in subject areas. Most homeschoolers consider the state requirements to be the “floor” not the “ceiling.” They set the minimum standard for students in your state but if your student is college bound expect they will exceed these base expectations.

Bottom Line
Homeschoolers have a great deal of flexibility in creating a credit system that works for their family. It is important to consider your family’s homeschooling objectives and philosophy as you make decisions about homeschooling high school. Whatever your decide it is important that you are prepared to discuss your approach within your homeschooling documents including your school profile. Also, as you calculate high school credits, also keep in mind colleges’ expectations. This free printable list of Homeschool High School requirements is a good place to start getting a better sense what colleges expect from their applicants.


  • If my student completed 30 hours of community service during the course of a year, how many credits would that be? Thanks!

    • Many students will opt to list their community service as an extracurricular activity rather than as a course credit. If you wish to list it as a credit, most often that would be 120 hours – or 60 hours for a half a credit.

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