High School Planning #1: Graduation Requirements

Jun 4, 2020 | Education

Hey, Educated People! Welcome to my new series, High School Planning where we will discuss all things high school as it relates to familiarizing your student with the transition from junior high to senior high as a rising freshman (or sophomore). Today, we are discussing graduation requirements. I would like to address three things before we hit the ground running with this high school planning series:

1) We are in the finale of homeschooling, but we also chose a school that allows us to have similar planning flexibility that we experienced as homeschoolers. To that end, I can offer both the homeschooling and the non-homeschooling approaches. This post will serve both audiences. I will move back-and-forth between both groups, so collect the information for you.

2) I do not believe in any school solely designing a student’s academic plan, mapping a student’s course plan, or deciding a student’s academic trajectory. The right and responsibility for parents to educate their own children or be involved in educational process is reserved to them. This series will be shared with you in light of this view. If you are a homeschooler, this responsibility and right is mostly on you. If you are a non-homeschooler, you will be partnering with a school (or other organization), but avoid allowing others to completely decide this for your child. Accept counsel and advice in your areas of challenge and/or ignorance, but the choice is yours to make with your child.

3) This blog series is also a vlog series. They are connected where you will read here first and then be routed to my vlog for video lessons.

Now that, that is out of the way, let’s begin!

Graduation Requirements: State & (Home)School

As students crossover from junior high (middle school) to senior high (considering that the school or the schooling option has already been decided), parents should understand graduation requirements for themselves and teach them to their rising freshman. First, learn the graduation requirements for your state, then the learn the graduation requirements for your school. They can be one in the same, but they are not always. Some schools require more than the state’s requirements, but they will at least be the same. Some homeschoolers decide to shadow their high school years after a school of their choice. If this is you, follow that school’s graduation requirements. Because you homeschool-flexibility, you can modify if you want to! {I call this your “shadow school.”}

Course Options & Interests

In either case, you need a list of courses to pull from to understand your options and find courses that interest your student.

If you are not homeschooling, download the course catalog directly from the school’s website. (Sometimes the course catalog is located inside the student handbook.)

If you are homeschooling, download a course catalog from either your curriculum provider’s website (assuming they have it) or from your shadow school’s website (if you have one). Note, that some states have entire state-wide course catalogs. In either regard, each entity usually has the catalog available for download from their site. (Not all states has a state course catalog. But if they do, it is typically found on their department of education website.) A state catalog is helpful as it offers all the courses your state will recognize for credit (as schools adopt their selections from it).

*High school planning (and teaching it to you student) is a process that requires several milestones. Complete one step at a time as to not overwhelm either of you. At this point, I do not teach how to read the course catalog. I simply download it and peruse it with my son (or my client) so he gains familiarity with it and selects courses of interest based on the title within the graduation requirement.

State Graduation Requirements

To receive a diploma in DC, students who enroll in 9th grade for the first time in School Year 2007-2008 and thereafter must earn 24.0 credits (or Carnegie Units) as follows:  (This language and chart is copied from the DCPS website to teach as an example, but the color-coding is mine.)

SubjectCredits (Carnegie Units)
Math 4.0
Science  4.0
History  4.0
World Language2.0
Health and Physical Education1.5

To start, both you and your student should be able to answer basic graduation requirement questions (as related to your state and (home)school:

  • How many credits does my state require for graduation?
  • How many credits does my (home)school require for graduation?
  • Does my school offer more than one graduation track? (If so, which track do I prefer?)
  • How many subject categories are there for graduation?
  • How many (if at all) community service hours do I need to complete to graduate?
  • What’s the difference between a core course, a specific course, and an elective course?

I explain the vocabulary used in these questions and give the answers to them this video lesson below, but watch the video after you have read this post.

In the above chart, there are 6 subject categories that each fall into either a core, specific, or elective course category. The 6 subject categories are:

  1. Core (4 general subjects)
  2. World Language
  3. Art
  4. Music
  5. Health & P.E.
  6. Electives

*Later, I split out the core subjects but for now it is important for students to recognize these 4 subjects as the core.

I give 6 different highlighter colors to my son and have him mark through the course catalog with classes that interests him and fit the requirement. Once he is done, I skim the list to understand what he wants to take, but also to make sure he can distinguish the course categories.

Then, review the graduation requirements either for your homeschool or your child’s specific school (if there is any difference). If the state and the school are one in the same, you are done.

School Graduation Requirements

For us, our school requires more than the state, so I had my son review that to understand which areas the school expects more. I also have my son note the differences on his own as he compares both requirements side-by-side. There is only one difference from our state to school graduation requirements and it is that our school requires one more world language credit. To graduate from our choice school, 25 credits are required total and 3 credits are required for world language.

If you are a homeschooler and you plan for your child to complete more coursework than what your state requires, your (home)school graduation requirements will be different too. Add accordingly.

Non-homeschoolers are able to “require” more within the specific and elective categories. For example, I want my son to expose himself to more music than 0.5 credits, so he will use some of the 3.5-elective credit to take additional music courses. I also want him to have at least one English course with a focus on African-American Literature, so I accounted for that with him in the English core.

The requirements are not limited to the chart and credits; there is also:

  • course title
  • course type
  • course quantity
  • course sequence
  • community service

*I will explain this in more detail in the next post with an accompanying video.

Once your student has finished color-coding, review it for accuracy. Then, you (as the parent) will take that list and inquire about how frequently those courses are offered (especially the elective courses). Understanding course frequency before you build a four-year map is crucial. Often times, students are interested in elective courses that will only be offered once or twice in their four-year tenure, thus learning the timing will better help with mapping.

This step is now complete! Your student should be able to answer all the questions above and have a highlighted list of all required courses and courses of interest. You should know said answers too, have a copy of that highlight-ed list, and know the course frequency of each non-core course.

Download a Freebie!

I created this High School Planning: Graduation Requirements download for you to assist with planning and organization, and to make the end of this step. It includes a student worksheet and a parent checklist.

Your Video Lesson

Love, Light, & High School


  1. Sierra Bizzell

    Great post! It was very informative and it gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ms. Jae

      Thanks! ~Blessings, Ms. Jae


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