What should we do for a diploma?

You’ve been homeschooling right along, enjoying those elementary years, and suddenly you realize – my baby is going to graduate from high school if we keep going at this rate! What should I do to make sure he’s ready for college and can actually be accepted in? I don’t want to make a mess anything up or miss a step? (See the end of this article for a special offer!)

There are a lot more questions that just this one, but here’s a good one to figure out –

What is a diploma and transcript, and how should my teen get one?

As the principal of a Christian school for over 30 years, and as a Pennsylvania homeschool high school evaluator (the annual review by a teacher that is required in our state), I have helped hundreds of students finish high school and go on to college. I want to try to help you understand the path ahead, and the choices you have.

Difference between Diploma and Transcript

Let’s start by defining the difference between a diploma and a transcript. A diploma is what most teens and their parents want – the fancy piece of paper with their name in a calligraphy font, maybe inside a padded cover. It is fun to show it off to grandparents and friends and to have it on display at the graduation party. But then it sits on the shelf or goes into a drawer, and no one actually asks to see it again.

By contrast, the transcript is a very important – though not nearly as cool looking – piece of paper that summarizes a student’s entire 9th-12th grade academic progress. It includes courses, credits, grades, and Grade Point Average – all the stuff colleges and future employers want to see to have a snapshot idea of how a particular student did in high school. It also has the signature and credentials (and maybe even raised seal) of the person certifying the information. If you have to choose between a diploma or a transcript, the transcript is the most important – though you should go ahead and get both if you can! One more thing, in some cases, colleges want the transcript mailed directly to them from the issuing institution with a cover letter; they may be wary of a transcript handed to them by the parents. (Maybe they think the parents will have doctored the grades or not held their student to a rigorous standard? I don’t know, but they deal with a lot of people and want to be careful.)

One more quick definition before we talk about options. Accredited. Parents sometimes ask if our school is accredited. Or if a particular diploma program is accredited. There is a very specific technical meaning to that word. To be “accredited” means that an institution has applied to an accrediting agency, and met their published standards for being accepted as a member of that XYZ Accreditation Organization. Very few Christian schools and homeschools actually do this. More often, what parents actually mean when they ask about a diploma being accredited is that they want to be assured that the diploma will be accepted anywhere – University, employers, military, etc. Being “accepted” is the main concern, and many types of diplomas are “accepted” even if they are not technically “accredited.”

Just a tip to consider – even if a diploma-transcript issuing agency isn’t technically “accredited”, their paperwork is very likely to be “accepted” as it is being issued by a third-party. By contrast, a parent-issued transcript may not be as easily accepted everywhere, which could limit your teen’s options after high school. I have personally seen this happen with a half dozen homeschool students I knew personally where the military or chosen college did not accept the parent issued transcript.

There are five ways to get these transcripts and diplomas:

1.      Parent-issued

2.      Online organization that creates the transcript for you

3.      Diploma-Transcript Agency

4.      Umbrella Organization

5.      Satellite School

The level of parental control decreases from 1 to 5, but the record-keeping and professional guidance by an expert other than yourself increases from 1 to 5. The price also tends to increase from 1 being the cheapest, to 5 the most expensive.

Let’s talk about each option with a few examples of each taken from the results of a recent survey of my readers at PACE Success.

Parent-Issued

Some parents have had a few teens graduate already and feel confident that they know what they are doing. They use a template found online or create their own document and list all the courses, credits, and grades, and then print and sign it themselves. Some colleges (particularly Christian colleges, and perhaps Community Colleges) will probably accept those transcripts with no problem.

  • You can search online for templates for both diplomas and transcripts. Here’s one site I found: www.letshomeschoolhighschool.com but there are others I’m sure.
  • Homeschool Diploma –   https://www.homeschooldiploma.com/ – a one-stop shop for everything you need for a graduation (they do NOT provide transcripts)
  • Here’s a link to homeschool mom who has written an ebook with printables and she encourages parents to do everything “in house” ( https://www.annieandeverything.com/start-homeschooling-high-school-resources/ ). Her book and website are very readable and encouraging if you want to pursue this option.
  • Running Start. Washington State has a Dual-Enrollment program for 11th-12th graders but it was hard for homeschoolers to get into it. The Running Start program is an effort to connect homeschooling teens with this opportunity. http://washhomeschool.org/homeschooling/running-start/   The Washington Homeschool Organization (WHO) has a graduation ceremony and allows parents to issue their own diplomas, but they are not accredited nor do they maintain records for students (http://washhomeschool.org/graduations/)
Online transcript services

These organizations allow you to log in each year and use an easy program to enter courses and grades, and the program formats the transcript for you, calculates the GPA, and produces a ready-to-print transcript. You just sign and send to the college. It is considered a parent-issued transcript, but the formatting part looks very professional. They maintain the records for several years afterwards, too, so you can print more copies later if needed. They do NOT give advice, guidance, or have specific graduation requirements. The cost for this service is minimal compared to other options.

Diploma-Transcript Agency

These organizations allow homeschoolers to use just about any curriculum they want, but there are some graduation requirements (total credits needed per subject, maybe a foreign language, etc). Parents still have great latitude to make curriculum choices, monitor student progress, assign grades, etc. As long as they meet the requirement standards of the organization, then they can request a professionally printed Diploma and Transcript with the Agency name on the masthead. This option gives greater credibility and acceptability for the paperwork with a wider range of post-secondary institutions.

  • Here in Pennsylvania there are few such organizations, such as www.PHAA.org – parents can use any curriculum, and meet a few academic standards, and they qualify for diploma and transcript from the Agency.
  • I am not aware of any nationwide agencies of this type. Let me know if you know of one.
Umbrella Organization

These organizations work more closely with homeschool parents and teens. Students actually “enroll” and are monitored by the staff. Parents still may have a lot of say in what curriculum is used, how the school work is graded, etc. This option is especially good in states that do not allow students to homeschool legally, or somehow make life difficult for homeschooling. By being enrolled, students are meeting the state’s “compulsory education” obligation while parents are maintaining control of the education. There are different levels of accountability to the umbrella organization. Diplomas and Transcripts from these organizations are widely accepted.

  • Gateway Christian Schools  – http://www.gatewaychristianschools.com provides a “cover school” for homeschool students in Tennessee and Mississippi especially, but anywhere in the US. They are very friendly to ACE students. They give a lot of guidance as needed, and require regular paperwork to be mailed or faxed in to them.
  • Crossroads Christian Schoolhttp://www.crossroadschristianschool.com/  Qualifies as a legitimate “Umbrella School” for Florida residents and provides service to students in all 50 states and International students as well. Crossroads provides in its service: accountability, encouragement and support, curriculum counseling, transfer of records, maintenance of transcripts, identification cards, semester or annual report cards,  high school diploma. I understand they work with ACE students.
  • Home Life Academyhttp://www.homelifeacademy.com/ they offer free phone counseling, guidance help, and encouragement by a staff of homeschool experienced parents. HLA serves homeschoolers in all 50 states and internationally.  They provide “legal covering” in four states – Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Colorado. The only caveat I see is that though they “say” they accept ACE curriculum, based on what is displayed on their website, they encourage many other publishers and may not be “experts” or too keen on ACE.
Satellite Schools

Lighthouse Christian Academy is the “official” ACE satellite school. Students enroll, are tested, the curriculum is assigned by LCA, and tests are returned to LCA. All (or virtually all) courses must be from ACE only, and they maintain all records and make sure students stay on track for graduation. There is a much higher level of accountability and control, or “hand-holding” if you prefer to call it that. Parents using this option are paying much more, but have fewer curriculum options or choices for their teens. Their Diplomas and Transcripts are widely accepted.

  • Lighthouse Christian Academy –  http://www.lcaed.com/  They only use ACE
  • Bridgeway Academyhttps://www.homeschoolacademy.com/ – they are located here in Pennsylvania and offer various levels of support. When they started, they used exclusively ACE PACES, but now offer curriculum from 40 different publishers.

This is a project in progress, so please email me if you have more input or feel that something I wrote is inaccurate. I chose not to include prices above as those change frequently. That part of the research I will leave up to you!

Which option would I recommend?

Well, that’s the great thing about homeschooling. YOU get to make the decision among all the options that best meets your family’s needs and budget.  Obviously all of these options are meeting needs for many different families or they wouldn’t still exist.

I would recommend that by the time your teen is going into 9th grade, you should make a decision about which way you want to go and then stick with it for the four years of high school.

By the way, I just created a course about “Guiding Your Teen Through Homeschooling to Graduation” with several videos and lessons. We cover all that was in this article and more, like the different college tests, credits, course sequences, and overview of what AP, CLEP, and Dual Enrollment means. Once the course is live, I need some students willing to go through it and leave some feedback. If you would be interested, could you use the contact link above and let me know?  I will send you a coupon code for a “deep discount” on the course! 

You might also be interested in reading about how ACE students in other countries get their graduation credentials by reading this other article I wrote: A Glimpse Into International Homeschooling


I have a Udemy.com VIDEO COURSE: Guiding Your Teen Through High School to Graduation that you will enjoy and find helpful! Click the link above to get a discount on the course!

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