The very notion of spending one more day in high school past one’s anticipated graduation date probably seems like the worst of bad dreams. While some students are missing credits because they have failed one or more classes, others find themselves in the predicament because of life events, such as moving to another school district or an extended illness.

In some cases, students can come up short on credits simply because of an oversight in scheduling. Both roads lead to these students fearing they’ve reached a dead end and scrambling to figure out how to make up high school credits to ensure they receive their diplomas on time.

How to Make Up High School Credits Online for Free

Online credit recovery programs are the most popular and convenient ways to earn high school credits since attending these classes don’t require you to leave the comfort of your home. Because you won’t have to wait for the start of a new semester or a new season, enrolling in internet classes may be the fastest way to make up high school credits.

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Working at your own pace without a teacher dictating due dates is likely to be another perk if you don’t struggle with staying motivated and practicing time management. Making up high school credits online also gives you the choice to select the best online program to meet your specific needs.

Maybe your top priority is being able to readily access student support staff who can offer assistance in the event you need extra help with a specific class or can provide resources to help with more general concerns, such as study skills. Or maybe you want a flexible program that will design a plan based upon your own personal wants and needs to ensure you are successful in completing the classes with a good grade.

Even though it may be the quickest and most convenient, taking online classes isn’t the best choice for everyone. If you need to make up credits because you’ve failed a class and found falling behind to be the reason, having the freedom to complete work on your own timeline will be challenging even if you makeup high school credits online for free.

Also, students who need face-to-face instruction and a teacher to hold them accountable with specific expectations, such as attendance policies and definitive due dates, are not well-suited for these online learning opportunities. Keep in mind that while many of these programs are free, others charge for enrollment. Before you register for classes, make sure you ask what fees, if any, are involved with that particular credit recovery program.

Consider Testing Out of Classes

Sometimes you may find you are required to take a class not to learn new information but simply to go through the motions of sitting through lectures, completing homework and taking tests on a subject with which you are very familiar. This can sometimes lead to students not turning in work or attending class regularly because they are bored and see putting in the time to complete “busy work” as a waste of time.

This leads to students not passing classes and therefore, failing to earn the credits for a class which will, in turn, make them short of the required credits to graduate. If you find you are required to take a class even if you know the material, see if your high school offers the option to “test out.” This alternative, if permitted, gives you the option to earn the credits for a particular class by taking a cumulative exam that covers all of the information taught from the beginning of the class to the end without actually having to take the class.

When you are getting information about your high school’s testing out policy and restrictions, be sure to ask specific questions. For example, you'll want to know when your school offers the testing and, if applicable, if you can test out of a class you have already taken and failed. Keep in mind that testing out of a class not only requires you have in-depth knowledge of a subject but also the text and other supplemental materials.

Even though you will be given access to the book and, most likely, these other materials, you will need to invest a significant amount of time preparing for this lengthy exam. These exams are written by the teachers who teach the class, and they are unlikely to skim over important details or give you a break by not including questions having to do with the most challenging class material. Don’t count on the test being multiple choice without the inclusion of more in-depth formats, such as short answer or essay questions.

Communicate Early

Alert your teacher as soon as you realize you’re falling behind in a class or struggling with the class material. Talk to your counselor as well to let her know you are having difficulties keeping up with your work. You may realize you are too far behind to catch up or finish the class with a passing grade in the remaining weeks of the grading period or semester. In that case, try to come up with a plan of action with your teacher to get back on track.

Some teachers will agree to give a student a grade of “incomplete” at the semester’s end. This will allow you extra time to finish the outstanding classwork and salvage those credits without having to retake the class. Not only is this course of action at a teacher’s discretion, but not all schools allow a teacher to give a student an incomplete.

The teacher and counselor will let you know if this is even an option in your school district. Often, a teacher is more likely to grant the incomplete if you continue to put time and effort into the class and therefore, make strides toward completing the work even though you know you won’t be able to catch up.

A teacher is also less likely to agree to such an arrangement if you wait until the last weeks of the class to let her know you are struggling to keep up. You will be given the details of the incomplete by your teacher which will include the amount of time you are allowed to complete the class before she changes an incomplete to a failing grade.

This can range from a few weeks to a grading period to a whole semester. If your teacher agrees to an incomplete grade for algebra your sophomore year, you will not be able to wait until the last semester of your senior year to finish the work for that class.

Be Proactive

Take action and ask for help if you feel as if your classroom struggles are not due to lack of effort on your part. If you find you are consistently falling behind in all or many of your classes, schedule a meeting with your counselor to discuss your concerns and difficulties with your studies.

You may have an attention disorder or learning disability, such as ADHD or dyslexia, that makes focusing on your work, retaining information or fully understanding what you read an every day challenge. Your counselor can provide you, and your parents if you are a minor, with resources regarding diagnostic testing; depending on the outcome of such testing, you may be allowed to retroactively finish classwork and regain credits lost due to failing grades.

You can also ask about making arrangements to work independently with teachers on a one-on-one basis which can lessen distractions. Depending on your specific circumstances, you may also be given more time for reading assignments, test-taking or class projects.

Investigate Community College Options

Check with your school counselor and teachers to get information regarding how to earn high school credits at a community college in your area. Many offer credit recovery programs that allow students to make up missing credits by enrolling in classes that, upon completion, will give them credits they need to earn their high school diploma.

The class offerings for these programs are typically limited to the most basic core courses such as math, English, science and social studies. Passing a pre-admissions test, such as a reading proficiency exam, is often required in order to register for classes. In most cases, you will need a letter from your counselor with information about what credits you need in order to graduate. Submitting an application and other completed forms, such as one giving parental permission for enrollment if you’re under 18, are necessary prior to registration.

While many community colleges offer these programs to high school students free of charge, others have costs associated with taking these classes. Examples include application and registration fees and per credit hour costs. Be sure to ask about all fees prior to filling out the application or taking pre-admission tests to save yourself time in the event you don’t have the available funds.

In addition to credit recovery programs, many community colleges also offer adult high school options. Enrolling to take adult high school classes means you will be able to earn a traditional high school diploma in an environment more conducive to your obligations and responsibilities outside the classroom. Many give you the choice to take classes in the evenings to accommodate a daytime work schedule and allow you the option of incorporating online learning with on-ground instruction if you can’t make it to a physical classroom for frequent class meetings.

Attend Summer School

Retaking classes and making up high school credits has traditionally been done by taking classes during the summer. In the event a student has failed a class, many school districts will require him to attend summer school to retake that class. However, if you haven’t failed any classes but still don’t have enough credits to graduate, you can choose to enroll in summer school.

The summer school option is still a common choice for those who prefer to earn credits in a traditional classroom setting that provides a structured learning environment with a detailed course description, assignment calendar and real-life student-teacher interactions. You may also find comfort in the familiarity of reporting to your own school for classes taught by teachers you know.

Attending classes at a location in relative close proximity to your home is also convenient, especially since some districts offer bus services in the summer months. Going to summer school is the only real choice for students who find that alternative options for earning credits aren’t feasible. If they don’t have access to a computer at home, taking online classes to earn credits isn’t really a possibility.

Transportation troubles make getting regular rides to a community college campus to attend classes difficult. In the current high-tech atmosphere, some people view summer school instruction as a dated approach to earning missing credits. Others worry that options such as online credit recovery programs aren’t as challenging and impactful for students as sitting in a hot classroom in July and only having a handful of weeks to complete classwork. Summer school has proven to be effective for many years and for good reason.

About the Author

Jess Jones has been teaching college-level courses in English and Communications for the past 10 years. In addition to creating and facilitating peer-to-peer tutoring programs, she worked to develop new curriculum for classes designed to teach skills for success to incoming students. Jones holds a B.A. in English as well as an M.A. in English Language and Literature.