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Stanford's Online High School Program - Is It Worth It?

If you are a middle school or high school student looking for a virtual academic program to complement your learning, Stanford’s Online High School Program can be a solid opportunity for you! Participating in online programs like this one can help boost your profile for college applications by demonstrating your commitment to academic excellence and your ability to succeed in a rigorous learning environment. These programs often offer advanced coursework and unique educational opportunities beyond the traditional classroom curriculum. Additionally, such programs are led by experienced instructors who can offer personalized guidance and mentorship that will help you in your future academic and professional endeavors. 


In this blog, we will review Stanford’s Online High School in detail and weigh the pros and cons to help you decide whether to apply!


What is the Stanford Online High School Program?

The Stanford Online High School (OHS) Program is an independent school within Stanford University designed for students in grades 7-12. Founded in 2006 with a gift from the Malone Family Foundation, Stanford OHS started as a three-year high school and has since expanded to include middle school grades. The program aims to create an innovative online learning environment that mirrors the dynamic and engaging educational experience of Stanford University. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), Stanford OHS offers a rigorous curriculum emphasizing critical thinking and depth of knowledge.


Students in the Stanford OHS Program participate in live, online discussion seminars on a college-style schedule, interacting with peers and instructors from around the world. The school boasts a diverse student body from 48 U.S. states and 42 countries. Courses are tailored to students' abilities, ensuring they are appropriately challenged. The curriculum includes advanced middle-school classes and 32 post-AP and university-level courses, all taught by instructors, 65% of whom hold PhDs in their fields. Stanford OHS provides robust student support, including wellness counselors, academic advisors, and college counselors, and fosters a vibrant community through both online and in-person events.


How is the program structured? 

The Stanford Online High School (OHS) program provides a rigorous and comprehensive education, designed to foster critical reasoning, persuasive argumentation, and strong communication skills. Courses are taught by expert instructors and mirror the depth and rigor of Stanford University standards, culminating in post-AP and university-level studies.


The subjects offered include:

  • Science: Focuses on hypothesis formation, experimentation, and analysis.

  • Mathematics, Computer Science, Economics: Emphasizes problem-solving and logic.

  • English: Analyzes text to understand meaning at various levels.

  • History: Evaluates theses and develops original arguments.

  • Languages: Explores culture, literature, and history alongside vocabulary and grammar.

  • Philosophy: Develops analytical and philosophical skills.


You can check out the middle school program and its curriculum in detail here.


Students must enroll in one Core class each high school year, including:

  • Methodology of Science – Biology

  • History and Philosophy of Science

  • Democracy, Freedom, and the Rule of Law

  • Critical Reading and Argumentation


To graduate, students must complete 20 full-year courses or 200 units, including:

  • English: 4 years / 40 units

  • Languages: 2 years / 20 units (3+ years recommended)

  • Mathematics: 4 years / 40 units

  • Social Sciences: 3 years / 30 units (including 1 year of U.S. History)

  • Natural Sciences: 3 years / 30 units (including 2 years of lab science)

  • Additional Coursework: 4 years / 40 units from various subjects


You can check out the complete course catalog here


What do student schedules look like? 

At Stanford Online High School (OHS), student schedules are designed to balance rigorous academics with personal interests and extracurricular activities, fostering time management skills and independence. 

  • The school operates on a college-style schedule, allowing students to manage their study and workload effectively

  • The school uses a two-semester system (Fall and Spring), with most classes being year-long and students receiving separate grades for each semester. 

  • Most classes meet twice a week (Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday), while language classes meet three times a week to enhance verbal skills

  • Classes run from 6 am to 10 pm Pacific Time to accommodate students from various time zones, though most classes are scheduled between 7:15 am and 9 pm Pacific Time. 

  • Fridays are reserved for student-run clubs, all-school assemblies, presentations, and personal pursuits.


Stanford OHS offers three enrollment options to suit different student needs: full-time (four or five courses), part-time (two or three courses), and single course (for students supplementing their education with advanced courses not available at their local schools). 


What is the student life and community like at Stanford OHS?

  • At Stanford Online High School (OHS), student life and community are vibrant, offering numerous ways for students to connect with their peers and instructors outside the classroom. The school provides a variety of clubs and circles that cater to diverse interests, from the Robotics Club and Girls Can Code to the Running Club and Art Club. These clubs, led by student leaders and sponsored by instructors or staff, foster a sense of community and allow students to explore their passions.  

  • In addition to clubs, Stanford OHS has a robust Student Government that plays a crucial role in organizing events, hosting assemblies, and participating in policy discussions with the administration. Weekly open meetings ensure transparency and student involvement in school governance.

  • Stanford OHS also emphasizes community engagement through various in-person and online events. Annual events like Splash & Homecoming, Pixel Festival, and Graduation Weekend provide opportunities for students and families to meet and celebrate together. Regional meetups, hosted by Stanford OHS families, further strengthen the bonds formed online. 

  • The school also offers a Summer@Stanford residential program, where students can engage in hands-on learning and explore the Bay Area. 

  • Additionally, educational travel opportunities, such as trips to the Galápagos Islands and astronomy tours, allow students to experience new cultures and conduct field research.


How does the admission process work?

To apply to Stanford Online High School (OHS), you will need to follow the traditional August–June academic calendar, submitting your application in the fall or winter before your desired academic year of entry. 

  • Stanford OHS offers three enrollment options: full-time (4–5 courses), part-time (2–3 courses), and single course. Each enrollment level comes with its tuition fee and includes access to an academic advisor, meetups, over 50 clubs, the residential summer program, and college counseling. 

  • Full-time students have the opportunity to graduate with a Stanford OHS diploma. It's recommended that you attend admissions events, explore the website, and connect with the Admissions Team to understand the application process thoroughly.

  • Admissions at Stanford OHS are competitive and holistic, evaluating applicants based on academic ability, personal qualities, and fit for the program

  • The Admissions Committee looks for students who are intellectually curious, academically driven, and eager to engage in the school community. 

  • Your application will be assessed on factors such as grades, the rigor of your current academic program, teacher recommendations, personal essays, and extracurricular involvement. 


Who is eligible? 

Eligibility for Stanford Online High School (OHS) generally depends on a combination of age, grade level, and ability. 

  • Students are encouraged to apply for grade 7 while they are in grade 6 or between the ages of 11-12

  • Applicants looking to join only for their senior year are rarely accepted and are subject to a different application process, which may include interviews, placement assessments, and additional work samples. Most of these applicants are advised to consider attending for two years to meet graduation requirements

  • Additionally, Stanford OHS does not accept mid-year applications. For specific queries, it's best to contact the Admissions Team directly.


What is the cost of attendance? 

The cost of attendance at Stanford Online High School (OHS) for the 2023-24 academic year varies based on the enrollment status. 

  • Full-time enrollment (4 or more courses) is $29,850, part-time enrollment (2-3 courses) is $17,910, and single course enrollment is $5,970 for one year-long course. Tuition covers courses, academic planning, counseling, and most student life activities, but does not include books, course materials, or extracurricular expenses such as event attendance and yearbooks. 

  • Financial aid is available, with approximately 12% of students receiving aid, and 63% of those recipients having awards covering 75% or more of tuition. 

  • The Malone Scholars Program, funded by the Malone Family Foundation, provides scholarships ranging from 30-100% of full-time tuition for gifted and talented students with financial need.


Is Stanford OHS prestigious?

Stanford Online High School (OHS) is considered prestigious due to its rigorous academic standards, affiliation with Stanford University, and selective admissions process. The school offers a challenging curriculum that mirrors the depth and rigor of Stanford University courses, taught by highly qualified instructors, many of whom hold PhDs in their fields. The program’s average class size is 12 students. Additionally, Stanford OHS attracts intellectually curious and academically driven students from around the world, creating a diverse and dynamic learning environment. The school's innovative online learning model and strong emphasis on critical thinking, communication skills, and personal responsibility further contribute to its reputation for excellence.


Pros & Cons of Attending Stanford’s Online High School Program

Pros:

  1. Rigorous Academic Curriculum: One of the major benefits of attending Stanford OHS is its rigorous academic curriculum. Courses are designed and taught by experts in their fields, many of whom hold Ph.D.s. The curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, depth of knowledge, and university-level standards in both written and verbal communication. This prepares you for the challenges of higher education and instills a strong academic foundation that can set you apart in college applications.

  2. Flexible Scheduling: Stanford OHS operates on a college-style schedule, allowing you to manage your time effectively and balance academics with extracurricular activities. Classes typically meet twice a week, with some language classes meeting three times a week. This schedule provides flexibility, enabling you to pursue other interests and responsibilities outside of school. Additionally, the extended school day accommodates students in various time zones, making it easier to fit classes into your routine.

  3. Diverse and Engaging Community: As a student at Stanford OHS, you become part of a diverse and dynamic global community. The school offers numerous clubs, circles, and student organizations that cater to a wide range of interests, from robotics and coding to art and running. These extracurricular activities provide opportunities to connect with peers who share similar passions, fostering a sense of belonging and community. Additionally, the Student Government plays an active role in organizing events and representing student interests, further enhancing your engagement and involvement.

  4. Personalized Support and Guidance: Stanford OHS provides personalized support to help you succeed academically and personally. Each student is assigned an academic advisor who offers guidance on course selection and academic planning. The school also provides access to wellness counselors, college counseling, and other support services tailored to your needs. This individualized attention ensures that you receive the necessary resources and support to thrive in the program.

  5. Unique Learning Opportunities: The program offers unique learning opportunities that extend beyond the traditional classroom. You can participate in the Summer@Stanford residential program, which includes hands-on, experiential learning, field trips, and leadership activities. Additionally, there are educational travel opportunities, such as trips to the Galápagos Islands for scientific research or to Boston and New York City for human rights advocacy. 

Cons:

  1. Limited Social Interaction: One of the significant challenges of attending an online high school is the limited face-to-face social interaction with peers. While Stanford OHS provides various online clubs, circles, and events to foster community, these virtual interactions may not fully replicate the social experience of a traditional brick-and-mortar school. You might miss out on daily in-person connections, extracurricular activities, and spontaneous social interactions that are a natural part of attending a physical school.

  2. Time Management Challenges: The flexibility of Stanford OHS's college-style schedule can be a double-edged sword. Managing your time effectively requires a high level of self-discipline and organization. Balancing coursework with personal interests, extracurricular activities, and other responsibilities can be challenging. Without the structure of a traditional school day, you may find it difficult to stay on track and manage your workload efficiently, potentially leading to stress and burnout.

  3. Technology Dependence: As an online program, Stanford OHS relies heavily on technology for delivering its courses and facilitating interactions. This dependence on technology can be a drawback if you experience technical issues, such as poor internet connectivity or computer malfunctions. Additionally, spending extended periods in front of a screen can lead to digital fatigue, eye strain, and other health concerns. Ensuring a reliable technological setup and managing screen time effectively are crucial for a successful online learning experience.

  4. Cost Considerations: Attending Stanford OHS can be expensive, especially when compared to public high schools. While the school offers financial aid, the cost of tuition for full-time, part-time, or single-course enrollment might still be a barrier for some families. The investment required may include not only tuition but also additional expenses such as technology, books, and other materials. Evaluating the financial commitment and potential return on investment is essential before enrolling.

  5. Selective Admissions Process: The admissions process for Stanford OHS is competitive and selective, which means not all applicants are accepted. This can be a significant con if you are seeking a guaranteed spot in a high-quality online education program. The holistic review process considers various factors such as academic ability, personal qualities, and fit for the program, making it challenging to predict acceptance. Preparing a strong application requires considerable effort, including gathering recommendations, writing personal essays, and demonstrating extracurricular involvement.

Our Review

Stanford Online High School (OHS) offers a rigorous and flexible academic experience that mirrors the standards of Stanford University, making it a prestigious option for intellectually curious and academically driven students. The program's strengths lie in its challenging curriculum, expert instructors, and diverse, global community, providing you with unique opportunities for both academic and personal growth. However, its worth depends on individual circumstances, as it requires a high level of self-discipline, effective time management, and a significant financial investment.


Stanford OHS is best suited for students who thrive in an independent learning environment, seek a high level of academic challenge, and can effectively balance their online studies with other personal and extracurricular commitments. For these students, the program can offer a solid educational experience that prepares them well for future academic and career pursuits.


While an online high school program such as this can be beneficial, admissions officers are looking for students who go the extra mile to engage in a subject outside the classroom.


One more option - The Lumiere Junior Explorer Program

The Lumiere Junior Explorer Program is a program for middle school students to work one-on-one with a mentor to explore their academic interests and build a project they are passionate about.  Our mentors are scholars from top research universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Duke and LSE.


The program was founded by a Harvard & Oxford PhD who met as undergraduates at Harvard. The program is rigorous and fully virtual. We offer need based financial aid for students who qualify. You can find the application in the brochure


To learn more, you can reach out to Lumiere's Head of Growth, Khushi Malde, at khushi.malde@lumiere.education or go to our website.


Multiple rolling deadlines for JEP cohorts across the year, you can apply using this application link! If you'd like to take a look at the cohorts + deadlines for 2024, you can refer to this page!


Jessica attends Harvard University where she studies Neuroscience and Computer Science as a Coca-Cola, Elks, and Albert Shankar Scholar. She is passionate about educational equity and hopes to one day combine this with her academic interests via social entrepreneurship. Outside of academics, she enjoys taking walks, listening to music, and running her jewelry business! 


Image Source: Stanford logo

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