One of the most common questions with regard to online schools is how you can attend one for free. The online learning industry currently has both free and commercial online schools. The free types of online schools include:

  • Online charter schools
  • State Departments of Education Online Schools
  • Public School District Online Schools

Which kind of school is the right choice for you can vary.

Online charter schools

A charter school is an educational organization that does not have to follow all of the rules of more traditional schools. They are, however, still public schools and must accept students provided they have space available.

Charter schools were established, in part, to be able to innovate. One of the innovations that a number of charter schools is to take their program online. Because they are a public school, they must be free.

State Departments of Education Online Schools

Several state departments of education have established online schools. Typically, though, these are not full-time endeavors for students, but are ways to take online courses for free (or at a greatly reduced rate).

Usually, the courses offered are Advanced Placement, foreign languages, more advanced mathematics. The reason for these particular courses has to do with providing access to college preparation courses for students who live in small towns. Think, for example, of Georgia which has just a few larger cities and many, many small towns. The likelihood of finding teachers for those sorts of courses can be challenging. Offering these courses online gives students great access to college.

Public School District Online Schools

Increasingly, public schools are offer full- and part-time online programs. Because they are a public school, the courses must be free. The reasons vary for why offer online programs, but it often relates to being competitive with the many free online schools out there (and the fact that those free online schools are pulling their students over to their schools).

What are the rules?

There are two basic rules with regard to being admitted to free online schools. They are:

  1. Are you the right age for the school; and
  2. Do you live in the right geographic region?

With traditional public schools and state departments of education, the maximum age is around 18 and is tied to the traditional K-12 system. More importantly, it can be tied to the grade. If you have completed twelfth grade (whether you actually passed the grade or not), you are likely done and need to look at other options.

Charter schools can be a different story. Some charter schools are able to accept students up to the age of twenty-one, but this does vary widely. You will need to contact your local online charter school to find out its age limits.

In terms of right geographic region, in order to qualify for public schools and state DOE schools, you will likely need to live in the correct school district and most certainly in the right state.

Again, charter schools are somewhat different. Charter schools can often accept students from within their own counties and adjoining counties. This gives them much more latitude with who they can accept.

What if you don’t meet the guidelines?

With most things, there always seems to be a work-around. That is not the case in these situations. Funding is usually tied to the type of school. The age requirement is an absolute. Living in the right place is an absolute.

That being said, if it is possible to move, this could qualify you for one of those free online course seats. This may be easier than you think. If you live one county too far from an online charter school, the possibility exists of living with another family member or friend. Granted, you should actually live there and not be attempting to scam the system. Sooner or later, you will get caught.