Online High School Diploma Curriculum

Your online high school program consists of 16.5 core credits and you choose 5 elective credits, ranging from academic electives, like American Literature and Algebra to career pathway electives, like Auto Repair and Vet Assistant. The core curriculum is made up of English, Math, Social Science, Science, Arts and Humanities as well as Health and Physical Education courses. Find more information about the high school classes you will take at Penn Foster High School below.

Program Goal and Outcomes

Program Goal

Students will be able to demonstrate they possess the necessary knowledge and skills to enter the workforce or to continue their education at a college.

Upon completion of the program, students will be able to...
  • Demonstrate 21st century skills such as the ability to use technology to complete learning tasks and to communicate effectively
  • Use critical thinking and reasoning skills to complete learning tasks in English Language Arts courses
  • Use declarative knowledge and demonstrate understanding to complete learning tasks in English Language Art courses
  • Use critical thinking and reasoning skills to complete learning tasks in science courses
  • Use declarative knowledge and demonstrate understanding to complete learning tasks in science courses
  • Use critical thinking and reasoning skills to complete learning tasks in math courses
  • Use declarative knowledge and demonstrate understanding to complete learning tasks in math courses
  • Use critical thinking and reasoning skills to complete learning tasks in social studies courses
  • Use declarative knowledge and demonstrate understanding to complete learning tasks in social studies courses
  • Apply fundamental mathematical skills to solve real world problems
  • Utilize writing skills to complete writing assessments
  • Demonstrate the ability to complete entry level lessons from Penn Foster career modules, academic level electives, or general level electives


In this course you’ll develop the necessary skills to ensure your success in the program. This course also teaches you how to stay successful, ensuring you complete your studies and start preparing for a successful career.


  • Understand how to use your Student Portal.
  • Access the Penn Foster Community and use it to find answers.
  • Connect with Penn Foster on various social media sites.
  • Examine methods that will allow you to obtain greater financial independence
  • Describe how to build stronger personal and professional relationships
  • Identify career options and career resources
  • Effectively use a computer and critical computer programs


This course provides tips and techniques to make you a better reader.


  • Interpret a text by previewing and scanning
  • Identify central ideas in writing
  • Interpret works of fiction and poetry
This course will enhance your interpersonal skills and lead to success in your future career or post-secondary schooling.


  • Describe how to build and maintain positive relationships.
  • Explain how a positive attitude affects human relations.
  • Discuss how to work with supervisors.
  • Explain the productivity equation.
  • Describe the relationship between frustration and aggression.
  • Describe how to avoid being late or absent.
  • Discuss how to identify and repair injured relationships.


This course will help you improve your English skills so you can effectively communicate in your personal life, in the remainder of your studies, and in your career.


  • Describe the four steps in the writing process.
  • Define, describe, and provide examples of the different parts of speech.
  • Identify the principal parts of verbs and verb tenses for both regular and irregular verbs.
  • Discuss the difference between an adjective and an adverb.
  • Identify prepositional phrases and the objects of prepositions.
  • Explain the difference between coordinating, correlative, and subordinating conjunctions.
  • Explain the main components of complete sentences.
  • Identify and correct sentence fragments and run-on sentences.
  • Provide agreement between subjects and verbs.
  • Explain the proper use of the different parts of speech.
This course will enhance your language skills by expanding your vocabulary, mastering word usage, and strengthening your writing.


  • Explain why language is important and describe how communication skills can affect your life.
  • Explain how the eight parts of speech are organized to communicate meaning in phrases, clauses, and sentences.
  • Apply your language skills in conversation, vocabulary, word choice, spelling, pronunciation, and writing.
  • Use modifiers, prepositional phrases, and conjunctions correctly.
  • Correctly use apostrophes, hyphens, and periods.
  • Recognize and use the various elements of sentence structure.
  • Correct common writing mistakes.
  • Write sentences that have effective beginnings, concise wording, parallel structure, and active voice.
  • Create a unified, coherent composition with an introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Write effective, appropriate, business letters, friendly letters, courtesy letters, formal invitations, a letter of application for a job, and a resume with a cover letter.
This course will refresh your understanding of the basic parts of speech and will focus on the importance of organizing your time effectively to create a document from the first draft stage to the final draft stage.


  • Recognize and use both formal and informal English for letter writing.
  • Begin to write an essay.
  • Organize your writing time effectively.
  • Plan a writing project from beginning to end.
  • Locate books using the card catalog and on-line catalog at the library.
  • Use your own experience, that of others, and library research to provide material for writing projects.
  • Organize your ideas effectively in an outline.
  • Write your ideas in detail, following a logical order and sticking to your subject.
  • Express your thoughts and feelings more easily, more accurately.
This course will allow you to experience literature actively and become involved both intellectually and emotionally.


  • Read more effectively—for both knowledge and enjoyment.
  • Use new vocabulary to discuss, write about, and understand literature.
  • Explain the characteristics of the different genres, including the short story, novel, poetry, drama, nonfiction, and essay.
  • Discuss works by writers such as Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, London, Twain, and Thoreau.
  • Analyze novels, short stories, poems, dramas, and other types of writing.
  • Understand and explain the objectives and accomplishments of the various writers.
  • Seek, find, and enjoy many additional examples of fine writing.
  • Identify various literary figures.

Additional Course Material:

  • Great American Short Stories
  • The Call of the Wild
  • Great Short Poems
  • Songs for the Open Road: Poems of Travel & Adventure
  • Civil Disobedience and Other Essays
  • Great Speeches by Native Americans
  • Narrative of Sojourner Truth
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream


This course will provide a solid foundation so you are able to successfully use mathematics in your course, life, and career.


  • Solve real-world problems involving whole numbers
  • Solve real-world problems involving fractions
  • Solve real-world problems involving decimals
  • Compare the English and metric systems of measurement
  • Explain ratios, proportions, and percents
This course will allow you to apply your math knowledge to areas of your everyday life.


  • Estimate results quickly.
  • Accurately figure the amount of money involved when discounts are stated in percents.
  • Make smart consumer decisions.
  • Calculate yearly interest rates.
  • Understand the importance of a budget and how to prepare one.
  • List the factors to consider before buying a new or used car.
  • Discuss the options available regarding your personal insurance.
  • Determine when you’ve saved enough money to start investing.
  • Explain the difference between common stock and preferred stock.
  • Explain why it’s important for you to plan for your retirement.
This course will review the four mathematical operations so you are able to use them at an advanced level.


  • Use the rules of the order of operations to solve multistep problems.
  • Solve word problems using equations.
  • Use the four basic operations with positive and negative numbers.
  • Give examples of monomials and polynomials.
  • Simplify polynomials by combining like monomials.
  • Simplify and solve one-step and multistep equations.
  • Identify and name various components of geometry.
  • Identify different types of quadrilaterals and triangles.
  • Calculate the area of squares, rectangles, triangles, and circles using appropriate formulas.
  • Apply the Pythagorean theorem to find the length of a missing side in a right triangle.
  • Compute the volume of cubes, cylinders, and rectangular solids using the correct formulas.
  • Solve equations using the principles of geometry.


The course covers topics in geology, oceanography, meteorology, environmental science, and astronomy.


  • Explain the basic principles and methods of Earth Science
  • Discuss the various surface processes on Earth
  • Identify features of Earth's atmosphere and oceans
  • Explain the causes of geologic activity
  • Describe the impact of human activity on natural resources
  • Explain the formation and properties of the solar system and universe
In this course you’ll gain insight into the origin of life, the relationships among all living organisms, and discover how your own body works.


  • Describe the characteristics, chemistry, and ecology of living things
  • Analyze cells and their processes for obtaining energy and reproducing
  • Explain how traits are passed on from one generation to the next
  • Explain how different species of living things have evolved and are classified
  • Identify the characteristics and behavior of plants and animals
  • Describe the anatomy and physiology of the human body
This course covers a variety of topics in modern science that affect everyday life, from energy and heat to sound and electricity.


  • Explain how objects move when forces are applied
  • Describe the effects of heat energy on matter
  • Analyze waves and radiation
  • Apply the principles of chemistry
  • Determine what scientific principles apply to electricity and electronics

Social Studies

This course focuses on US history from the earliest human settlers in North America thousands of years ago to the modern-day. You’ll learn the story of the native people who lived in this region long before Europeans came to create colonies. Follow the colonists as they faced the unknown and attempted to make new lives for themselves in North America. Finally, you’ll experience the birth and growth of the United States, a young nation that has managed to pack a wealth of world-changing events into its short history.


  • Describe settlement of the colonies in America
  • Identify events from the American Revolution to the ratification of the United States Constitution
  • Recognize expansion and industrialization in the United States during the early 18th century
  • Describe the causes and lasting effects of the American Civil War
  • Analyze how the events leading up to World War I shaped the United States
  • Discuss the effects of the Great Depression and World War II on the United States
  • Recognize changes in America from the 1960s through today
This course covers what the basic purposes of government are and how modern governments differ from one another.


  • Describe the different types of government and give examples of each.
  • Summarize the process used to ratify the Constitution.
  • Describe the three main parts of the Constitution and explain what each part includes.
  • Describe the process for amending the Constitution.
  • Describe the powers and responsibilities of the three branches of the federal government.
  • Outline the process by which laws are made.
  • Summarize some of the landmark cases handled by the Supreme Court.
  • Briefly describe the ways in which state and local governments operate.
  • Explain the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democratic nation.
  • Summarize the process for electing a president of the United States.
This course will provide a broad survey of the history of the world, from the earliest humans who emerged from Africa to the modern peoples and nations that exist today. You’ll study how people adapted to live in different environments, developed tools and technology, created political institutions to govern, and spread ideas as they interacted with one another. By following the stories of different peoples and cultures through time, you’ll observe how key developments and events that took place over thousands of years have shaped the world today.


  • Recognize features and achievements of ancient civilizations, and Europe during the Renaissance and Age of Exploration
  • Compare society and politics of world regions during the period of 1500-1800
  • Explain causes of revolution, impacts of industrialization on society, and factors leading to development of global empires during the period of 1750-1914
  • Describe how the Great War, Great Depression, and nationalism affected world regions
  • Describe how World War II, the Cold War, and economic globalization affected world regions

Health & Physical Education

In this course you’ll learn the key components of nutrition, cardiorespiratory exercise, safety issues, and stress management techniques.


  • Explain the relationship between calories and energy.
  • Explain how carbohydrates, fats, and proteins fit into a healthy eating plan.
  • Select healthy ingredients and preparation methods.
  • Analyze food labels, recipes, and menus for total calories, fat, protein, carbohydrate, sodium, and fiber content.
  • List the advantages of cardiorespiratory fitness.
  • Recognize symptoms of common injuries and identify how to prevent them.
  • Explain the different types of stress and how they impact the body.
  • Recognize physical and psychological symptoms of stress.
  • Identify stress reduction techniques and common stressors of daily life.
  • Explain how fitness benefits your physical and mental well-being.
GENERAL ELECTIVES Expand All Collapse All

High School Diploma with Career Pathway

Interested in taking steps toward your career while completing your high school diploma. We have 10 career pathways for you to choose from!

High School Sample Lessons

All of your lessons include reading materials, videos, exercises and activities to help you build your skills. Each Penn Foster High School course includes a quick video to introduce the course and the material you will be learning. Here is a preview of the welcome videos for Basic English and Math.

Basic English

Watch the Basic English introductory video to see how Penn Foster English courses can help you.

General Math 1

Watch the General Math introductory video to see how Penn Foster math courses apply to your everyday life.


Q. How long does the high school program take to complete?

A. Completion times vary depending on the student and how many hours you can commit to studying each week. A student who begins Penn Foster High School with no transferred credits but is studying frequently can complete the program in about 9 months. Because our program is self-paced, you can complete the program faster than average if you have the time to commit!

Q. What is a virtual high school and how does online school work?

A. A virtual high school offers the community and education that can be found in a traditional brick and mortar setting from the comfort of your home. Whether you're homeschooling a student or finishing your own diploma, the high school courses follow the state guidelines and accreditation requirements so you're taking classes that align with current standards. Penn Foster's online high school program is self-paced, with no deadlines. Coursework and assignments can be completed around the student's schedule and at the learning pace that is appropriate for them. Students can begin studying as soon as their enrollment is processed and completed.

Q. Do you offer any AP (Advanced Placement) courses for the High School diploma?

A. The Penn Foster High School curriculum was designed to meet the minimum standards required by the Pennsylvania State Board of Private Licensed Schools, which does not require AP courses. However, individual AP courses are available. View more details on individual courses to find out more.

Q. What is the format of high school exams?

A. Exam format and length are at the discretion of the instructor. Typically, exams will be either multiple choice or short essays. Multiple-choice exams are generally in the range of 25 questions, but again this is up to the discretion of the instructor.

Q. If I fail a high school class, do I have the opportunity to retake it?

A. Yes, students may retake a failed course. The cost of re-taking a core course is $25.00, and the cost of re-taking an elective is $50.00.

Q. What is the difference between a high school diploma and a GED?

A. A high school diploma generally represents 12 years of completed schooling and proficiency in core subjects as required by that state. The General Educational Development test (GED) is a content-based test that measures high school knowledge in five specific areas.

Q. Do you offer a GED?

A. Penn Foster does not offer a GED. We offer a regionally and nationally accredited high school diploma.

Q. How do you graduate from an online high school program?

A. When you've completed and passed your academic work and tuition has been paid in full, students will receive their official high school diploma and a sealed copy of their official transcripts in the mail usually within 3-6 weeks.

Q. Why doesn't every college or university accept Penn Foster High School’s diploma?

A. Acceptance of a high school diploma can vary based on the college or university. No form of accreditation can guarantee that any learning institution or employer will accept the high school diploma. For a list of schools where Penn Foster High School graduates attended, click here.

You are required to take five credits in electives.
Computer Specifications
As you know this is an online academic program. This means you will need access to high-speed internet to begin your program. In addition, you will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows 10® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running macOS® or later, access to a word processing program to complete written assignments, and an email account to complete this program with Penn Foster.
State Restrictions
If you are interested in pursuing post-secondary education within your state you should check with your state to understand the requirements. States may impose requirements for receiving state financial aid. For example, an online High School diploma may not be recognized by some colleges and universities within your state to receive financial aid. We recommend you check with the institution for any specific restrictions - this is particularly important for residents of New York.
We reserve the right to change program content and materials when it becomes necessary. Microsoft, Windows XP are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions. Apple, Mac, and macOS are trademarks of Apple, Inc. registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.
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offer ends 6/15/17