How to Assign High School Credits

Here are a few tips on how to best organize and award high school credits for your student.

For grades 9 through 12, home educating parents must fill out a transcript form that records subjects studied, years of study, units of credit, and final grades. Transcripts ought to be kept on permanent file. Although some colleges are happy to accept portfolios for homeschool applications, most insist on a regular transcript—and almost all financial aid departments require a transcript form before they will disburse aid. So fill that piece of paper out—it’s important!

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home offers detailed and specific guidance in how to settle on grades and award credits in many areas across the curriculum. However, here’s a brief guide to transcript preparation.

First, realize that the transcript isn’t an “official” form like a birth certificate or passport. It’s simply an organized document that records each subject studied, the traditional end-of-semester grades—A, B, C, and so forth—and achievement test scores. Transcript forms can be acquired from (or downloaded from) several different suppliers; see High School Transcript Forms for up-to-date suggesions. (And have a look at a perfectly acceptable, hand-written Sample High School Transcript here.)

The student needs to fulfill a minimum number of credits in order to graduate from high school. Traditionally, 1 credit in high school equals 120 hours of classwork, or 160 45-minute periods. Labs and projects, field trips, and independent reading can all count as classwork.

See State & Local Organizations and State Laws for links to your local requirements. By placing the subject, grade level and year, credit awarded, and grade on the transcript form, you are certifying that the work has been completed.

Generally speaking, secondary school subjects are organized into nine areas. The core areas (every student must take them in order to graduate) are Language Arts, Maths, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Foreign Languages, and Physical Education. The elective areas (they can count as credits, but aren’t required) are Fine Arts, Practical Arts, and Business.

Most individual subjects fall into one of these core areas (and those that don’t can be classified as “Other” and considered electives). The following chart shows the most common groupings of subjects, although there is some flexibility in how subjects can be classified:


Language Arts













Operations (Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division)




Pre-calculus and Calculus


Social Sciences



“Social Studies”

Natural Sciences





Environmental Science

Labs (hands-on)

Foreign Language

Study of any language other than English

Physical Education

Instruction in sports

General fitness


Fine Arts



Practical Arts


Driver’s ed




Computer programming

Logic/thinking skills



Test preparation

Any courses taken through a community college or a concurrent program at a local university should be listed on the high-school transcript along with the grade earned. These courses also count toward high-school graduation credits.

The high-school transcript also includes space for extracurricular activities. Record all the student’s nonacademic activities (teams, hobbies that she puts significant time into, athletic pursuits, music lessons, competitions, volunteer work, jobs, all memberships in any kind of organization, any leadership positions at church or in community groups, all participation in regular community activities). You’ll probably have to list these on a separate sheet of paper or fit them into a margin on the transcript since most transcripts have a preset list of extracurricular activities (“Offices Held” or “Band”). Just make sure these activities appear with the transcript wherever it is submitted.

High school graduation requirements and college admissions expectations are slightly different.  The requirements listed below are those that a college admissions officer would generally look for on a reasonably competitive high school transcript.

Subject Required             Credits          Area

Language Arts                     4                 Language Arts

Mathematics                       3-4              Mathematics

Foreign Language              2-4              Foreign Language

World History                     1                  Social Science

American History               1                  Social Science

American Government      1                  Social Science

Science                                  3-4             Natural Science

Physical Education              2                Physical Education

Electives                                4-8              Any area

Time spent reading, writing, and doing spelling and vocabulary can all count towards the Language Arts credit.

Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra II, and upper level mathematics can count towards the Mathematics credits. Pre-algebra cannot be counted for high school credit, even if taken in ninth grade.

Foreign Language credits can be any modern or ancient language.

World History can be Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, or Modern.

Science can be Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geology, Astronomy, or any topics that are subsets of those. Generally speaking, Earth Science is not considered high school level, even when taken in ninth grade or later. In most cases, at least two years of science study should include a lab component.

Physical Education credits can be awarded for 120 hours of purposeful physical activity, as long as the student logs those hours in a journal or diary.

Electives are made up of additional high school credits beyond those listed in the core areas. For example, if a high school student takes both a composition course and American Literature, she would earn two Language Arts credits on the high school transcript. One credit would fulfill the Language Arts requirement for that year; the other would go towards the Elective credit.


Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer is an educator, writer, and historian. She is the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (now in its fourth edition), and the author of (among others) The Well- Educated Mind, The Story of Western Science, the Story of the World series, the History of the World series, the elementary series Writing With Ease, and the pre-rhetoric series Writing With Skill. Susan was home educated through high school and has taught all four of her children at home. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English language and literature, an M.Div., and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she taught writing and literature for over fifteen years.


8 thoughts on “How to Assign High School Credits

  1. This is very helpful.

    It may be useful to know that in Michigan, one credit of Earth Science is now required to graduate. So in some states, it is very much considered HS level.

  2. Would a grammar course be included in the Comp and lit credit or could we count it as a separate credit or 1/2 credit elective? We are using the Easy Grammar Plus curriculum each day.

    1. It would be separate, not part of the Composition or Literature curriculum. You could call it English Grammar and it would most likely be half a credit.

  3. My son will be doing a history curriculum which will include 1 credit for literature. He will also be doing easy grammar for 9th grade and fix it grammar ( high school level) for the whole year. Would that be listed as 1 literature credit and 1grammar credit or combined into 1 credit?

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