What Is An Alternative (Or Non-Traditional) High School?

Should you consider sending your student to an alternative high school?

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Alternative, or non-traditional, high schools are special schools. They provide a learning experience completely different from those provided by traditional means. This is a rather broad explanation, however. Within this definition, there can be significant variations from one school to another.

There is no one thing that differentiates alternative schools from traditional schools. Some may offer classes during non-traditional hours. Others may allow students to create their own customized graduation requirements. Still, others may not give out grades.

Alternative schools were first introduced as a way to help students who could not fit into the regular school system because of various behavioral problems. This system evolved over the years. Today, it’s not just troubled students attending alternative schools. Today, these schools serve a different purpose. They give students who do not fare well in a traditional academic system an environment better suited to help them succeed in high school and earn a diploma.

Features Of Alternative High Schools

In general, non-traditional high schools may offer students a combination of these features and facilities:

Smaller class sizes with a wider variety of teaching methods

Not all students in an alternative high school classroom are there for the same reason. Different students may be struggling with completely different issues. Some may have difficulty taking notes. Others may find it difficult to stay focused in the classroom. Or, some may have problems reading or retaining information. Smaller classes allow teachers to give each student the individual attention that they need. It also makes it possible for teachers to tailor lessons to each student’s specific needs. Teachers in these schools employ a wider range of teaching methods. That way, they cater to the diverse group of students in their class.

Flexible class schedules

Some non-traditional schools offer late-evening, night, weekend or distance classes to make it possible for students with children and working students to get a high school education.

Non-traditional assessments

In some alternative schools, written evaluations replace conventional grades to record students’ progress. In others, academic credit is given for any internships or work experiences that the student has participated in.

Flexible graduation requirements

Some non-traditional high schools have flexible graduation requirements. Students are not forced to take a certain number of specified classes each semester. Instead, they are allowed to choose a subject that they have a particular interest in. This allows students to specialize in their chosen field of interest instead of focusing on subjects that they are not interested in.

Additional resources to address students’ mental, emotional and social needs

Alternative schools are set up to address more than just the academic needs of students. These schools have strong support groups and counseling services available to encourage and motivate their students through their high school journey.

Pros & Cons of Attending An Alternative High School


The biggest benefit of these schools is that they allow students to earn a regular high school diploma regardless of their setbacks or challenges. This can be an excellent option for students who have learning difficulties, behavioral or emotional problems. Or, students who have had their education interrupted for some reason or another.

It is also a great solution for students who want to spend their time focusing on one particular area of interest. That way, they aren’t studying subjects that are of no interest to them. Or, subjects that will not be of any benefit to them in the future.


The drawback of attending an alternative high school is that they are less competitive than traditional schools, and this could pose a few problems when it comes to college admissions. Colleges will want to know why you chose to attend a non-traditional school. They will only consider your application if you have a compelling reason. That includes personal commitments, caring for a child or other family members, or needing more time to focus on a sport or music. If you do not have a compelling enough reason, you may find it difficult to get admission into a competitive college.

Another drawback of attending a non-traditional school is that they may not offer all of the classes and extracurricular activities that most colleges list as their admissions criteria. Depending on the high school that you attend, you may find that you are ineligible to apply to several colleges as you do not meet their criteria for application.

Should Your Student Attend An Alternative High School?

There are several different reasons why anyone may consider attending non-traditional high school. This may or may not be the best option for your student. It depends on your experience in a traditional academic environment and what your plans are regarding getting a college education.

You should consider admitting your student to an alternative high school only if:

They have trouble learning in a conventional classroom

Whether they are struggling because they have a learning disability that makes it difficult for you to read, retain information, or take notes in a traditional classroom, an alternative classroom may help resolve these issues. It makes it easier for them to get through classes.

They need more academic guidance than is available in a traditional classroom

Regular schools have larger class sizes and follow fixed teaching methods. There is not much scope for them to get individualized attention, support, or guidance in such an environment. The smaller classrooms and more flexible teaching methods in alternative schools may be just what they need to thrive in high school.

They need more emotional support than is available in a traditional classroom

Students often need emotional support to overcome adverse personal circumstances. Whatever the reason, you will find that alternative schools are better equipped to give your student the emotional support they need. These schools conduct regular meetings with students as well as their parents, teachers, and counselors to keep track of the student’s well-being and progress.

Difficult life circumstances

Say that your student is unable to attend regular classes for some reason. A serious illness, accident, family problems, pregnancy, or financial problems. Circumstances like these can make it difficult for your student to attend classes. For example, a clash in timings or inability to focus. The flexible scheduling and the additional support that are available in non-traditional classes may provide them with the solution you are looking for.

Alternative high school may be an excellent solution for your student, depending on your circumstances. However, before choosing this path, it is important to be aware of the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it is the best option for them.

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