Credential Evaluation for High School

Finishing high school in the United States opens many doors to higher education and employment opportunities for students from foreign countries. Here are five things to consider when enrolling in a U.S. high school.

Public vs Private

Public schools are schools which are funded by local and state governments with additional support from the federal department of education. The common feature of all public schools is that they are free to attend for anyone starting in kindergarten through twelfth grade. There are residency restrictions, however, meaning that students should attend the public school in the vicinity of their place of residence, with some exceptions such as charter schools. Charter schools, while public and tuition-free, offer specialized types of education and unique teaching models that are an alternative choice for parents. Charter schools do not require local residency but may have other admission requirements.

Private schools exist at all levels as well, but most charge tuition to operate. Private schools can be parochial – affiliated to religious institutions, or completely secular. Private schools may offer need-based tuition assistance, but typically require on tuition funds to support their operation. There are varying perceptions of private schools. In some cases, they may be seen as more prestigious or more academically rigorous than public schools. In others, they are chosen because they incorporate religion into the curriculum. Private schools can also be selective in their admission policies, while public schools must admit and place every student.

The common feature of public and private high schools is the need to meet state-established curriculum requirements for graduation. In the United States, school curricula are not federally regulated. The only standardization happens in the form of individual states setting education requirements for high school graduation. These vary widely, allowing schools, as well as students and parents to make choices on what students will study, ranging from college preparatory to vocationally-oriented subjects and everything in between.

Local or Online

Online high schools are a rapidly growing educational phenomenon made all the more common by the global pandemic of year 2020. When traditional schools were forced to transition to remote learning, they had to compete with already established online high schools. Accreditation of online schools can be obtained from one of the six regional accreditation bodies in the United States, or by a specialized accrediting association that is itself recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), such as the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

Online schools inherently provide greater flexibility in the educational process, but may lack the recognition and the socialization components. The latter can be supplemented by other opportunities such as sports, musical groups, field trips, and school clubs. Online schools must also be diligent in placing students at correct grade levels to ensure that their diplomas meet state graduation requirements and render their graduates eligible for higher education. The latter can be assured in many aspects through their institutional accreditation.


When a new student enrolls in high school, the school is responsible to document their previous achievement to ensure that they will meet state graduation requirements by the time they complete their final year. For example, one of the requirements for high school graduation in Illinois is four years of language arts. If a student is placed in the fourth year but has not previously completed three years of language arts, he or she will not be able to graduate unless they make up the deficient coursework. Scenarios like this make placing students an important task made more challenging when students come from foreign backgrounds and international education systems.

There are no regulations on how students are placed in high schools. This process is usually handled by guidance counselors in consultation with administrators and foreign language departments, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the school. Many schools use an evaluation service like Scholaro to assess foreign education and make place a student in a year that will allow them to meet state graduation requirements. Other schools invest available funds in resources and training to conduct in-house evaluation of foreign credentials and make placement recommendations accordingly.

Funding is a big challenge in school systems. Public schools are entirely dependent on tax funding and their budgets are decided through complex negotiation of state and municipal governments. Many school districts utilize a professional credential evaluation service like Scholaro for their international placement recommendations. The cost is covered by the schools and is built into their budget. Other districts may only be able to invest in trainings and resources like Scholaro Pro for their staff to evaluate foreign credentials internally. Whatever the set-up may be, correct placement ensures students graduate on time and have adequate preparation to succeed in their high school classes and beyond. Private schools have more flexibility because their budget is tuition-driven. Private schools can also require applicants to provide professional evaluation reports from an agency like Scholaro.

The age of a student is a secondary factor in placing them in the correct academic grade. In the United States, first grade is started at the approximate age of six, and high school is completed at the approximate age of eighteen. Age is a pedagogical consideration, because a students’ maturity level is directly related to their potential for academic and social development in their new school. However, age does not trump prior academic achievement because the primary consideration should be academic aptitude with is increasingly important the higher the grade level under consideration


Regardless of what kind of high school a student is enrolling in, ensuring correct placement can be helped by preparing a complete set of documents demonstrating prior educational achievement. Scholaro recommends any student to collect official documents from their previous school. Official documents are ones that are signed and/or sealed by school officials. It can also be helpful to include a school profile and curriculum information. This is sometimes available on school websites, but it never hurts to provide it along with academic documents. Finally, when documents are not issued in English, it may be necessary to obtain a certified English translation. Public school districts should provide this service, but private schools may require an applicant to pay for it. Having translations professionally prepared helps parents present a complete application package to ensure appropriate placement.

Once a school or an evaluation service receives complete documentation from a prospective student, the documents are compared against the native education system, which in turn is compared to the education system of the United States. The most common methodology is year counting beginning at the first year of compulsory education. In simplistic terms, grade levels correspond to consequent academic years. For example, the eighth year of compulsory education can be equivalent to eighth grade in the United States and grant access to grade 9. Secondary education in the United States consists of four year of four years of secondary education.

Grade levels are frequently referred to by their numerical name - ninth through twelfth grade, and are also referred to as freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years corresponding to grades nine, ten, eleven and twelve, respectively. Variations in this nomenclature are common, but all fifty states in the USA have a twelve-year primary and secondary education system. Of course, it isn’t always that simple, because grade levels are not numbered consecutively, and primary and secondary education can be made up of multiple stages of various durations depending on the country of study. Finally, exceptions are made in cases where some grade levels are significantly different than their US equivalent, or when schools offer multi-national curricula such congruently with their indigenous programs.

Application Process

When enrolling in new school, there are five steps to take:

  1. Select the type of school (public/private, religious/secular, college-preparatory/vocational, in-person/online)
  2. Identify schools in your area (except online schools) that match the criteria above.
  3. Prepare official documents for all previous education completed (including report cards or transcripts, school descriptions, etc.)
  4. Consider obtaining a professional credential evaluation report and certified English translations, even if not required by the school, to have professional assessment of grade level to present to the school
  5. Fill out the application to the school of choice and begin the enrollment process.

These steps are not all-inclusive, and there will be many variations of this process depending on school and on every child’s individual circumstances. This article identifies the general considerations to be made in enrolling in high school in the United States and highlights the importance of an appropriate placement decision to ensure a student will graduate high school with all the academic rights conveyed by earning a high school diploma.

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