Students interested in learning how to graduate from high school early should know it won’t come easy. They’ll have to meet with their high school counselor to map out a plan and should expect a heavy course load, including taking additional classes online or in the summer, to fulfill graduation requirements.
Graduating from high school early can open a door to many opportunities. For athletes, it can mean a college scholarship, while for students interested in a trade it can mean jumping into a career and earning income sooner. But one high school counselor says it’s nearly impossible in her district to graduate a full year ahead of a student’s peers – and making it happen under current graduation requirements might require planning as far in advance as middle school.
“There’s not a whole lot of room in their schedule to accelerate the process,” says Jamie Fineman, a counselor at Franklin Pierce High School in Washington, noting that this leaves only students who are particularly academically motivated in a position to graduate early.
“I wish we could take more apprenticeship kids, or kids who really work well with their hands, or want to go into automotive or want to be in a trade. I wish we could graduate them early. But the idea of them finishing their high school requirements and graduating early doesn’t seem very feasible. Where I work, that’s not something we really push. It’s hard enough to explain to a ninth grader that every class they take is important for their future and required to graduate. Freshmen don’t see the end of the line like that,” Fineman says.
The first step toward graduating early will be assessing how far the student has to go to fulfill state requirements. Credit requirements are more flexible in some states than in others. Students should also expect to fulfill all state-required assessments before they can graduate.
Typically, counselors say students express their interest in graduating early around junior year, but having the discussion earlier will give students a big leg up on the process. In places where it is hard to graduate a full year early, students should consider graduating a semester early to more easily meet requirements.
Students should also consider their school’s schedule. Block schedules that allow students to take more classes in a day and trimester calendars may benefit students who hope to graduate early.
Gayle Copenbarger, a counselor at Bellingham High School in Washington, says while graduating early is fairly rare at her school, it’s important for students to find an academic plan that works for their individual needs.
“We have this, to me, artificial four-year window. But these are humans, and sometimes they don’t fit into that four-year time frame. Sometimes they need more, and sometimes they are mature and they are for whatever reason ready to move beyond that. So it’s more individualized; it’s giving them the opportunity to move at the pace that meets their needs,” Copenbarger says.
Students might need to take classes during the summer months or enroll in online high school classes. Often, these online classes can come with costly tuition price tags, but they are increasingly popular and can make a significant impact, Copenbarger says.
“Nowadays with online capability, the sky is the limit,” she says. “Now, it is very easy to do. But you want to make sure it’s the right choice. You don’t want to throw them into a situation where they can’t come back. It should be well thought out.”
To graduate early from high school, students need to gain the support of their high school counselor, and the process often also requires the support of a school administrator and the student’s parent or guardian.
The student will likely need to create a plan for life after graduation from high school. If he or she hopes to attend a four-year college, experts say graduating early is often not the best path to achieve that goal.
Due to the competitiveness of college admissions, Tawnya Pringle, a counselor at Hoover High School in California, says students should stay in high school the full four years. This will allow the student to take higher level and Advanced Placement classes, prepare for college and have adequate time to go through the college application process. And an early graduate may not be ready for the college environment, counselors say.
“Four-year universities want you to have yearlong English classes and they like you to have yearlong math classes in your schedule. So you leaving school early, for instance a semester early, will be detrimental when you apply to a four-year university because you’re not going to have all of the requirements met,” Pringle says.
However, counselors say they are generally more open to a discussion about graduating from high school early if a student is interested in attending community college, plans to enter a technical career or has a unique personal situation that merits a nontraditional high school path. Pringle has also found that some students have responsibilities at home that require them to provide an income for the family, and in those cases it may make sense to graduate early.
Overall, school counselors emphasize that this process is highly individualized and stress the importance of students discussing their specific situation and needs with them. Counselors will not only consider the student’s personal situation but also look at his or her GPA, current transcript and plans for the future. A good candidate for graduating early is likely someone with a high maturity level, Pringle says.
Students should also consider alternative options, like earning college credit while still enrolled in high school classes through a dual enrollment program. Some schools offer a program in which students can graduate from high school with a high school diploma and associate degree.
But Kelly Floyd, a guidance counselor at Whitewater High School in Georgia, says students should weigh their options carefully.
“Really, the easiest way to graduate early is through dual enrollment. It takes about two years planning ahead of time to do it,” she says. “It’s not something I encourage. You have one chance in life to do high school, so I don’t really like when students push ahead and want to get out of that easy time in life so fast. I want them to enjoy that time. Now, I do have students who are not traditional students and that is good for those kids, but it’s not good for everybody,” Floyd says.
By Emma Kerr