Should You Graduate Early From High School?
If you are an exceptional student and have exhausted all of your school’s course offerings, graduating early from high school may seem like an appealing, but daunting idea. So how do you go about finishing your high school career early and getting a head start on college? Read on for CollegeVine’s advice on how to decide if graduating early is the right path for you and how to navigate the process.
How do you graduate early from high school?
To start with, it is important to keep in mind that this option is intended for the most talented students who have taken advantage of everything their high school offers. You should have advanced to the AP, IB, or honors levels in all of your major subjects and excelled in them. (For more information on the importance of taking a challenging curriculum, check out our post, Should I Take AP/IB/Honors Classes?)
If your school doesn’t offer AP or IB courses, you should be trying to challenge yourself in other ways such as by taking community college courses and participating in pre-college or other academic summer programs. In fact, some high schools may allow you to use these courses as prerequisites or in place of requirements.
Whether or not you are able to graduate early also depends on your high school. Some schools may not allow it, and even if they do, they need to review your individual case to make sure you are a qualified candidate. You will need to fulfill all your requirements for graduation in a truncated time frame, which may require some advance planning. If you come up short meeting your requirements and have enough time to compensate, you might try summer school or other courses outside your high school. Your school may also have additional requirements that you need to meet; again, this varies by high school.
Advantages of graduating early
If you are an advanced and especially mature student, a college environment may be more intellectually stimulating, and could offer challenges you may not be able to find in high school. And if you have already exhausted the resources your high school and community college have to offer, graduating early may open up some more interesting opportunities.
You may have other motivations for graduating early, such as problems at home or in school, which might make leaving for college seem more attractive. However, you should keep in mind that starting college early isn’t necessarily a quick fix, and presents many other challenges.
Disadvantages of graduating early
Graduating early may have some downsides, too. It can be overwhelming trying to finish your graduation requirements ahead of schedule. It can also be socially isolating to be on a different path from your friends and peers.
Additionally, you will have less time to develop a competitive college application profile. If you are taking many classes simultaneously, you may not be able to achieve grades as high as those you could achieve if you had more time to devote to individual classes. You also won’t have as much time for extracurricular activities, and could potentially miss out on leadership opportunities.
You will also miss out on many perks seniors enjoy, such as ceremonies, prom, and other opportunities for recognition. Additionally, you may not be eligible for certain awards and scholarships that are limited to graduating seniors. And you may simply not be ready—emotionally or academically—for college life.
Action steps to take if you’re interested in graduating early
If you are interested in graduating early, you should start by speaking to your guidance counselor about your plans and if early graduation is permitted at your school. You will also need to review your high school’s graduation and course requirements carefully to make sure you are on track. If there are more courses you need to take, consider whether you have enough time to complete them. Don’t force the plan if it’s going to cause you undue stress; you don’t want to become so overwhelmed that your grades and life outside school suffer. (For more advice on balancing your time in high school, check out CollegeVine’s guide.)
You should also look into other options, such as taking classes at a local college or online while you are still in high school. There might be other continuing education classes available in your community as well; talk to your guidance counselor for ideas and look online for more ideas.
Consider how graduating early will affect your life in general. Will you be able to balance your social and family life with your workload? Will you have time for other commitments? Will it cause you unnecessary stress?
If you know other students who have graduated early, talk to them about your plans. They might be able to offer valuable insights about whether or not it’s a good idea and how to go about making it happen.
What comes next?
If you do plan on graduating early, you should also be thinking about what you are going to next. You could get a jumpstart on college, although some colleges may not admit students who graduate from high school early; be sure to review the rules at the colleges to which you plan on applying and discuss them with a representative from the colleges.
There are some college programs that are specifically targeted to students who graduate early from high school, such as Simon’s Rock College at Bard. This might be a good transitional option for some students.
Another option to consider is taking a gap year. As we discuss in this guide, taking a gap year has several advantages, such as providing you with the opportunity to pursue other interests like volunteering or traveling before you start college.
The bottom line
Graduating early from high school can be great idea for some students, but you need to be academically and emotionally ready for it. While there are certainly some advantages, there are also significant potential downsides. It is important to discuss your decision with your guidance counselor, as well as other people who can provide advice and may be affected by your plans, such as your parents, teachers, and friends. Ultimately, it is a serious decision, and you need to make sure you’re doing it because it will contribute to your life positively—not just because you can.
For more tips on how to challenge yourself intellectually in high school, check out CollegeVine’s blog posts below:
If you are a freshman or sophomore looking for ways to challenge yourself and develop personally, check out CollegeVine’s Student Mentorship Program. The Program is designed to help students discover their interests, develop significant self-motivation, and become high performing individuals. We carefully pair each student 1-1 with a mentor from a top college, who works personally with the student for an entire year.
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