How to Graduate High School Early

Graduating high school early can be a challenging, but not impossible task. It requires cooperation between the student, parents, guidance counselor, and school administrators. It also requires plenty of planning ahead, taking extra classes online or in the summer, and dedicating yourself to finishing your education.

Why would a student want to graduate early? Many want to get a head start on college or tech school, attend college part-time so that they can graduate early, or pursue a dream job prospect. Still others just don’t enjoy high school and want to leave as soon as possible. No matter your reason for wanting to graduate early, make sure you understand the amount of hard work and dedication it will take.

As a first step in the process, talk to your academic advisor or school counselor about your plan. They will have a good idea of what classes you still need to graduate and how long that might take. The earlier you take this step, the better. You may want to graduate a full year early, but you might find it’s impossible to do so with the number of required credits you need. Instead, consider a much more realistic goal of graduating a semester early.

Remember that it’s just not the number of credits you complete that matters, it’s also which classes you take. Take, for example, a high school with the following criteria for graduation:

  • English- 4 credits
  • Social Studies- 4 credits
  • Mathematics- 4 credits
  • Science- 3 credits
  • Phys Ed.- 1 credit
  • Health- .5 credit
  • Arts/humanities- 2 credits
  • Electives- 6.5 credits
  • Total: 24 credits

In this high school, you’d likely have to take an English, Social Studies, and Math class every year to meet this criteria for graduation. You may be able to enroll in summer school, online, or community college classes to make up these credits. For example, some schools offer summer physical education classes to students who want to enroll in electives such as band, orchestra or art. Taking phys ed during the summer could free up space for some academic classes during the school year. You should discuss any options with your guidance counselor before signing up just to make sure they will count towards your high school diploma.

Another thing to consider when finding alternatives to regular classes is the cost. Taking summer school classes may cost your parents some money if it is not for remedial purposes. You will likely incur some charges if you choose to take online classes, too. If you attend a public school, these are all expenses that you probably would not have if you attended just during the regular school year.

Next, make sure you research admission requirements for the schools you’re considering attending. If you need a certain number of foreign language credits, for example, you might have to take more classes than your school requires for graduation. If you’re planning on majoring in biology, you might want to take additional science classes in high school. Take all of this into account when planning your course schedule.

Remember that colleges often look at your grades junior year as part of the admission process. Prepare for a tough junior year if you plan on taking more classes than usual.  Time management and study skills will come in handy during this time period. So will learning how to relax and make time for yourself. What good does it do if you load yourself up with extra classes and end up with anxiety about completing your work and a lower GPA?

What about standardized testing? You might not have thought about that piece of the puzzle. Each state has its own testing requirements for high school graduation, in addition to a minimum number of credits. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has recently changed testing requirements, starting for the class of 2022. Students graduating in 2023 must successfully pass a series of Keystone tests and pass any courses associated with those tests. Check with your guidance counselor about the tests you’ll have to take before you graduate. You can also look at the website of the  National Center for Education Statistics to see requirements by state. Find out when you can take them to ensure that you can graduate on your timeline. If you’re taking the SAT or ACT, factor those in, too.

Finally, keep in mind that colleges often prefer balanced students. If you’re college-bound, you’ll have to factor in your extracurricular activities and volunteer hours while making your graduation plan. Keep a calendar that maps out your daily activities and keeps you on schedule every day. Periodically evaluate your schedule, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of your responsibilities.

Graduating from high school early is challenging, but not impossible. It will take planning, discipline, and teamwork with everyone at school and at home to make it work. Start the process as early as possible, even in your freshman or sophomore year if you’re serious about it. Start a dialogue with your parents about your reasons for wanting to graduate early. Many people discourage an early graduation date because of the amount of effort it takes, so show them that you have done your research and considered all of these aspects.

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