American schools make a really big ask of their students. They demand that you adjust the timeline of your life to their schedule. But what if you have big plans for college, career or the workforce that can’t wait until graduation?
That’s when graduating high school early should be an option. It should be your choice, as long as you’re willing and able to do the planning and work to succeed. Online learning offers all the flexibility you need to chart a course toward early graduation and get on to the next stage of your life.
What Does It Mean to Graduate High School Early?
Graduating high school early means more than grabbing a diploma and running out the door. It’s important to understand what’s involved and what it means — or doesn’t mean — for your future.
Early graduation means:
- You have earned all required credits. Just like college students, high school students must earn a specific number of credits in all required subjects. You’ll need a certain number of years of English, math, history and social studies, science and other humanities. Traditional high school students might have trouble graduating early if they must take four years of English.
- You receive a recognized high school diploma. Your diploma will not indicate that you graduated months or even a year ahead of your peers.
- You know what’s next. Early graduation can take a toll, so it’s important that you know what you’re striving for. Graduating high school early is not for everyone. In fact, it takes a truly motivated and mature person to write a plan and commit to it, year after year. Although the idea of diving into life sooner is alluring to any 15-year-old, the drawbacks are plentiful and can become overwhelming (see Pros and Cons, below).
- Online learning probably got you there. Students of online schools learn at their own pace. Graduating high school early online is possible because there’s no need to wait a full year for courses after completing the prerequisites. Online schools don’t force you to wait for their schedule. You make school fit your timeline.
The Pros and Cons of Graduating High School Early
No one will tell you this is easy. The first and most important thing you must do is think carefully through the benefits and drawbacks — the graduating high school early pros and cons. Knowing the rewards and sacrifices will keep you fueled through the rest of your high school journey, whether or not you graduate early.
The Pros of Graduating Early
- No wasted time. Waiting months or even a year for a school to offer the next course you need can be frustrating. Graduating early through an online school lets you take courses when you’re ready.
- Set your own schedule. With their natural biorhythms, most teenagers prefer to stay up late and sleep in. Traditional brick-and-mortar schools demand that students be at their desks early in the morning. Accelerating the graduation schedule, particularly through a flexible online school, puts time management back in your own hands, so you can sleep, work and play as you see fit.
- Save money, make money. Some students graduate a semester early so they can live at home while they load up on general education classes at the local community college before transferring. Others use the extra time to work jobs and save their money for whatever’s next in their lives. Early graduation can be a powerful budgeting tool.
- Greater academic stimulation. It’s hard to stay motivated in school if you’re bored with the pace and the classes. Graduating early lets you determine a timeline for soaking up all the learning available to you, without slowing down to let the rest of the class catch up.
- Skip the senioritis. No need to simply go through the motions in the year before graduation. When you graduate early, senioritis, also known as “senior slump,” won’t have the chance to sap your enthusiasm.
- Escape from peer pressure. Some high school students are ready to move on from the cliques and expectations of the traditional school setting. Graduating early opens an escape hatch.
The Cons of Graduating Early
- Missed milestones. Senior prom. Homecoming. Senior day on the sports field. That final bow when the curtain falls on your last high school musical. The march to “Pomp and Circumstance.” The senior-year calendar is packed with moments meant for memories. Are you willing to miss out while your friends are filling their social media feeds with one senior event after another?
- Fewer leadership opportunities. If you’re aiming for a prestigious college, it’s important to know that many admissions officers don’t award extra points for early graduation. In fact, the competitive world of college admissions gives higher scores to students with plenty of meaningful extracurricular involvement and community service. That’s where you demonstrate the leadership, character and maturity that colleges want on their campuses. Early graduation steals the time that your peers — and competitors in the admissions pool — are using to make a demonstrable difference in the world.
- Basic education. Cramming in required courses might get you that diploma, but you could miss the opportunity to take AP or dual-enrollment courses. That might not matter to you, but if you’re going to college it can mean passing up free college credit. Plus, your transcript will lack those advanced courses that admissions officers want to see. Make sure that your early-graduation plan accounts for the admissions requirements of your target colleges as well as the graduation requirements of your high school.
- Goodbye, social life. Well, maybe not goodbye entirely, but sticking with the plan requires sacrifices and priorities. Academics will come first, because every semester — and possibly your summers — will be loaded with courses. When friends are out for pizza on Friday night or planning a weekend at the beach, you’ll probably be home with your books.
- The real world won’t have you yet. Federal and state laws establish minimum ages for working and maximum hours. Some hazardous occupations won’t take minors. It limits the possibilities to earn on your own.
- The real world demands money. Become an earner, and the IRS will want its share. Then there are car payments, rent, food, insurance and a wardrobe appropriate for the workplace. If you pursue early graduation, consider all the financial consequences.
- You’re not equipped for it. You can write out a plan, but are you mature enough to carry it out with minimal supervision? Maturity means being self-sufficient and taking responsibility for your actions. If your plan falls apart, that’s on you.
If you have weighed all the options and decided to pursue graduating early, it’s time to write a plan. Start with a projected graduation date and work backward. Map out the courses you’ll need to take each semester, and maybe during summers. Count and recount the total credits. Work with your school counselor to make sure everything is covered. Build in backups and prepare to be flexible, because a course offered this spring might not be available next spring.
5 Reasons Students Graduate Early
There is not a single reason for graduating early. In fact, there are many! Each student is unique. An online school such as CCA, where learning is personalized, is equipped to accommodate students who have the desire and the capability to graduate according to their own timelines.
Consider these five reasons graduating early could be right for you.
- Pursuing an Opportunity Before College. Learning doesn’t always come from books. Maybe an exciting internship is looming that offers experience in an interesting career field and lets you start building a professional network that opens doors to opportunities. Or maybe you want to take a gap year to travel or volunteer for an adventure — building water wells in Africa or reforesting the Amazon. Graduating early lets you take advantage of the opportunity without postponing the start of your freshman year in college.
- Kick-starting Your College Career. Some students feel they’re ready for college, academically and emotionally. Others plan careers in medicine, law or another field that requires a long stint in postgraduate studies. Some students plan to attend college part time while they work jobs to pay tuition. In all these cases, the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be done.
- Entering the Workforce More Quickly. The 21st century workplace is changing faster than any in history. Businesses demand people with skills that weren’t even heard of 10 years ago. Many future jobs haven’t even been invented yet. Getting ahead means getting a jump on all those opportunities. Entrepreneurs, too, are dreaming up great things, but if you don’t make something of your Big Idea, someone else surely will. Graduating early sends you into the marketplace quickly, ready to turn dreams into reality.
- Getting Out of High School. Everyone has to go to school, but not everyone has to like it. It’s OK if high school just isn’t your thing. It’s not OK to leave without a diploma — that is, not if you want to be self-sufficient and happy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that people lacking high school diplomas earn an average of only $520 a week, or $27,040 a year. Compare that to $712 a week and $37,024 a year for high school graduates (and that’s before withholdings, so take-home pay is even less). Nongraduates have higher unemployment rates, too. If you are so done with high school, graduating early is the equivalent of eating your broccoli before you can leave the table. You get it over with and still get the benefits — in this case, that all-important diploma.
- Making Your Personal Declaration of Independence. The act of graduating early demonstrates high levels of maturity. Taking hold of your life from there gets you one step closer to true independence. Some students are ready to leave behind the rules and restrictions of home and school, stepping out on their own long before their peers are thinking about it.
CCA’s Flexibility Offers the Power to Graduate Early
Graduating early demands independent thought and an action plan. It demands the ability to think on your feet and map your own course for the future. CCA empowers you to do all of that and more. CCA specializes in personalized learning customized to the goals, interests, passions and timeline of each individual student. If the idea of graduating early flickers across your mind, we can help make it a reality. That’s what flexibility in learning is all about — the chance to craft your own educational journey toward happiness and fulfillment. Learn more about our schooling options at CCA by reaching out to us today.