Pros and Cons of Graduating High School a Year Early

Pros and Cons of Graduating Early

  • Graduating high school early can be difficult but worth it for students who want to enter the workforce or go to college early.
  • Pros of graduating high school early include getting a head start on college, more engaging courses, and the potential for saving money.
  • However, students can miss milestones like prom, could lose out on dual enrollment, and be limited in terms of work.
  • Those interested in graduating early will have to talk to their guidance counselor to have their plan approved.

A student wearing a graduation cap.

Graduating high school early can bring several possibilities to students! However, it’s not for the faint of heart. There are pros and cons of graduating high school early that a student needs to consider before making this decision. Below, we highlight these benefits and downsides and give you some information about how to graduate high school early if you decide this is for you!

What It Means to Graduate High School Early

Graduating high school early means you will receive your diploma before your classmates. However, this means that you will have to complete 4 years of required coursework in 3.5 years or less. Really only around 3% of students accomplish this, and very few graduate before the fall semester of their senior year.

Leaving high school early can be attractive, especially if you’re eager to enter college as soon as possible, but there are factors that can influence your decision. On the surface, it requires a significant amount of self-discipline, planning, and motivation. But you could also be giving up opportunities by leaving high school early.

Understanding the pros and cons of graduating high school early can help you make the best decision for your future.

5 Pros of Graduating High School Early

1. You Can Get a Head Start on College

The biggest benefit of graduating high school early is the opportunity to get a head start on college or work. While you likely won’t be able to head to a four-year college or university just yet, you can first take courses at a community college. This allows you to start getting your general education requirements out of the way.

2. You Can Save Money

As a result of taking courses at community college when you graduate high school early, you can potentially save money on college courses, especially if you’re still living at home. You’ll also need to spend less time at your 4-year college, which means you could graduate early from college, too!

3. You Might Be Able to Get a Job Earlier

Graduating early also gives you the opportunity to find a full-time job sooner. If you’re not in high school and above 18, you’ll be allowed to work as many hours as the employer will give you. By saving money now, you can reduce the need for student loans in the future.

4. You Can Take Academic Challenging Courses

If the coursework in high school is simply not stimulating, then perhaps it is time to go to a place that will challenge your intellect. This is especially useful if your school does not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses. A lack of stimulation in high school can lead to a lack of motivation and poor study habits. By graduating early and beginning college, you’ll be able to get the mental challenge you desire.

5. You’ll Avoid Senioritis

High school seniors have generally finished applying to colleges by January 1st. Knowing that your transcripts are off and being reviewed, students can find that they are less motivated to complete their coursework – also known as senioritis. And after an acceptance letter is received, senioritis can kick in hard!

By graduating early, though, you can avoid this mindset altogether and send off your college applications after you’ve received your diploma.

Cons of Graduating High School Early

1. Graduating Early Means a Higher Workload

One of the biggest downsides of graduating high school early is the commitment it requires from students. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and give up (which is perfectly fine, too!). But continuing this track requires self-discipline and commitment. Students interested in graduating faster will have to have top notch time management, productivity, and organizational skills to stay ahead of their packed schedule.

Cramming 4 years of courses into 3.5 years may require you to take summer classes or skip study halls. You might also not have the opportunity to take many advanced courses like AP or college classes due to your heavy workload.

2. You’ll Miss Out on Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences

Senior year, especially the second half, is full of exciting events. By graduating early, you could miss out on these experiences. You won’t be able to attend your senior prom, you might not get a graduation ceremony, and you won’t be invited to any grad nights or parties after the ceremony. Anything special your school or clubs plans for the spring semester of your senior year, you’ll miss. This can be a deal breaker for many students.

3. You May Not be Able to Work a lot if You’re Under 18

Graduating early allows you to start working sooner, but if you’re under the age of 18, you could be restricted depending on your state’s laws. You might only be able to work 20 hours or fewer a week and you could be limited on job opportunities due to regulations. If you’re planning to get a job after high school, you’ll want to do your research to see what will be available to you until you turn 18.

4. You Could Miss Out on Less Expensive College Course Options

Graduating high school earlier means you can start college sooner and potentially save money on a 4-year degree. However, you could be passing up on some even bigger savings! Many high schools work with local community colleges so students can take dual-enrollment classes – at lower prices. These courses usually transfer to 4-year colleges and universities. And your school may also offer AP courses.

Even if you have all of your credits required to get your high school semester by the end of your fall semester of senior year, you might want to stick around to take these college credits!

An Anecdote from an Early High School Graduate

To give you some perspective, we talked to one of our College Raptor contributors who did just that — graduate high school a semester early. A Colorado resident, Cat B. was excited to spread her wings early and get some new experiences. Graduating in the fall of 2001 (yes, that was some time ago), she had everything she needed – including great grades – to graduate early and even start college in the spring of 2002.

Because Cat started college early, and by taking advantage of her J-term course and a few summer classes, she was able to also graduate from Augustana University (a Hidden Gem!) early so the summer of 2005.

So what did she think about the experience?

“On the one hand, it really did allow me to both save money on tuition and room and board and I was able to start working earlier therefore earning money earlier! That’s a total benefit. In hindsight though, I definitely missed out on some important high school experiences. Where my high school friends continued making memories and getting closer their spring semester of senior year, I was starting off as a freshman in college.

That in itself was a challenge, trying to fit in where other freshmen had already made connections in the Fall, I was coming in younger and less experienced AND trying to make new friends and get through the newness of being away from home. All in all, saving money (and making money sooner) is great. But I think there is something to be said about enjoying those high school and college years if you are able.”

        Cat B. Augustana University Alumni and College Raptor Contributor.

Is Graduating Early Right For You?

Graduating high school early is a personal choice and it’s important to weigh the pros and cons, your goals, your achievements, your drive, and more before you decide. Understanding this question from all the different perspectives and angles can help you make your choice.

And remember: even if you are on track to graduate early, you can always change your mind. You are not locked into this decision.

How to Graduate Early

If you decide that graduating high school early is right for you, these tips may help:

Talk to Your Guidance Counselor

If you’re aiming to graduate high school early, your first step should always be to talk to your guidance counselor. This is not something you can just decide to do on your own. Your counselor will walk you through the next steps and help you create a balanced schedule that meets your goals.

You might be asked why you want to graduate early, how you plan to achieve this, and more as your counselor won’t want to overwhelm you. Plans for early graduation are highly individualized and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy here.

You should meet with them each year to ensure you’re on track for early graduation.

However, it is important to note that your guidance counselor can have the final say. If they believe you will not be able to complete the courses in time or do well with the increased workload, they may deny your request to graduate early. You are more likely to have this request accepted if you have a history of high grades and a plan after you graduate.

Have a Game Plan

If your request is accepted, students need to develop a strategy. You won’t succeed here if you don’t have a game plan. There’s a lot to consider and a lot of skills to work on. Students aiming to graduate high school early should think about:

  • Productivity and efficiency levels
  • Planning tools
  • Summer classes vs skipped study halls
  • Study habits
  • Goals for each year of high school
  • Strategy for after graduation
  • Tactics for handling workload and college prep

Graduating high school early isn’t for the faint of heart and it requires careful consideration before diving in! Students should keep in mind that they will have to discuss this with their high school guidance counselor to determine if it is the right course of action for them. Those who wish to have their request granted should go in with a game plan.

If you’re aiming to graduate early, you’ll have to tackle a high workload and college prep at the same time. Thankfully, College Raptor has the tools to make your search easier. Start with our College Match tool today to discover what schools meet your needs and want after you graduate high school!

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