Pros and Cons of Graduating High School a Year Early

The decision to graduate high school early is not an easy one to make. Graduating from high school is a major step. It’s akin to stepping through a doorway to enter adulthood. It signals the beginning of your first prolonged stay away from home, whether you go to college or begin working right away.

So, is graduating high school early worth it? What are the benefits of graduating high school early?

There’s no straightforward answer to these questions. There are both downsides and benefits to graduating high school early. It may be the right decision for some students but not for all.

Before discussing the pros and cons of graduating high school early, here’s a quick look at what’s involved.

A student wearing a graduation cap.

What It Means to Graduate High School Early

Graduating high school early is more than just receiving a diploma before your classmates. It has several implications, some good and others not so much.

Graduating early means you have earned all required credits and obtained a recognized high school diploma. You’ll only be recognized as an early high school graduate if you meet both of these requirements.

All high school students are required to earn a specific number of credits in all mandatory subjects. This includes subjects such as English, science, math, history, humanities, and social studies. Earning the required number of credits in a shorter period of time can sound very attractive. But the truth is this is not easy and it’s not for everyone. It requires a tremendous amount of commitment and self-discipline. Only someone with a high level of motivation and persistence will succeed in following through with their decision. While there are benefits to graduating high school early, it can get overwhelming quickly. Understanding the pros and cons of graduating early can help you make a more informed decision.

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. When you graduate a semester early you can first take courses at a community college. This allows you to get gen eds out of the way before transferring to a 4-year college.

2. You can save a lot of money

Taking courses at community college allows you to possibly stay at home and save on room-and-board fees or rent while earning college credits. Besides community college tuition is so much cheaper, which adds to your savings.

3. You may be able to start working early

If you’re above the legal working age, you can also take up a job and start saving money towards your college tuition. This will reduce the amount you’ll need to take in student loans. The opportunity to earn money for college is another major benefit of graduating high school early. This small step will allow you to graduate with lower student loan debt than your peers.

4. You can get the academic challenge you need

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 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 skip the senioritis

High school students generally receive their college acceptance letters during junior year. Having to study after receiving their acceptance letter can feel like a waste of time. Many high school students experience a mental block colloquially known as senioritis during senior year. It usually involves a struggle to stay focused and a lack of drive to complete schoolwork during senior year. By graduating high school early, you’ll avoid this senior slump, which can sap your motivation.

Cons of Graduating High School Early

1. You may not have the mental and emotional maturity that college requires

A lot of brain development happens during the teenage years. This is the time when our frontal lobes, where our impulse control and the ability to plan come from, finish developing. Every individual develops mental and emotional maturity at different ages. Some may capable of handing the mental and emotional stress of college at seventeen years of age. Others may not be able to deal with these stresses maturely even at twenty. When asking, ‘Is it good to graduate high school early’, consider your maturity level honestly. Maybe ask your parents and teachers if they think you can thrive in a college environment.

2. Graduating early from high school requires lots of self-discipline

We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating, graduating early from high school is not for the faint-hearted. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and give up midway. It requires a lot of self-discipline and commitment to stay the course and not give up. You must be have excellent time-management and organizational skills to stay on top of the packed schedule. If you’re already struggling to keep up with your regular high school classes, this may not be the right option for you.

3. You’ll miss out on a year of activities

Senior year is when all the exciting events take place. There’s homecoming, senior prom, various sporting events and the last high school spring musical. Students who graduate high school early miss out on all these senior year highlights. That would be a real shame as these milestone events often create lifetime memories for students. If there’s no pressing reason to graduate early, don’t. Instead, consider actively participating extracurricular activities and building lifetime memories during senior year.

4. You may not be able to work if you’re below the legal working age

One of the reasons many students choose to graduate early is to work and earn money towards their college education. But the Fair Labor and Standards Act limits the number of hours you can work if you’re under sixteen years of age. It also limits the type of occupations that you’re eligible for. If you’re under the legal working age, these restrictions will limit the amount you can earn. If you’re plan is to graduate early to work and save for college, it’s not worth it unless you’re over 16 years.

5. Many high schools offer dual-credit courses that can save you money

Many high schools work with local community colleges so that students can take dual-enrollment classes from the college. This counts toward their graduation requirements. Students save money this way, as they graduate high school with college credits. Some students even earn enough to start college as “sophomores”. Another way to earn college credit in high school is to take AP courses and the corresponding tests. By earning a certain amount of points on the tests, you can apply that as credit in college (usually toward gen eds). AP/dual-credit classes are also usually less expensive than paying for college. This may be a better option than graduating high school early in order to get a jumpstart on college.

So, Is Graduating High School Early Worth It?

There is no single answer that’s right for all students. Before you make this important decision, take time to weigh the pros and cons of graduating high school early.

Also ask yourself these questions before choosing this path. Do you want to go straight into college? Do you want to take a gap year? Is there something you can do your senior year that you might not be able to do once you graduate?

Take into account your level of commitment and self-discipline. If you think you have what it takes, getting out early may be a good idea. Keep in mind though that college coursework is going to be more difficult and demanding than high school. Surviving higher education is one thing – thriving and enjoying the experience, even with the stress, is very different.

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