High school can be a great time. Lots of students love the school spirit, tight-knit friends, and working toward a brighter future. But what if it’s one month into your sophomore year, and you are tired of high school already? What if you figure out early on that you don’t find pep rallies and bonfires as exciting as they look in movies, and you can’t imagine another three years of getting screamed at by the hall monitor? Or what if you realized at the beginning of junior year that you are going to be a film director if it kills you… so two more years of coursework somewhat unrelated to your major looks a little dull? If that sounds like your high school experience, then consider graduating from high school early!
How do you know if graduating early is right for you? Can you take on the workload of college? Will you feel like you’re missing out on senior year?
For Clare Johnson, a rising high school senior who has spent the past year working on graduating early, making the initial decision to accelerate was a no-brainer.
“I go to a small school, and I was academically way ahead of my class,” she says. “I was just very motivated, very mature, and a little bookish. I wanted more of a challenge than what I was getting.”
Clare isn’t as much worried about missing out on senior year as she is glad that she’ll “be leaving earlier, and thus have a lot of energy left over. The burnout rate is much higher when you stay that extra year. I feel like people get a lot less done when they’re seniors.”
What you must know
Your school counselor can offer you insight to help you make your own choices. In fact, communication and a strong relationship with your counselor are both key to graduating early.
“Students need to sit down with the people who are helping them make the decision to graduate early and make sure that they have met all their high school requirements and that they have a plan,” says Jack Cramer, the former director of guidance at Colonie High School in Albany, N.Y., and an academic advisor at Hudson Valley Community College. “Students who choose to accelerate need to have some kind of plan in place so they have an idea of where they’re going.”
Although graduating early requires extra cooperation with your guidance counselor, and often a heavier course load during your remaining time at high school, it says something to college admissions officers about your dedication to your studies.
David Graves, the senior associate director of undergraduate admission at the University of Georgia, says admission counselors really want to get to know applicants who are working on graduating early from high school. Graves says that because fewer than 10 of UGA’s nearly 16,000 annual applications for freshman admission are early graduates, “their applications are looked at a little more closely. We want to make sure they won’t be walking into a too-challenging situation. An early graduate should not just survive here, but thrive here.”
A good call
Discussing why you chose to graduate early in your admissions essay or in a supplemental letter is always a good way to go. You want the opportunity to make clear why you are graduating early, and the effort that it took.
“It’s important for students graduating early to play up their strengths in their applications and emphasize that they can handle a lot,” says Clare. “It’s important for colleges to know what you’re willing to do for them. Graduating early will definitely be a focus of my application.”
But be careful how you phrase your intentions, warns Graves. “We are looking for students who say, ‘I have reached my maximum potential at high school after three years and want a bigger challenge.’ Not, ‘Let me get out of high school and come to your school instead.’ Naturally, we seek out the more positive of the two.”
Will I still have time to sleep?
How much work does graduating early actually take? Clare says it “takes dedication… but anyone can do it.” Although she did have to two to three extra classes junior year, Johnson, who hopes to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara, says that graduating early has helped her prepare for the anticipated rigors of a competitive university.
How early can I leave?
Graduating a semester early is academically easier than graduating a year early, though you may encounter a tough social situation starting college second semester.
“Sometimes those who graduate an entire year early from high school also don’t have a connectedness with the class they graduated with, and might lose it with the class they grew up with,” Cramer says. “Some kids can handle that … for others, I recommend graduating a semester early.”
Cramer says that students who graduate a semester early often take classes at a local college and work to make money for when they transfer to the school from which they will earn a four-year degree.
Graduating early in a nutshell
If you’re dedicated to the idea of graduating early, it can be well worth the extra effort. And when you walk across the high school graduation stage a year or a semester ahead of schedule with opportunities laid before you, that’s something to celebrate.