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Articles / Applying to College / Early Graduation

Early Graduation

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 31, 2002

Question: When is it beneficial to graduate early rather than to remain in high school?

Early graduation is typically appropriate only for select students who have outgrown their high schools in more ways than one. Most important, it's for those who have already exhausted the high school curriculum and have few challenges available.

Even then, there are often options such as "Dual enrollment" or "Distance learning" enable students to remain officially at high school and at home but to take college classes, whether on real campuses or by cyber-commuting from their bedrooms.

Usually, students who leave high school and begin college a year ahead of their classmates are those who are not only academically well prepared but also more socially mature than the majority of their peers. Some, too, have personal reasons for expediting a college career. For instance, if your entire family is planning to move far away, it may make sense to consider early graduation rather than to have to pull up stakes and set them down in a new community and school for just one year. Similarly, if a rocky home life becomes truly intolerable, it might push you out the high school door early, as well. But even these extreme situations should rarely serve as reason alone to graduate before your time. Academic readiness and maturity should be part of the package, too.

Some prospective early grads decide to stick around to enjoy the perks of senior year. Whether it's getting a chance to head the debate society, to sing a solo with the glee club, or to snare a parking spot in the nearest lot, senior year is simply too much fun for many students to pass up.

If you are thinking of heading to college after your junior year, the first thing you need to do is check with your guidance counselor and see if your school is supportive of your decision. Admission officials tend to scrutinize the applications of early grads even more closely than those of more typical candidates. If the recommendations you receive from your counselor and teachers sound lukewarm, unconvincing or even downright negative ("This guy is way too young for high school, never mind college!!!") then you would certainly be better off playing out the string and finishing with your class.

If, however, your counselor does seem encouraging about your decision, you need to find out exactly how early graduation works. At some schools, if you have completed all requirements by the end of your junior year, you can don that cap and gown, march down the auditorium aisle, grab your sheepskin, and give the principa's hand a farewell shake. At other schools, however, you don't become an official alumnus until you have completed your freshman year at college in good standing. (This is most often the case if you are lacking a fourth year of English or any other mandatory course. Some juniors can override this requirement by planning ahead and taking summer classes or doubling up in English in 11th grade).

One final consideration: Ask if, as an early grad, you will be eligible for scholarships and awards ordinarily given to seniors. If you depart at the end of grade 11, you may find yourself in a no-man's land where you aren't considered for special honors (and $$) in the year that you leave, and you are no longer an official member of the class you left, even if you won't be a bona fide graduate until the following spring.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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