How to Graduate High School Early

Posted on January 06 2022

A young female student sits at a desk on her computer.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they just know: This is going to be my career, my life’s work.

Maybe that realization occurs long after the person has graduated from high school, but more often, it arrives much sooner, maybe even as early as elementary school. Chjana McNair, a teenager living in New York City, was certain of the career she was born to pursue soon after she started high school.

As McNair explained to The New York Times, she had developed a passion for skincare while she was still in middle school. After overhearing someone describe a visit to a dermatologist, McNair did some research and soon set the goal of studying dermatology with the hope of doing so as quickly as possible.

McNair is one of the many high school students who devised a plan to graduate early. In McNair’s case, her goal was to get a jump-start on her health science studies in college as the first step in her career journey.

A growing number of students are investigating how to graduate early from high school online, whether they’re motivated by a desire to begin their college education as quickly as possible or to work toward fulfilling their post-high school dreams and goals without delay. The students often find that online high school courses let them proceed with their career goals at their pace rather than on a schedule set by someone else. 

Do the Benefits of Early High School Graduation Meet Your Education Needs?

Many high school students are ready to move onto college or other post-secondary education opportunities long before their class is scheduled to graduate. Other students simply don’t thrive in the typical high school environment, whether they don’t fit in well with their fellow students or they feel confined in classroom settings. Not every high school student is a good candidate for early graduation, though.

In some cases, the post-secondary school the students wish to attend has an age requirement that will delay their plans. Many local school districts restrict students’ ability to graduate early, or their graduation requirements are so rigorous that doing so is impractical for all but a handful of students. For example, U.S. News & World Report quotes one high school counselor whose district makes it “nearly impossible” for students to graduate one year early unless they begin their early-graduation plan as far back as middle school.

Before deciding whether to pursue early graduation, high school students and their parents must carefully consider how doing so will get them closer to their post-secondary career goals. The personal finance blog Vittana lists several reasons for graduating from high school in less than four years:

  • The opportunity to start earning a living wage and gaining independence earlier than your peers
  • Improving your chances of earning college scholarships
  • Not having to wait to take the college-level courses you’re truly interested in
  • Being able to set your own schedule
  • Avoiding the social pressures of high school or falling victim to a “senior slump”

Keep in mind that many high schools allow students to enroll in college courses while they’re still working toward their high school diploma, often without having to pay the standard fees. Similarly, many advanced placement courses in high school qualify for college credit.

There are benefits of graduating early that aren’t related to college as well, including giving students the opportunity to challenge themselves academically or take a gap year before starting college or entering the workforce. 

 Get a Quick Start on Formulating Your Early High School Graduation Plans

 Students and their parents wondering how to graduate high school early should begin their preparation by meeting with the school’s counselor to determine the steps required to fulfill the state’s graduation requirements. For example, the California Department of Education notes that many public high school districts in the state offer students accelerated learning plans. However, to be admitted to a University of California or California State University campus, students must complete a “much more extensive and rigorous” list of courses than the minimum graduation requirements.

Counselors state that many high school students wait until they’ve begun their junior year before expressing their desire to graduate early, but this makes the goal much more difficult to achieve. It’s easier to prepare an early-graduation plan at schools that allow students to take more than the standard number of classes per day, but students can also get ahead by taking summer classes or by enrolling in online courses that supplement their regular high school schedule.

While it’s beneficial for students to work with school officials and their families as early as middle school to ensure that they can handle the increased course load, many high schools have entry age requirements that prevent students under the age of 13 from enrolling. Still, the majority of students can devise a successful early-graduation plan by adding classes in the fall and spring semesters; taking classes in the summer; or supplementing their high school courses with online education programs, such as The American Academy’s individual courses in English, math, science, and other subjects. 

Tips for Putting Your Early High School Graduation Plan in Motion

While many colleges and universities welcome early high school graduates, others recommend that incoming freshmen attend all four years of high school. It’s important to work with colleges and potential employers on how to graduate from high school early to ensure a smooth post-high school transition.

The Associated Press describes a typical scenario in which a college or university encourages certain high school students to graduate early: standout athletes who finish high school one term early are able to begin their first college term in January, which allows them to begin training at a higher level six months to a year sooner than they would otherwise. Many students who graduate early have no post-secondary education plans and instead are motivated by a desire to begin working full time and gain financial independence.

Regardless of the student’s post-graduation plans, the chances for success increase with a well-thought-out plan in place. Each student’s situation is unique, so counselors assess many factors when working with students on their early-graduation strategies.

The one attribute the best candidates for early graduation share is a high maturity level. This shows that they not only are ready to live as independent adults, but have thoroughly considered all the options to early graduation and have reasonable goals and concrete plans for their post-high school life. 

Find the Online Courses That Will Complete Your Early-Graduation Plan

One of the best ways for high school students to realize their goal of early graduation is by taking advantage of online classes, such as those offered by The American Academy & Resources, to complete graduation requirements and improve their chances of being accepted by the college or university of their choice. The American Academy’s program features individual courses that allow students to earn high school credit in subjects such as English, math, and science, as well as career-focused and technical education courses.

You can finish high school early online! Learn More & Resources about how The American Academy’s individual courses serve as a key component of a high school student’s strategy for early graduation.

Recommended Readings

How to Do Well on a Test: Preparation Tips & Resources

5 Study Tips for Visual Learners

Managing High School Stress: 5 Key Tips


Associated Press, “Some Iowa High School Students Focus on Early Graduation”

California Department of Education, High School Graduation Frequently Asked Questions

Family Times, “Ditching High School: How I Graduated Early and Saved My Sanity”

The New York Times, “She Finished High School Early. College Tuition Could Hold Her Back”

U.S. News & World Report, “How to Graduate from High School Early”

Vittana, “16 Pros and Cons of Graduating Early from High School”