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How to Graduate High School Early

By Lisa Freedland

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Posted: August 18th, 2021
How to Graduate High School Early

Graduating high school is fairly uncommon in the U.S. It seems most students don’t consider it, and those who do sometimes don’t know how to graduate high school early. Perhaps you are reading this article because you want to graduate early and get a head start on college. Maybe you want to take up an interesting internship offer. Whatever the reason, you should know that it will take a lot of planning on your part.

Luckily, we’re here to help you out! This guide will give you all the information you need to know about graduating high school early. Most importantly, we include a step-by-step outline on how to do it!

What does it mean to graduate high school early?

Graduating high school early means exactly what it sounds like – that you’re graduating before completing the typical four years of high school. This is usually done within three or three-and-a-half years. Completing high school any earlier than this is nearly impossible for students unless they are homeschooled or attend a non-traditional school.

While students have a variety of reasons for wanting to graduate high school early, there are a few most common reasons. Let’s get into them!

Also see: Free summer programs for high school students

Common reasons for graduating high school early

Each student’s specific reason for wanting to graduate high school early will differ.  The reasons can most often be boiled down to reasons related to one’s career, academic plans, opportunities, or personal reasons. Let’s get into some of the most common reasons students graduate early.


Many want to graduate early so that they get into the workforce earlier and start building their earnings or establishing their career. Graduating high school early and starting  postsecondary school or a career will quicken a student’s transitions into adult life. If this is your plan, though, make sure you’re prepared to give the full energy and effort needed to find success. Remember, you’ll likely be younger (and less experienced) than both your classmates and your coworkers for the next few years.


Other students choose to graduate high school early solely so that they can start college earlier. This is more often done if the student plans to do a lot of schooling in their life. If they plan on pursuing graduate school or another professional program after undergraduate school, they will graduate earlier (and younger!). 

Also see: High school checklist: Freshman through senior year

A chance to pursue an opportunity 

Great opportunities often manifest in the form of internships, jobs, or other unique experiences. Some students want to take advantage of those opportunities when they come along.  Somewhat similarly, many students choose to graduate early so that they can take a gap year before starting college. Some may also take this opportunity to travel, start a personal project, volunteer, or really anything they like.

Not enjoying high school

This last reason is a more personal reason that some high school students choose to graduate early,  and it is a completely valid one. If you feel that school is negatively impacting your mental health, you might be thinking of graduating early. It will take some time and effort to plan out your early graduation, but it is doable.

Now that we’ve gone over some common reasons for graduating early, how do you actually do it?

How to graduate high school early: An outline

Graduating high school early, like any long process, will take some planning and preparation. However, it’s not too complicated. Let’s break down the steps you should take if you’re planning to graduate high school early.

Pick your graduation date

If you’re graduating early, you first need to determine when. Within 2.5, 3, 3.5 years? How early you want to graduate can typically be determined by how long you want (or need) to spend doing the activity that you’re graduating early to do.  This might include starting a career, college, or taking a gap year rather than attending high school. 

Also, keep in mind that it is easier (less stressful!) to graduate high school a semester early, rather than a year early. If you do this, you will still have around 8 months (from December to September) to pursue your goals. 

Ultimately, if you’re still not sure how early you want to graduate, we definitely recommend reaching out to an advisor or counselor. They can give you helpful advice, an alternate perspective, and even help you plan out your classes for the remainder of your time in high school.

Determine how many credits you need to graduate

Now that you’ve determined how early you want to graduate, it’s time to do some calculations. You’ll first need to figure out how many credits you need to graduate and what class requirements these credits must fill. While most every high school requires their students to have a certain number of credits to graduate, this number varies by school, so we recommend checking with a school counselor (or any faculty that may know).

Once you’ve figured that out, find out how many credits you’ve already completed, and how many credits a typical class is worth. To find how many credits you’ve already finished, you can check your transcripts or report cards. Always ask an advisor to confirm your findings. Then, subtract the number of credits you’ve finished from the total number of credits you need.

This number (the difference) is the number of credits you need left to graduate. Now, to find how many classes you need left to graduate, divide the number of credits you need left to graduate by the number of credits that a typical class is worth.

For example, if you need 80 credits left to graduate and a typical class is worth 5, you will divide 80 by 5. Since the answer (the quotient) is 16, this means that you’ll need to take 16 more classes to graduate. 

Figure out what classes you need to graduate

Once you’ve figured out how many credits and classes you need left to graduate, it’s time to find out what requirements those credits and classes must fulfill. To find out what your school requires for graduation, we would recommend checking out your student handbook, searching your school’s website, or talking to an academic advisor.

Generally, to fulfill such requirements, you must take a certain number of math, science, English, and history classes, as well as a few “random” (often physical education or art) classes. 

After you find out what the requirements are, we highly recommend that you create a list of those that you have not yet fulfilled. Make sure to pay extra attention to the requirements and their wording, so you don’t miss anything. Hopefully, you’ll have enough space in your schedule to fulfill all your requirements on time and take a few classes you enjoy.

Find out what classes your potential colleges require

If you’re planning on graduating early to go to college, we would definitely recommend finding out if there are any class requirements that you must fulfill to attend your prospective college(s). If there are, remember to add these onto your list of class requirements. However, remember that your high school graduation class requirements should take priority over these (your potential college’s requirements), so only take them if you have time in your schedule. 

To find out what classes your prospective colleges might want you to take, we recommend looking over the admission requirements for these universities (which can usually be found on their websites).

Similarly, if you know what you plan on majoring in during college, it is a good idea to take as many classes in that subject as possible during high school. For example, if you’re planning on majoring in chemistry, you should not only take the standard chemistry course, but also the Honors or AP Equivalent (if available). This will show colleges that you’re dedicated to your course of study and are willing to go to extra lengths to show it.

Map out your plan (and follow it!)

Last, but perhaps most importantly, you should plan your class schedule to ensure you graduate by your desired date. To do this, we recommend making a table listing each semester that you have left in high school. Then, make an empty/blank schedule under each semester. Using the list of class requirements you made before, you should now use this information to fill the empty schedule with the classes you plan on taking each semester. As you do this, we recommend also writing down how many credits each class is worth, so you can see if you’ll have enough credits by graduation.

Once this is done, double check your schedule. Go through your list of class requirements and make sure the classes in your schedule have fulfilled them all. If all your requirements have been fulfilled, that’s great! 

And, if there is still empty space left over on your schedule, feel free to go through and add whatever extra classes you would like to take (but make sure to first add those classes required by your prospective colleges, if you haven’t yet!). Once every space for each semester is filled, go through your schedule, and count how many credits you’ll have completed. Ideally, all your class and credit requirements will be fulfilled by following the schedule you have made.

If this is not the case, however, you will still need to take more classes or finish more credits. There are a few (relatively) easy ways to do that. You can either take classes over the summer or take classes at a local community college. If you prefer, online classes could also fulfill the rest of your requirements. Before you sign up, confirm with your school (or academic advisor) that they will give you credit for these courses. 

If these courses are eligible for credit, we highly recommend that you add these extra classes to your schedule. Then, we highly suggest that you have an advisor look over your schedule. The advisor can confirm that you will be able to graduate as early as you want. If they approve, you’re good to go!

Should you graduate high school early?

Onto the most important question of all – should you graduate early? It really depends on you, your goals, and what you value. 

For example, would you rather get a head start on “adult life”? Or, would you rather take it slow – not focusing too much on the future quite yet? 

Ultimately, if you feel like what you’d be doing with your time off (after graduating early) is much more valuable than staying in high school, graduating early might be the right option for you. However, if you don’t think that what you would be doing is very important, it might just be better to remain in high school. This is because graduating early isn’t necessarily impressive to colleges. After all, it means that you would be competing against college applicants who had more time to perfect their GPAs, get involved in extracurriculars, and prepare for standardized exams.

However, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t graduate early – we just want you to consider whether it’s really the best option for you. 

To help you decide, here are some more pros and cons of graduating high school early:

Pros of Graduating High School Early Cons of Graduating High School Early
  • Can start making income earlier
  • More stressful
  • Can graduate postsecondary education earlier/at a younger age
  • Missing out on the “high school experience”
  • Can give you a chance to pursue other opportunities
  • Not inherently impressive to colleges

And that’s it! We hope that all this information helped you figure out how to graduate high school early. By now,  it should be easier to decide whether or not it’s what you really want to do. No matter what you decide, we wish you good luck in your future endeavors!

Frequently asked questions about graduating high school early

What is the earliest age you can graduate high school?

Great question! The earliest age that you can graduate high school in the U.S. is 16. This is as  long as you have fulfilled all your state’s graduation requirements. What this means exactly differs by state though; in the majority of states, compulsory school attendance ends at age 16. In the rest of the states, though, you have to be 18 to leave school. But keep in mind, you can attend any other type of school from age 16-18. So, no matter what state you reside in, you can still graduate high school at age 16.

Can you still get scholarships if you graduate early?

Yes, definitely! Rather than preventing you from getting scholarships, graduating early often opens you up to more scholarship opportunities. This includes scholarships specifically made for students who have graduated early! So, whether you graduated early or not, make sure to search for scholarships that match your location, major, background, and more!


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