How to Graduate High School Early: 5 Key Steps


Are you a high school student who’s thinking about graduating early? Maybe you have an exciting internship offer, want to start college early, or are interested in jumping right into the workforce.

The good news is that graduating high school early is often not as challenging as many people might think it is.

This guide will give you all the tips and information you need to know about how to graduate from high school early in an easy and hassle-free way. It will also help you decide whether graduating early is ultimately the right decision for you.

What Does It Mean to Graduate High School Early?

In the US, the typical high school education lasts four years.

Students who want to graduate early aim to complete their high school in less than four years

, usually in three or three and a half years.

Unless you’re homeschooled or attend a non-traditional school,

it’s often difficult or impossible to graduate high school if you have completed less than three years

. This is because students normally can’t complete all their graduation requirements in this tight of a time frame.

If you graduate early, you will

receive the same diploma

as any other graduate from your high school. Your transcript

won’t have any special indication that you graduated early

, other than the fact that it’ll contain fewer semesters than a typical high school transcript does.

Why Might You Want to Graduate Early? 4 Possible Reasons

What are the benefits of graduating high school early? Here are four of the most common reasons students strive to complete high school in less time.

#1: You Want to Start Your Next Education Phase Early

One common reason why students choose to graduate high school early is that

they want to get a head start on college or technical school

. You might want to do this if you have a lot of school left (say, you’re planning on

attending med school

or getting a PhD) and want to get ahead so you can eventually complete your schooling a bit earlier.

You could also be interested in

only attending college part-time

but still want to graduate when you’re 21/22. Completing high school early can help make each of these situations possible.

Graduating high school early can mean you enroll full-time (or even in just a few classes) at a new school. Students who enroll part-time often have a

part-time job

as well to help pay for classes.

#2: You Want to Pursue an Opportunity Before College

You might also have another opportunity you want to take advantage of that isn’t related to school or classes. This could be an


to get career experience, a


to earn money, or a

similar opportunity

you think is worth finishing high school early for.

Gap years

, in which students take a year or so off from school to travel, work, or have a different experience, are becoming increasingly popular among high school and college-aged students. If you decide to do one, there are lots of options available, depending on your interests. You could work at a theater, help out at an archaeological dig, volunteer, and so on.

Spending a year away from school can help you get a better idea of

how you want to spend the rest of your life

—and it can also give you some great, enriching experiences.

#3: You Want to Enter the Workforce as Soon as Possible

Some high school students know early on what they want to do professionally and

don’t want or need to go to college

in order to enter this field and be successful; as a result, you might want to

graduate early so you can get started as soon as possible on establishing your career and earning a consistent income


Entering the workforce at a younger age does come with its own set of challenges, of course (for example, you might find it difficult to get a full-time job if you’re under 18), but it can be an ideal path for those who are ready to put in the energy and effort needed to find success.

Graduating high school early to start working might also be a good option for you if you

want or need to start making money right away, whether to support yourself or your family


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#4: You Simply Don’t Enjoy High School

A final reason you might want to graduate high school early is that

you just don’t enjoy it

. Some people feel lonely or out of place in high school, and others don’t feel that they’re learning a lot.

This can be a legitimate reason to graduate high school early, but make sure you understand that

it’ll take time and effort on your part to plan it out

, and you won’t be able to finish high school immediately.


Disliking high school could be a reason to graduate early.

How to Graduate High School Early: 5-Step Guide

So, how can you graduate high school early?

I’ve outlined the steps you need to follow below.

There’s a bit of math involved but nothing you can’t handle. After all, you’ll soon be a high school graduate!

Step 1: Decide When You Want to Graduate

This first step is pretty simple:

all you need to do is decide how early you want to graduate high school

. Do you want to graduate a semester early? An entire year? How long do you want to spend pursuing whatever it is you’re doing instead of attending high school?

When figuring this out,

keep in mind that it’s often easier to graduate just a semester early than it is a whole year

. If that doesn’t seem like a long enough time to you, remember that even if you only graduate a semester early, you’ll finish high school in December or January. If you start college the following September, that still gives you about eight months of time to work, travel, or pursue another opportunity.

If you still need help deciding, talk to your academic advisor.

They’re a great resource to have, and they’ll likely be able to help make this process easier (not to mention, you’ll have to let them know if you officially decide to graduate early, so you might as well start talking to them now).

Step 2: Calculate the Number of Credits You Need to Graduate

Now that you know when you want to graduate, it’s time to get into the math.

Almost every high school requires its students to complete a certain number of credits before they can graduate.

Look in your student handbook or ask your academic advisor to find out how many credits your particular high school requires.

As an example, we’ll use the high school I graduated from, which required its students to complete 21 credits, with each class worth about 0.5 credits per semester.

First, figure out how many credits you’ve already completed.

You can usually find this information on your report card or transcript, or you can ask your advisor.

Next, subtract the number of credits you’ve completed from the number of total credits you need to graduate.

The answer you get is the number of credits you’ll need to take before you can graduate.

The good news for you is that the number of graduating credits for most high schools

often doesn’t require you to complete four full-time years of school

. Again, for my high school, you needed to complete 21 credits to graduate, but a student attending high school full-time would complete about 7 credits each year, meaning most students at the end of their junior year would already have enough credits to graduate.

The number of credits you need to take isn’t all you need to worry about, though, so let’s move on to the next step.

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Step 3: Determine Which Classes You Need to Graduate

It’s time to figure out the specific classes you need to take to graduate.

Look at your student handbook or talk to your advisor to learn which classes students at your high school must take in order to graduate.

This will usually require a certain number of semesters of math, English, science, and social studies

, as well as some possible other requirements, such as a gym or fine arts class.

Make a list of all the required classes you haven’t taken yet.

Sometimes the requirements are general, such as taking six semesters of math, while other times they’re more specific (e.g., all students must take algebra and geometry). Pay attention to this when making your list.

Be aware that

most high schools require four years of English

but fewer years of other core subjects.

To again use my former high school as an example, all students had to complete the following:

  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of math
  • 2-3 years of science
  • 2 years of history/social studies
  • 1 year of a foreign language
  • 4 years of gym/PE
  • A fine arts class, a typing class, a driver’s education class, and a consumer education class


Which classes does your high school require you to take?

Step 4: Figure Out Which Classes the Colleges You’re Interested in Require

Now, we move on from classes that you must take in order to graduate to classes that it’s a good idea for you to take (but aren’t actually required).

Many times, the bare minimum high school graduation requirements aren’t enough to get you into top colleges.

For example, your high school might only require you to take two years of social studies, but the colleges you’re interested in might want three to four years.

Check the admission requirements for several colleges you’re interested in attending

, and add any additional requirements they have to the list of classes you need to take in high school.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to take more classes in the subject(s) you plan to study in college. So if you’re planning on majoring in biology, you might be fine taking just three years of social studies; however, you’ll probably want to take four years each of math and science if you’re hoping to get into

more competitive schools


Step 5: Set Up a Schedule for When to Take the Rest of Your Classes

Now that you know how many credits you need to take and which classes you need to complete, it’s time to start figuring out how you’ll graduate high school early.

Make blank schedules for each semester you have left of high school.

For example, say I just finished my sophomore year: I take seven classes a day and want to graduate a semester early. I’d make three columns, each with seven blank spaces, representing all the room I have left to take classes (see example below).

Next, begin filling in the blanks, starting with the classes that are required to graduate.

For each class, put its number of credits next to it in parentheses. For some spots, you might not know exactly what class you’ll be taking next, but you can put its general subject down for now like this: “English class (3 credits).”

After you’ve filled in required classes (and if you have extra space),

start adding other classes you’d like to take

or would be helpful for you to get into college.

Once all the spaces on your schedule have been filled in,

add up all the credits you will have completed

. Have you met the minimum requirement for your school? If not, how many classes will you need to take to meet it?

After, look at what classes are left over on your list.

Are there any required classes you weren’t able to fit? Any classes you don’t have to take but would like to?

If you need to take either additional credits or classes, start thinking of ways you can fit them in outside of the normal school day.

Some options include

summer classes

, taking classes at a

nearby community college or university

, or taking

online classes


For each of these options, discuss it with your advisor before you enroll to ensure you’ll get the required credit(s) you need.

Once you’ve figured out how you’ll take each of these extra classes, add the information to your schedule.

Look at the junior- and senior-year schedule below for an example of how this all works:

Junior Fall

Junior Spring


Senior Fall

Pre-calculus (0.5 credits)

Pre-calculus (0.5 credits)

Calculus I (0.5 credits)

Math elective (0.5 credits)

Physics (0.5 credits)

Physics (0.5 credits)

Calculus II (0.5 credits)

Science elective (0.5 credits)

US History (0.5 credits)

US History (0.5 credits)

English elective (0.5 credits)

American Literature (0.5 credits)

American Literature (0.5 credits)

English elective (0.5 credits)

French III (0.5 credits)

French III (0.5 credits)

Consumer Ed class (0.5 credits)

AP Biology (0.5 credits)

AP Biology (0.5 credits)

Fine arts class (.5 credits)

Gym (.25 credits)

Gym (.25 credits)

Gym (.25 credits)

In this example, the student would be able to graduate a semester early

while having a course load that

would be considered strong at many colleges

. This student is planning on majoring in biology, so she wanted to maximize her math and science classes. Her junior-year schedule was pretty normal with the exception of taking two science classes (physics and AP Biology) at the same time.

Taking two classes in one subject is something you’ll likely have to do if you want to graduate early.

She realized that she wouldn’t be able to fit in calculus normally, so she chose to take it over the summer. For her final semester, she took two English classes at the same time, took both a math elective and a science elective to get more experience in those subjects, and completed the rest of her required classes.

Assuming she had a regular schedule her previous semesters, she would have completed four and a half years of science, four and a half years of math, four years of English, three years of social studies, three years of a foreign language, and all her other required classes.

Completing those classes would be good enough for most colleges, though some highly selective schools would require four years of both social studies and a foreign language.

Notice that she had a lot of different options when creating her schedule

—she could have dropped her foreign language and taken a different course, chosen to take two math electives her senior year instead of calculus over the summer, and considered a variety of other options.

Also, be aware that her junior year would probably be pretty challenging

with her full course load that includes two science classes. Keep all these things in mind when creating your own high school class schedule.

Once you’ve finished designing your schedule,

double-check it to make sure that all the school graduation requirements are met


Congratulations—you now have a plan for graduating high school early! If you haven’t before now, share your plan with your advisor and ask whether there are any additional steps you should take.

3 Potential Drawbacks to Graduating High School Early

You now know how to graduate high school early, but just because you


doesn’t automatically mean that you


. Read on to learn the three potential drawbacks you might face should you choose to graduate early.

#1: It Can Be Stressful

As you saw above, graduating high school early


a lot

of planning and might mean you have to take extra classes during the school year and summer

. Balancing this heavier course load can be stressful and tiring, and that’s something you should consider before you commit to graduating early.

#2: You Might Miss Out on Important Events

Another potential drawback to graduating high school early is that you might miss out on special high school events.

For many high school students, senior year is their favorite year because of popular activities like homecoming and prom.

If you graduate early, you might not be able to participate in these events.

Additionally, you might not attend a graduation ceremony, which is an important experience for many students.

Before you decide to graduate early, think about how you’ll feel if you see all your friends participating in events such as sports games, school dances, and senior days while you don’t.

For some people, this isn’t important at all—but for others, they’d regret missing out on these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

#3: It Won’t Necessarily Impress Colleges

Lastly, don’t try to graduate high school early to impress colleges.

Just by itself, finishing high school in a shorter amount of time won’t give your college applications a boost.

In fact, if graduating high school early means you have fewer classes in core subjects, it could even hurt your chances of admission!

Unless you have plans to spend your time at a great internship or another exciting opportunity that will really show colleges who you are and what your skills are, colleges won’t see graduating high school early as a sign of increased intelligence or motivation.


Don’t expect colleges to be automatically impressed that you graduated early.

Should You Graduate High School Early?

You know how you can plan to graduate from high school early—but should you actually do it?

The main way to decide this is to

think about what you’ll do during the time you’d normally be in high school

. If you have a great opportunity you’d like to take advantage of, such as an internship, a travel experience, college classes, or something similar, graduating high school might be a good idea.

However, if you plan to spend your time mostly watching TV or maybe working a few hours a week, it’s probably in your best interest to graduate when you normally would.

Next, go through all the steps above.

Is it possible for you to graduate early while also taking all the classes you need to and would like to without stretching yourself too thin? If you’ve found answers to both of the above considerations, graduating high school early might be something for you to start planning.

What’s Next?

Thinking about summer school

as a way to complete some of your graduation requirements?

Check out our complete guide to summer school

to learn whether it’s a good option for you.

Do you think you go to a bad high school?

Learn what your options are

if you aren’t happy with your current school


Taking an independent study

can be a great way to fulfill some of your graduation requirements. Learn

how to take an independent study class

with our expert guide.

What’s the benefit to graduating high school early vs dropping out?

Find out with

our article on whether or not you need a high school diploma


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