Last year, I finally finished something that I’d been working toward almost my entire life: graduating from high school. However, my graduation wasn’t exactly a typical one since it occurred in December instead of the spring. A combination of advanced middle school classes, summer courses, and extracurricular credits put me ahead of my high school graduation requirements, so by the time my senior year rolled around, I only needed one more semester to complete them. Luckily, my school allowed me to graduate after that one semester!
While I’m grateful I was able to do this, the process didn’t go nearly as smoothly as I wanted it to. Despite having to go through both my counselor and principal to fill out all the necessary papers and forms, there were still difficulties. I know I would have appreciated a bit more insight before I started the process. So in case you might also want to graduate high school earlier, I’m sharing some of my own mistakes and challenges that will hopefully make the process easier for you. And if you’re not sure yet, maybe this can help you decide!
Double-check what you need
Believe me, there were plenty of bumps in the road before and after graduating high school early. This May, I had to go back to my high school no less than five separate times to collect various things I needed, like my transcript and diploma. Without these, I couldn’t finish registering for college. It would’ve been much easier to discuss this with my counselor while I was still in school versus in the future when I was no longer registered in their system, but my graduation process didn’t cover these issues. If you’re also intending to graduate early, make sure your school knows what your plans are for after graduation and what you’ll need before you leave. If you can’t get everything at the time of your graduation, plan how you’re going to get them when they’re available, whether that’s in person or by mail. If I had asked these questions while I was still attending my high school, it would have saved me a lot of trouble in the spring.
Have a plan in mind after graduation
Another problem I faced was the loss of a routine that high school provided. For almost 12 years of my life, I was used to waking up in the morning, going to school, and coming home to do homework. I was used to the structure it provided and doing specific things at specific times. Eventually, I figured out what I wanted to do, but it was much harder to do once I was already outside of school and that routine. Making a plan for my free time before I actually graduated could have helped me, and it might help you too, no matter when you’re graduating. It doesn’t have to be something serious like a job or an internship—although it can be. It could be traveling, volunteering, learning a new skill, or anything else that you’ve always wanted to do.
Not having a set routine anymore isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it allows you to make your own routine. You can use the time to make a plan that supports your life and goals—plus, it’s good practice for the independence college life brings. I discovered my free semester after high school was a good time to do all the things I was never able to do during the school year and to start living my life to the fullest.
Reach out to friends and family
One way to live your life more fully is to spend more time with the people you care about. For the first few months after I graduated, I barely saw my friends at all. I was used to seeing them every day, at lunch or in class, but I didn’t have that anymore. And I missed them. I had to make an effort to reach out if I wanted to see them. Once I did that, I had some incredible and unforgettable experiences with my friends. And even if they weren’t free, I made an effort to go out and do other things. I explored new parts of my hometown, went to local events, and met new people. It was rewarding, but I had to put in the effort to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was hard at first, as most things are, but it was an important lesson for me to learn. Even if you haven’t graduated yet or are going through something totally different, I still recommend reaching out to those you care about.
Make the best decision for you
Our lives and the choices we make look different for all of us. Graduating early was the best decision for me, but that’s not going to be the same for everyone. While there are many good reasons to graduate early, there are just as many good reasons to graduate on time. Some students might value getting the complete senior year experience; some may want to take dual-enrollment college classes since they’re usually cheaper when done through a high school.
Even if you decide to graduate early, there are still many possibilities of what that’s going to look like. For instance, graduating a year early will differ from graduating a semester early. The right decision depends on your own personal and academic goals. Just like picking what college to go to, your own priorities are the most important thing to consider. Do you want the full high school experience and opportunities, or are there more possibilities for you if you leave earlier? Personally, graduating early gave me the opportunity to travel and work for a bit before starting college on time with my peers. And that’s what was important to me, so that’s what worked for me.
While I wish I had known these things before I graduated high school, figuring them out along the way was almost as beneficial. Overall, I’m glad that I graduated early. I got the experience of a gap year while still starting college at the time I wanted to. I got to travel and see schools. Yes, there were challenges—but they made me grow as a person, and for that, I’m grateful. Because of this growth, I entered college more prepared than I would have been if I hadn’t graduated early. For all these reasons and more, I don’t regret it at all. If you think this is something you might want to do, I’d recommend just going for it. Despite its difficulties, it helped me. And if I could do it, you can too!
Ready to make a plan for your high school and college education? Take a look at our College Planning Checklist to see what you need to do and when.