Early Graduation: Is it a Good Option for You?

Do you want to end your high school career early? Find out if it could work for you!


Photo provided by Legat Architects.

Students hang out at College of Lake County, which is a great school option for those planning on graduating early at Central.

Tristan Starzec, Staff Reporter

Prom. Ceremonies. Countdowns. The second semester of senior year involves many iconic traditions where students can embrace the end of their high school careers. While this is important to a lot of upperclassmen, some choose to cut off their last semester entirely through a process called early graduation. Most people have heard about the option from TV shows and movies, but don’t know that it’s possible here at GCHS. Nicole Belmont, a counselor at Grayslake Central, has only a couple of students who are taking this alternative road, but “anticipate[s] that probably more students will start to want to graduate early as they become more aware that it’s an option.” Because early graduation is rarely discussed, many are missing out on an option they could truly benefit from. Although it may take some work to knock off a whole semester of high school, it could be the perfect opportunity for some students. 

Many prospective early graduates are following a plan that’s very popular in the Lake County area: attend CLC. “I think that there is merit to getting a jump on classes, even if it’s just for one semester at the college level at CLC,” Belmont said. College of Lake County is a community college that has a campus right here in Grayslake, and others fairly close by.  Seniors can take this path for their spring semester, which serves as a great transition from high school to college, and provides them with many other advantages. April Villada, an early grad attending CLC next year, said “I think you get to pursue the career you want or you just get to explore and try out different things.” Going to this community college after graduating early allows students to discover potential majors or give them a head start if they already know what they want to do. Its wide selection of associate’s programs and general education classes make it easy to go on a path of self-discovery. Plus, it costs significantly less than most traditional four-year universities. In fact, according to the Education Data Initiative, the average annual cost of college in America is $35,551 per student; the average annual cost for CLC is $4,989. For students graduating a semester early, it seems like a no-brainer to attend this community college. 

Other early grads don’t plan to attend college during their second semester but intend to work during that time instead. Emily Russo is one of these students. “Some of these colleges are asking for too much, so [working] gives me extra time to fund my future,” she said. Russo currently works at Walgreens and hopes to rack up 40 hours a week so she can save up for college. Russo also strives to be a certified pharmacy technician, which she can engage in during her break from school. Another way for early grads to spend their time is by pursuing a volunteer abroad program. For students planning to go to a four-year university, gaining volunteer experience is a great way to increase their chances of acceptance. Volunteer abroad programs are a win-win option because graduates can explore another part of the world while helping others. “A lot of times, students won’t even look into those types of programs because it sounds really expensive, but there are lots of… abroad volunteer work programs that offer really nice scholarships,” Belmont said. In general, working and volunteering are amazing opportunities for those graduating early.

Early graduation might seem ideal to most students, but it isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of hard steps students have to take if they want to venture down that road. Russo said, “I took as many AP and honors classes as I could in the time that I had left.” There is no requirement for future early grads to take harder classes, but Russo did so in case colleges looked down on her for knocking a semester off. Some students have the idea that colleges look at early graduation the same way they look at dropping out. Unfortunately, a significant disadvantage to early graduation is that it has a bit of a stigma. “People think it’s like, oh, they’re rushing their teenage years… You’re young, you should be enjoying school,” Villada said. The thing that a lot of people forget is that school really isn’t for everyone. Some people actually thrive off of independence rather than a deeply structured schedule that they must follow day after day. Nevertheless, others like the consistency of school, and particularly enjoy the social aspects. Those who are graduating early may feel isolated from their peers during that time. Even though they may participate in prom or the graduation ceremony if they so choose, it feels different for them because they’ve already moved on in life. It’s crucial that early grads continue to uphold their social circles during their time off because a lack thereof could lead to mental health risks. According to Tulane University, “Loneliness is associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.” Any graduating student should try to build a sense of community as socializing has significant advantages. As long as students have these drawbacks in mind and are able to handle them, they’re sure to reap the many benefits of early graduation.

From financial reasons to getting a head start on college, there are plenty of motives students can have for early graduation. It serves as an opportunity to end a semester early and is especially great for those who aren’t too attached to their high school careers. Early graduation is a somewhat complicated process for the students who are pursuing it, but it is a useful option for certain students. For students like Russo, who aren’t going to college in their second semester, they must have the initiative to guide themselves and have a clear plan for their time off. These are important characteristics for anyone planning to graduate early, regardless of the path they plan to take. Belmont said, “I think it takes a particular student and a special kind of student to pursue early graduation because you have to be intrinsically motivated to be successful.”