How do homeschoolers graduate early?

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One thing that appealed to us about homeschooling was the opportunity for early graduation if and when our child was ready. I was curious to know if it was even possible and what we should know now to avoid mistakes later. I talked to multiple homeschooling families and high school advisors to find out how early graduation is possible as well as reasons for and against it.

Homeschoolers graduate early by taking additional high school courses for more credits per semester or by earning high school credits earlier than typical age peers.

A lot of graduating early depends on a student’s motivation and school work load. Students who are focused on graduating early often find a way by adding more courses and using the flexibility that a homeschool environment allows. These are typically your very mature students who have decided their career path early on and are ready to start.

Other students may have different motivations like taking a gap year to study abroad or starting a community college. They may want to start work in careers closely related to their interests for experience. No matter the reason, if they are ready and motivated, graduating early is entirely possible!

Graduation and school completion requirements are entirely dependent on state laws. If laws require schooling between the ages of 6-16, then children would need to be enrolled in a school program until age 16. Still, homeschoolers can start working on required credits to be able to graduate at a younger age than their peers.

Why would homeschoolers NOT want to graduate early?

It’s important for parents to think about potential issues that could result from early graduation.

  • Dual enrollment– If your homeschooler is interested in dual enrollment for both high school and college credit, state guidelines may say require those courses be taken in 11th/12th grade. Early graduation in that case would result in missed opportunities for dual credit (and money saved in college tuition costs!)
  • Social/Emotional Maturity- Some students may not be ready to start the path after high school, or they may not want to. In that case, there’s not any real benefits to early graduation. Instead, it may make them feel additional pressure to make big decisions before they are ready or willing. Early graduation needs to be a fit for the child and all kids grow and learn at a different pace.
  • Gaps– Pursuing early graduation too fast could leave gaps in a quality education or acquiring essential skills. It could take time away from high school extracurriculars at a time and age when kids are figuring out what they enjoy and pursuing areas of interest. If they speed through essential content without retaining the skills and pursue the college path, it could make the college experience more difficult.

What is the path to early graduation?

Some students, for reasons mentioned above, are ready and motivated to graduate early. What are the steps they need to take?

  1. Know how many high school credits your homeschooler needs for your state.

High school diplomas are awarded based on credits completed. There is a minimum amount of credits in each state for a diploma and local schools may require the minimum or more depending on that student’s course track.

Let’s say high schoolers in your state must earn a minimum of 23 credits to graduate.

These are typical subject areas in high school and credits they can earn. Obviously the number of credits and subjects are state dependent but generally the courses are between 3-4- credits each of English, Math, Science, and Social Studies and then fine arts/electives.

CreditsHigh School Course Name
19th Literature
110th Literature
1American Literature
112th Literature
1Foundations of Algebra
1Algebra I
1Math Option
1World History
1U.S. History
1Social Studies Option
1Physical Science
1Science Option
3Foreign Language, Fine Arts, or Career Pathway
TL- 23

If your student is ready in middle school, they can start to earn high school credits. As long as the course has the standards and meets criteria for high school credit, those courses and grades can become part of their high school transcript.

Some of the courses that typically make sense to start in high school are:

  • Foundations of Algebra
  • Algebra 1
  • Foreign Language

Look at the description of the courses to see if it meets high school criteria for credit. Most all in one curriculums or online curriculums will have a description that specifically says whether or not it meets criteria for high school credit.

2. Once all credits are completed, create a transcript and diploma for your homeschooler.

Transcript– This is not something you want to wait on until you’re nearing the end of high school. Unless the curriculum you’re using keeps this information stored digitally, it would be hard to remember the exact courses and dates your homeschooler took.

You could keep this documentation with a simple checklist with the name of the course, credit earned and final grade. (Some colleges do not require grades, but others do so keeping a final grade on a high school transcript will help in those circumstances.)

Once you have your checklist completed, you could create (or pay for) a template that becomes your homeschooler’s final transcript. If you use an all in one curriculum or comprehensive online curriculum, these may already be provided to you at no additional costs.

Diploma– Once all credits are awarded, you could create (or purchase) a diploma for your homeschool graduate. You may want to celebrate with friends and other homeschool students, or privately recognize your graduate with family. Either way, a diploma represents a goal accomplished and is something your child can be proud of.

Other paths to a high school diploma-

GED- A GED, or General Education Diploma, has become over time a type of “second chance high school.” Students who have dropped out (or aged out) of school years can obtain a GED for employment or to attend a college that accepts a GED. Homeschoolers can complete a regular high school path and obtain a diploma. A GED is not needed in addition to, or in place of, a high school diploma.

Why would your homeschooled child want to obtain a GED?

If something unexpected occurred or a student couldn’t physically finish school, a GED offers another path. Fair or not, a GED has a stigma attached to it of “didn’t finish.” It puts kids interested in the military on a second tier for consideration and some colleges use it in determining admissions.

I know some very successful individuals with a GED so while I’m not agreeing with the stigma attached, it does exist. If the homeschooler has finished all high school credits, making a transcript and diploma would be preferable.

Is it possible for students to skip a grade?

Yes. This happens (although rarely) in traditional public schools as well as homeschool. If your child is mature enough and proficient in academic standards for a particular grade level, you could place them in the next grade. If I were considering this option, I would have my child complete an end of year test for that grade level. If he or she meets or exceeds the expected results, then I would move them on to the next grade level.

How does early graduation impact college?

If your homeschooler graduates early, the next step as a bridge to starting a bigger college, could be a community college or some online college courses. Please see the notes above about dual enrollment as well as this article all about dual enrollment. You may want to reconsider early graduation just based on the option (at the time of research) for high school students to get dual credit for high school and college as well as save money in college tuition.

In summary, early graduation is possible and may be the preference for some homeschoolers, but it is good to consider all paths and possibilities to a high school diploma to find the best fit for your child.

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