Q: My daughter is interested in graduating from her high school in 3 years rather than 4 years, but the school counselor is discouraging it. What do you think? How hard should I push the school to assist in the process?
A: The school counselor is correct.
Graduating early is a misguided idea. Unless there is a truly compelling reason – such as the student's health and safety – to leave high school early, this should be avoided. Perhaps your daughter is bored with the high school scene, and wants to get a head start on college. But she really will not be at an advantage. I'll tell you why.
College admissions readers always look at each applicant in terms of the educational environment from which an applicant comes. They examine the school's course offerings and then the applicant's transcript to see if she has taken advantage of those offerings. Many honors, AP, and College Now courses are offered in the junior and senior years. But if your daughter graduates before her senior year, she will not be taking many of those courses. So her transcript will not reflect the academic challenge that a 4-year transcript will show.
Even if the 3-year transcript show very high grades, please remember that grades – by themselves – are not nearly as important as the combination of grades plus challenging courses.
Graduating early will probably mean no fourth year of modern language study, dropping math before calculus and few advanced courses in science or history. Students who stay in high school for the full four years are able to demonstrate maximum course preparation.
And we haven't even discussed all the extra-curricular involvement that your daughter would miss if she skips her senior year!
Are there colleges that will accept students who meet all their graduation requirements and leave high before senior year? I'm sure there are, but they will not be the same caliber of college that looks for students with more complete preparation.
What is the big rush? Most people get to be middle-aged for a long, long time. High school is a relatively short period – she should enjoy it!