Get Out of High School Early

Students who are unhappy at school often have other productive options besides sticking it out until graduation.  You need a high school education or its equivalent – and more – to prosper in modern life, but there are ways to obtain that besides staying at your current school for four years.  Especially after the tenth grade, your options widen considerably.  The following are all the ways students of ours have gotten out early.  Just don’t leave because you think you have nothing more to learn.

If you are a strong student you can graduate early.  Every year a few of our students graduate at the end of their junior years and several more stop taking classes halfway through their senior years.  This is possible since you only need to accumulate 220 credits to graduate in our district, which takes a little over three years to do.  Since you need four years of English and social studies you have to double up in these subjects.  Most of these students also take some courses at our local community college for high school credit.  Your counselor can probably tell you how to do this.  You need to discuss your college plans with your counselor, since admissions officers at four-year colleges will want you to demonstrate that you are as well prepared as possible. Courses at a community college can persuade them of this.  The students we have known who graduated early went on to well-known four-year colleges.  They managed it by hard work, courses at community colleges, careful planning, and the support of their counselors and parents.  They did it mostly out of a desire to get on with their adult lives.

There are a few four-year college programs around the country that accept teenagers younger than 18 who don’t have high school diplomas. Bard College at Simon’s Rock in New York is the best known of these.  In this option, you just go directly to college without ever finishing high school.  So you really need to finish college; otherwise you have nothing.

You can also transfer to a private high school.  This option would apply to families of strong students who expect more individualized attention from teachers and administrators than their current school can provide, and are willing to pay a lot for it.  Or maybe not – we have an ex-student who got a scholarship to transfer to the San Domenico School down the road from us.  She just contacted them and asked “do you have any scholarships for people like me?”  They did.

Tamiscal High School in Larkspur is our district’s school for independent study. You can transfer to Tamiscal from any other school in our district.  At Tamiscal you meet with your teachers in core subjects for an hour or two per week.  Some of these meetings are small classes and some are one-on-one appointments. The teachers collect your homework and give you new assignments.  Most of the academic work is done at home. The nearby Novato Unified School District has a similar program and our students are eligible for that one too.  Maybe your district or a nearby one offers an independent study program.  Tamiscal is good for self-directed students who can’t or don’t want to spend seven hours per day at school.  You still have to do all the work, though.  Tamiscal also offers an experiential one-year program called TEAM for 24 juniors in our district.  They do a lot of wilderness adventures, community service and career exploration.

We also have a continuation school called San Andreas High School.  San Andreas’s “Pathways Program” lets seniors work at an off-site internship in the morning Monday through Thursday and take classes at San Andreas High or College of Marin during the afternoons and on Fridays.  A “continuation school” is for students for whom regular high school hasn’t been working because of very low grades and/or personal problems.  It’s not as hard, there’s little homework, and you get more one-on-one help.  Many school districts have them.

In our state you can take the California High School Proficiency Examination at sixteen.  If you pass it (it’s not that hard), then as far as the state of California is concerned, you’re done.  You can leave high school and go to work, travel, or study at a community college.  You won’t have a high school diploma, so four-year colleges won’t admit you unless you’ve been to a community college first.  Military recruiters might not take you either unless they’re desperate.

We know a student who did this, spent six months traveling in India, and still ended up at the University of California at Santa Cruz a whole year ahead of his classmates who stayed in high school.  He essentially combined his last two years of high school with his first two years of college by taking community college courses.  He never graduated from our school but he did graduate from UC Santa Cruz so his lack of a high school diploma doesn’t matter now.  In other words, this person showed that instead of earning a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years of high school and four years of college, it is possible to spend two years each in high school, a community college and a four-year university and arrive at the same place.  He was a smart person and a capable student when he wanted to be.

It is a lot less competitive to get into the University of California system if you do two years at a California community college first.   Recently a 15-year from our area old got into the University of California at Berkeley this way, and he wasn’t even a math prodigy.  Over 25% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded by the University of California system are to students who began at a California community college and did their first two years there.  It makes a certain amount of sense because while the University of California is known for research and advanced study, nobody claims that its introductory classes are as good as its upper-level classes.  You might get a better education in your first two years at a community college if you choose your college and courses wisely, work hard, and make full use of your professor’s availability.  We have had students who earned D’s with us but who later got into UCLA and UC Berkeley this way. They just needed time to gain a little motivation and maturity.  Some University of California campuses even have programs which guarantee admission to students who attend certain community colleges, take the required courses, and earn good grades.  You might want to look at UCLA’s Transfer Alliance Program or UC Davis’s Transfer Admission Guarantee.

The main downside to studying at a community college is your classmates because community colleges have more than their share of students who aren’t very serious about their education – students who are distracted by part-time jobs, social life, drugs, etc., or who just have poor academic skills and/or lack a work ethic*.  This doesn’t describe all community college students, and it needn’t describe you.  Just don’t let other students keep you from excelling.  The community college that sends the most transfer students to the University of California system is Santa Monica College.  They have a great web site with tons of information and statistics on community college-to-UC transfers.  Most of this information is relevant whether or not you attend Santa Monica College.

* Only about 1/4th of the California Community College students who plan to transfer to a 4-year college actually do it!  This is not because it is hard to do.  It is because many people in California are not making their education a very big priority, or have very low academic skills.

You do need academic skills for academic classes.  You have to be able to read for comprehension, take notes, decide on a thesis, make an outline, write an essay or research paper, proofread, edit and revise, make a review sheet for an exam, solve algebra problems, manage your assignments and manage your time.  If you have spent your high school years avoiding these activities, you aren’t likely to pass your college classes whether they are at a two-year college or a four-year college.  You will have to take (and pass) non-credit remedial classes first, which will lengthen the time you spend in school.  There’s no shortcut around learning those skills.  However, community colleges aren’t just for academic subjects.  You can attend them to learn things like medical and dental assisting, nursing, automobile repair, court reporting, machining and welding.  You can earn your living in these trades without ever attending a four-year college.

Our district has two other comprehensive high schools in it besides the one we work for, so it isn’t very hard for a student to arrange a transfer to one of them.  You just talk to your counselor.  These schools are so similar to ours in terms of size, curriculum and the social scene that if you’re unhappy with us you would probably be unhappy with them too.  However, the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA), a public magnet school, has programs in writing, dance, film, music, theater, art and voice.  You have to submit a portfolio or audition to get in, but it costs nothing to attend.  We have had students who transferred to SOTA.  Novato’s Marin School of the Arts has a similar deal, and some of our students have transferred there.

Some of our students who have an uncle or aunt who lives in a foreign country (like Australia) have gone there for a year of school, and then transferred back to us.  There is also home schooling.  We don’t know much about this, and it would depend on having a parent who is willing and able to become your teacher.  It would be hard for any one parent to match our school for rigor and subject matter competency in math, science, English, social studies, languages, arts, technology and PE, or to teach skills like public speaking, teamwork and time management.  We suspect home schooling works better in the lower grades.

Finally, there are three high school programs run directly by our county that are not part of our school district or any other.  Phoenix Academy is for students who have been dependent on drugs and/or alcohol and want to stay sober.  Oracle Independent Study is mostly for students who have been absent too often at their regular high schools.  County Community School is a continuation school, like our district’s San Andreas.

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