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How to Graduate High School Early

By: Lauren Lombardo on August 12th, 2019

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How to Graduate High School Early

Cyber High School

Graduating high school early might seem like an elite opportunity that only straight-A students with 4.0 GPAs can attain. However, it's much more common (and easier!) than you think. All students need to do is to meet their school’s specific criteria to graduate early.

Students are often interested in finishing high school early for a number of reasons:

  • To begin college earlier
  • Join the workforce or military
  • Travel
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • To take a gap year
  • Internship opportunities
  • Ministry

Students who take advantage of this opportunity to finish high school in less than the traditional four years meet all of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s graduation requirements and can earn a public school diploma, like their peers. This blog post will discuss the process to graduate high school early, planning steps, and PA Virtual Charter School’s Early Graduation Program.


How does early graduation work?


Almost all students who graduate early have been planning for it since at least their middle school years. In middle school, motivated students may begin progressing through their coursework at a faster pace than their peers, providing them the opportunity to begin taking high school courses in eighth grade. Doing so reduces the number of courses a student must take within the traditional four years of high school. Once the student begins high school, they will be able to take courses “out of sequence” because of the head start they had on the high school curriculum. With careful planning and consideration, students are able to finish their required coursework in three years rather than four.


During high school, students will work closely with their School Counselors to discuss the potential of early graduation, requirements, and ensuring they remain on track. Students will need to complete the school’s existing graduation requirements in three years rather than four, while maintaining the required grade point average and good academic standing. Many early graduation programs will also insist on a testing requirement (for example, passing the Keystone Exams) and check-in meetings with the School Counselor.


Why attend a cyber school to graduate early?


Students who attend cyber charters or other online schools are typically at an advantage when it comes to graduating high school early. Students are able to double up their courses, take high school classes in middle school, and move through the curriculum quicker in general. Since many courses are offered asynchronously in an online education environment, students are able to take more courses per semester and per year than they would be able to in a brick-and-mortar setting. This is one of the major bonuses when it comes to attending school online and having the goal of graduating early!


Specifically at PA Virtual Charter School (PA Virtual), students are able to move through coursework quicker through block scheduling. Since PA Virtual follows the block scheduling model, students are able to take heavier course loads per year. Pennsylvania requires all students to complete 4 English courses in order to graduate, and many schools require students to take 4 (or more) Math courses. With non-block scheduling, it’s almost impossible for students to double up in their core subjects because they would have to take them simultaneously- and that wouldn’t work for courses such as math where skills and concepts build on each other. The benefit of block scheduling in an online setting is that students can double up in core subjects each year, without them overlapping.


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Get your copy of the Ultimate Guide to Attending Cyber Charters in PA by clicking here

How exactly does graduating early work at PA Virtual?


Here's how to graduate high school early. PA Virtual High School offers an application-based Early Graduation Program. Students are eligible to apply for this program in the Spring of their Sophomore year. After attending a mandatory information session with their counselor, students are given the application and have three months to submit it.


The application includes:

  1. A written statement outlining the student’s post-secondary plans and how graduating early will help them work towards their goals
  2. Two teacher recommendations (preferably a Math and an English teacher)
  3. A student and parent written agreement.

Requirements include:

  1. Earning at least 14 credits by the end of their sophomore year
  2. Maintaining a 3.0 GPA and good academic standing
  3. Scoring Proficient or Advanced on the Keystone exams.

Students receive their decisions by the end of June and have 30 days to appeal a denial in writing. Accepted students will begin working with their School Counselor to craft their schedule for their next and final year. The counselor will cross-reference the student’s credit audit, academic history, and transcript to ensure all required courses are completed or scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Students who have not yet passed the Keystones but meet all other requirements can be accepted with two testing opportunities in the Winter and Spring of their last year.


The Early Graduation Program and flexibility of block scheduling provide a wealth of opportunities to our students at PA Virtual Charter School. Students are able to take higher-level/honors/AP courses in high school and get a head start on their dreams. There’s no doubt that students who participate have a leg up on their peers when applying for colleges and jobs.


Is graduating high school early the right choice for me?


These opportunities should be carefully considered to make sure they are appropriate for each student. At PA Virtual, although some of our students are highly motivated and high-achieving, they may not be socially or emotionally ready to enter “the real world” after three years of high school. In these cases, we’d work with the student and parent to create a senior year schedule that will help the student to continue to grow not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.


At many schools in Pennsylvania, home-schools, and especially at PA Virtual, students have the ability to chase their dreams and graduate high school early. Students may choose to do this in order to start college early, enter the workforce or military, help support their families, travel, or do faith-based work. Whatever the reason, PA Virtual is here to support our students in any way we can. We work diligently with our students to make sure they are prepared to conquer their next chapter in life.


More about PA Virtual's Cyber High School Program 

The PA Virtual High School program provides a rigorous educational opportunity with high accountability and performance standards.

Teachers make their lessons engaging by using discussion boards, podcasts, videos, webcams, web quests, group projects, and more. Teachers and students build relationships in and out of the classroom, and our students interact virtually, using tools such as microphones, webcams, and more.

Students participate in both synchronous and asynchronous instructional formats:

  • Synchronous - Students attend live classes with PA-certified teachers and children across the state in a virtual classroom setting.

  • Asynchronous - Students have a customized schedule in a self-directed environment, supervised by PA-certified teachers. In the asynchronous format, PA Virtual teachers plan the students' coursework, supervise their progress, and are available to support student needs daily.

The flexibility of cyber charter schools can be a great asset to a student interested in graduating early. You can learn more about our online high school program here or to learn more about how cyber charter schools work, check out the Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA. If you would like to take a look at our complete high school course catalog, you can view it here.

This guide will help you weigh the pros and cons of cyber charter schools and help you decide whether the cyber model might be a good fit for you. This guide shows examples of curriculum, includes an extensive comparison of all cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, and much more.

Read the Ultimate Guide to  Cyber Charter Schools!

About the Author: Lauren Lombardo is a PA Virtual Guidance Counselor for students in grades 9-10.