The 3-Year Graduate: Can You Get to College Too Soon?

How are some students curing “senioritis”? By avoiding senior year all together, according the Wall Street Journal article “High School, Only Shorter.” The most recent data on 3-year high school graduates shows about 2.9% of sophomores graduated in three years or less in 2002, which is up from 1.5% of students in the early 1990s. One reason for the rise is the increased availability of online classes, allowing students to continue working after the school bell rings and during summer vacation. In some states, students even receive scholarships incentives for graduating in under four years.

But just because students have the drive to finish high school early, does that mean they are ready for the college lifestyle, the workload, and possibly the distance between their college and their family? Some education experts argue that the four years students spend in high school develop more than their test taking skills and mastery of high school subjects; students need their senior year to continue devloping socially and emotionally.  Personally, I believe we are rushing students through high school, keeping them from valuable experiences to give context for their learning, and hastening their entry to the adult world where they often find themselves unprepared for complex demands.

“Now more than ever, the years of high school and even middle school are often thought of primarily as years of college prep,” writes Lisa Rivero in her article “High School Years: College Prep or Life Prep?” For college-bound students, their K-12 education is already hyper-focused on ACT and SAT scores, AP courses, service learning, and community involvement. What does putting the pressure of finishing high school in three years do to the already high achieving student?  What additional pressures does this cause and what is the cost personally as well as professionally?

For starters, it can exhaust them. Luke is a student who wanted to both get into an Ivy League school and graduate from high school within three years. To do so, he worked seven days a week for almost two years, according to the Wall Street Journal article. By the time he graduated, he was burned out and had to take a year off before attending Brown. Other students who rush themselves through high school and college are burned out once they enter the world of work, and sometimes opt for jobs which are easy and way beneath their education and skill level, because they want to avoid the hassle and pressure of a higher skilled job.

Graduating early is the only way for some students, but it isn’t for everyone. Will increasing the amount of three-year graduates increase the amount of college-ready students? The problems affecting today’s college students are not entirely academic. Many of today’s students don’t have the critical thinking skills they need to do college-level work, a skill that is not acquired through taking standardized tests. Employers are complaining college graduates don’t have the work ethic and sensibility they need to excel in their careers. When students are rushing to earn their high school degree, they have less time to spend having real-world experiences and will enter the workforce earlier with very little practical contributions to show for themselves.

LifeBound’s book MAKING THE MOST OF HIGH SCHOOL gives students a look at the four years of high school and how to take advantage of all their opportunities in and out of the classroom. MAJORING IN THE REST OF YOUR LIFE provides college-bound students with a map of how to make the most out of their college years by getting involved, discovering their passions, and using college as a entryway to the world-of-work. We encourage students to take their time, embrace rigor, seek experiences that will be different from what their friends are doing, take risks, and gain exposure to the global world through language emersion, friends from foreign countries, travel abroad volunteering or working, or all of the above. In short, we believe in helping students develop who they are and that takes time, discipline, and the self-confidence to slow down and enjoy the experiences which can be hatched with the time it takes to mine your passions, interests and abilities.


“High School, Only Shorter,” by Sue Shellenbarger. 10 April 2012. Wall Street Journal. Accessed on 13 April 2012.

“High School Years: College Prep or Life Prep?” by Lisa Rivero. 11 April 2012. Psychology Today. Accessed on 13 April 2012.

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