What to Consider if You Decide to Graduate Early

Published on October 7, 2021


Are you able to graduate high school early and go to college to play the sport you love? Congrats! Before you clean out your locker, there are some things you should consider.

Know the rules

There are still plenty of NCAA eligibility requirements that you must meet, even if you are in high school for less than 4 years.

If after 11th grade, you have a 3.0+ NCAA Core GPA, 3 years of English, 2 years of math, 2 years of natural science, 2 additional years of English, math or natural science, and 5 additional core courses, then NCAA has deemed you a DI Early Academic Qualifier.

For starters, make sure that after 11th grade you meet the NCAA’s requirement as a DI Early Academic Qualifier:

  • 3.0+ NCAA Core GPA
  • 3 years of English
  • 2 years of math
  • 2 years of natural science
  • 2 additional years of English, math or natural science
  • 5 additional core courses,

If you’ve got all that, major congrats on that achievement!

For DII, the Early Academic Qualifier requirements are:

  • 2.5 NCAA Core GPA
  • 3 years of English
  • 3 years of math
  • 2 years of natural science
  • 6 additional core courses

For both DI and DII early qualifiers, graduating high school early is acceptable by the NCAA and you will just need to meet your high school graduation requirements to become eligible for college sports.

So what if you’re not an Early Academic Qualifier? You will need to meet all 16 NCAA core courses and have the appropriate GPA before graduating high school early.

The good news is that it’s possible to complete these requirements by either adding courses for your 12th grade fall, or taking online classes! Utilize the summer between 11th and 12th grade since you might be able to take summer school courses to achieve these requirements.

These rules can be confusing, and that’s where Honest Game comes in. Our platform provides student-athletes with an individualized step-by-step plan to help them navigate NCAA academic eligibility, college admissions, and college fit.

Do a gut check

Plan to pack up and head right off to college? A timeline can help you feel confident about your decision. Ask yourself if you’re ready to tackle college and wave good-bye to high school events just yet? There will be so many amazing opportunities for you in college, but don’t close out high school before thinking through your college game plan.

Mind the gap year

If you are thinking about graduating high school early, but not enrolling right away at college, make sure you keep your amateurism in mind.

Make sure you keep a timeline and document your sports activities. It’s important to note that you may not practice or try out for a professional team, sign a professional contract, nor can you compete and receive prize money from any organization.

If you delay your enrollment in college after graduating early, you have a “grace period” in which you must enroll in a college in order to maintain your 4 years of collegiate athletic eligibility. Some sports allow for a 6 month delay in college enrollment, while other sports allow for 3 years. Watch that clock and remain an amateur until you enroll in college.

Know your limits

Remember, graduating high school early does not mean that you’ll get additional years to play college sports. The NCAA has strict rules about who can play sports in college and for how long.

There are limits on what grades you must have and how many years of eligibility (4) before an athlete will lose their ability to compete at the collegiate level.

Have you spoken with your college coach about what their plans are for you when you enroll in college early? Will you be playing right away (against athletes who are 21 years old!) or was the plan to have you enroll and get used to academics first, and then start practice and games the next year?

Additionally, some colleges do not allow for mid-year admissions for student-athletes so if you are graduating high school one semester early, you may not be able to enroll in the college of your choice until the following Fall.

Check the admissions requirements at the college first before deciding to graduate high school early.

Graduating early means that during your senior year of high school, you’ll miss out on some really important milestones like prom or graduation day with your classmates which could lead to some feelings of loneliness or regret later on. Once you enroll in a college and begin to practice with that team, there may not be time or the ability to return to high school for these monumental events.

By Courtney Rickard, Honest Game Director of Academics and Compliance
As a former Senior Associate Athletic Director at the NCAA Division I level and with more than 20 years of experience in collegiate athletics, Courtney has advised thousands of student-athletes through the college recruiting and eligibility process for college sports. Interested in virtual counseling with Courtney? Sign up here.