Thinking Ahead: What Student-Athletes Need to Consider Before Graduating Early

Updated on Dec 6, 2023

What Student-Athletes Need to Consider Before Graduating Early

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 Eligibility Rules

There are 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 an 3.0+ NCAA Core GPA and a specific set of NCAA-approved Core Courses, then the NCAA could deem you an NCAA Division I (DI) or Division II (DII) Early Academic Qualifier and leaving high school in the middle of your senior year will not affect your NCAA eligibility.

To break it down, make sure that after 11th grade you meet the following NCAA’s requirements to become 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 NCAA Core Courses

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

For NCAA 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 NCAA 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 be eligible to participate in college sports. 

What if you’re not an NCAA Early Academic Qualifier?

In order to be eligible to play college sports, you will need to complete the required 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 either by adding courses for the fall during your 12th grade year or by 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 CARE® 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? Taking time to self relect can help you feel confident about your decision. Ask yourself if you’re ready to tackle college and wave goodbye 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.

Considering a Gap Year?

If you are thinking about graduating high school early, but are waiting to enroll right away in college, make sure you keep your amateurism in mind

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, or 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. Watch that eligibility 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 of eligibility 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 are available 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 a head start on your academics, 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.

Top 5 Common Questions About Graduating Early

    1. Can I graduate early from high school and still be eligible to play sports in college? Yes, early graduation is possible, but it’s crucial to understand the academic and eligibility requirements set by the NCAA or other athletic associations.
    2. How does early graduation affect the college recruiting process? Early graduates may need to navigate a unique recruiting timeline. It’s advisable to start communicating with college coaches early and make them aware of your plans.
    3. Are there specific NCAA academic requirements for early graduates? Yes, the NCAA has academic eligibility standards. Early graduates must ensure they meet the core course requirements and maintain a competitive GPA.
    4. Can I start college early and participate in sports before the typical freshman year? Some colleges may allow early enrollees to participate in sports before the regular freshman year. It’s essential to check with the specific college and their athletic department.
    5. What are the benefits and drawbacks of graduating early for student-athletes? Graduating early can offer advantages such as an early start on college academics and athletics. However, it’s essential to weigh these benefits against potential challenges like social adjustments.

Need to know if you’re on track to become an NCAA Early Qualifer? Honest Game Counselors are here to answer questions and help you navigate the requirements to play college sports. Schedule a time to meet virtually with our experts.

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.