Early HS graduation & merit aid?

Over the last few weeks, S23 (sophomore) has become laser-focused on graduating high school a year early. He realized that his year-older GF will be graduated, all his friends are upperclassmen and will also be gone, and he only will have one required course in senior year - English - the rest would all be padding.

His college counselor told him that the pros of sticking around would be to burnish his credentials for college apps, and take a bunch more APs for college credit.

He says he’d be saving us a year’s worth of boarding school tuition. Which is nothing to sneeze at.

However, I think his college list - mostly a bunch of fairly selective schools at this point – works against this idea.

Our #1 priority is merit - we won’t qualify for much need-based aid and our budget is about $25k a year, cash flowed. I think early graduation would have him at a disadvantage in terms of merit aid.

Not to mention, he just took the PSAT last week but he checked 2023 as his graduation year, which I think means it wouldn’t count for NMF, even if he somehow managed to pull off an awesome score with zero prep (since I wasn’t thinking this was anything other than a dry run and so I didn’t urge prep).

I see some older CC threads mainly saying what I instinctively think: If money isn’t an object, if selective schools aren’t the target, then go for it.

But I can’t find anything substantive to bear this out.

I realize this is, in the end, our decision, but the kid is quite mature and has been so gung-ho about the college application process so far - I hate to shoot him down with a flat no without facts to back it up.

And I do worry about his mental state in senior year if indeed he feels depressed and isolated. Yes, he’d be just as friendless in college at first, but there’d be a difference, in his eyes.

Insights? Guidance? Thanks.

Merit aid will be based on the stats he has when he applies and the college policies for awarding merit aid. It won’t matter if he is a year early HS graduation.

However, depending on the colleges…his number of advanced courses and such could affect admissions at more selective schools.

$25,000 a year plus his Direct Loan will likely pay for an instate public.

Since even graduating early, he won’t start college for two years, it’s very hard to say what the merit aid landscape will even look like.

Does he not have activities or ECs at his high school? I could have graduated a year early (same as your son…only really needed English) but there was no way I was leaving behind a final year in our high school choir. I was also an officer that year, something not available to juniors.

I think your son needs to think about what he wants to do…where he wants to go to college, and what it takes to get accepted.

If you are from FL as your screenname implies, he has bright futures which gives him some very affordable instate public options.

And…your son might change his mind before this actually happens. He might end up with a different girlfriend who is younger. Might might might.

Your first child got merit aid, and you know where to look. Some things might have changed, and could change in the next year and a half.

@Gatormama - I was curious about your question, and there seems to be an old thread from 2008 on CC called “National Merit and Early Graduation” where this situation is discussed. My D21 had all her credits for hs completed last year and she is doing the dual enrollment (PSEO in MN) where she takes all college classes at the UMN this year. This semester has been completely online and I suspect next semester will be too. That option is working well for her.

The most selective schools (HYPSM, T20s etc.) mainly offer need-based financial aid. There ARE some T20s offering merit scholarships, but these are extremely competitive and are often used to draw HYPSM-tier students (ik a student admitted to a HYPSM and Vanderbilt with full-tuition who chose HYPSM.)

The PSAT qualifies you for the following year’s competition (i.e. students graduating this year took the PSAT last year.) Semi-finalists are released in September of your senior year, so it’s may still be possible to be considered for the NM competition by contacting NMSC. If he attends a boarding school, I believe the selection index is based on the highest index of the region.

If selected as a NMSF, there are plenty of schools offering full-ride scholarships to those who become finalists (pretty much a guarantee as long as you don’t have failing grades, submit everything on time etc.) Some selective schools offering major scholarships are USC (automatic half-tuition) and the University of Florida (full-ride under the Benacquisto scholarship, though this depends on the state legislature’s funding.)

NMSC Contact Info: https://www.nationalmerit.org/s/1758/interior.aspx?sid=1758&gid=2&pgid=465

@PikachuRocks15 the Benacquisto full ride for NMF is for all FL public universities.

Let’s not jump the gun here. No way to know now the NM status for this student…at all.

The family has gone on the college merit aid hunt for an older sibling, and found a program that suits that student and their price point. Plus when they did that hunt, they had this kid in private boarding school. That expense will be gone when this kid goes to college, and presumably the money can be diverted to his college costs.

The question here was…will graduating early affect merit aid prospects? I’ll repeat my answer…if the student is accepted, merit awards are based on the stats that student presents when applying. Doesn’t matter whether early…or not.

But graduating early MIGHT affect admissions because this student will have one year less coursework that could add to their HS record in a positive way…more advanced courses, perhaps dual enrollment, perhaps additional APs. Graduating early will also cut short ECs and leadership potential there because usually its seniors who hold those leadership positions.

Lots of options to weigh.

thanks - @thumper1 remembers my search! Yeah, S23 wasn’t in boarding school at that time; the merit D19 got enabled us to afford BS for S23.

(Unfortunately, we are not in Florida, but in PA, where $25k and a loan do not get you in the door at PSU or Pitt).

I agree that his stats won’t be as compelling with a year less of HS.
He’s got ECs and should be in leadership positions by senior year, I’m guessing. He’s only got one AP this year and even with a flood of them next year, that’s still gonna only be, like, five total, max. And applying next year – none of those APs are even in the equation, as they’d be after acceptance season.

I would much prefer the DE route. I think with a bit of pondering and some calculated guidance from mentors he trusts (as opposed to Parents), he might come round to that strategy.

In the meantime, I would just like something concrete to present to him - I dunno, maybe an adcom from a high-ranking college or something would like to weigh in here? Anonymously? About how graduating early isn’t all that?

@thumper1 PSAT scores usually release in December with selection indexes, so it would be possible to estimate NM status from that (if >223 it’s a guarantee as that’s the highest SI in the country, <223 depends on the region of @Gatormama 's kid’s boarding school.)


Ask your question here:


This AMA is being done by a person who was formerly an adcom at an elite school.

How about aiming for a senior year abroad instead of graduating early? Then he could be done at his boarding school at the same time as his gf and other senior friends, but still meet all of the burnishing-his-credentials goals that his college counselor is suggesting, have a once-in-a-lifetime growth experience, and save money as well (because an AFS year is cheaper than boarding school). He could either graduate and do a super-senior year, or hold off on graduation, but either way he’d be applying with all of his boarding school coursework done, so it would be a stronger application, further strengthened by the international experience. Maybe this would be something to look forward to, more so than lingering at his bs after his closest friends have graduated, but without rushing the college transition.

Thanks, @thumper1 - I will post in that AMA.
Overseas: oh that is a nice idea. What is AFS? Off to Google … OK, is that one of those programs for rich people getting in their “I went off to slum it and learn how lucky I am” credentials? I don’t mean that to come off as reverse snobbery - it’s more a concern that overseas experiences are sometimes viewed by colleges as wealthy parents’ indulgences for their kids. (We are on FA at the BS, in case that wasn’t clear).

But in general, that might be an avenue to explore as kind of a middle ground between the two points. Thanks for that, @aquapt .

Merit scholarships will generally mean aiming lower on the college selectivity scale. For the larger merit scholarships, that may mean looking mostly at colleges that may be low match, likely, or safety for admission, but with the understanding that they could really be reaches for the large-enough merit scholarships.

Are the boarding school college counselors knowledgeable with assessing chances for merit scholarships, or are they mostly used to dealing with students from wealthy families who are only concerned about admission, rather than merit scholarships?

Being in Pennsylvania is particularly difficult for college affordability.

Haha, no, AFS isn’t in the “voluntourism” or poverty voyeurism category - it’s a student exchange program with host families. Exchange students attend a normal high school in their host country. It has been around for 70 years. https://www.afsusa.org/study-abroad/programs/?duration=166,167 The cost of a full year program varies with destination but runs around 15-17K, and there are scholarship opportunities available.

Rotary has a program as well, but I believe you have to apply through your local chapter.

I let my son apply to college in his junior year. His close friend did to, and the friend attended UF. My son had maxed out dual enrollment classes, and only had English left for senior year. My son is a STEM kid, so going abroad would not have interested him. There were several colleges that mentioned, in their brochures, that they would look seriously at juniors. Off hand, these were STEM Universities.

What is your son interested in?

@ucbalumnus - thanks, yes, I am aware, and our residency in PA frustrates me daily. :frowning:

He has Princeton as his dream school, and also likes some other selective LACS that have major competitive scholarships, but I’m also pushing Bama and Arizona and UNM - the usual suspects. My D19 got full tuition at a not-selective safety, and that’s where she went. She’d be happy as a clam there right now, except for covid, which has upended everyone, it seems, and not for the better.

I do not know the HS college counselors’ range of experience yet, but tbh, I have learned not to expect them to be familiar with the economic situation of their students’ families. They generally are working on educational matches only. If they’re knowledgable about big merit and his chances there, I’ll be thrilled. I will find out more when we have one-on-one meetings later this year.

@bookworm No STEM focus: My kid wants to go to law school/run the world. He’s just asked my husband if he has a copy of The Communist Manifesto; he wanted some light reading, I guess, lol. Very passionate about the state of the world, etc.

No, he has not by any means exhausted his school’s opportunities, another reason I am dubious about this idea.

@aquapt I just broached the study-abroad option with him and he said, “Well, put it on the list, but if I get there and I don’t like it more, then it would be a significant problem.”

Sigh. I think we need to work on his perspective, outlook, and actual goals right now.
Regular meeting with his adviser is Friday so we’ll see what that produces.

Ask him what he would be doing if his girlfriend wasn’t graduating. If he says he would be staying at the HS, I would discourage early graduation.

He hasn’t exhausted the possibilities academically or EC wise at his boarding school. You are paying for him to have those opportunities.

I’m not a Princeton adcom, but if he has not taken upper level courses and has no leadership EC positions, and is leaving HS early, I would be wondering why.

There’s really no benefit to graduating early. All it’s going to do is put him at a one-year disadvantage at these hyper-selective schools he’s trying to get into. He’s competing against every other applicant with perfect grades AND went all 4 years. Even if he does manage to get in, the school is going to put restrictions on him, because he’s a minor. That’s not going to help if he already has issues with depression.

To me, it’s sounding like he’s looking for a panacea. If he doesn’t like going to the school he’s in, college is not the answer. Graduating early either isolates you from adult peers (not healthy for depression) in college, or relegates you to working at Subway for a year.

If he wants to get into a prestigious college like he’s telling you, then he’s far better off graduating on-time, so his application is competitive with all the other applicants. If this is indeed a panacea (I suspect it is) his real motive is going to be getting out of the boarding school, and he’ll start setting his college prospects lower and lower in order to escape(symptom of depression).

As a parent, this is all still your decision until he’s 18. Ask him questions and find out the motive. Starting college based on depressive behavior is not good. College stress will only make depression worse, even in the best of circumstances.

What kind of restrictions? I have known plenty of students who were 17 years old when they started college. They were treated no differently than their older classmates.

The decision is 100% on the parent? Really?


Yes, that is correct. Restrictions vary from school to school. That’s a legal issue for them, so that should be expected to some degree if he’s a minor.

And Yes, until junior becomes a legal adult, that decision is not his to make. I say this as a parent with a teenager. Even as a legal adult, mom and dad get the final say on where he goes to college anyway, because they’re the ones paying.

Like what? Which schools and what kind of “restrictions” will be placed on a 17 year old freshman and not an 18 year old freshman?

This isn’t junior’s decision to make until he he waves goodbye to minority status? Does he have any say at all? My own experience with teenagers is that this wouldn’t go over well. Making decisions and learning from mistakes is part of growing up and becoming an adult. Certainly parents can/should give advice and make opinions known, but the apron strings have to be cut at some point, and not all at once on the 18th birthday (or some other arbitrary date).

Kid’s college choice, at least as a traditional student (whether or not 18 years old yet), can be almost 100% a decision by the parent(s). However, most parents are not that authoritarian, at least within the limits of financial affordability (although financial affordability based on parents’ financial circumstances and choices is the main constraint on most traditional students’ college choice) and admission / financial aid / scholarship results.

It does not look like the OP intends to be that kind of authoritarian parent.