It’s October, and the back-to-school magic has worn off. Reality is setting in. High school is slowly sucking the life from you — and you’re going to spend the next seven months here.
Maybe you go to a “good” school. Maybe you have caring teachers, empathetic administrators, or a project-based curriculum. None of this makes up for the fact that, essentially, you’re stuck in a trap of someone else’s design.
You spend your days sitting in a sterile room, compelled to do work you don’t care about. You’re prohibited from learning at your own pace and surrounded by stressed-out peers. You enjoy little opportunity for sleep, self-care, or developing (let alone discovering) the interests and talents that will help you stand out as an adult.
But what can you do? You want to keep the doors to college open. You want a good job when you’re older. So you have to finish high school, right?
Wrong. While a high-school diploma may have been needed when your parents and teachers were teenagers, the world has changed. Finishing high school is not mandatory for college admissions, decent jobs, or pretty much anything else.
I’m not saying that everyone quit high school or that we should close all schools. I’m saying that, for a certain type of teenager, high school does more harm than good.
You know these students, and perhaps you’re one of them: the bright-but-bored, the diligent-but-rebellious, the motivated-but-disaffected. The entrepreneurs-in-embryo. Those who work incredibly hard on self-chosen projects but balk at the first whiff of compulsion.
Such teens can be found across the country, the income spectrum, and the GPA distribution. If just two in a classroom of 30 fit this mold, that’s more than a million teenagers in the United States alone for whom another day of school is a day of wasted time, deteriorating mental health, budding nihilism, and strained family relationships.
Thankfully, in America, you can quit school without mortgaging your future.
There are straightforward, low-risk options like joining a virtual high school — many of which are state-funded — where you can complete schoolwork at your own pace. Or you might enroll in community college and begin earning college credits while finishing high school through a dual-enrollment program.
Homeschooling is another option. Free and legal in all 50 states — and largely unregulated — homeschooling grants you carte blanche to seize control of your education. Forget the stereotype of mom teaching algebra at the kitchen table: homeschooling today looks more like micro-schooling, world-schooling, and unschooling. If your family is single-income or single-parent, homeschooling can still work: get your parents onboard by googling homeschool advice blogs and local support groups. Show them the reports of homeschoolers’ high test scores and grown unschoolers’ life satisfaction.
Alternative schools in the US are everywhere, and they extend far beyond the realm of Montessori and Waldorf. Democratic free schools (like Sudbury schools), teen self-directed learning centers (like Liberated Learners), and other innovative models (like Agile Learning Centers) provide small, caring communities where much is offered and almost nothing is required. Careful not to become mere bastions of privilege, many alternative schools offer generous fee reductions and sliding-scale tuitions. You might be surprised by the options in your local area — take a look.
Homeschooling and alternative schools can feel scary because they seldom offer accredited high school diplomas. Can you still get into college and find a decent job if you take such a radically different path?
For college admissions, alternatively educated teens typically take a few community college classes and standardized tests (like the SAT, ACT, or lesser-known CLEP tests) to prove their academic merit. They also put together a homemade transcript that explains their non-traditional educational path (like this one I created for a teen world-schooler). Unsurprisingly colleges love such applicants for their self-motivation and genuine desire to attend college.
Self-directed teens who don’t attend college often gravitate toward the arts (where performance matters more than credentials), tech (where companies increasingly don’t require college degrees), skilled trades (where well-paid jobs remain unfilled), and entrepreneurship. Some take the GED and start working. Some take a gap year (or two) and then go to college a few years older and wiser. Alumni surveys from long-running alternative schools (like this and this) reveal that graduates do well, whether or not they attend college.
Yes, there will always be some “failure to launch” cases — those teens who don’t go to college or get decent jobs — but plenty of high-school graduates end up in their parent’s basements, too. At least the alternatively-educated get to avoid some of the stress, boredom, and bullying of traditional school.
You live in the best time and place, ever, to embrace self-directed learning. You can opt out of the traditional system and keep the doors open to good jobs and higher education. This is a privilege that young people in other countries would die for. Why not take advantage of it?
If high school works for you, wonderful. If it doesn’t, then quit. A better life awaits.