Is it legal to leave school?

Yes, it is legal in all 50 states, regardless of your age.

In Massachusetts, if you have reached your 16th birthday, you can simply stop going to school. In other states this age might be higher or lower.

If you have not reached your 16th birthday, you will have to register as a homeschooler. This process is very straightforward.

But I’m not a homeschooler. Both my parents work. (Or I have a single parent. Or I have a stay-at-home parent, but s/he couldn’t teach me French. Or I don’t have a chemistry lab at home, so how am I supposed to learn science?)

“Homeschooler” is your legal status. It doesn’t mean someone has to give you an education identical to the one you would have gotten in school. Although some homeschooling families do re-create school at home, complete with desks, blackboards, textbooks, and the Pledge of Allegiance, this is rare. If you are old enough to be home alone without a babysitter, you are old enough to homeschool without parental supervision. You can take classes, join activities, find an internship or part-time job, and learn on your own.

Of course, life is always smoother if you and your parents are on the same page, and if they support your educational plan. But you don’t need someone to stay home with you every day and teach you.

How can I get into college if I don’t have a high school diploma?

Very few colleges require a diploma. They do require you to show that you are capable of doing college-level work, but there are many ways to do this. See our College Admissions FAQ for a longer discussion of this subject.

If you would feel more comfortable earning a diploma, or you need one for other reasons (for example, a diploma is required for some jobs, or by some branches of the military), you can earn one through an alternative school. See the Alternative High Schools and Massachusetts Resources sections for more information.

I’d like to get out of school, but I know I’d miss my friends.

Your friends will still exist, even if you’re not in English class with them. Most students who choose this path keep their school friends, but also develop new friendships through the classes and activities they take once they leave school.

Be aware, though, that if you opt out of school, you will also be opting out of school culture. In other words, you will probably keep your friends, but you’ll lose access to up-to-the-minute news and gossip. You can probably still go to prom as the invited guest of a friend, but you won’t be on the prom planning committee. If you love participating in play, you’ll have many out-of-school opportunites to participate in theater, but you won’t be part of the school theater production. And you can still participate in music and sports, but you might not be part of a high-profile high school team.*

Some students are fine with this. (In fact, some students choose to leave high school precisely because they want to devote themselves to out-of-school activities at a serious, pre-professional level, rather than limiting themselves to school extracurriculars.) But other students really enjoy being part of the social community of high school, and would feel lonely if they found themselves outside it. Deciding which kind of student you are might be one of the most adult decisions you’ll have to make at this point in your life.

In our experience, most parents can be convinced of the academic advantages of independent education, but are reluctant to let their children leave school because they believe that the social experience of high school – even when it’s negative – is beneficial in the long run. If you truly want to leave school, you’ll have to convince your parents that you do not intend to become a basement-dwelling loner. Explain why you want to leave school, but also stress what you’d like to do instead, once you have more free time.

In most cases the relationships you’ll develop through out-of-school endeavors will be more diverse, and better preparation for the Real World, than the ones you would have made in school where you were sitting next to 25 same-age classmates year after year.

[*Note: Sometimes you can continue participating in school sports and extracurriculars. This is uncommon and policies vary by the school district, but if it’s important to you, it’s worth inquiring.]

So I’d leave school… and then what? What would I do all day?

That’s up to you! If you could design your own education, what would it look like? For some ideas, see our Resources section.

Photography credit: Laura Fokkena