Becca Foote, 18, was motivated to finish high school in three years. She took online classes during the summer and doubled up on history and geography classes. Sometimes it was difficult, but for her, it was well worth it.
“I wanted to study chemistry and then go to med school and become a psychiatrist, and that takes a lot of time and a lot of money,” she explained. “Graduating early would give me the opportunity to get as many of my undergraduate and graduate requirements done as soon as possible.”
Last spring, Becca graduated a year ahead of her class at Eminence Jr./Sr. High School in Eminence, Ind. She had started her first semester at Indiana University in Bloomington when her high school counselor contacted her with more good news: It looked like she might qualify for a new scholarship that was just approved by the Indiana General Assembly.
The Mitch Daniels Early Graduation Scholarship, which began in 2011, is for public-school students, like Becca, who graduate from high school in three years. The scholarship is a one-time award of $4,000 and it goes directly to a qualified in-state college or university. Eligible students must graduate at the end of their junior year with a Core 40 diploma. They must finish their last high school class by July 1 and start post-secondary classes within five months of graduation.
Applying for the scholarship is simple. Students must first file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is generally required for any college student seeking financial aid. They also must file a state scholarship application, which is filled out by both the student and officials at his/her high school. The emphasis is on verifying that the student adequately completed the required courses in a timely manner.
Thirteen students have qualified for the Mitch Daniels scholarship this school year, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Many had already planned on graduating a semester early but speeded up their timetable when they heard that they might qualify for the scholarship.
“I think they all planned on graduating early anyway, and then finding out about the scholarship was sort of an added bonus to them,” said Drew Sager, a guidance counselor at Eminence Jr./Sr. High School, who helped Becca graduate early and is assisting three more students who hope to do the same.
Another student who chose to graduate in three years is Andrew Danner, 17, a junior at Hoosier Academies High School, a charter school on the city’s Eastside that has several juniors ready to graduate.
Andrew came to the academy last semester with 41 credits. “They told me I could graduate, so I decided I wanted to graduate,” he said. “All I needed was the senior English class.”
For students interested in graduating in three years, early preparation is essential. To receive a basic Core 40 diploma, students must have 8 credits of English, 6 credits of math, 6 credits of science, and 6 credits social studies, among other requirements, for a total of 40 credit hours minimum. One semester equals a credit hour.
Planning can start as early as middle school. In some districts, seventh- and eighth-graders can take advanced math and/ or science classes. Doing so can help interested students get an early jump on the credits they need before they even reach high school.
In addition, students must work closely with a counselor throughout high school to make sure that they are able to finish the required courses in time. They may need to take online classes or attend summer school to be able to get all of the credits that they need. Other sacrifices may need to be made, such as forgoing study halls, fine arts and performing arts classes.
“I took online school over the summer so that I could fit everything into my schedule. Then while in high school, I would double up on geography classes and history classes and science classes and cut out like home ec or art,” Becca explained.
Destiney Cunningham, 15, a sophomore at William Henry Harrison High School in West Lafayette, is now charting her course to graduate in three years. Unlike Becca, she won’t have to take summer school, and she’s managed to fit in some extracurricular classes that she had wanted to take.
“I’ve taken choir, which is just the basic. I’ve taken child development and OLC, which is Orientation to Life and Careers, and I’ve taken IPR, which is Interpersonal Relationships,” she said.
Destiney is confident that she’ll be able to fit in her remaining requirements next year. “I just feel like I’m ready to work harder my junior year with the junior and senior classes,” she said.
All of this planning can be stressful, however. Doubling up on classes can be overwhelming, and summer classes can eat into precious free time.
“Probably the most difficult part was finding the motivation to wake up on a lazy Wednesday in the middle of the summer to get up to do three, four hours of classwork,” Becca said.
However, most of the students took their speeded up schedules in stride.
“I just felt like I was ready for it,” Destiney said.
For early graduates, there may be social implications as well. Some may miss out on senior year experiences, such as senior prom or academic honors programs. However, none of these students said they felt short-changed.
In addition, while some of their friends do not support a shortened high school career, most do.
“Some of my friends think it’s crazy and that I can’t do it, and then other friends are definitely encouraging me to do it,” Destiney said.
Despite these possible aggravations and strains, all of the students are happy to be able to go to college early and thus start their careers earlier.
“My goals have always been to go with management and then own my own business,” said Destiney, who plans to double major in culinary arts. “And I have the opportunity to go to Purdue, so I feel by graduating early, I can get started on that sooner.”
Andrew, too, wants to get a head start on his mechanical engineering studies at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. “I plan on a traditional four years, but I’m probably going to be staying longer ’cause I plan to go for a master’s degree,” he said.
Reporter Laura Rodgers, 12, and assistant editors Caroline Gardner, 14, and Quinn Andrews, 18, contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 Y-Press