High school graduation requirements vary by states and districts, but students generally have to complete classes in a number of core subject areas, including English, math, social studies and science. Other requirements could include completing community service and coursework in personal finance or technology, along with passing tests in core subject areas.
Graduation requirements have changed a lot since parents were in school, says Brittanie Davis, a school counselor at Kokomo High School in Indiana. Expectations for students are higher and teens are more stressed, she says.
Navigating the maze of graduation guidelines can be a challenge. Parents can use the following tips to help teens fulfill requirements and graduate on time.
1. Learn as much as possible about requirements early: As students transition from middle to high school, there should be many opportunities through curriculum fairs, evening presentations and similar events for families to learn what is required for graduation, says Jennifer Grossman, a school counselor at Staley High School in Missouri.
A course planning guide or similar documents should be available for families to reference each year too, she says. And parents can visit school websites and speak with counselors to learn more.
Davis says parents should know some schools have additional tasks students must complete that go beyond their state’s minimum graduation requirements. Graduation requirements may not also include all that is required to get into some colleges, such as earning credits in a foreign language.
Parents should start learning about graduation requirements in middle school, Davis says. If parents notice a middle school student is struggling in a particular area required for a diploma, they could then help him or her get the resources needed to build a strong foundation before high school.
2. Be aware of the types of students who struggle: Students who always have struggled academically consistently in the past and those with social-emotional issues, such as students who move a lot, may have a hard time meeting graduation requirements, Grossman says.
Parents should be proactive in contacting school counselors to see how they can help their student graduate on time, Davis says.
Grossman tells parents to monitor their high schooler’s grades – many schools have online platforms to do this – and intervene if they notice a drop in performance by midsemester. Don’t wait until the end of the course.
If these students fall behind, a parent-meeting with school counselors is critical to determine what students need to graduate, she says. There may be alternative ways students can earn credits – online or through summer school, for instance, and other supports available like tutoring.
And if a student is struggling in a particular required class, parents should advocate on the teen’s behalf to see if there’s alternatives, Davis says.
Parents should be open to other ideas of how to get a diploma, Davis says. Indiana offers an alternative diploma for students who struggle, she says. It won’t prepare students for a four-year college, but allows students to graduate and get a job, attend community college or go to trade school, she says.
3. Help students pace themselves: Many families want to rush to complete general education requirements early in high school, Grossman says, but students could overload themselves or miss an opportunity – since there could be more electives to take.
Some students who overload themselves with requirements early in high school, reach senior year and have very little to do. “They get a little bored,” she says. They might start to tune out, think about early graduation or lose focus. “They don’t feel as pressured.”
Seniors don’t want to waste that year, she says, as it is important for college.
“Pacing is important,” she says. “Having a well-thought-out four-year plan is very important.”