A Better Future Starts With Your High School Diploma

Did you drop out of high school? You're not alone.

In 2020, 8.9% of students in California did not complete high school, including 9.5% of students in Los Angeles County. There are many reasons why a young person may leave high school before graduating. Sometimes it's personal issues, such as an unexpected pregnancy, struggles with addiction, or an illness or death in the family. Some students fall behind-- either because of academic struggles, a language barrier, or too many missed class days-- and have to repeat classes and grade levels until they eventually age out of the traditional school system. Other young people may feel forced to leave school to get a full-time job and support their family financially. Our students have cited frequent bullying, the deportation of a parent or family member, and homelessness and housing instability as some of the reasons why they left school before graduating. Many students say they simply felt disconnected from their education, whether that was due to a lack of parent or teacher support, difficulty with a high-stakes testing environment, or schoolwork that didn't seem relevant to their lives outside of school.

Regardless of why a young person drops or is pushed out of high school, there is a good chance they'll eventually realize that earning their high school diploma is necessary if they want to have a better future for themselves and their family. Here are a few reasons why.

6 Reasons Why Earning Your High School Diploma is Worth the Time and Effort:

1.) A high school diploma increases your earning potential 

a graduate wears a necklace made of dollar billsAlthough it may seem like a good idea in the short-term to drop out of school to get a full-time job (whether you want to make your own money or you need to support your family), you are greatly decreasing your lifetime earning potential by doing so.  According to a 2011 report from NPR titled A High School Dropout's Midlife Hardships, "40 million Americans [...] never graduated from high school. Most of these people, about 60 percent, are between 40 and 70 years old, according to the American Council on Education. About 9 in 10 have never earned more than $40,000."

According to data from the Census Bureau’s 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS), median earnings for full-time workers ages 25 through 34 who had not completed high school ($26,000) were lower than those of workers whose highest education level was high school completion ($32,000), an associate’s degree ($39,000), or a bachelor’s or higher degree ($55,000). And according to a 2017 report from the Graduation Alliance, "Lifetime earnings of high school dropouts are $260,000 LESS than peers who earn a diploma."

And you might be thinking, "Well what if I just get my GED? Isn't that faster?" It turns out, the decision to get your GED instead of your high school diploma can also affect your earning potential. According to data from the Census Bureau, "GED certificate holders had lower earnings than those who earned a regular high school diploma regardless of sex, race and ethnicity or age. Overall, high school diploma holders earned approximately $4,700 in mean monthly earnings compared with GED certificate holders, who earned $3,100." Furthermore, "GED certificate holders earned less than high school diploma recipients even when they did achieve higher education. Among adults who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, the mean earnings of those who earned a high school diploma were approximately $6,300, while the earnings of those who earned a GED certificate were approximately $4,900."

Not only can you earn more money if you have your diploma, there are also many more job opportunities available to you...


2.) A high school diploma makes you more competitive and increases your employment opportunities

Data shows that you are more likely to be employed if you have a high school diploma. According to 2017 Census data, among 25- to 34-year-olds in the labor force, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts (13 percent) was higher than the unemployment rate of those whose highest level of educational attainment was a high school credential (7 percent).

a YouthBuild student filling out a job application

These days, many employers won't even consider hiring someone who doesn't have their high school diploma. Additionally, your chances of getting promoted or given an opportunity for a more advanced position at your workplace increase if you have a diploma. As the job market starts to become more competitive, having your diploma will give you an advantage and expand your employment opportunities.

Here are just a few good-paying jobs that only require a high school diploma: mail carrier ($17.26/hr), firefighter ($44,830/year), police officer ($54,167/year), industrial mechanic ($23.12/hr), and public transportation operator ($62,643/year). 

Additionally, once you've earned your high school diploma, it opens up pathways to 4-year college/university, community college, trade school, apprenticeships, and other certificate/credential programs...


3.) A high school diploma opens up the doors to college or trade school

Once you've earned your high school diploma, the doors to higher education (and higher pay) open up to you. Whether you choose to go to community college, a 4-year college or university, or trade school, more education can lead to more opportunities, and increased earning potential. 

Just take a look at the chart below from a 2021 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) report titled The College Payoff: 

chart showing lifetime earnings from people with various levels of education

With each additional level of education, your potential lifetime earnings increases. With a bachelor's degree, you can expect to make an average of $70,000 annually, compared to just $26,000 on average without a high school diploma. Additionally, you are more likely to be employed if you are a college graduate. According to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data, only 2.6% of college graduates were unemployed, far less than the national average.
YouthBuild students visit Cal State FresnoMost people find a college education to be extremely beneficial. An October 2021 survey from the Pew Research Center noted that the majority of college graduates said "their college education was extremely or very useful when it came to helping them grow personally and intellectually (79%), opening doors to job opportunities (70%) and developing specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (65%)." Those with college degrees also tend to live healthier and longer lives. According to data from the APLU: "Bachelor’s degree holders are 47 percent more likely to have health insurance provided through their job and their employers contribute 74 percent more to their health coverage. Life expectancy is also longer for those who attend college. Studies suggest that those who have attended at least some college can expect to live seven years longer than their peers with no postsecondary education."
You don't necessarily need a Bachelor's degree to find a good job that makes good money. Here are some great paying jobs you can get with just an Associate's degree: air traffic controller ($124,540 median salary), radiation therapist ($80,570), dental hygienist ($74,070), registered nurse/ADN RN ($70,000), paralegal ($49,500), and HVAC installer ($45,910) to name a few. And other jobs just require some college classes or a certification program. For example, once you've earned your high school diploma, you could go on to attend classes at a technical school to become a wind turbine technician (the second fastest growing job in the United States) making an average of $56,260 a year. Other jobs only requiring a certificate program include: surgical technologist ($49,710), mechanic ($53,370), and web developer ($77,200).
Even if you don't plan to go to college, having your high school diploma can open doors to other career pathways, such as the construction and building trades...


4.) Want an apprenticeship leading to a good paying union job in the construction and building trades? You'll probably need a diploma.

two YouthBuild construction students in hard hats operating a circular sawFor students who are not interested in college but are still looking to get a good-paying job, an apprenticeship is an excellent option. Apprenticeship is defined as "an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally-recognized credential." According to Apprenticeship.gov, "93% of apprentices who complete an apprenticeship retain employment, with an average annual salary of $77,000." But if you want to be an apprentice, chances are you need a high school diploma!

Although no experience is required of a new apprentice, "most Registered Apprenticeship programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED certificate." Here are just a few registered apprenticeship programs in California that require a high school diploma or GED: Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Automotive, Bricklayer, Carpenter, Culinary & Pastry, Drywall-Lathing, Electrician, Glazier, Ironworker, Painter, Plumber, Sheet Metal, and more. With a high school diploma, you have lots of excellent apprenticeship options available to you, which can lead to great-paying union jobs.

At YouthBuild Charter School of California, students can also take advantage of the opportunity to receive pre-apprenticeship training in construction while enrolled. This will make you an even better candidate for an apprenticeship after you graduate. 

Want a first-hand account of how an apprenticeship can be a life-changing opportunity, look no further than Rafael Alvarado, a graduate of Compton YouthBuild's construction pre-apprenticeship program! Rafael "knew he wanted more opportunities than his job as a supervisor at a South Los Angeles Walmart could provide," and Compton YouthBuild's training program taught him the skills he needed to access opportunities in the construction field. Since completing the program, "Alvarado is now a fourth-level carpenter apprentice on his way to becoming a journeyman, where he can make $56 an hour..Now, at 26, he is a newly minted homeowner."

An apprenticeship can be a pathway to a steady and great-paying job, but it all starts with your high school diploma!


5.) Want to join the military? It really helps to have a diploma! a YouthBuild student talks to a military recruiter at a Career Day event

All branches of the Armed Forces require members to be high school graduates or have equivalent credentials, such as the GED, but it is much more difficult to enlist if you have your GED compared to your diploma. Why? Enlistment officers would rather recruit young people who earned their high school diplomas because it costs a lot to train new recruits, and GED-holders are seen as a riskier investment. According to the Department of Defense, "research continues to show that education attainment of youth predicts first-term military attrition." GED holders have a 45% military dropout rate compared to 24% of high school diploma holders. As such, "service programs are required to ensure that a minimum of 90 percent of non-prior service (NPS) recruits are high school diploma graduates." The Air Force enlists less than 1% of recruits without a high school diploma, the Marines no more than 5% and the Army and Navy no more than 5 to 10%. In 2021, 94.2% of Regular Army recruits and 97.4% of Army Reserve recruits had a high school diploma
Although GED holders can still enlist in the military, their pathway is more difficult, and their options may be more limited. Since all military branches must ensure that a minimum of 90% of their recruits have high school diplomas, there are always more GED-holders who apply to enlist than there are slots available for them. GED-holders must also score higher on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a test which evaluates a recruit's cognitive abilities and determines which occupations they might be best suited for, than recruits with high school diplomas. In 1987, the Department of Defense implemented a three-tier classification of education credentials for the military: Tier 1 for high school diploma holders, Tier 2 for GED or high school equivalency holders, and Tier 3 for those without a diploma or equivalency. In order for a GED holder enlisting in the Army to move to Tier 1, they'd need to complete 15 college credits and score above the 50th percentile on the ASVAB. ("Whereas army recruits with high school or college diplomas only need a score of 31 and above to qualify, GED army recruits are required to score 50 percent and above in order to enlist.")
So while it's not impossible for someone with a GED to join the military, the pathway to military service is much easier if you have your high school diploma.

6.) It gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment

Making the decision to go back to school, especially if you've been out of school for years, can be difficult, but there is nothing like the sense of accomplishment you'll feel when you walk across the stage at graduation. When we ask our seniors, "Who or what motivated you to graduate?" Many of them say, "I did it for myself so I could have a better future," or "I did it for my children to show them the importance of an education." Earning your high school diploma is a way for you to show yourself, your family, your friends, and the people around you that you have the self-motivation, grit, dedication, resilience, and work ethic it takes to be successful in the world. It demonstrates that you believe in yourself and your potential, and others will see that potential in you too.

There are always more challenges and obstacles in this life, but if you remember that you pushed yourself relentlessly to finally finish your credits and earn your diploma, you will be able to do the same for anything you face in the future. 

At the end of the day, making the decision to go back to school is entirely up to YOU, but when you see the doors of opportunity that open up once you've earned your diploma, you'll be glad you did.

a Compton graduate in his cap and gown jumps for joy


It's not too late to graduate!

If you are looking for a second chance to earn your high school diploma, YouthBuild Charter School of California can help. We are a free, accredited public charter high school with 15 campuses in Southern California. Our classroom-based program features small class sizes, one-on-one support from teachers and counselors, job training opportunities and a unique project-based learning model, rooted in community action. We have year-round, open-enrollment. You can get started today by filling out our enrollment interest form here.