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