Education Law

Can You Drop Out of School? Should You?

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According to the Education and Labor Committee of the US House of Representatives, across the US:

  • About 7,000 students drop out of school every day
  • Only about 70 percent of students graduate from high school with a regular high school diploma, as opposed to getting a General Educational Development (GED) diploma or certificate

Are you thinking of joining these dropouts?

The question of whether you can drop out of school isn't a hard question to answer. Really, it's just a matter of looking at the laws of your state. There you'll find out how old you need to be to quit school and how your parents' consent or permission comes into play.

You may have to look harder at the laws to answer a deeper, more important question: Should you drop out? There are consequences to dropping out.

Can You: Legal Mechanics

Every state has laws about "Compulsory schooling." Basically, it means all children must start school by a certain age and must stay in school until they reach a certain age. For example, in some states, children are required to start school when they turn five years old, and they have to stay in school until they turn 18. These ages are different from state to state.

Once a student reaches the age set by the law, he's no longer required by law to go to school. He can, if he wishes, drop out and quit. As a general rule, a student this age doesn't need permission from his parents or the school to drop out.

Can you drop out before you reach that age? In most states you'll need your parents' permission, and that's all. In some states, school officials have to approve, too. That's because in many states, not even parents can get around the compulsory school laws - you're required by law to go to school and your parents can't ignore or override that law.

There are some exceptions, though. In some states, you may be allowed to drop out before you reach the age when compulsory school ends in your state if:

  • Your parents agree with your decision to drop out, and
  • You pass a high school equivalency test or get a GED

Without both, you're still required to go to school.

Don't just stop going to school if you're still covered by the compulsory school law. If you're supposed to be in school and you simply don't go, it's called "truancy," and both you and your parents may face legal problems. You and your parents may have to pay fines, or a court may force you to do community service or complete a truancy program.

Should You: The Consequences

You don't want a lecture, and no one wants to give you one. But you need to know there are consequences to dropping out. For example, think about jobs:

  • According to the US Department of Labor, full-time workers age 25 and over who don't have a high school diploma on average made $448 per week, while workers of the same age with a high school diploma (and no college) made $624 per week. That's a difference of $176 per week, or over $9,000 per year
  • Do you have a job lined-up? A lot employers are more willing to hire someone with a high school diploma over someone with a GED. Think about it. If a student doesn't want to go to school because he's bored or just doesn't "feel like it," is an employer going to run the risk that the student isn't going to show up for work because he doesn't feel like working?
  • You may be able to quit school without your parents' permission, but state and federal child labor laws require your parents' permission for you to work - especially if you plan on working during normal school hours. these laws also make it illegal for people under 18 to do some jobs at all

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students who drop out of high school are more likely to get public assistance (that's "welfare," "WIC," or "food stamps" and other programs where the state helps you buy food, shelter, and clothing) than high school graduates who don't even go to college.

And there are some practical things to think about, too. In many states, high school drop outs can't get a driver's license, or even a learner's permit, until they turn 18 years old, even if the compulsory school laws let you drop out when you're 16 or 17. Some states make exceptions, though, for students who get GEDs.

College? There's no college without a high school diploma or a GED. And, sometimes a GED isn't enough. Some colleges and universities don't accept GEDs at all. Some may require you take a proficiency or placement test before they'll accept your application. Many colleges and universities look more favorably on a diploma because, as a general rule, students who earn them have learned more by being in school and have shown a commitment to their educations.


There may be some alternatives to dropping out. For example:

  • Try a different school. If you don't like some of the classes at your current school, or if you're having problems getting along with teachers and students, maybe another school is the answer. Talk to your parents or school counselor, or check online for schools in your area for school you can transfer to
  • How about homeschooling? Talk to your parents or another adult about finishing your education at home. A lot of high school students are home schooled
  • Distance learning is where you "go to school" online or over the internet. There are programs and schools to help you finish high school, get your diploma, and there are programs where you can get college credits while finishing high school
  • Special programs in your area may be available. Ask your local education or labor or jobs agency about programs where you can work and earn GED credits at the same time. Programs may involve part-time class work or instruction and part-time community service work, such as helping with cleaning up property, like vacant lots, parks or buildings

There may be many other options, too. You should talk to your parents or school counselor not only about your decision to drop out, but also the consequences of your decision and your alternatives. Education is important, and your decision needs to be made carefully.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If I drop out and later change my mind, does my old school have to take me back, and can I pick up where I left off, or will I have to start the whole grade over again?
  • Isn't it illegal for an employer to refuse to hire me simply because I didn't finish high school? Isn't that discrimination?
  • I consented to letting my daughter drop out of school because she was pregnant. I made a mistake and now want her to go back to school. Can I force her to go back?
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