What To Do After Dropping Out of High School

Are you wondering what to do after you drop out of high school? Whether you’ve already dropped out, or it’s something you’re thinking about, our goal here is to help educate you and to present the options. While it’s probably, in most cases, a better idea to *not* drop out of high school, we’re not here to try to convince you to stay in school beyond just sharing the opportunities that exist for dropouts, and how it may hinder some of your options later in life.

You probably have parents, guidance councilors, maybe even friends and other family members who are trying to convince you to stay in school. We’re just here to present you with some of the facts along with some opinions, so that you can add that into your decision making process. For some students, there are actually advantages to dropping out, and of course¬†there are disadvantages to dropping out of high school, too. Acknowledging that there are disadvantages doesn’t mean we’re trying to change your mind or manipulate your decision. Part of making adult decisions is weighing the pros and the cons, and gathering all of the information that you can find to factor into your choice.

Are you the type of student who doesn’t have the easiest time at school? It could be that you’re bored with high school, that you’re struggling and can’t find the support you need, that you got behind a bit in middle school and never really caught up, that you simply don’t have a lot of interest in being a college graduate let alone getting a high school diploma… whatever the reason is, there are many high school dropouts who decide to end their educational pursuits, at least temporarily. Life doesn’t end after you drop out of high school, so here’s what to do after dropping out of high school.

Working After High School

working after high school

You can work after dropping out. You may already have a career path in mind that doesn’t require high school, and that’s probably the best reason to drop out. If you don’t have a path in mind, consider some of these jobs for highschool dropouts.

The working life of a dropout, let’s be honest, isn’t going to be the easiest path for you. You can develop skills as you go, some employers will pay to give you additional training and courses that you can take to earn more money and learn new skills, but it’s no walk in the park.

Generally speaking, the lower that the barrier to entry is for a job, the less you’ll get paid and the less leverage you’ll have at that job. If you want to get a better paying job without an education, that usually means you’ll be working a tougher job, a very physical job, and in many cases, a more dangerous job. Just know this. Compared to finishing your last year or two of high school, or going back for a GED in the evenings, dropping out is a tougher path. It might not seem like it now, but unless you already have a career and job path in mind, you’re in for a tough time. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, many people go this route and are content with their lives, but many people regret it, too, and end up having kids and being stuck in the rat race and going back to school after dropping out becomes very, very difficult. Generally speaking, the easiest way to graduate is to face it head on once you’re already there, if you can.

Vocational Schools, Community Colleges, Etc.

Some courses will require that you have, at least, certain high school credits complete but others may not. Take a look into what’s available near you, and what the requirements are. Ideally, you’ll do this before dropping out. If the difference between taking a career course that interests you or not, comes down to having one or two certain high school credits, we hope that you’ll tough it out and get those credits before dropping out, right? So, a little bit of planning ahead here can go a long time. You can do this, whatever your plans are, just be smart about it.

If you hate high school, you won’t hate career classes as badly. They are designed with the sole purpose of preparing you for working a certain job, so as long as that job is something that interests you at least a little bit, you’ll enjoy that a lot more than trying to memorize dates for history class or formulas for math class. Vocational schools are usually a lot more hands on, so you feel like you’re really accomplishing something and working towards a specific goal. Many students have an easier time with this, compared to a regular high school course load. Every year college courses at places like Harvard seem to get more expensive and more out of reach for regular people, but there is probably a school level special program that will teach you what you need to know, where you can earn some college credit, and that will prepare you for a job in the labor market.

Not all young people are interested in becoming super success people, by the traditional definition. Maybe your brain just isn’t a supercomputer, maybe you don’t care about earning numerous honorary degrees or similar programs. Knowing yourself, and what matters to you, whether it’s acting classes or a doctorate degree, is a key aspect of finding happiness and success in life.

Ideas of What To Do After Dropping Out of High School

Here are some additional ideas that might interest you. These are courses or classes you can take without a high school diploma, and jobs that you may want to consider, too. Finding work will ensure that you don’t become a part of the national unemployment rate.

Performing arts: Whether you study music, acting school, or something else – if you have a talent, this could be worth pursuing while you’re still young and you can try different things. 

Medical research: Company will pay money for you to participate in various types of medical research studies. 

Lumber mill: This is a tough physical job, but the money is good and you’ll get in great shape.

Virgin Group: Richard Brandon, the CEO of Virgin, famously dropped out so one would imagine that their company would have some options available for young people who dropped out, either because they hate school, they come from a poor background, or whatever the case may be. If any company can recognize that there’s more to success and greatness than a diploma, it should be them.

“Help! I want to drop out of high school.”

You’re not alone, everyone feels like this from time to time. The first step is to ask yourself why you want to drop out.

  • Is it something that can be fixed or addressed?
  • Are you being bullied, do you feel unsafe at school?
  • Are you just fed up with the same routine everyday?
  • Are you suffering from depression, anxiety, or other health issues?

Unfortunately, some people look at a dropout and just think “that person wasn’t smart enough to finish school,” but honestly there are many different reasons for students to struggle in high school, it’s a nuanced discussion. Whatever your personal reasons are for wanting to drop out, that’s your decision. Having said that, we encourage you to think long and hard about why you’re dropping out and whether or not there are solutions to whatever is pushing you towards this decision. Again, we’re not here to lecture you, you’re either an adult or you’re close to being an adult, and this will be one of your first big decisions. Make it carefully, but know that whatever you choose, there are always options, second chances, and many years ahead of you to do whatever you want to do.

In today’s strange world, it’s totally normal to feel uncomfortable about going to school during a global pandemic. It’s a weird feeling to have to put your trust in the government, when you don’t feel like they’re looking out for your best interest. You may feel like just saying “screw it”, and not going back. Frankly, if you have a compromised immune system or you’re overweight or you have asthma or anything else that puts you in a higher risk group, it’s pretty understandable. It would be hard to blame you if you decided to drop your classes for a semester or two until things blow over, then to start back up. It’s not ideal, but you could always get a head start on some vocational courses, or take some other online classes that interest you, whether or not you’ll get credits for them. There are countless courses on all sorts of subjects on sites like Coursera, and while you won’t get credits for them, it’s still a great way to explore different topics of study. You may find a new passion, and once it’s all said and done, you could be in a pretty good position to finish up your high school diploma and pursue something you’d never imagined before.

What happens to teens who leave high school and work instead?

Some teens drop out of high school to work and never go back to school, some will return to high school later on, some will work for a year or a few years and then go to a trade/vocational school, there are a lot of different paths.

If you decide to drop out, be prepared to work. Be prepared to have a boss breathing down your neck, be prepared to be treated poorly at certain jobs… it’s not a guarantee that you’ll have a bad experience, but many employers will see drop outs as “replaceable” or “disposable”, and you won’t always get a fair shake. Look, it sucks. It’s not fair. Even if you drop out, you’re still a person and you still deserve respect. 

Poverty Rates for High School Dropouts

Are you motivated by money? People who drop out, statistically speaking, are much more likely to live in poverty. When we’re looking at college dropouts, nearly one third will live in poverty, whereas college grads who get a bachelor’s degree, at least, have a poverty rate that is less than half of that.

“The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (pbs.org)

It’s entirely possible that you aren’t all that motivated by money, and you like to just do things you enjoy, make enough money to get by, and live your life. When you’re still in high school, it’s not always easy to see the forest through the trees. You’ve got a long, long life ahead of you. 

“According to Pew Research Center , America’s high school dropout rate hit a record low in 2016. Only six percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 had dropped out. That resulted in a high school graduation rate of 84.1 percent the highest on record.” (trade-schools.net)

Do Successful High School Dropouts Exist?

successful high school dropouts

There are plenty of dropouts who are successful, and part of that comes down to how you define success. If success means that you’ve got a great education, you’re book smart and well-read, you made a ton of connections with fancy and powerful people at an Ivy League school, you got a fancy job that pays really well… then dropping out is not a great path to achieve that, obviously. But if you have a few hobbies, you live somewhere with a relatively low cost of living, you don’t need a ton of money to be happy, and you’re happy working tougher or physical jobs, and ideally you’re pretty decent at budgeting and saving money and stretching a penny, and you just want to have time to do things you enjoy and to live a lowkey, low-stress life, then you can still be wildly successful without graduating. Some people will hate that we’re saying this, but it’s true. Some people like renting a small apartment or putting down a payment on a humble house, they like fishing on the weekends down the road, they like hiking and going for walks, they like playing games, they don’t really care about having fancy cars or travelling a ton… and that’s perfectly fine. Live for yourself, just make sure that you aren’t settling because you only get one life.

If certain things are important to you, and getting a great job and making a lot of money is the only way to achieve those things, then you’ll have a harder time achieving success. If you’re perfectly happy finding joy and success in other non-material ways, you can get a head start on that by not spending any more time sitting in a class, being miserable. It is what it is. It’s almost always a better idea to tough it out and get that diploma, if you can, since it just opens a lot more doors and will make life incrementally easier for you, but if you have to drop out, it doesn’t mean your entire life is going to be trash from now on.

Granted, there are a lot of famous high school drop outs, but that’s not a very realistic career path. Here’s the truth, you can look at these stats and get discouraged, you can look at these stats and decide you want to try to find a way to stay in high school, or you can look at these stats and think “I’m not another statistic. I’m going to make something out of myself, with or without a high school diploma.”

You Can Always Finish Your Diploma Later

If you do drop out, that doesn’t mean you can never go back. Depending on where you live, you may be able to return to your same high school if too much time hasn’t passed yet, but even if it’s been a while – you can get a GED, which has jokingly been referred to as a “good enough degree.” Dropout rates vary from state to state in America, but you don’t have to become another stat.

Why Do Students Decide to Drop Out?

Often times the seed gets planted in middle school, and it stems from a lack of self-confidence. If a student has a tough time with math at first, they can get left behind as the class gets more and more advanced, and without some special help, it can be very tough to catch up. It’s overwhelming. When a student starts to believe they’re just not good at school, they may start skipping class, and just not taking it as seriously.

Many students who struggle in school with that they had more academic assistance in class. With large class rooms and stressed-out, underpaid teachers, there isn’t always help and support for every student. Thankfully, you can find lessons on YouTube for any subject you can imagine, so if you’re willing to take matters into your own hands, we promise you can get through this.

But if you decide that school just isn’t for you, that’s your call – just make sure you’re really exploring all of your options, and make sure that you have a plan. Before you worry about what to do after dropping out of high school, think about what to do before dropping out.

Mat Woods

Author Information

Mat Woods is the lead writer at TeenWire.org. He works tirelessly alongside the rest of the team to create useful, well-researched, trustworthy articles to help parents and their teens.