For a long time, the NCAA was mostly concerned with athletes graduating late from high school. Athletes who were short on their core courses or just wanted another year to develop physically would be held back or attend a year or two of prep school. And during those extra years, athletes might load up on courses and magically become eligible.
With the growth of midyear enrollees in football as well as the expansion of graduating early in other sports, leaving school before an athlete’s time rather than after is becoming a bigger issue. Deciding to graduate early is a major decision and one that can trip up an athlete’s eligibility.
A quick disclaimer: Whether an athlete should graduate early is one of those “If you have to ask, the answer is no” questions. Normally an athlete will only be graduating early if the university has suggested it. In those cases, the coaches or compliance office at the school will be in close contact with the prospect to make sure they meet the requirements ahead of time.
Ocassionally though, it makes sense for an athlete to be the one that suggests and pushes for early graduation. Athletes might also feel like they have questions or concerns that are not addressed by the school recruiting them. This guide is for those athletes.
Step One: Decide and Commit to Early Graduation ASAP
The sooner you decide you want to graduate early, the easier it will be. Remember that you will need to meet requirements designed to take four years in three and a half or even three years in some cases. The earlier you start this process, the less scrambling you will need to do at the end.
In addition to deciding, you need to commit to graduating early. Wavering back and forth is as bad or even worse than making a late decision to move up your graduation date. Early graduation is a major decision, one that you and your family may end up investing much time and money to make happen. Going back and forth will not only make graduating early harder, but could cause you issues with your eligibility based on a normal graduation date.
Step Two: Make Sure You Can Graduate Early
Many public schools restrict or prevent early graduation. Public schools receive their funding based on the number of pupils enrolled, and budget assuming that almost all students who start in the fall will be there in the spring. Private schools face the same challenge with budgeting tuition, but are often more flexible than public schools.
Check with your counselor or principal to make sure the school allows early graduation. If it does not, you may need to transfer to a new high school, normally a private school, to finish early. Online schools are particularly flexible, but you must make sure the NCAA has approved any online high school or coursework you plan to take.
Step Three: Get Ahead
To graduate early, you must meet all the requirements in a semester or two fewer than intended. In theory, you can make up the extra courses in the last semester, but that carries more risk. The better tactic is to spread the additional credits out over as long a period as possible.
The NCAA is also cracking down on athletes who are behind and in danger of not qualifying at all, but somehow manage to graduate and meet initial eligibility requirements early. To avoid extra scrutiny, get ahead as early as possible so your early graduation does not look too good to be true.
Step Four: Remember All the Requirements
To graduate and enroll early, athletes need to not only make sure they meet high school graduation requirements but the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements as well. Once an athlete graduates, even an early graduation, the NCAA allows only one core course credit to be used for eligibility purposes. And once an athlete enrolls full-time in school, their academic record is locked in.
Athletes in private schools, especially religous schools, should keep in mind that their graduation requirements might be much different than the NCAA’s requirements. If you transfer to a private, religious school from a public school for one year or semester, you should be prepared to make up a large number of courses at the school as well as doing extra work to fulfill NCAA requirements.
Step Five: Don’t Forget the Paperwork
In addition to meeting the requirements, athletes must also make sure they take care of their administrative responsibilities. Athletes need to register with the Eligibility Center, make sure to select the correct (earlier) graduation date, complete the amateurism questionnaire, and get the necessary documents to the EC as quickly as possible.
The high school might also have its own tasks to complete. You may need to apply to graduate earlier. There may be capstone requirements, like papers or community service hours that must be completed. And if you are graduating early and enrolling in college midyear, make sure your high school knows because the timeline to get documents into the EC and to get certified is much tighter than over the summer.