Under New York State's “compulsory education” law, children must attend full-time school (or homeschooling) until they finish high school or the school year when they turn 16. There are some exceptions, including different rules in local school districts.
Below is a summary of the state’s requirements for staying in school, dropping out, and getting high school equivalency diplomas. (Because laws can change at any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statute by using this search tool.)
Requirements for Dropping Out Legally
Generally, students in New York can legally leave school after the last day of the academic year when they had their 16th birthday. However, the state allows local school districts to pass their own rules requiring 16- and 17-year old students who haven’t graduated. Local rules may allow these students to:
- stay in school until the last day of the school year when they turn 17, or
- attend part-time classes if they're legally employed or aren’t regularly attending full-time school.
The state also allows any minors to attend part-time school if they’ve applied and are eligible for a full-time employment certificate. (N.Y. Educ. Law §§3205, 3206 (2019).)
Costs of Dropping Out
Most people know that dropping out of school is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. In the shorter term, however, students who simply stop going to school before they’ve reached the legal dropout age in their district could face school discipline, juvenile court proceedings, and potentially even jail time. (Learn more about what happens to truants and their parents in New York.)
High School Equivalency Diplomas
New York residents can get a high school equivalency diploma if they pass an equivalency exam or have completed a certain number of credits for a college degree or an approved certificate program. Any residents who are at least 19 years old can take the equivalency test. Students who are at least 16 and have reached the legal dropout age in their district may also eligible if they meet certain requirements, including that they:
- are enrolled in an alternative high school equivalency prep program
- have been out of school for a year
- were home schooled, or
- have been accepted into college or the military.
Even in districts where the dropout age is higher, 17- and 18-year-olds may take the test if they meet some of the same requirements. (N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 8, § 100.7 (2019).)