When Can You Drop Out of School in Pennsylvania?

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Pennsylvania students can’t drop out legally until they turn 17, but there are exceptions for some younger students who are working.

Under Pennsylvania's "compulsory education laws," children between the ages of 8 and 17 must attend full-time school. But there are exceptions, and some students may drop out before their 17th birthday. Below is a summary of the state’s requirements for withdrawing from school early, what happens to truants, and how to earn a high school equivalency diploma.

Pennsylvania's Requirements for Dropping Out Legally

In general, Pennsylvania law requires students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 17. The state allows children to be homeschooled or taught by a private, qualified tutor.

The compulsory education law doesn’t apply to:

  • 16-year-olds who have a job during school hours, along with an employment certificate
  • children who are at least 14 years old, are doing farm work or domestic service in a private home with a permit, and—if they’re under 15—have finished elementary school
  • students who’ve been excused from further schooling based on the finding of a certified school psychologist or approved mental clinic, or
  • children who live at least two miles from any public school in certain school districts that don’t provide free transportation.

(24 Pa. Stat. §§ 13-1326, 13-1327, 13-1330 (2019).)

Costs of Dropping Out

Even if you meet the requirements for legally withdrawing from school, dropping out is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. But you could face more immediate consequences if you simply stop going to school before you graduate, turn 17, or meet one of the other exceptions for attendance requirements.

Habitual truants (with six or more unexcused absences in a school year) who are younger than 15 may be referred to an attendance improvement program or to juvenile court for possible treatment as a dependent child. Older habitual truants could face either of those options or a citation, followed by a court hearing. If the truants are convicted of violating attendance requirements, the Department of Transportation will suspend their driver's license or refuse to issue a new one. Convicted truants may also have to pay a fine, perform community service, or complete an attendance improvement program. (24 Pa. Stat. §§ 13-1326, 13-1333.1, 13-133.2, 13-133.3 (2019).)

High School Equivalency Credential

Pennsylvania residents can obtain a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma by passing a high school equivalency test or completing 30 college credits. Normally, they have to be 18 years old to take the test, and they can’t actually get the diploma until their high school class has graduated. But 16- and 17-year-old dropouts can take the test with certain documentation (including a letter from an employer, college, or military branch). And if the school district recommends it, they can receive the diploma once they pass the test. (22 Pa. Code § 4.72 (2019).)

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