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Stream and mountains

So, you think you wanna drop out?

Jess Ingham

Another assignment? I swear I’m literally just gonna drop out at this point.” We’re all guilty of proclaiming this exaggeration every assessment period. As private school attendees, it’s rare that we personally know more high school dropouts than what can be counted on one hand. In fact, in 2021, 83.1% of Australians of graduating age completed Year 12. If we actually dropped out every time we said we would, then that figure would be in the single digits.

The Covid pandemic didn’t massively affect these numbers either, with only a slight decrease in retention rate from 2020. Independent school students are even less likely to drop out (probably something to do with wealthy, expectant parents) with a 94.7% retention rate - compared to only 80% of those who go to Government/public schools.

Why you Might Drop Out

When considering dropping out, we weigh up the consequences (Figure 1) rather than how the reasons affect us. The thought process probably looks something like this:

Figure 1 – Source: Everyone’s Inner Fears

However, if you really want to drop out, you are more likely to do so based solely on your reasons and ignore the consequences – no matter what they are. Some of the most common reasons for dropping out are:

“School life ‘isn’t for me’”

People who might not be able to cope with the workload, pressure or aren’t as academically strong find the high school structure a lot more difficult to follow than other students. A study found that children who weren’t reading proficiently by Year 4, were 4 times more likely to drop out of high school.

“I don’t need to graduate to be successful”

For many career pathways, a High School Certificate isn’t necessary. For example, a tradie earns almost $60,000 a year for an entry-level position. While this is earned after 3-4 years of apprenticeships, these apprenticeships can start at 17 years of age if the person has dropped out of school, and they are paid for the work they do while gaining their experience. A 1st year, full time apprentice tradie can earn around $28,000 while completing the fee free apprenticeship.

On the other hand, a teacher earns around $75,000 a year in an entry-level job, however they must complete a 4-year education degree after they graduate. This can cost up to $45,000 and means that the teacher won’t start earning enough to pay back their student loan until they are 22 years old.

“I’m too busy to go to school”

Elite athletes, aspiring musicians and “famous” content creators (we all know that means youtubers and tik-tokers) are just a few examples of people whose lives are too full to fit in education. However those who are too busy with caring for their family, usually due to illness, often don’t have enough time to complete an apprenticeship either and are left without any kind of diploma to use for their future.

How to Drop Out

Maybe you fit into one of those categories? If so, the process of dropping out isn’t hard, but it doesn’t exactly mean ‘pupil-free-day-every-day’. The NSW Government requires all students to stay in school until they complete Year 10 (and earn their ROSA), or until they turn 17.

If you are under 17 years old, you must be:

  • in school, or registered for home schooling OR

  • in approved education or training OR

  • in full-time, paid employment (average 25 hours/week) OR

  • in a combination of these three.

Students can still drop out during Year 10, but they need an exemption from the school principal. (Imagine talking to Uuggs about that…) A minimum of Year 10 level education is required for TAFE courses, so a mid-Year-10-drop out can complete a Year 10 equivalent TAFE course to meet the necessary requirements. (The link for the form is here, in case my fellow Year 10s are feeling droppy-outty).

The ‘approved education or training’ from the list above includes traineeships, apprenticeships, diplomas or degrees, which can only be acquired from TAFE if you don’t have an HSC. However, you can still apply for university without an HSC/ATAR once you are over 21, since you are considered a mature aged student. At this point, universities take into account other qualifications or experience.

If I Drop Out, Will I Still be Rich?

While there have been studies comparing the income of a high-school graduate with a drop out (one study said that a graduate earned 50-100% more than a drop out in their lifetime), but these results can vary greatly depending upon the person, the job and the circumstances. While a drop out could eventually work their way into the same job as some with an ATAR, it takes many years longer and their eventual lifetime income is less due to these lost years. Of course, that isn’t the case with everyone; Richard Branson – the founder of Virgin – dropped out at 15 since he had ‘no interest in studies.’ Today he is worth $4.9 billion. Many celebrities dropped out to focus on their career (a full list is here), however it’s fair to assume that most drop outs don’t become Nicole Kidmans or Tom Cruises.

For the rest of us mere mortals, the highest paying jobs (upwards of $150,000 a year), such as medicine and finance, require the raw knowledge only learnt in university. So, here are the facts; the most wealthy and successful = the tertiary educated = ATAR recipients. Sure…success can’t be measured by wealth and money doesn’t necessarily make you happy.

Although, if there’s one thing we can agree on, at times we all get sick of high school, but we all want money.

I guess I’ll see you at graduation!


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