Graduating from high school is an important milestone in a young person’s life. It marks the end of their basic education and opens doors to college, vocational school, military service, or the workforce.

If you’re wondering at what age most students graduate high school, read on for a comprehensive answer.

The quick answer is that in the United States, the typical age to graduate high school is 17 or 18 years old. Most students start kindergarten at age 5 and complete one grade level per year for a total of 13 grade levels from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Given this structure, if a student does not skip or repeat any grades, they will graduate high school around age 18.


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Typical K-12 Grade Structure

Starting Age for Kindergarten

In the United States, children typically start kindergarten between the ages of 5 and 6. Kindergarten is not required in all states, but most children attend. The cut off age for starting kindergarten is usually September 1st – meaning children must turn 5 years old by that date to enroll for that school year.

Some states have policies that children must be 5 by the first day of school, while others use September 1st or October 1st as the cut off. A few states even allow 4 year olds to enroll in kindergarten if they will turn 5 within a couple months of starting school.

Ultimately, school district policies determine the exact Kindergarten start age.

Progressing One Grade Per Year

After completing Kindergarten, children advance to the next grade level each school year. The typical progression is:

  • Kindergarten (age 5-6)
  • 1st grade (age 6-7)
  • 2nd grade (age 7-8)
  • 3rd grade (age 8-9)
  • 4th grade (age 9-10)
  • 5th grade (age 10-11)
  • 6th grade (age 11-12)
  • 7th grade (age 12-13)
  • 8th grade (age 13-14)
  • 9th grade (age 14-15)
  • 10th grade (age 15-16)
  • 11th grade (age 16-17)
  • 12th grade (age 17-18)

Children are grouped by age into “grades” and move up each year. Most states require school attendance until 16-18 years old.


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Average Age to Start Each Grade

While there is variation between states and school districts, the table below shows the typical average age students begin each grade level:

Grade Level Average Age
Kindergarten 5-6 years old
1st Grade 6-7 years old
2nd Grade 7-8 years old
3rd Grade 8-9 years old
4th Grade 9-10 years old
5th Grade 10-11 years old
6th Grade 11-12 years old
7th Grade 12-13 years old
8th Grade 13-14 years old
9th Grade 14-15 years old
10th Grade 15-16 years old
11th Grade 16-17 years old
12th Grade 17-18 years old

As you can see, students typically progress through one grade level per year, starting at age 5-6 in Kindergarten and finishing high school around age 18.

Some students may be advanced a grade if they are excelling academically. Others may be held back if they are struggling. But overall, this table represents the standard grade-level progression in K-12 education.

State-by-State Variation

Differences in Cutoff Dates for Starting Kindergarten

There is considerable variation between states in the cutoff dates for starting kindergarten. While most states require children to turn 5 years old by September 1 to enroll in kindergarten, some states have earlier or later cutoff dates.

For example, Vermont and New Jersey have cutoff dates of January 1 and October 1, respectively. This means children in New Jersey can start kindergarten almost a full year earlier than children in Connecticut.

These differing cutoff dates impact when students reach various educational milestones, like graduating high school, across states. In states with earlier cutoff dates, students will generally be younger when they start each grade and will graduate at a younger age on average.

Mandatory Ages for Beginning School

States also differ in the mandatory age for beginning school. While most require children to start school by age 6 or 7, 12 states require children to start by age 5. These include Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia. 

So in states that don’t mandate school until age 7, the average age of high school graduates will be higher than in states requiring enrollment by age 5 or 6. For example, a Connecticut student starting at age 5 will graduate at 17 or 18, while a Wyoming student starting at 7 could graduate at 19 or 20.


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Exceptions and Special Cases

Grade Skipping or Retention

Some students may graduate high school at an earlier or later age than the typical 18 years old due to grade skipping or retention. Grade skipping is when a student skips a grade and advances to the next grade level because of high academic achievement or social maturity.

This allows academically gifted students to progress faster and potentially graduate early. On the flip side, grade retention is when a student repeats a grade because of poor academic performance or lack of social development. This causes the student to graduate later than their peers.

Early Graduation

Students can graduate high school ahead of schedule for various reasons. Some high achievers choose to fast-track their academics by taking extra courses, credit-by-exam, summer school, or online classes.

Others pursue early graduation if they have fulfilled all necessary coursework and want to move on quicker to college or career training. 

Delayed Graduation

On the other hand, some students take longer to graduate high school and receive their diploma at an older age. Reasons for delayed graduation include:

  • Academic struggles requiring remedial coursework or credit recovery
  • Limited English language proficiency needing additional ESL classes
  • Special education services and accommodations
  • Grade retention due to poor grades or attendance issues
  • Health problems and hospitalization
  • Teen pregnancy and parenting responsibilities
  • Involvement with juvenile justice system
  • Homelessness and high mobility

Most states allow students to remain enrolled in high school until ages 20-22 to complete graduation requirements. Some even offer fifth or sixth year programs specifically for overaged, under-credited students to earn a high school diploma.


While most students in the U.S. graduate high school around age 18, there is some variation across states and individual circumstances. The typical progression moves one grade per year from kindergarten starting at age 5 or 6 through 12th grade.

However, factors like birthday cutoffs, state policies, and personal situations with skipping or repeating grades can shift a student’s timeline. Overall, the average age to receive a high school diploma falls somewhere between 17 and 19 years old nationwide.

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