What to do when your child drops out of high school

parent talking to child about dropping out of high school

Formal high school education is not necessarily the right fit for everyone, but ‘dropping out’ of high school no longer means the end of your child’s education. 

There are many pathways your child can take after leaving school early, even going on to university if they later decide to do so. It’s important to keep in mind that, whilst your child may not know exactly what they want to do or where they are heading right now, their options are still wide-reaching and not completely limited just because they have not finished high school.

If your child is considering or has already started the process of leaving high school before completing grade 12, these tips might help them decide on their next steps. 

This resource is not attempting to diminish the importance of a high school education nor the importance of completing high school. It is simply a resource for parents whose children have already made the decision to leave the schooling system. This resource is about providing them with positive options.  

High school student in front of blackboard with hands out.

When can my child leave school?

In Queensland, school is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and a half years and 16 years of age, or when they complete grade 10 (whichever comes first). Exemptions from this compulsory schooling are possible and are granted on a case-by-case basis.

Students dropping out before finishing grade 12 often leave at the end of grade 10, though it is also possible to drop out at any stage throughout grade 11 or 12. As an example, being offered a vocational training position or apprenticeship may be a reason for leaving partway through the year and starting but not completing their senior certificate (Queensland Certificate of Education/QCE).

Queensland Department of Education Before you drop out infographic.

IMAGE CREDIT: Queensland Department of Education

Higher education options after leaving school early

Not finishing high school or not achieving an ATAR score does not mean your child cannot pursue further education at a later stage. There are several ways they can fulfil the requirements necessary to apply to university.

Senior College at TAFE

If the formal high school setting is not right for your child, but they still wish to complete their QCE, Senior College at TAFE Queensland is a great option. Designed for 15 to 17 year olds, this is an independent alternative to the traditional high school system. This course allows students to complete their QCE and even obtain an ATAR if so desired.

Find out more about Senior College at TAFE

Enrolling in High School as a Mature Age Student

After turning 18, there is still the option of completing high school by enrolling at a high school that accepts mature-age students or at the School of Distance Education. To enrol, a criminal history check is required and prospective students will also need to provide details of their previous high school education (number of years completed). Enrolment will also depend on the availability of chosen subjects at the preferred school and whether spaces for those subjects are available.

There are several high schools across Queensland that accept mature-age students. Alternatively, if the student lives more than 16km from one of these schools, they can choose to enrol at the School of Distance Education.

Find out more about Enrolling as a Mature Age Student

The Adult Tertiary Preparation (ATP) course at TAFE

If it has been several years since your child left school, the ATP course at TAFE Queensland can help them obtain a Certificate IV in Adult Tertiary Preparation, which will help them fulfil university prerequisites and give them a rank to apply for university. This adult learning environment offers flexibility to work at the same time.

Find out more about the ATP

Transition Programs or Bridging Courses

Some universities offer their own transition programs, where they will guarantee a place at the university for students who complete a transition program or introductory courses. They may also look at credit for any studies undertaken during school.

Bridging courses can be very helpful if you want to pursue a degree that requires a certain standard, such as in maths or science. A bridging course then becomes the equivalent of a high school subject. This means students don’t need to worry that they missed out on their dream degree simply because they weren’t able to study a particular prerequisite subject at school.


Unilearn prepares students for university entrance by covering year 11 and year 12 high school content. This intensive preparatory course condenses two years of high school into 12 months of course work and requires a minimum of 15 hours of study per week over 18 weeks to complete. Unilearn will provide the prerequisites required for their chosen university course, though it is worth checking with their chosen university first to make sure the relevant entry requirements will be met.

Find out more about Unilearn

Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT)

Also referred to as an alternative pathway, students can sit a STAT (Special Tertiary Admissions Test), which is a one-off test that is suitable for university applicants who did not complete grade 12 with the ATAR they require for a particular course, or for mature-age students. It is a one-off test and you do have to pay to sit it. This can be a quicker option for students wishing to apply for university, rather than undertaking a bridging or foundation course.

Find out more about the STAT

Vocational Education & Training (VET) courses

VET courses give students the practical skills, knowledge and education required to take alternate pathways. This can be helpful when wanting to join (or re-join) the workforce or further their professional development, enter tertiary study, or gain an apprenticeship.

A VET course can lead to the following qualifications:

  • Certificate I, II, III or IV
  • Diploma
  • Advanced Diploma
  • Vocational Graduate Certificate
  • Vocational Graduate Diploma

Find out more about VET courses

Find out more about How To Get Into University Without An ATAR

Apprentice learning carpentry from employer.

Apprenticeships or Traineeships after dropping out of high school


Apprenticeships usually take from 3 to 4 years to complete and include a combination of on-the-job training with instruction at TAFE Queensland, allowing an apprentice to gain valuable practical knowledge. To undertake an apprenticeship, your child will need to be hired by an employer as an apprentice. From there, paperwork is required to formalise the apprenticeship and to register with TAFE as their Supervising Registered Training Organisation (SRTO). 

Find out more about Apprenticeships

FREE Apprenticeships in Queensland

In January 2021, the Queensland Government introduced FREE apprenticeships for those aged under 25 years. This is a fantastic option for early school leavers, as it allows some time to make the big decision of ‘what do I want to do?’.

TAFE Queensland currently offers several qualifications that are eligible under the Queensland Government’s free apprenticeships for under 25s program, including:

  • Automotive
  • Agriculture & Horticulture
  • Beauty & Hairdressing
  • Building & Construction
  • Childcare
  • Creative
  • Electrotechnology & Utilities
  • Engineering
  • Hospitality & Cookery
  • Maritime
  • Nursing & Health


Traineeships differ slightly to apprenticeships in that they are shorter, usually lasting one to two years, and cover other vocational fields such as business, child care and retail. The process for obtaining a traineeship is the same as apprenticeships, where your child must find an employer willing to employ them as a trainee, then complete the relevant paperwork and register with TAFE Queensland.

With a traineeship, a trainee will be paid a wage and the employer will also usually cover the costs of the education and training. Trainees may be required to cover some costs to help cover some of these associated expenses.

Find out more about Traineeships

If your child is yet to make the decision to drop out but you have a feeling this discussion might be forthcoming, you should have a conversation with your school about the option to combine schooling with an apprenticeship or traineeship. This option is more commonly offered at state high schools. Sometimes this mix of school and hands-on work can improve the willingness of students’ to complete their schooling (and at the same time help to provide some perspective). 

Young male with backpack standing in front of airport departure board.

Other options after dropping out of school early

There is a very real chance that your child may not want to even think about education or training after dropping out of school early. If that is the case, there are still lots of options available to them. This could involve paid employment, volunteering, or travel.

Just because they are not currently furthering their formal education does not mean that your child cannot come back to revisit some of the options outlined above in the future. It also doesn’t mean that they won’t go on to live happy, productive and successful lives and ofcourse it’s never too late to change their mind and take a different path. 

Further resources

The Queensland Department of Education has put together many resources on their ‘We The Differents’ website to help students and their families determine the best course of action when considering dropping out:

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