High school prepares young people for future success in higher education and beyond. In fact, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center, graduating high school sets the stage for the next 50 years of a person's life. As of 2009, however, 1.2 million high school students fail to graduate every year. Not finishing high school can have major consequences for both young people and the nation.

You'll Have A Hard Time Getting A Job

High school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed.
High school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed.

High school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed than their diploma-holding friends. According to the Bureau of Labor, in 2007, the unemployment rate for high school graduates was 19.9 percent, while the unemployment rate for dropouts was 26.9 percent. The unemployment rate for recent high school dropouts in 2009 was more than 55 percent, compared to 35 percent of high school graduates that year who had not enrolled in college.

You'll Get A Job That Doesn't Pay Well

High school dropouts are more likely to end up in low-wage jobs.
High school dropouts are more likely to end up in low-wage jobs.

If you manage to get a job without your diploma, it'll likely be a low wage job. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, dropouts earn about $260,000 less in their lifetime than a high school graduate. As of 2005, the annual income for a high school dropout was about $17,000, a high school graduate earned about $26,000, and a college graduate with a bachelor's degree earns about $52,000.

You Could End Up On Welfare

High school dropouts are more likely to apply for and receive some form of welfare such as food stamps and Medicaid than high school graduates. For example, dropouts from the class of 2006 cost the nation about $17 billion in Medicaid costs. The nation's welfare programs are meant to offer a hand up in emergencies such as downturns in the economy, not as a replacement for work.

You'll Increase Your Odds of Going to Prison

Dropouts are more likely than graduates to end up in prison.
Dropouts are more likely than graduates to end up in prison.

As of 2008, the U.S. has the highest prison population rate in the world. About 82 percent of American prisoners are high school dropouts. According to the Alliance For Excellent Education, increasing the high school graduation rate and college matriculation of male students by as little as 5 percent could reduce crime-related costs enough to generate $8 billion in revenue and savings ever year.

There Are Alternatives

School systems across the country offer alternatives for students who don't fit in with the traditional school setting. Another alternative is the GED or General Education Development test. The GED was established in 1942 to help returning World War II veterans finish their education and return to civilian life. It was opened to civilians in 1947. The GED tests students in knowledge equivalent to a high school education in language arts, science, social studies and math. About 95 percent of U.S. colleges and universities accept the GED in lieu of a high school diploma.