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Food for thought: Is early college entrance an appropriate alternative for you?

Gifted Research

For students whose development is markedly more rapid than that of their age-mates, eventually there comes a time when they are academically ready for college-level work at an atypically young age. Yet, early college entrance may or may not be the most appropriate step to take. The following list of issues — addressed to students — is meant to help both students and parents gain perspective in order to:

  • Decide not only whether such a path is appropriate but if so, when
  • Select, among available alternatives, a menu of appropriate choices for college-level work
  • Explore a list of the kinds of preparatory experiences that are basic prerequisites for succeeding with excellence in college-level work
  • Assess your maturity and readiness for early college entrance
  • Think about what sort of institution might fit your needs

Radical acceleration to college versus entering one or two years early
Many — indeed, probably most — academically gifted students are intellectually ready for college one or two years before their age mates are. Some are lucky enough to be in secondary schools that are sufficiently challenging to meet their needs; some others, whether or not their schools are challenging, are simply not personally ready for college. For those who do opt to enter college as 16- or 17-year-olds, special provisions may or may not be necessary. They may be able to handle dorm life, manage their own affairs with maturity, and take advantage of the college environment, without special attention or parental presence. It is very common these days to find a number of 17-year-olds on campus who have “come in the front door,” fulfilling all the ordinary admissions requirements and even achieving advanced status by means of previous college courses they have taken or credits based on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams. (These options are explained later.)

For a very few exceptionally and profoundly gifted students, however, acceleration by a year or two is not enough. Students who enter college more than a couple of years early are often called radical accelerants. Such students have considerably more complex issues to deal with, for they are often not personally mature enough to take the ordinary route to college, however academically ready they may be.

While both groups of students can profit from using this guide, students and parents who are contemplating radical acceleration need to be extremely cautious in this undertaking. It is a very different matter to be a younger student on campus than to be a 17-year-old freshman.

Why would one want to skip, or even shorten, the high school experience? Miss the fun of extra-curricular activities?

  • For highly gifted students, the ordinary pace of secondary school often proves a poor match for their intellectual level and rate of development and for the fierce love of learning that are so important in their lives. It is this mismatch with the ordinary secondary school curriculum that drives many students to search for a better academic fit.
  • Students who are advanced academically often long for friends who are as personally mature as they are, who share their finely tuned interests and sophisticated sense of humor, whose quickness and depth of thinking equals theirs, and who share their mature sense of intimacy and loyalty in friendships. Many exceptionally bright students, throughout their lives, have felt more comfortable with adults and older students than with their age-mates. They anticipate greater ease in finding compatible friends at the college level than in high school.

Some disadvantages of radical acceleration to college:

  • For many students, secondary school (middle school and high school) does provide special opportunities that would be lost by early entrance to college. Consider carefully what is important in your life. Are you looking forward to editing the newspaper? Being a class officer? Playing in the orchestra or jazz band? Competing in the Math Olympiad or the Intel science competition? Completing an IB diploma? Going to the Prom? Being valedictorian at your high school graduation? Spending a year as a foreign-exchange high-school student?
  • If competitive sports such as golf or tennis, or contact sports such as football or basketball, are important in your life, you may want to defer putting yourself in the college scene. The physical maturity and size of the usual-age college student might well provide too much competition and even prove a hazard in contact sports. (On the other hand, you should check out whether you could continue to participate in local high school sports even if you are a full-time college student.)
  • On a more academic note, bright as you are, you may not yet have all the prerequisites in place for excellence in college-level work. This is not so much what you know, but how well you are prepared to cope with demands on a level you haven’t experienced before. See below (“How do I prepare myself for the college experience?”) for the list of skills and maturities of outlook you should be sure you bring to the situation. If they’re not in place, then postpone entrance until you’ve been able to acquire them.
  • Very young students, even extraordinarily bright ones, often aren’t yet comfortable with conceptual and critical thinking on an abstract level. Logical as they may be, they are more likely to see relationships in the here-and-now, in a relatively concrete mode — and some, especially boys who are late in reaching puberty — need extra time to mature.
  • And of course, the social setting is very different in college. Depending on the institution you choose, you may find yourself the only very young person on campus, and a very lonely young person at that. At some colleges, almost everyone lives in dorms, and, if you’re younger than 16, you’ll more than likely be living at home. Dorm life often presents too many opportunities for distraction (and temptation) for the young student. At some other colleges, especially community colleges, few people spend any more time on campus than they have to; many of them have jobs or families to take care of. Even if you find a circle of friends with similar intellectual interests, the age difference will pose (not necessarily insurmountable) barriers to deep friendships. You need to face this issue head on and decide how you will handle issues such as not driving a car, needing to decline some social affairs, and avoiding situations that are risky.
  • On the other hand, most of the highly significant experiences you’ll encounter during your college years will take place outside the classroom. Some will involve working with individual professors and their research groups; some will involve study groups you and your fellow students create informally to deepen and extend your understanding of the material; some will be social and academic opportunities to interact with people whose backgrounds, ideas, and values are very different from yours; some will take place during campus extracurricular or service opportunities in which you engage. If you are participating in campus life marginally as a young student and living at home, you may miss out on some of these valuable growth experiences, especially if you don’t allow yourself enough time outside of class to participate in campus life. Evening affairs may be particularly difficult to handle if you are living at home.

Some advantages of radical acceleration to college:

  • If even the most challenging courses open in your high school seem to move at glacial speed and next year’s classes seem no more promising, the challenge of college courses may look very attractive.
  • If you love learning — you feel a hunger to acquire a deeper understanding of your world either about a variety of topics or a few — and you enjoy (yes, enjoy!) communicating your ideas in writing and talking, college study may be what you’re looking for.
  • If you have a long educational trajectory ahead (perhaps you want to go into neurological surgery or obtain multiple graduate or professional degrees), getting ahead with that may also look attractive. But this doesn’t necessarily call for radical acceleration.
  • If your current friends’ interests don’t match yours — especially if their priorities are less ambitious than yours and they are not very engaged with their studies — then college friends might be more compatible. (Of course, you might look deliberately for a new set of friends without going to college early — you might look for a more academically serious high school, or join clubs devoted to your talent area, or get into competitions where you’ll meet other serious students.) Loneliness alone isn’t a good enough reason to skip high school, but it’s a serious reason.

What other choices do I have? Is early college entrance the only way to satisfy my needs?

1. Indeed, you have a widening array of accelerative and enrichment options, including an increasing number of on-line experiences to put you in touch with structured courses, tutors, community resources, and other students with similar interests. Here are some alternatives — short of full-time college enrollment — to get you thinking: Many of these options can also be used to introduce flexibility into your secondary school program so that you can take two foreign languages, or band and orchestra, etc.

2. Starting with the classes you are taking, deepen your experience. Opt for honors sections even if they mean more work. If your classes seem slow, do something about it yourself. For example, move through the material quickly (but with mastery) to give yourself more time for independent work. Read a book more advanced than your text, a biography of a key player in the field, or original documents mentioned in the text. Consult a college text or search the Internet on the subject. Undertake a creative project that will deepen your understanding and interest. Participate in related contests (there are several in math, science, geography, and writing). The more knowledge you acquire about a subject, the less “boring” the class will be. Take responsibility! It’s not just up to your teachers (or, later, your college professors)! Remember that even in college, you’ll encounter some courses that are not as challenging as you want; learn to tailor your experience to fit your needs.

3. Enroll in classes above your grade level in your area(s) of strength.

4. Skip a grade. Eighth grade is often a good choice. A transition like this will be easier if you have already taken some classes above grade level, so that you have demonstrated to (usually reluctant) educators that you can handle the situation, and so that you will also have made some friends at that grade level.

5. Take fast-paced summer classes such as those offered by Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP), or Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (CTD) in conjunction with their talent searches, both for the energizing experience and (sometimes) to earn credit from your high school. This model was originally developed at Johns Hopkins University by Dr. Julian Stanley and spread nationally because it was such an effective way to meet the needs of bright young scholars. The residential summer programs on this model (in which, in three weeks, you can expect to complete the equivalent of a full year’s high school course at at least an honors level) provide not only academic challenge but a chance to become friends with other like-minded students. This is a very special experience for all very bright students, but especially those who are being home schooled. To find summer programs other than those offered by the talent search organizations, consult a directory published by the Talent Identification Program (TIP) at Duke (https://tip.duke.edu).

6. Enroll in high-school correspondence classes, through CTY or an accredited school offering such courses. TIP also offers independent-study (not correspondence) classes. See the Independent Study Catalogue published by Peterson’s (https://www.petersons.com).

7. Enroll concurrently in high school and a nearby college, thereby usually earning credit at both levels for the college courses you take. Select courses carefully for challenge!

8. Take college courses on a summer-only basis while in high school.

9. Take distance learning classes from a university, usually thereby earning high-school and college credit. See Peterson’s (above).

10. Arrange your high-school courses so that you can participate in foreign study during your junior year without worrying about high school credit. (See Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 11, pp. 43-51, and/or https://www.studyabroad.com/, or Peterson’s [above].)

11. Take all the Advanced Placement credit courses your high school offers and do well on the national exams — thereby both having a college-level experience during high school and (perhaps) earning credit from the college you eventually attend. You may have skills enabling you to pass one or more AP exams without taking a special course.

12. Enroll in a high school offering an International Baccalaureate (a comprehensive offering of rigorous high-school courses in the junior and senior years). Lead-up programs often start as early as junior high. If, after the junior-senior classes, you do well on the related international examinations, credits may be awarded by the college you attend. See https://www.ibo.org/ and/or Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 11, pp. 52-66.

13. If your district or state offers a special math-science or other selective high school, go for it!

14. If you live in a community without strong public or private high schools, consider a first-rate boarding school.

15. Do something else designed creatively to keep your interest, motivation, time management, and organization skills alive. Volunteer in a laboratory, office, or community service related to a career you are considering. Find an adult in an occupation you find attractive and ask them to “mentor” your efforts. Schedule informal conversations in a foreign language with a native-speaker in your community. Start a small business. Explore activities such as individual sports, chess, computer programming, collecting stamps or coins, writing, playing an instrument, composing music, dancing, painting….. ( but also see #15).

16. Pick one challenging activity in which you can see your own improvement as the result of sustained effort. Invest in yourself by becoming as skilled as you can. The more you stick with a challenging activity through the rough spots and see yourself getting a bit closer to a standard of excellence, the more you’ll know how to handle yourself when other barriers get in your way. Practice! Don’t settle for being a dilettante at many things at the expense of expertise. Also, don’t push yourself into many activities because of the fiction that colleges want applicants to be “well rounded.” Admissions offices want to bring together students with diverse backgrounds, expertise, and skills to share — not “perpetual dabblers.”

How do I need to prepare myself for a college experience?
Students who are successful in college aren’t just smart, they are skilled, knowledgeable, organized, and highly motivated. Especially if they have skipped some of the usual steps along the way, they need to be sure they are broadly prepared. Remember that you will need to take courses in a variety of fields to fulfill the liberal-arts requirements of undergraduate education, not just the area of your passion. If you are thinking of being a full-time college student, you do get to choose from a rich menu of course, but you’ll have to take some from “Column A, Column B, and Column C” before concentrating on your major. At the same time, if you think you are headed for eventual concentration in math, science, or engineering, you need to be prepared to take a healthy menu of college-level math and science courses right away while also fulfilling the other requirements.

  • You need to have developed time management skills and independence from your teachers and parents in handling the affairs of your life. Managing time well is the most significant way in which effective and ineffective students differ from one another. You’ll have a good deal of what seems to be free time — typically, you’ll only be in class 15 to 18 hours a week, even with a lab — but for each credit hour you are taking, you will be expected to do about two hours (sometimes more) of independent work. It is all-too-easy to let things go until they get out of hand, or to skip a class or a quiz section. If you need a parent to keep you organized, if you don’t do your homework in a timely way or read assignments before they are discussed in class, you’re not ready to benefit fully from a college experience.
  • Managing time well does not mean devoting all your time to your studies, and it does not mean secluding yourself from other students and doing everything on your own. You need to be able to make time for at least one outside activity, to keep yourself physically active, and to manage time to talk and study with fellow students in order to deepen your understanding and to become acquainted with different ways of looking at the same ideas.
  • One of the best ways to prepare not only for college but for productivity during the rest of your life is to have pursued a talent area over a period of time with perseverance and pleasure. If you play the violin, for example, you have the great advantage of having a concept of what constitutes real excellence in performance, a sense of the payoff you get for disciplined practice, a pride in your own progress toward your goals, an ability to take your coach’s criticism in a positive light, and the courage to encounter rough spots and figure out ways through or around them.
  • You need to think about how you manage stress — both academic and otherwise — and to practice effective strategies to get through stressful periods. Often, students who are stressed begin to spin their wheels, use their time less and less well, give up opportunities for pleasurable activities, and endure sleep deprivation that only worsens the situation. Whom do you talk with when you are stressed? How do you break the pattern? Are you able to prioritize? Are you able to break down tasks into do-able proportions? Do you make plans and stick to them? Can you take a reasonable break and come back refreshed? Does listening to music or going for a run help you? What else gets you back in charge of your life?
  • You need to learn to select a manageable few among the many opportunities presented to you. Underchallenged students have sometimes kept their lives interesting by the sheer number of extracurricular activities they join. The number of choices is usually much greater in colleges, and you need to become selective enough that you can focus on just a few activities in addition to your studies. Learn how to turn down invitations graciously. After a while, you can add other activities if you really have the time and inclination.
  • You need to learn how to ask for help! Often, very bright students have had practically no experience asking questions when they are stymied, because they seldom have that experience in regular school. You need to ask questions in a way that helps specify exactly where you are stuck so that someone knows where to start helping you. Be sure you learn where to find such help — during the office hours of your professor or his/her teaching assistant, homework hotlines and on-line materials, asking your fellow students (you’re probably used to other students’ asking you), or talking to the professor after class. Be prepared with your questions and be sure that you’ve done the assigned work.
  • You need to be prepared to meet and respect people who have backgrounds and ideas very different from your own, and to be open to new ideas yourself. That may be the main thing that college is all about. Growth is change. Sometimes, when very young students attend college, they are not self-confident enough to examine their own beliefs and to let themselves modify those ideas in line with their new experiences. You need to be able to see your college studies in a broad context, valuing the increasingly complex ways in which you view the world and enriching your life beyond the classroom.
  • You need excellent expository writing skills — and this is the area in which most students at all ability levels are ill prepared. You need to be able to respond to assignments and examinations in a variety of styles, including
    • Brief, succinct answers that express a full idea in a sentence or two
    • Short essays (a few paragraphs)
    • Protracted essays (30-60 minutes on the same topic)
    • Term papers that represent comprehensive coverage of a topic — 10-30 pages, developed over the course of several weeks
    • For much of your work, you will need to know how to cite evidence for your opinions; to take into account ideas that do not agree with yours; to compare and contrast authors, ideas, or arguments; and to be persuasive, not argumentative
    • You’ll not likely find much direct use for the creative writing skills that may have been fostered in your “gifted” K-12 courses. If you enjoy this kind of writing, keep it up on your own or opt for some college courses in creative writing
  • You need to have note-taking skills in situations you are unlikely to have encountered previously: 50-minute lectures, somewhat disorganized class discussions, even videos. Skills at outlining help a great deal, but a lot of practice is essential. Create a set of your own abbreviations for words you encounter frequently. Give yourself a number of opportunities in the year or so before you go to college — attend public lectures and take notes, take notes while watching television documentaries, take notes in your regular school classes, and so on. You might ask a parent or classmate to do the same thing and then compare your products. Once you’ve taken the notes, rewrite them right away (while you can still read your handwriting); doing this on the computer will be most helpful. Leave margins wide enough so that when you review these materials, you’ll have room for additional comments.
  • You need enough speed in keyboarding to make it a truly effective tool, the faster the better. Invest a significant amount of time in mastering a keyboarding program, boring as it may be. To be a fluent writer, eventually, you want not to be thinking about your typing at all. All your college assignments should be typed, and many will eventually be revised.
  • At the same time, you need to develop legible handwriting and accurate spelling and English usage, both for your own notes and for exam questions. No professor should be expected to overlook the distraction of unreadable material.
  • You need more than a passive understanding of the math and science you have studied. Home-schooled students have too often read math and science books for understanding without practicing procedures sufficiently to “own” them, to be able to use them fluently and automatically as tools.
  • You need to give thought as to how you present yourself in class. Learn to be succinct but clear in your class comments and questions — and respectful of others. Be sure that your contribution moves the discourse forward and isn’t just hearing yourself talk. If the class is a small one, it’s generally expected that everyone will contribute to the discussion. If you’re very shy, you may want to anticipate some topics from the assignment for the day to make it easier for you to join in when it’s appropriate.
  • Particularly if you have skipped some high school subjects, you should be sure to read as broadly as you can, so that you will have a rich network of ideas in which to locate the new concepts to which you will be exposed in college. Read a wide variety of literature that includes the genres and major authors usually covered in high-school language arts. Also, you should be generally well prepared to understand the scientific method as well as to tolerate some ambiguity in thinking about big questions (many important ideas have more than one possible answer).
  • A number of Talent Search programs offer young students the chance to test themselves on challenging measures of academic aptitude and also offer summer programs. Application for the talent search exams is made in the fall. All the talent searches are regional; they range from single-state searches to quite large ones. You can most easily find out about the talent search in your area by asking a seventh-grade counselor. The largest regional talent searches are those sponsored by the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University, the Center for Talent Development (CTD) at Northwestern University, and the Talent Identification Program (TIP) at Duke University. Just participating in the talent search aspects — taking the challenging, or “out of level” tests meant for considerably older students — can be a very valuable experience for a number of reasons, but it is an especially appropriate thing to do if you are considering early college entrance. The major tests, the SAT and the ACT, are the same ones you will have to take when you actually apply for college. By taking these tests when you are in seventh or eighth grade, you can get quite a decent idea of how your intellectual maturity currently stacks up against the students who are applying to the colleges you are considering. (Of course, when you take the tests when you are older, you will surely attain higher scores.) Scores you earn before you enter ninth grade are not reported to colleges when you take the test later, unless you choose to do so.
  • Some of the talent searches also provide out-of-level testing (about eighth grade level) on other measures for even younger students. For example, the EXPLORE test of the American College Testing Program and the PLUS test of the Educational Testing Service are offered in some of the regional talent searches.
  • In addition to identifying and gauging your strengths by taking out-of-level tests, you may find that you need to take more seriously an aspect of your ability that you haven’t cared so much about. Some students are very strong in math and can make significant changes in their verbal readiness for college by increasing the amount, depth, and breadth of their reading; those who are very strong verbally but have cared less about math, can do more work in that area. It’s good to check where you are in these areas. Test scores (such as those listed above) may also provide objective evidence of your abilities to counselors and others who can help you find an appropriate educational match. If your scores are strong, they will be convincing when you ask for admission to a program ordinarily meant for older students. In any event, they will provide some feedback to you and your parents about what you need to work on, and will give you experience that will be helpful when you take the test “for real” later on.
  • Finally, be prepared not to be the most competent student in your class all the time! Many of your classmates will also be going through an adjustment as they first encounter a class made up only of excellent students. Learn to take pleasure in the fact that you can seek help from some of your classmates. Get their phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

How can I pick a college that will suit me?
The very young student is often more limited in his/her choices of a college than an older student, who is prepared to live away from home and can therefore go to any college where instruction is in a language he/she can understand.

Attending an undemanding college is often a very bad idea. The very bright student who is bored in classes he/she attends with older students may be more miserable than if he/she were bored in a secondary school with more possibilities for independent study and teacher support. Even more, the precious opportunity for personal and intellectual growth that would occur at a better college may be lost forever. Often, an AP class in high school is more challenging than the same course taught at a community college. Furthermore, almost every exceptionally bright student should be planning eventually to attend a first-rate graduate or professional school. Only an excellent undergraduate experience can prepare you well for post-college education. Consider the following options:

  • Don’t enroll full-time in your local college, if it isn’t one you’d otherwise choose, but take courses only from those special professors who are, indeed, demanding in their expectations and whose teaching approach focuses on understanding complex ideas.
  • See if it is possible for you and your family, or one parent, to establish a residence near a first-rank college to which you apply (and at which you are accepted). Or find a relative or other family with whom you can stay during the week. If you’re not going to be living with your own family, try the situation out first, and get the rules clarified as to how much you are to be considered a kid and how much a college student — and who does the chores!
  • Look for a residential private college such as those at Simon’s Rock of Bard (https://simons-rock.edu/) or Mary Baldwin College (www.mbc.edu) that are specifically designed for very early entrance to college. If you are lucky enough to live near a commuter program such as the ones offered by California State University at Los Angeles or the University of Washington (https://robinsoncenter.uw.edu/) so much the better! Such an arrangement may be close to ideal, since your fellow classmates will match your age as well as being bright and interesting themselves — you may well be just the kind of student the program is designed for.
  • An increasing number of states now offer residential college programs for students who skip their junior and senior year of high school and some, such as the Advanced Academy of Georgia (https://www.westga.edu/) or the National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Iowa do not require state residence.
  • If you can, avoid a college situation where everyone seems to have come from just the same background and is just the same age. The more diversity there is on campus, the less likely you are to stick out as “different” and the more likely it is that the other students will be genuinely friendly to you.
  • Get to know a number of campuses. Gather information by looking in college guides, studying the campus website carefully, calling anyone you know who attended the colleges you are thinking about, and so on. The journal, Imagine, published by the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University (http://cty.jhu.edu/) has some write-ups of first-rate colleges.

Remember that a college education involves not only classroom instruction and homework, but also a rich array of opportunities outside of class. Make these as much a part of your investigation as the purely academic. Pay special attention to how seriously students are committed to academic excellence and how well the environment supports not just solitary study but formal and informal study groups, non-academic activities (including service opportunities), and diversity of ideas and backgrounds. If you are to live at home, how can you access these opportunities?

You’ll want to visit several campuses you are considering. Make an appointment with an admissions person. You, the student, rather than your parents should take the lead although your parents will have some questions to ask as well. Don’t be overwhelmed by a friendly admissions person or put off by an unfriendly one, but try to get a feel for the campus. Here are some of the kinds of questions you’ll want to ask:

  • (If you know the general area in which you want to major), what are the strengths of the college in that area? What other strong departments are there?
  • Are there other young students on campus? Are there any special provisions for them?
  • Are there “quiet floors” on the dorms for serious students?
  • Is there an honors program, and how does one apply for that?
  • How important are Greek fraternities and sororities on campus?
  • Are there formal arrangements for student study groups?
  • Are there freshman interest groups or other ways to seek out other students with similar interests?
  • What are the opportunities to pursue your specific talents and interests?
  • What is the balance of large and small classes?
  • What proportion of students get involved in research/scholarship projects with faculty?
  • What safety issues should students be aware of on campus? In the surrounding community?
  • What special procedures are there for young students who are applying, particularly if they have not already satisfied all the ordinary admissions requirements?
  • (If you are being home-schooled), how do you handle applications from home-schoolers?

In addition to visiting dorms, it’s also a good idea to listen to students when they are talking with one another. Eavesdrop on some conversations in the campus coffee shop, for example, or another campus hangout. Sit in on at least one large and one small class, if you can. Take a look at the texts in the campus bookstore. Look around the neighborhood and find out about the cultural life of the town or city.

Financial issues
Financial aid is a question for all students, and younger students will find that most colleges treat them just like other students with a few important exceptions. Work with the Office of Student Financial Aid at the colleges you are considering.

  • Financial aid is usually available only to students who are enrolled full-time.
  • So long as you are under 18, there may have to be special provisions for loans to your parents rather than to you because you cannot sign legal contracts.
  • Colleges are often not aware that young students can be given Pell grants (federal grants) like those given to older students. You can suggest that they call the federal office for clarification.
  • Depending on your age, you may have to get special permission to participate in work-study programs.
  • You will simply not be eligible for some scholarships that specify that you must be a high-school senior or high-school graduate.
  • You will need to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) during the October before you go to college if you want to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. It’s a good idea to take it the first time two years before you go to college. Even if you are not enrolled in a high school, you can make arrangements to take it at your local school.
  • Remind your parents that, if you go to college early, you’ll be financially dependent on them for fewer years in the long run!

Accept the fact that the world wasn’t designed for people who are “different.”
You’ve probably already discovered that you and your parents have had to make compromises all along to find challenges that come close to matching the pace and level of your learning, and to locate friends with whom you feel compatible. This situation is no different. With a few exceptions such as admission to one of the handful of college programs that are designed for gifted, very young students, going to college early is going to be one more compromise. You’ll be making the best fit you can between the setting (or combination of settings) you choose and your own needs and readiness. Think of all the other people whose differences also get in the way of their fitting in — students with disabilities, for example, or students coming here from other countries — and make the best of it!

And finally, make sure that this is something that you want — it’s not just what others are telling you to do!
The decision to go to college very early is not one you should make just on the advice of others. Often, young students haven’t had much experience in making decisions for themselves and have a hard time sorting out their parents’ ideas from their own. Going to college requires hard work with a lot less personal support than you’ve been used to in your previous school, it means giving up some other choices, and it launches you into being conspicuously “young” for the rest of your educational trajectory and the beginning of your career. Especially if your family has made some sacrifices to make this happen — moving to a new city, for example, or paying high tuition — be sure it’s what you think you want.

Also, make a back-up plan. What if early college entry doesn’t prove to be a good match for who you are? What if you find yourself hating to get up in the morning, or reluctant to do your homework, or too lonely? You need to remember that this is only one of several options you might have chosen, and that it’s perfectly honorable (and mature) to choose another one if this doesn’t work out. You’ll know a lot more about yourself for having given this a good try, and will be better prepared to plan what to do next.

Other Articles by Nancy Robinson about Early College and Radical Acceleration:

  • A cross-sectional developmental study of the social relations of students who enter college early, Paul Janos, Nancy Robinson & others.
  • Acceleration: Valuable high school to college option, Nancy Robinson & Kathryn Noble.
  • All rivers lead to the sea: A follow-up study of gifted young adults, Kathryn Noble, Nancy Robinson & S. Gunderson.
  • Markedly early entrance to college, Paul Janos, Nancy Robinson & C. Lunneborg.
  • The case for radical acceleration to college, Nancy Robinson.
  • The performance of students in a program of radical acceleration at the university level, Paul Janos & Nancy Robinson.

References

Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (1997). Talent searches: A model for the discovery and development of academic talent. In N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.). Handbook of gifted education, 2nd ed. (pp. 170-179). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Brody, L. E. (1998, Nov/Dec). Planning ahead for college: Early college entrance. Imagine, 6, p. 25.

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This article was written by Nancy Robinson for the Davidson Institute

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