Gifted kids as young as age six have enjoyed college coursework. These kids are “radically accelerated” meaning they are doing academic work two years or more above typical age/grade placement. Most students who are radically accelerated into college are a bit older than six, but any college student who appears younger than seventeen or eighteen is likely to raise a few eyebrows and generate some discussion. People often don't know what to make of young students on campus, or they may have fixed ideas about such students. The truth is, most radically accelerated kids who take college courses are more than ready for such an experience, and several long term studies have proven that early college is a viable educational alternative for some. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about kids who enter college early.
1. “They should wait. There's no need to hurry!”
Every child should be able to learn at his own pace and level. If a child is ready for college work at age six, ten, or 14, he should be permitted to enroll. Why should he wait to go on learning? Busywork or placement far below ability level may turn kids off to learning. Some highly gifted students have dropped out of school as a result of years without academic challenge. There are other ways to find intellectual challenge, (mentor relationships, independent study, academic competitions, etc.) but if a young person is interested and capable, then why not allow him to try college?
2. “The content of college courses is too mature for most kids.”
There are some courses that may be inappropriate for very young students. But kids are often exposed to far more gratuitous sex and violence through popular television shows, games and films then they might be exposed to in a college classroom. A course in human sexuality might not be advised for a young teen, but a history course that touches on the plight of the southern slave during the Civil War might be acceptable for the child with an interest in civil rights or history. Parents and college advisors need to help guide their young college students toward comfortable choices that suit the individual. If a child is particularly sensitive, first courses might be in subjects such as mathematics that do not raise a lot of controversy.
3. “Those young college students sacrifice their childhoods and have no friends.”
Sadly, this is a myth that many people believe to be true. There may be some gifted children who attend college and happen to be socially awkward, but it is likely that they would have been socially awkward in almost any situation. Kids with Asperger's Syndrome, for instance, will have trouble with social interactions throughout their lives. For kids who are gifted and challenged by Asperger's, early college may provide intellectual peers who do not engage in bullying behaviors or mocking their differences. Many highly to profoundly gifted kids who have trouble fitting in with age mates at a more traditional school find themselves happier and far less awkward with older peers in college. That being said, many early college students are at ease with both same age peers and older students, and have the advantage of being exposed to a variety of ages and opinions in an environment that is conducive to positive exchange of ideas. Furthermore, many gifted kids who seek to attend college early enjoy a plethora of extracurricular activities, both formal and informal. They still find time to hang out with friends, read for pleasure, and pursue hobbies. They're normal kids, they just have accelerated academic classes.
4. "They must have pushy parents."
Many parents who have highly to profoundly gifted kids have gone through a sort of grieving process. At some point, they realize that their child is so far outside the norm as to make typical plans irrelevant. There is no road map for parenting such children, and parents may grieve the loss of their "normal" child, and have to get used to a whole new paradigm for the more unusual child they actually have. I have known many gifted children and parents, and I feel safe in saying that in almost every case, it is the child pulling the parent along, and the parent racing to keep up. Nobody wants to be paying college tuition for a ten year old.
Research has shown that early entrants grow up to be well adjusted and productive adults. Various longitudinal studies have been overwhelmingly positive, including reports by:
Brody and Stanley
Janos, Robinson and Lunneberg
Noble, Robinson, and Gunderson
Why question success? Early college has worked well for a great number of students.