Guest Author - Lorel Shea
A significant number of gifted children take college courses before graduating high school or reaching the traditional age of 18. There are many ways to ensure that the first exposure to college coursework will be a positive experience. Studies have demonstrated that most early college attendees are enthusiastic about their radical acceleration, and more apt to get advanced degrees than their non-accelerated gifted counterparts.
The young student must be prepared to do better than average and conduct herself appropriately, as people will hold her early college experience up as an example. If an older student comes to class unprepared or acts immaturely, that reflects only on them. This is not the case with a young student who may be unconsciously paving or obstructing the way for young scholars for years to come. It's not fair, but it is rare enough to see a young teen or preteen in college that people will make judgments based upon whatever limited case studies they have. If in doubt about readiness, it is better to wait a year and consider it again.
Early college success is about more than just being academically gifted. I'll explain this using a fictional eleven year old who we will call Martha. Martha is brilliant, she aces all her middle school tests and has a very high IQ. She enjoys art and science and dreams of making scientific breakthroughs and painting masterpieces in her spare time. She yearns for a faster pace in her lessons and more advanced material. She has already been double grade skipped and has completed the most challenging coursework offered at her school. Her parents don't relish the idea of her mixing socially with high school kids just yet.
Let's look at Martha's readiness:
1.She has the drive to do well, and is interested in a greater challenge.
2.She has exhausted most of the resources at her present school.
3.She has the intellectual power to perform years ahead of age-mates.
Martha might be a very good candidate for early college. Let's take a closer look at her work and study habits.
1.Can she cope with constructive criticism?
2.Can she manage her time?
3.Is she able to relate well to a diverse classroom of people, with different ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic origins?
4.Will she feel comfortable taking part in class discussions and study groups?
5.Can she type well?
6.Does she have well developed writing and research skills?
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then Martha will probably do very well in early college. If no, then maybe it would be better to wait, to think about online college coursework or independent study with a mentor. Let's say that Martha has answered yes to all; now she has to decide what type of early college experience is right for her.
There are quite a few choices for young people interested in full time early college. Special programs such as Mary Baldwin's PEG (Program for the Exceptionally Gifted), The Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas, and Simon's Rock of Bard are designed for young students who wish to enroll full time and live on campus. These programs provide special support and guidance to young scholars. Living away from home as a young teen or tween is a big change, with a lot of responsibility put on the individual student. Those who adapt best are flexible thinkers with a strong sense of self and an internal drive to succeed.
Other gifted young people choose to stay at home and attend a local college or university. This obviously restricts the individual to schools that are within commuting distance. Many young gifted kids start out at community colleges, which tend to be smaller and more easily accessible to one without a high school transcript. A good tactic is to begin with auditing or enrolling in just one course, and add on courses ands credits once a successful baseline is established.
So where will Martha apply? Use your imagination. A young student and her parents will need to do a lot of careful thinking about whether or not to skip high school entirely, where to enroll, and how many courses to take. There are no simple answers based on IQ scores or interests. Every gifted child is unique and attention needs to be paid to social and emotional readiness as well as academic readiness.