Starting college early is a common tactic for teenagers who are “done” with the traditional high school scene.
Why? Because colleges tend to offer a more serious, mature, and intellectual atmosphere than high school does. As I wrote in College Without High School:
[T]he college experience (college meaning both four-year colleges and universities) tends to be significantly better than the high school experience. What frustrated you in high school is much less likely to exist in college.
The biggest reason for this is that college comes in many different flavors, unlike the monolithic public/private high school. There are small liberal arts colleges and big research universities. There are sport-obsessed state colleges and academic-obsessed Ivy League colleges. There are low-residency colleges like Goddard, tiny colleges like Marlboro, independent study colleges, study abroad colleges and online colleges. You have a much better chance of finding a college that fits your goals, personality and budget than you do a high school. And because college students are a self-selected crowd – unlike high schoolers forced together by age and geography – you’re virtually guaranteed to meet people who share your values and interests.
Other areas where college excels in comparison to high school include: College gives you the space to pursue your individual goals; high school doesn’t. College lets you set your own study schedule and attend classes only if you find them useful; high schools don’t. And in college you’re likely living away from home and taking care of yourself – an element of adventure that high school lacks.
(Read more about why I love college more than high school on my HuffPo article, Give High School Students the Same Freedom as College Students.)
Community college is the easiest way to start college early. A majority of the unschoolers I know do some amount of community college. This path is wonderful because:
- community colleges are everywhere! (assuming you live in the United States)
- community colleges are cheap! (assuming you qualify for in-state tuition)
- you can start at age 16, and often younger (it varies; consult your local college)
- you can take as many or as few classes as you want
- you can live at home while attending
- the classes tend to be more hands-off and self-paced than a comparable high school class
- you get college credits for your work
But community colleges aren’t always the best choice. As 2-year institutions, they miss out on a number of the benefits I outlined in the quote above. Again from College Without High School:
There [are] good reasons not to spend two full years in community college. If you are fully desiring the all-encompassing, live-away college experience, community college will feel too slow and too close to home for you. Community colleges have much less of a sense of community than four-year institutions. And they are often filled with under-motivated high school graduates who reflect little of the intellectual passion that you’ll find in four-year colleges.
If you’re seeking a deep intellectual experience—and you’re ready to move away from home—then starting 4-year college early might be your ticket.
Bard College at Simon’s Rock is a leader in this field, offering a residential college program where the average first year student is age 16.5.
Wikipedia has a list of colleges that offer early entrance.
Is there a resource that belongs on this page?