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Should a Gifted 15-Year-Old Attend College?
Q: My 15-year-old daughter's school is changing schedules and will not be able to offer honors classes next year. The principal is advising us to send her to college for her junior and senior year because they cannot meet her academic needs. The district will cover tuition. I think she will be fine academically, but I am worried about putting a teenager in an adult environment and the effect it will have on her emotionally and socially. What are your thoughts?
A: In my state of residence, the concept of having high school students attend college courses nearby is called Post Secondary Educational Option (or PSOP). There are usually minor rules that are not always evident, such as how many courses must still be taken at the local high school to qualify for participation in extracurricular activities (like band/orchestra, science club, etc.). I also learned recently that while a high school may give weighted grades for high school honors classes, colleges may not give any weighted grades. The coursework is generally a bit more difficult for even the most capable high school student, so non-weighted "B" grades can make a GPA drop a bit. In addition if a student fails or drops out of a course, the parents are responsible for paying the school district back for all tuition expenses.
Keeping these rules in mind, I still believe that this can be a good option for a capable high school student who is not being challenged by the local curriculum. I think that if possible, the high school student should still have the opportunity for participation in high school extra-curriculars.
Interaction with age peers is still quite valuable for your daughter. If all her time is spent with older teens and adults, she may develop a sense of being less capable than them (even if that is not the case!), which is not helpful for her self-esteem. I am assuming from your question that your daughter will be attending college as a commuter student while still living at home.
The Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia houses young teen girls on campus while attending college. They ask that the students have exceptional emotional maturity, so that they may succeed in the college environment at such a young age. In addition, they house all the young teens together to provide additional physical and emotional security.
If your daughter has some reservations about taking this step to college, perhaps she should meet with one of the college's counseling staff to discuss her concerns. If your daughter's personality is flexible and somewhat mature, I suspect she will do well in a college commuter situation. It's a big step, but its success eventually depends on the individual student. Thanks for your question. Good luck.
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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.