True Story: I Started University When I Was 12

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things.  This is the story of Abigail and how she started taking college classes at the age of 12!

Tell us a little bit about yourself!
a college student and I live in Smashville! (Nashville, Tennessee) I’m
still in school- I’m pursuing my BSBA in marketing and my BA in
photography. I’m studying through some local state schools and also
Thomas Edison State College, a state school in New Jersey that offers
flexible learning opportunities. I’m planning to graduate with both
degrees in a couple of years.
I am a musician and I just released my new album, Jubilation, last week!  I play folk harp and I write alternative music along the lines of
Mumford and Sons, First Aid Kit, Joni Mitchell, The Civil Wars, etc. Go
check me out!
What was school like for you as a child?
was homeschooled, so school was tailored to me! I went through my
requirements pretty quickly in high school, and then spent more time
learning about writing, philosophy, history, and taking other courses
where I could really stretch myself. I went through this program where I
read all of ancient literature, starting with Genesis, the
Illiad/Odyssey, etc. and moving right on up to George Orwell, Ayn Rand,
etc. Have you ever read Dante’s Divine Comedy cover to cover? Don’t.
Despite what the cover says, it’s not funny. I was pretty mad when I
graduated high school and found out that I had twice the credits
necessary. I was like, “Seriously. Mom!”
my parents never had my IQ tested. They said that if it was low, I
wouldn’t push myself. And if it was high, then I would just keep on
doing what I was doing. So there wasn’t any point!
far as peers go, I was fortunate to have friends of many different
ages. I did feel a bit older than the friends who were my age at that
time because I had a broader range of experience/education.
How did you end up going to college at such a young age?
mom saw an advertisement for a continuing education class in sign
language at our local college right before my twelfth birthday. She
wrangled with admissions, and we were allowed to take it together for
non-credit. Then we found out that they had a two-year degree in sign
language interpreting. She asked me if I wanted to do it. I had seen
enough of the language to know that I was hooked, so I said yes!
you tell us about the process of actually starting college?

mom met with the K-12 program director (kindergarten? Seriously? We
weren’t that crazy) and we had to get special permission from the dean,
since I didn’t have a high school diploma yet. I wasn’t even in high
school yet.
for the tuition, oh yes! we had to pay tuition. In fact, we paid double
tuition because the college required my mom to enroll with me up until I
was about sixteen. (Maybe they were afraid that I would color on the
walls? I’m not sure why.) Anyway, it turned out to be a great bonding
experience for us.
How did the other students at the college react to you?
were welcoming and thought that it was great that I was in classes.
They enjoyed having me around. In fact, one of my fondest memories is
when, in one class, we were called ‘mom‘ and ‘sister.’  It was very
community based. I made some great friends.
students were not so welcoming. They felt threatened and frequently
made derogatory comments about my age. Also, some teachers were not
welcoming. I made all A’s except for two classes where I earned B’s. I
feel that the professors discriminated against my age, rather than
judging my ability, because I did as well in the classes as my mom, who
made A’s. All this started to iron itself out when I got a little older.
Which classes did you take?
took all language based classes until about sixteen, when I started
taking some general education classes. I also took some CLEP tests
(College Level Examination Placement tests) for general education
loved my classes! The cadence and rhythm of American Sign Language
appealed to my artistic nature and creativity. I took so many classes,
that in fact, I graduated college with my Associate’s degree a month
after I finished high school.
you glad you started attending college at such a young age?  Would you
ever send your children to college at such a young age?

I am so
glad that I was able to start going to college at such a young age. I
had so many great experiences, plus the opportunity to start working and
finish college early. If I ever have kids, I would totally let them go
to school at that age if they have that desire. Starting college at age
twelve was an incredibly enriching experience for me.
Any advice for students who aren’t challenged by their current learning environments?
your learning opportunities. Does your school offer College Level
Examination Placement tests? (CLEP for short) You can test out of three
hours in several topics for less than a hundred dollars.
Do tests make you cringe? The same organization offers AP (advanced
placement) classes for college credit at most high schools. Or, enroll
in your local college, like I did. Or you can just graduate early and be
done with it all. Just explore! The one-size-fits-all education that
most public and private schools offer doesn’t fit many people. (I think
homeschooling is tops, but I’m biased!)
explore extracurricular activities. For me, it was music, textile arts,
volunteer work and yoga practice. Don’t allow yourself to stagnate just
because you are in a boring place right now. Since I did a lot of
extracurricular activities, I was able to unlock my creative side, and
discovered that I have a good eye for art and a good ear for music,
which is starting to pay off in huge ways.
if you don’t think that you are smart, remember that massive amounts of
book learning do not always equal intelligence. Problem solving,
analytics, organizational skills, perception, creativity, etc. are all
indicators of intelligence.
Wherever you are in your educational journey, I wish you as much happiness as I have found in mine.
Did any of you start college early?  Any questions for Abigail?

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  1. Sara

    I started college when I was 16. I dropped out of high school and took my GED. It was the best decision I ever made. I was flunking most classes in school, but got straight A's in college because I was finally doing what I wanted.

    Unfortunately I'm now 24 and still working on a bachelors in social work, but that's due to extenuating circumstances in my personal life which forced me to start going part time. If I had continued full time, I'd have had my masters a couple years ago.

    I think it's important for people to think outside the box with education. Like Abigail said, one size does not fit all.

  2. nova

    What! This is amazing. I'm so jealous of the bonding experience of going to college with your mom. How cool!

  3. penn

    My older brother started college full time when he was 14/15. The University of Washington has a "transition school" and an early entrance program for a small number of students each year (14, I think? I don't remember). We had moved across the country, and our new suburban schools were quite different from the gritty urban schools my brother and I had been attending. He had already done a few college classes back home (similar to the poster here), so he decided to delve in once he found out about the TS/EEP program.

    He graduated at 19 w/degrees in language and policy and joined the Marines. He now has a master's degree in more languages and different areas of global policy, so he's pretty well sought after by the government. He's 31 and has met with great success. I think he would likely have done similar things if he had taken a more traditional path, but I'm also pretty sure our suburban high school would have been a very difficult place for him, socially.

  4. Julia H.

    Wow! As a current college student, I can't even imagine what it must be like to go to college at such a young age. I definitely get the benefits of it, especially for someone who doesn't feel challenged by age-appropriate schooling, but there is so much more to college than the classes! I feel like someone would miss out on all of the life learning that happens during the regular college years.

  5. hungryandfrozen

    Fascinating – thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Aimee

    It's always interesting to read about other people who attended college early…I moved across the country and started an early entrance program at a women's college in VA when I was fifteen (one of the oldest girls in the program), transferred to a liberal arts college in my home state of WA, and graduated with a BA at 19.

    Overall, I'm a big fan of things like Running Start, but I'm not sure that I would recommend full on early college entrance to everyone. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I hadn't left high school…Still, early college entrance pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the chance to do some amazing things.

    In response to Julia above, I didn't date much in college, but otherwise I had similar life experiences to my college classmates. I lived in a dorm, was active in several campus organizations, joined a sorority, and studied abroad for a full year.

  7. Shelby

    I started college at 16 in a program called Middle College High School. It was the most enriching experience of my life. I took classes at our community college, Tidewater Community College, that doubled as high school credits and college credits. I graduated with a near associates degree and will be graduating this May with my BA at the age of 19. One of the best things about the program was that it allowed students who do not conform to the traditional school form a new way of learning. The program was covered by a grant but has unfortunately lost its funding.

  8. Shelby

    I would also like to add to my comment by stating that my program functioned very similar to a normal high school. I had a "graduating class" of about 30 students who were my age, as well as maintained a boyfriend from my "home" school. Standardized tests were done through the school as we were still considered high school students. Any high school classes we needed to take the teachers came to us. Unfortunately I did not participate in many extracurricular activities within my high school, however I was not inclined to participate in them when attending high school. While I agree that I am missing out on some of my college experience and have missed out on some of my high school experience I would not choose any other path for myself. I would have drowned in a normal high school and I believe an option such as mine should be open for any student who would better excel in such a program.

  9. Hayley

    I started at the community college at age 16 and am still going there, as well as taking high school courses. My school is an early-college program school where kids can take a certain amount of units at the college while taking high school courses.
    I wish I would have started at that school earlier though, my peers will graduate high school with their AA degrees because they started in freshman year.

  10. Royvia

    Great post.

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