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Outside the Box
July 29, 2010 - 8:45pm

I never finished high school.

After my sophomore year of high school, I left and went to college at age 16. Some people thought I was crazy; they were worried that I would miss my senior prom. I thought they were crazy. The prom was the last thing on my mind. I was bored and lonely, even though I was surrounded by childhood friends.

I asked my parents to send me to a private high school, and they refused. They thought that it was a waste of money. They suggested that I go to college instead. The opportunity to go to college early was a decision that has impacted the rest of my life.
At sixteen, I didn’t have the maturity to understand a lot of the material that was presented to me in my first college classes. I didn’t have the study skills to manage my work load. I didn’t have the life experience to know how to work with faculty or ask for help. I did, however, find a group of peers who were also going through similar culture shock and who understood me. I felt like I fit in for the first time in my life. We all had the chance to redefine ourselves.

After getting my bachelor’s degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had just turned twenty. I took a year off and worked. I also took two graduate courses. I found that my graduate school peers were in a different place in life that I was. I was assigned to a study group that liked to meet in a local bar. When I tried to meet them, I was not allowed inside, because I was underage. It was embarrassing.

However, I did go on to get my graduate degree, and enter the world of teaching and higher ed administration. My non-traditional background has helped me relate to students of all types, and think outside the box of traditional education.

Standardized education and standardized tests are made for averages – not real human beings. In real life, none of us are really standard. Some of us finish high school at 16 and some need to stay until we’re 20. Some of us are ready for undergraduate programs and eager to attend, others need a gap year or two – some “real world” experience. We need more options – more entry points. Some students succeed on fast-track programs and others need additional time for reflection and practice.

Just as the end of the bachelor’s degree and the beginning of the masters should overlap and have continuity, the end of high school and the beginning of college should speak to one another. The focus should be on proficiencies and outcomes rather than on the number of years spent sitting in hard wooden chairs. It is not always about time. Who is to say that a three-year degree in the UK is not equivalent to a four-year degree in the US?

I was lucky to have a mother who was a high school teacher and a father who was a guidance counselor – lucky to have parents who knew about alternative paths to college. This prevented me from becoming a high school dropout. Having an option to attend college early forced me to come to terms with myself, grow up, and make my own decisions. I had small classes with excellent faculty. I studied abroad. It was an inspiring, broad education.

Early college is not for everyone, but I have no regrets about leaving high school after only two years


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