Parents of advanced students often ask me how early their student can begin college, wondering both what is realistic and what is practical. In order to best answer it, I think it’s a good idea to break the question down and dissect it.
a. How early is it realistically possible to attend college?
b. How early is best for my student to attend college?
There have been numerous documented cases of students attending college before they’ve reached double-digits in age, but these are rare cases, and certainly not the norm. If a student has completed the necessary requirements to graduate high school, there is nothing to keep him from attending the local university, unless they have a minimum age requirement. (Always check with the admissions department of the intended school to verify their specific requirements.)
So the answer to the first part of the question, “how early is it realistically possible to attend college?” is as soon as the student has met the necessary academic requirements for high school graduation, as opposed to a certain age.
Now, just because a student can attend at such an early age doesn’t necessarily mean that he should. The college years are a time of growth and maturation, a time when most students are on their own for the very first time, away from mom and dad, and the rules and regulations that go along with living at home. Because of this, and also because the majority of their peers will be in the traditional college age range of 18-24, I would recommend against it before age 16 or so.
Statistically, few students below this age can handle the many pressures and influences thrust upon them for the first time in college, especially if living on campus in a dormitory environment. Although many students at this age can handle the academic rigors of college, psychologically it’s not recommend, as they will have missed out on the high school developmental years that play a huge part in college preparation.
All of this aside, every student is different, and you’ll need to make the decision based upon your own child’s needs and abilities. If your student is on pace to graduate early, have him take dual enrollment courses to get a feel for the college environment before making the jump to a four-year university with on-campus living. Part-time work in conjunction with online courses are another option. Finally, remember that the high school years are a great time to volunteer or cultivate a hobby that can provide enjoyment for years to come, as well as possible business ideas for a future career.
A rigorous homeschool curriculum is always recommended, but make sure to balance it with extra-curriculars that will round out your student. Balance is the name of the game. A well rounded student will be the most prepared for college along with whatever else life can throw at him!