Students who attend college at early age rate experience positive, enduring

Armen Hareyan's picture

Students who entered college when they were 12 to 14 years old don't fit the stereotype of unhappy "nerds" who are humorless, isolated misfits, according to a new study. In fact, University of Washington research paints a different and much more positive and multi-faceted portrait of these gifted students.

"In reality they are extremely versatile, interested, interesting and sociable," said Kathleen Noble, lead author of the study and director of the UW's Halbert and Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars.

"Overall, having this kind of opportunity is a really healthy experience. An early college experience allows students to develop their capacities and to find kindred spirits. We all choose our deepest relationships from people who are like us."

The study showed that the vast majority of the students entered the UW at an early age for the intellectual challenge and most said their lives have lived up to their own and their parents' expectations in a number of work, intellectual and personal categories.

Participants were drawn from alumni of the UW's Early Entrance Program, founded in 1977. Ninety-five graduates volunteered for the study and filled out a 100-item questionnaire. The participants ranged in age from 16 to 40 and were almost equally divided by gender, with three more women than men.

The study also found:


  • The No. 1 reason for entering the early entrance program was an excitement for learning. Ninety-five percent of the participants said this was very important or important.

  • Seventy-six percent said disappointment with their previous schools was a very important or important reason for choosing the program.

  • Seventy percent said they had lived up to all or most of their financial expectation, 68 percent to all or most of their work expectations and 69 percent to their intellectual expectations.

  • Assessments of whether participants had lived up to all or most of their expectations about friendship, family and romance also were positive, 70, 78 and 63 percent, respectively.

There were very few less-positive findings. Fewer males reported finding satisfaction in past and current friendships and romantic relationships. Noble believes decreased maturity and a significant age difference between early entrance students and other college students might have made them less attractive to females in the program and to the overall university population. However, she said that a follow-up study conducted last year with current early entrance program students and participants in a second UW program for gifted students did not show this gender difference. That study has been submitted for publication.

Women reported less satisfaction financially. Noble said she wasn't sure if this reflected the fact that women generally earn less than men despite their educational level or existed because so many of the women were in graduate school, where salaries are low.

"People often ask us what happens to our students after they graduate," said Noble. "This study shows for the most part they are happy and their lives are enriched socially, intellectually and emotionally. Early university entrance is a very enriching experience that carries over into students; adult lives. It offers the intellectual challenge they are hungry for. They can learn at a faster pace than if they were in middle school or high school. It is very hard to turn on bright kids once their brains are turned off. Even with everything science has learned about the brain, we can't do that. We focus on helping students juggle multiple abilities and learn how to identify their own passions and values."