After questions about homeschooling, one of the most frequent “special case” questions I get is about younger students looking to apply. Often, phone calls about this to the Office will be routed to me, since I graduated high school a year early, and had a few friends at MIT who came in at age 16 or 15. Younger students are not a huge population at most colleges as at MIT, but each year we do admit, after careful review, a number of early- and mid-teenagers, those who, even though young, would truly be a significant part of this community.
While entering college/MIT at a younger age is not the right course for most students, for a select few it is exactly the right course of action. Most of these students are coming from areas where there are not enough resources, and they have just plain run out of opportunities. Some of these students’ families will move to another district with more opportunities; some will send the student to a boarding school to finish high school; but sometimes, applying to college is what makes the most sense. With these students’ applications, we’ll for the most part treat them as any other application, but we will ask a few additional questions: Why is this student applying to college now? Have they exhausted all of their resources? Do the teachers support this decision? Does this student have the emotional and social maturity to be a successful college/MIT student?
I’ll be happy to answer any questions left in the comments about this — or any other topic — in my next Questions Omnibus, when I return from Asia.
I was reminded of the topic by an interesting article, entitled “Outside the Norm,” in this month’s MIT News section of Technology Review. I’ll print some of it below, with a link to the full article at the bottom.
…Each year, a handful of “underage” teenagers are among MIT’s incoming students. The university takes no initiative to court them, but anywhere from one to five, ranging in age from 14 to 16, join the MIT community annually. What do these wunderkinder look like, talk like, act like? Do they spend all night sweating bullets over their laptops, or do they just lounge around their dorms effortlessly completing multiple homework assignments at once? Do they play chess blindfolded? Can they go a whole night speaking only in palindromes?
These questions are hard to answer, because if there’s any trait these students share, it’s the desire to blend in–to have their age be about as relevant as their eye color. Their birth dates matter far more to us than to them. No one knows this more than senior associate dean for students Robert Randolph.
“We try to be aware of these students, but the one thing we keep running up against is that they want to be treated just like everyone else,” says Randolph. “Conscious efforts to do things over the years, like have a support group, haven’t gone over well. We just monitor them from a distance and try not to be obtrusive.”
[MIT junior Drew] Reese, in particular, has blended in nicely. In addition to her duties as soda machine master, she’s also on the fencing team. Last year, she made the conference all-star team.
Other young students have had equal success blending in outside the classroom. Last year, as a 17-year-old freshman, Nivair (Nina) Gabriel spent her Friday afternoons meeting with the MIT Writers Group, where she’s revising the 200-page novel she wrote at 14. Seventeen-year-old freshman Derric Tay was a member of the Tech Squares, MIT’s square-dancing club. And this past spring, if you happened to wander past a classroom and overhear a young man teaching a for-credit seminar on poverty and HIV in Africa, that was 17-year-old sophomore Raja Bobbili. […]
The students’ wide range of interests and activities perhaps explains why Randolph’s support group has never gotten off the ground: its would-be members appear to have little, if any, trouble adjusting. Talk to them, and you don’t get the feeling that they are somehow overdeveloped “kids” coping with the shell shock of being plopped into a world they’re ill equipped to handle. Rather, the ease and the excitement with which they’ve acclimated to MIT lead to a rather unexpected question: what took them so long to get there?