Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Too Young for College and Graduate School?

Over at the Huffington Post, Kelsey Caetano-Anolles has a fascinating essay about being a young college student -- and would-be graduate student. She enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign at the age of 14 after working with a legislator to get the minimum college age repealed. Having graduated with a degree in psychology, she's now trying to apply to the graduate program. But according to her, when she applied, she was told she was too young, and she really should take some time off to go backpacking through Europe.

I don't know Kelsey or her academic credentials, but I find this line of reasoning from UIUC fascinating. "Grown-ups" have a tendency to romanticize what young people should be doing: spending time finding themselves, traveling, etc. We like to wax eloquent about having plenty of time to advance in our careers later. Why hurry now? (the whole "Hurried Child" book was called that for a reason -- it appeals to a certain mindset). Of course, there are good arguments for "hurrying" too. Whole books have been written about the time crunch experienced by people trying to pursue graduate degrees and the early pre-tenure years of academia while having and raising small children. One way to space these windows out is to finish with school earlier. One way to finish school earlier? Start earlier.

Age is not a classification like race for which the law recognizes almost no reasons for discrimination. We don't let children work in most paying jobs before age 13 and have limits on hours and types of work up until age 18. Most people support some age restrictions on driving, drinking, etc. Nonetheless, age is a pretty blunt instrument for determining what people are capable of. We got rid of most mandatory retirement age policies, and these days, senior citizens are showing that people can contribute massively to organizations after age 65, 70, or what have you. And so, likewise, we need to be careful about claiming that people should or shouldn't do something else with their time because they happen to be 17. I hope Kelsey finds a graduate program that is interested in treating people as individuals -- and recognizing that human psychology allows for many different ways of finding happiness as a young person.

6 comments:

Mick said...

Unfortunately, age discrimination is still a reality in education. I ran into these situations many times, only to be denied an education because I might "miss prom" or have "social problems" being with the kids who treated me like a human being instead of an alien--from grade acceleration in grade school to early college admission to graduate school in psychology.

My solution when I was old enough to have a say in my education was to find somewhere that wanted me, even if it wasn't my dream school or initial thoughts as to program. I hope she will find a place that welcomes her and understands how real the need to learn is. Perhaps that school will be even better than the "dream" school that doesn't take her seriously...

Meg said...

Interesting to read the comments on the Huffington Post article and to remember that experience, not age itself, may be the reason this girl was rejected. Many of the comments stated that PhD psych students need internships, research and other real world experience before they are likley to be admitted to these very competitive programs. While I don't think age should automatically discount an application, it is highly desirable, and often required, to get some experience before entering grad school.

Anonymous said...

My son started taking community college classes at 15. Somehow we managed to stay below the radar; the school has a very strict policy against under-16s taking classes (even though my son is a straight-A student). However, this past summer he wanted to take a non-credit, 16-hour mini enrichment seminar...and was absolutely forbidden because he was not 16. We couldn't argue his way in because age is such a boundary they refuse to cross.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that we are holding gifted children back under the excuse that they may be too young. Who are we to decide whether they can or not handle a graduate program? This is discrimination, of course.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Graduate programs often assume a level of independence (in thought and action) that has little to do with intelligence. I started grad school before I was 20, and it worked out well for me, but it wouldn't for everyone. I can see a college refusing grad school entry to someone too young to legally sign a binding contract (18 in most states, I believe), but after that, I see no reason for age restrictions on grad school.

Heather said...

While I tend to agree with the above poster about being able to sign a legally binding contract. It gave me pause when I thought about why 18? Is that the age when someone can magically understand a legal contract? We do need to look at ageism more closely as society.