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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign at the age of 14 after working with a legislator to get the minimum college age repealed.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.