Question: I am in eighth grade. I know this seems a little early, but I want to graduate in eleventh grade so I can go to a good college and then go to medical school. What should I start to do now?
Bravo to you for looking down the road toward your future goals and on your determination to go to a good college and then to medical school. But, unless there are some extenuating circumstances that I'll explain in a minute, “The Dean" is going to encourage you to spend four years in high school rather than rushing off to college after eleventh grade. Why?
Well, for starters, college admission officials set more rigorous standards for younger applicants than they do for seniors. They want to be certain that the junior applicants have really solid reasons for leaving high school early, and they can be skeptical that eleventh graders are as mature and as well-prepared for college as the twelfth graders are. So, once you've selected several colleges to aim for, your admission odds may decline if you apply as a junior and not as a senior. (I'm not saying that you won't get in for sure, only that it will be harder, and some colleges have single-digit acceptance rates to begin with!)
Therefore, in order to maximize your chances for a range of college acceptances (and scholarships), your best bet is to complete four years of high school, taking the most rigorous classes you can handle. You will not be able to pack all of the most challenging classes into three years, so it's likely that your “competitor applicants" at the colleges that interest you will be submitting transcripts that include choices such as AP Physics C or AP Calculus BC, which you simply won't be able to get to in just three years. This means that your application will not be as strong as theirs. Staying in school for four years will also give you the best shot at demonstrating a long-term commitment to your extracurricular activities and at snagging those leadership roles that the college folks seem to love. In addition, some scholarships awarded by community groups, charitable foundations, etc., are only for seniors, and you may — or may not—be considered a senior for scholarship purposes if you graduate after eleventh grade.
Secondly, if you start college early, you will probably expect to start medical school early as well. And med-school admission officials can be even more wary of young applicants than the college admission officials are. Again, being young isn't an automatic deal breaker, but it could turn out to be a strike against you.
BUT ... as noted above, there are some sound reasons for leaving high school early and, if any of these apply to you, you can explain them to admission committees when the time comes. These reasons include:
- Family Relocation. If your family expects to move at the end of your junior year, which would require you to start a brand-new high school as a senior, then it may make sense for you to plan ahead and apply to college early.
- Family Strife. If your home life is extremely difficult due to substance abuse, physical abuse, constant arguing or other significant problems, you might be wise to leave for college a year early. If this is the case for you, make sure you discuss your situation as openly as possible with your guidance counselor so your reasons for rushing through high school are clear and understandable and so the counselor can advocate for you.
- Lack of Academic Challenge. If you attend a high school where the majority of students don't share your academic ability and focus, where the classroom atmosphere isn't conducive to learning or where you'll complete the highest levels of math, science and foreign language by eleventh grade, then graduating in three years could be a viable solution for you. But also talk to your counselor about other options. For example, many high schools offer “dual enrollment" programs that allow high school students to take their classes at local community colleges. This might be a good route for you if you feel ready for college but decide to follow “The Dean's" advice and stick around high school for four years.
If, after reading all of this, you are still determined to apply to college in eleventh grade, then here's some more reading for you ... a previous “Ask the Dean" column aimed at early grads.
So, what should you do now?
- As noted above, try to take the most challenging courses available when you get to high school, but always prioritize your physical and mental health. There can be a fine line that separates “challenge" and “stress." Don't overload yourself in an effort to impress admission committees.
- Get involved in extracurricular activities you enjoy. School sports and clubs can be a great way to focus on your interests while having fun with your friends. But also keep in mind that college admission officials get pretty tired of seeing the same activities on every application. So include endeavors that take place outside of school. Individual hobbies done right at home can be even more interesting to admission committees than the predictable school clubs. And, as an aspiring doctor, you should definitely “test-drive" your career by volunteering at a hospital, medical clinic or nursing home, or by taking classes in first aid and emergency medical response. (Call your local Red Cross for course information.)
- Keep up your grades. Here are some tips that “The Dean" put together for another eighth grader who wanted to do better work in high school. Even if your grades are already excellent, you might still benefit from these suggestions.
Good luck to you as you continue to follow your dreams. Write back when more questions come along.
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