My son is 15, and he just told us that he's planning to graduate a year early -- he said he researched it and the only thing he'll have to do is take both English 3 and 4 next year (when he's a junior) and then he can graduate one year early, because he'll have finished all the other prerequisites by then. His father (we are divorced) has signed off on this plan. Because of this strategy, my son wants me to take him on college tours now. He is aiming very high (Duke, Tufts, Northwestern) and I am wondering if he can get into schools like that because he won't have the same weighted GPA as kids who have stayed in school the full four years. He and his father believe that early graduation offsets that because colleges like to see go-getters. Is this accurate?
“The Dean" has answered variations of this question many times before. It seems like there is no shortage of teenagers out there who are ready to be done with high school! Here is a link to one of those columns, which offers some of the pros and cons of early graduation.
It isn't clear from your message exactly WHY your son is eager to graduate early, yet this is THE question that admission officials — especially at uber-selective universities like those you've named— will scrutinize the most. It will not be enough for them that your son has amassed sufficient credits to move on. They will need to believe that his academic growth will be stunted by remaining in high school because his school doesn't offer challenging classes that he hasn't already taken and/or it doesn't provide opportunities for “dual enrollment" at local colleges. Personal reasons for leaving home may sway admission committees as well. For instance, if your divorce has been an especially acrimonious one, it's understandable why your son is keen to get outta Dodge.
However, the GPA issue that you cite should not be a major factor. If your son has taken tough classes and earned mostly A's in them, the admission folks will recognize this. On the other hand, because he's skipping senior year, it's likely that he won't have had a chance to tackle some of the heavy-hitter classes such as AP Physics C, AP Calc BC, etc. that many of his “competitor" applicants will have completed.
Sometimes there are students who have already maxed out every AP (or other “most demanding") class in their schools by grade 11. But, more commonly, students who want to graduate after junior year simply haven't had time to get to at least a couple of the rigorous options that Duke, Tufts, Northwestern, et al will expect. Similarly, depending on what your son's extracurricular interests are, it also may have been impossible for him to take them to same level in three years that other applicants have had four years to achieve. In addition, you said that your son is just 15 now at the end of his sophomore year, which puts him on the young side for his grade. So it sounds like he'll be 16 (or perhaps barely 17) when he heads to college. This could be another strike against him. College officials will be extra wary as they evaluate his readiness for college due to his age.
Thus, contrary to your son's and your ex's assumptions, colleges do not give bonus points to “go-getters" who want to leave high school a year early and — in fact — often hold them to a higher standard.
So before you hit the highways for those college tours, ask your son to clearly present his reasons for early graduation and then discuss with him and his dad whether they'll pass muster with picky admission committees.
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