Question: Do colleges prefer a student to have 4 years of high school, or is graduating early good too?
Background for the question: Currently, I am in junior high, but I mapped it out, and at the end of my sophomore year, I will be graduating. Also, in my freshman and sophomore years, I will be taking advanced placement classes.
“The Dean" has answered questions like this before. Here are two responses I've made to students who plan to graduate early. The first one is most apt for you because it's aimed at 15-year-olds and provides thoughts on what you should consider as you make your plans:
The fall after sophomore year is very young to start college and to benefit from a true college experience. If you are so far ahead of your high school classmates that you feel that you don't fit in at all, you might want to consider an Early College Program such as those listed here: http://cty.jhu.edu/imagine/resources/college_entrance.html
You can also find out if your own local high school offers a “Dual Enrollment" option that allows students to take classes at nearby 2-year or 4-year colleges while still officially enrolled at high school.
Note also that most colleges, especially the very selective ones, expect their applicants to have completed 4 years of English, at least 3 of math, social science/history and lab science, and 3 or 4 years of foreign language. So even if you are taking AP classes in grades 9 and 10, it might be tough to meet the recommendations (or requirements) of your target colleges.
Moreover, at age 16 you may not have had a chance to take on significant leadership roles in or out of school or to excel in some other extracurricular arena. So when the college folks evaluate your application, they will probably view you as a candidate who is very smart but who doesn't stack up against older candidates when it comes to curriculum and outside activities. If the admission committees consider you to be a true genius … one of those kids you see on TV who is doing calculus in kindergarten … then they will probably overlook these deficiencies. But if they merely see you as someone who is exceptionally bright but otherwise not especially accomplished, you may disadvantage yourself in the college selection process by trying to graduate from high school after 10th grade.
If you feel that you'd be spinning your wheels by staying in high school for four years but you're not interested in an Early College program, you should talk to your future high school guidance counselor about graduating after 11th grade but not 10th. Although admission officials will scrutinize the college-readiness of younger applicants more carefully than they do their seniors, as a junior you won't be under quite the same strong microscope that you'd be as a sophomore, and perhaps you'd put yourself in a better position to have a college career that is successful both academically and socially.