Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bleg: What to Do with a Gifted Child

I need some academic advice. Not for myself – I already know the answer to that problem: quit blogging! I mean for my children, and especially my older daughter.

Γ aspires to be a medical doctor. As a homeschooled student, she is now two-plus years ahead in her Math-U-See curriculum, and comes home from the library with stacks of books on science, which she reads voraciously. I’ve been thinking ahead as to what we should do with her if/when we’ve exhausted secondary-level material to teach her.

In a post that I can’t seem to find, Steve Sailer recommended that ambitious high school students abandon high school entirely after their sophomore year in favor of community college, from whence they can transfer into a four-year program and graduate two years early. I’ve been considering* this in the context of our own local community college. It’s well-regarded, not far from where we live, and pretty cheap for us county residents. Plus, it offers a program in “Liberal Arts and Sciences” that will fulfill the freshman and sophomore math, science, humanities, and Soc. Sci. requirements of the state’s universities and easily transfer for this purpose, even for students intending to major in science, engineering, and pre-med. So why hang around in high school if you are ready for college?

Well, actually, I can think of several possible reasons why it might not be a good idea:

  • Transfering into a local state school would be easy. But transferring into anywhere else would be difficult. Schools typically admit transfers only to replace dropouts, and the more competitive the schools, the fewer dropouts they have. The Ivy League, MIT, etc., graduate 99% + of their entering freshmen. So competition for a transfer slot is even more heated than for freshman admission. (MIT, for instance, almost tells you not to bother.

  • Adding to the difficulty is that many colleges won’t consider a high school student with college credits (as opposed to AP credits) beyond some threshold value as anything other than a transfer student, even if they took those credits while high-school-aged. (A notable exception to this is the Service Academies, which regard all selectees as freshman regardless of their previous college experience. The downside is that while the credits transfer, a cadet still must take a full course load every semester.)

  • As Half Sigma has pointed out, the top schools are looking for “demonstrated leadership potential”, which in practice usually means extracurricular and athletic achievement in high school. My daughters compete in figure skating, but I’m not sure what a homeschooled student can do to look competitive. Further, while the community college does have clubs and such that might fill this bill, my daughter would be competing for recognition with older students. (Despite her academic prowess, Γ’s social maturity is at best on par. I guess the apple never falls far from the tree.)

That’s my take on the problem. Does anyone have any insight on the best way to proceed?

* This is where I make the usual disclaimer about how this will be all her decision, etc. I’m just thinking about the direction in which I should, you know, advise her. Yeah, that's it . . . .


newt0311 said...

Sailor is right. A normal high-school (even one of the top hundred in the country) will certainly be a total time-sink for your daughter. I should know as I went through one.

Something you might find interesting is the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. It specializes in cases like your daughter's. It is placed inside the University of North Texas and students enrolled in this program are free to take any university courses as well as use university resources. Essentially, they are treated as university students (though there are some specialized conditions like a separate dorm, etc...). It covers the last two years of high-school and provides very large amounts of college credit as well as a high-school diploma. Universities in general accept these students as incoming students instead of as freshmen and most universities will accept the credits (except for the top ones like MIT, Caltech, etc...).

The dean as well as the assistant dean are both bio PHDs and therefore the academy is well suited for an aspiring doctor. I also know of a person who went there who was home-schooled (and I remember, he did well. He is currently at SMU I think). TAMS is particularly useful here as it provides several opportunities to build up a solid resume for college apps. (and the counselors there are also very good).

I can introduce you if you like but there is one major caveat: the academy receives major funding by the State of Texas and therefore is restricted to residents of Texas. However, from experience, I know that this may be exactly the kind of place that you are looking for.

Trumwill said...

That's interesting about MIT. A little down the food chain it's completely different. The more exclusive public universities of my home state love transfers and it's a whole lot easier to get in if you start somewhere else. It's likely a product of big state schools flunking out a lot more people than MIT and having more slots to fill.

I would look into her unofficially taking college courses without enrolling. I think that there are some universities that offer the course material for free or a charge but don't give class credits.

Regarding Newt's suggestion, my wife went to a TAMS-like school and I know a couple of other people (including one of my old roommates) that went that route. Most states seem to have that option (google: NCSSSMST), though getting in can be competitive and homeschooling may or may not put you at a disadvantage.

Φ said...

Here is one of the conundrums that I'm trying to figure out: why does MIT, on their homeschool page, encourage participation in online programs like Stanford's for, say, AP-calculus, but if the same student takes an actual college calculus class, they become ineligible for freshman admission? Does AP math really say that much more about a student that successful completion of college math?

In my experience, it says less. When I was advising undergraduates, I routinely saw students who came in with a year's worth of AP credit (scores of 4 and 5) go on to fail Calc III.

Personally, I couldn't spell "AP" when I wsa in high schoo. Maybe Stanford's program is more rigorous. But as a general rule, I don't understand the reasoning. I think Newt is right: once a student has taken the high school level math and science, and demonstrates proficient writing, then the rest of high school seems like a waste.

newt0311 said...

but if the same student takes an actual college calculus class, they become ineligible for freshman admission?

I find that difficut to believe. Probably, they would just deny credit without either their own test or something like the AP exam. Where did you find this piece of information?

Φ said...

I went back and re-read the schools' admissions websites. Their seems to be "room for interpretation". On the one hand, here it says that you can take college courses "while still in high school", but here it says if you have "a year or more" of college then you must seek transfer admission. So what of a high school aged person taking only college classes? For two years? I guess I'd have to call the school.

Georgia Tech's rules are even more rigid: if you leave high school early and enroll full time in college at all, then you must seek transfer status, and only then after taking the full core curriculum at the other school. The good news is that Georgia Tech has lots of transfer slots available since its dropout rate is much higher.

I can kind of understand their point in trying to figure out what kind of student someone is. Is he "doogie houser"? Or just out of rehab? I would think the key determinant would be age: a 17 year old ju. co. graduate is obviously on a different track than a 24 year old ju. co. graduate. But the websites don't say that (because of discrimination laws?) and instead try to tie it to institutional status ("high school students taking college classes", vs. "college students").

newt0311 said...

Hm... strange. I guess its time to call. Thankfully, I university admins are a lot more fun to talk to than state bureaucrats.

ironrailsironweights said...

The more exclusive public universities of my home state love transfers and it's a whole lot easier to get in if you start somewhere else.

Many people in my high school graduating class in Connecticut were planning on spending two years at the local branch of the University of Connecticut and then transferring to the main campus for their final two years. They outnumbered, by some considerable margin, those who went straight to the main campus. If I'm not mistaken, the policy was that if you maintained a certain GPA in your two years at the branch campus you were guaranteed a spot in the main campus.


PeterW said...

I would also suggest taking AP exams; it is not necessary to take the class to take the tests, and it's verifiable achievement. I don't know, however, how much course flexibility your high school gives.

As for extracurriculars, I'd suggest doing research if there is a university nearby. A publication, even as a minor authorship, is not something that many science-oriented college applicatns have.

Weasel said...

I will suggest an entirely different route. If your daughter has reached the academic level of a high school graduate but you fear taking college courses at this juncture will limit her future options you might look for a completely different option. Find something that your daughter can do that can fulfill your states homeschool requirements but will expand her horizons while keeping her from transitioning to a "college" status. Some options might be to try the Congressional Page program, work part time in a field she is interested in, volunteer with a local organization aligned with your values, etc. This continues to challenge her, allow her to mature at her own pace, and still leave all of her college options available.

Hermes said...

Wait, you're going to encourage your daughter in her quest to become a doctor? What kind of anti-feminist are you?!

Seriously, are you set on helping her fulfil this goal at this point?

Φ said...

What kind of anti-feminist are you?

The kind that didn't get any sons, dammit!

Hermes said...

Ah, well. From my vantage point in the 3rd year of medical school, I would not recommend that anyone do this, unless he is 100% certain that he was born to be a doctor and loves medicine more than life itself.

Φ said...

For what it's worth, I didn't recommend that Γ go into medicine. On the contrary, I have been quick to point out the sacrifices that this career path will entail. But she has an aunt that's a doctor, and the aunt became her role model. So as long as this is what she wants to do, I'll try to make sure she receive the necessary preparation.

Doug1 said...

I hope I'm not commenting too late for you to see this. Hopefully you're notified of new comments to older posts. I just discovered your blog.

First I disagree with those that think medicine is a poor choice for a highly intelligent girl set on it who also has non feminist traditonal family values in some/many was. Medince, or many sub fields within it, DO make it relatively easy for a woman to work part time as she gets older. Unfortunately that may not be very compatible with having children younger than 30 - unless she takes some time off after being married to any older man able to make that possible.

As for the here and now. It seems obviously a poor idea to actually enroll her in a class taking junior college at this stage, given the admissions policies of most first rank colleges and the much greater difficulty of transferring into many of them, given the apparent real possiblity that your daughter might gain admission as a freshman to one.

Since it seems she's functionally done with high school level home schooled courses, and out to want to apply to college as a freshman, but is also socially shy and weak on the "extra curricular activities" front, it seems the twothings she should focus on for the next couple of years are 1) gaining extra curricular activity pluses in a way that also involves more socializing, though that would seem to be almost automatic; and 2) doing homeschool work such as Stanford's online offerings or otherwise that avoid the fatal to freshman admissions enrolled in any kind of college trap. This need not be a full course load necessarily. As for 1) I would think medically related volunteerism made sense, particularly if it has an "disadvanged minorities" component to it (given the nature of university admissions committees these days, it is what it is), and particularly if in the second year you and she can figure out some way in which she can pull or appear to pull some leadership role angle to it.