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I am interested in the statistics of early college graduation, or more generally, the statistics of extreme ages in academic settings (highschool, college, grad school, etc.). For instance, how many students who earn a college degree graduate one, two, three, or more years earlier than the typical age of 22 or so? I am willing for any statistics to qualified in any way (percentages in country W, at university X, in state Y, or from year Z). A quick Google search does not easily reveal this information.

I estimate that less than 5% of the population graduates college two years earlier than normal based on my acquaintances, but this is likely biased as I am a graduate student and it may be smaller.

EDIT: It occurs to me that my question does not ask for any opinions on whether early graduation is good, neutral, or bad. Perhaps it would be interesting to expand the question and have those who experienced graduating early give their stories or opinions.

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    Which country? there are members here from all over the world. – user7130 Jun 23 '13 at 4:31
  • I'd prefer U.S., but any information is fine. I suspect people grade earlier in the UK for instance? Maybe I'm wrong. – abnry Jun 23 '13 at 13:08
  • Hmmm I am in Australia, not sure if/how that would help you. – user7130 Jun 23 '13 at 13:10
  • Are you primarily interested in people who graduate early in terms of spending less time in university, or people who start at an early age and finish in the same amount of time (but still before the average age)? I fit the latter category but not the former. – user7123 Jul 1 '13 at 3:49
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    I started early and skipped a grade, before spending four years in college. I think the biggest concern that people have is that skipping grades can be socially awkward, but I actually skipped largely for social reasons: I was splitting my time between two grades with different schedules, and when I moved, I just decided to take all my classes in the same grade (my school agreed). The other thing is that you spend years getting used to being younger than everyone else, so when you get to college, it's not that much different. I can elaborate more in an answer if you have specific questions. – user7123 Jul 2 '13 at 7:45
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At least in the USA, the number is probably much smaller than 5 percent.

The reason for this is that there are generally fixed lengths for education, and minimum enrollment ages at which the process can start (at least for publicly educated students, who are still the majority).

Finishing two or more years ahead of schedule means that you probably have had at least two events that belong to the following categories:

  • Started education a year earlier than "normal" (perhaps because of birthday-limited enrollments)
  • Skipped a grade during primary or secondary (high-school) education
  • "Accelerated" college studies by reducing the expected enrollment time by either a semester or a full year (through early accumulation of credits via work in high school, or taking college placement exams, credit overloading, and other methods)

The first is the most common, but still only applies to about one-third of the population. The others are much less frequent, with the second probably pertaining to only about 1 percent of students (if that many). The third also probably is not that common, but I don't have hard numbers (but again, probably less than 5 percent of college students finish in three years or less!).

Now remember that you have to have at least two such events, and you can start to see why the odds are stacked against a 5 percent rate.

  • Good analysis/explanation. – paul garrett Jun 23 '13 at 23:31
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    Hm... I met only one of those three criteria, but I graduated at 20. – JeffE Jun 24 '13 at 3:23
  • @JeffE: My first point means rules like "Start at age 6 unless you were born after (for instance) September 1, in which case start at age 5." – aeismail Jun 24 '13 at 13:45
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    I like your breakdown. Though, may it be possible that these events are highly correlated? If one skips a grade in highschool or earlier, they may be more likely to accelerate through college? Also, I am still interested in any references to statistics, or personal experience. I came up with my estimate after thinking over my acquaintances. – abnry Jun 24 '13 at 23:42
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    As you say, publicly educated students are in the majority overall; however, my impression is that precocious students are disproportionately likely to be privately educated or homeschooled (neither of which are particularly unusual in the US). Of course, this is probably because these options don't necessarily require a regimented progression through numbered grades, so they'll appeal to students naturally inclined to an accelerated timetable. Thus, I think that concentrating on the issues facing public-school students will tend to undercount. – Nate Eldredge Jul 12 '13 at 12:35
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In the UK this number is likely to be extremely small. Within our department we circulate a list of all students under the age of 18 at the beginning of the year. This includes both our students as well as students sitting in on our classes. For this sample size of about 500 per year the number under 18 is typically about 1%. Of these, the vast majority turn 18 there first year. Further there is either a bug in our software, possible, or the remainder turn 18 during the summer since I have never been told about a 2nd year student being under 18. The sample size for 2nd year students is about half as big since we do not get drop ins to our second year classes.

Obviously this could be biased by our department or university not attracting these students.

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Specifically addressing the edit to to the question regarding experiences as a younger student:

Aside from what I've already posted in my comment, I guess the only social aspect that I felt I missed out on was getting into university-sponsored senior class events where alcohol was served (I was under 21 at a US school). Most of the time, my age was not an issue socially. I was also an RA (residential advisor), so my age was not assumed to correlate with lack of leadership ability. Academically, it might have even helped me get certain positions, because I was seen as a "driven" individual with prior academic success, and all of those positions helped me get into graduate school.

Now that I'm in graduate school, the only thing I really miss is not having interesting stories to tell about cool things I did during my gap year(s). That problem is common to a lot of people in my class, though, regardless of them being a few years older than me. I don't have people that are my age in my year, but I don't think it's affected my academic success here: I've had four years of high school, four years of undergrad, and three summers of undergraduate research, like (or better than) many of my peers.

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