Considering how the complexity of science is growing with each passing year, it would make sense for people to start working on their degree as soon as possible. However the academic system in place in most countries doesn't seem to accommodate for that, as even the talented children still graduate after the age of 18.

Why isn't there a push to lower the age of people entering college and is it a rational decision on behalf of the government?

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    I agree with your concern but I don't agree with your solution - at least in the US, university is more than just being a stellar academic; it's the first time a lot of kids are without their parents for an extended period of time, the first time since youth that people have to make new friends, the first time people have legitimate responsibilities, et cetera. I don't think a 15-year-old has the maturity to deal with that; instead, a better solution is start teaching more science and math at an earlier age so less time is spent in college taking classes and more time researching.
    – anonymouse
    Apr 14, 2016 at 15:36
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    WIthout knowing the data, I think with your 5% number you are vastly overestimating the number of children for which it would make sense to enter college at 15. I think you are either overestimating how many "child prodigy" level geniuses there are, or underestimating the value of school for regularly smart children.
    – xLeitix
    Apr 14, 2016 at 15:49
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    Improving science education in high school seems like a more reasonable way to adapt to increasing scientific complexity.
    – user37208
    Apr 14, 2016 at 16:13
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    This kind of elitism doesn't go down well with my Central European heart. Apr 14, 2016 at 16:30
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    it would make sense for people to start working on their degree as soon as possible — [citation needed]
    – JeffE
    Apr 14, 2016 at 22:46

8 Answers 8


I don't think there is a need for this. Realistically, you can perhaps push the entrance age by one to three years: that compared with the expected working life of 44 years (from ages 23 to 67) is tiny. So, in the large scheme of things, having a small fraction of people (you suggest around 5%) increasing their work life in a 4% has a negligible impact.

What are the risks? You will be putting a lot of pressure on immature kids. Some can take it well and become successful; others will drop out soon enough; and others will end up burnt and fail catastrophically. Accelerated programs require a careful assessment of the participants, and following up to make sure they are keeping up (NOTE: no idea if they actually do it). Scaling this to a 5% of the population is a difficult undertaking, and you are up for a massive increase in drop outs, among the best students, no less.

And lastly, part of the whole educational experience is growing in both knowledge and maturity. Short cutting courses can speed up the first, but not the second.

There is a much more gentler road, and it is exposing the good students to advanced materials, done through advanced classes in high school, or taking a few university level courses, as Bill Barth mentions. This allows them to learn more, but also keeps the risks low. It also helps keeping them engaged, as they can choose to take early the subjects that they like, and later in life will take the ones that also need.

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    From my experience, they did not do enough, and many students returned to their original high schools due to inability to keep up with coursework independently or stay within the bounds of the rules of a boarding school for minors (with drugs, alcohol, and sex being the frequent kick-out offenses).
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 14, 2016 at 16:10
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    I'm speaking from FL, USA. I can echo some sentiments here: The dual-enrollment/early college plan can work very nicely if it's done right. A big problem back when I went to HS is that I didn't even know such a program existed. The big focus was standardized test scores such as FCAT, and no one at the HS was going to waste their time letting either the student or their parents know what the options were.
    – CKM
    Apr 14, 2016 at 23:12
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    "I don't think there is a need for this." There is a need. For some people, high school is harmful. For example, they might be harassed because they are a minority. In addition to the personal benefits of starting college two years early, I will benefit financially by about USD300,000 (in 2016 dollars) over the course of my career. Apr 15, 2016 at 1:41
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    "And lastly, part of the whole educational experience is growing in both knowledge and maturity. Short cutting courses can speed up the first, but not the second." Actually, Simon's Rock College did some psychological testing on their students and found that 16 year old college freshmen were like 16 year old high school students, but 17 year old college sophomores were like 19 year old college sophomores. Apr 15, 2016 at 1:42

Would you like your extraordinary talented kid to go to college that early? I wouldn't.

Don't rob children of their childhood. Being educated and being a brilliant scientist is valuable, but is hardly most valuable.

I feel that you can hardly skip any part of human development without consequences. A 16-years-old needs to gain experiences they can only gain if they live their life as a normal teenager. Investing only in intellectual development is a mistake; a fully competent person should have other competences as well. IQ is not everything, we also have emotional intelligence and other types of intelligence that must not be overlooked. This is especially important in case of brilliant scientists, who must be aware of societal and moral implications of their research. A person who has no broader horizons than just science is a pitiful view indeed.

Even more: allowing a young person to earn all sorts of experiences may help in the development of their overall intellectual capabilities, helping them to achieve even better results also in that particular field that is science.

Also, I can't shake off the feeling that however brilliant they might be, a kid will be much more happy if they live their life as a kid.

Last but not least, what the kid will do in their life is THEIR decision, not their parents or headhunters or whoever. Pushing their to college that early robs them of this right. The decision is made for them. Wait till their adults, and let them decide themselves if they want to go to college.

Bottom line: Because there is, plain and simply, far more in life than science. And however brilliant, the kid has the right to experience all of it.

  • 1
    Absolutely agree. Software developers I've met who skipped college to just start working possess the hard programming skills necessary to do that, but are often missing perspective and wisdom that would've been gained through gen-ed history, humanities, sciences. Just being able to do the job isn't really enough in this world; one must be able to understand and work with others, and be able to see the consequences of one's own choices. Apr 14, 2016 at 23:51
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    I disagree with this. People aged 15-18 are not "kids", and the notion that they are is historically, biologically, etc., incoherent mythology. Young people should be cultivated and practice making their own decisions. But this at least involves having the option to go to college when they the time is right, and having open discussions about it with their family. Apr 15, 2016 at 3:39
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    Would you like your extraordinary talented kid to sit, bored senseless, through 2 or more years of lessons on stuff they already know? Want them to to become disillusioned about the education system and lose their love of learning? That's the flip side of this argument. Many schools, even top ones, are not geared to provide the kind of engagement such students can be craving. Apr 15, 2016 at 4:15
  • @DanielR.Collins Perhaps the wording is indeed infortunate. Substitute "kids" for "teens".
    – gaazkam
    Apr 15, 2016 at 4:54


In most parts of the US, going to college requires being able to do other above-the-age-of-majority things like signing leases, handling major transport, etc. There's no to little support base for underage students at most universities. In large university towns like Austin, Texas, USA, where I live, there is a program in place for advanced high school students to go to the local community college (ACC) in place of some of their high school courses to get a leg up on attending the University of Texas at Austin. This program has been in place for decades and works well. Students may still live at home and attend both their regular school and ACC while keeping their support base intact.

I attended an early entrance program that served as my last two years of high school and my first two years of university. These programs aren't common in the US, but there are several.

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    For what it's worth, I taught 3 years at a high school similar to the one you attended (LSMSA), and both your remarks and the comments elsewhere here by both you and @SSS (about maturity and other non-academic issues) are on target. Apr 14, 2016 at 17:52
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    It's not even all because of the university, but a result of all of the systems around it. IIRC you have to have a diploma or GED before getting US federal financial aid, and some states have an age requirement for getting a GED. My family ran into that problem.
    – Nathan
    Apr 14, 2016 at 22:38
  • @Nathan, which is why TAMS, LSMSA, and other similar programs are special. They come from special legislation in their respective states that set them up and mandated how the money works. TAMS students need only pay room and board, for example, while the state pays the UNT tuition.
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 14, 2016 at 22:41
  • Really? I started college before age 18, and that did not even factor into my decision about which school to attend. Did I just happen to get lucky in attending a school where it wasn't a problem? (More generally, I don't think it's that unusual for people to turn 18 during their freshman year, and I've never heard of it being an issue.)
    – ruakh
    Apr 14, 2016 at 23:13
  • @ruakh, in the US, 17-year-olds often need parents to cosign leases, etc. in order to get them. Contracts with minors are voidable so many landlords won't take the risk. It is common for underage students to start college, but it helps to have mom or dad handy. Also, living in a dorm is not unusual for a year or two and can be a different sort of contract which may have mom or dad on the hook (via tuition) already.
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 14, 2016 at 23:54

"Why do most talented children still enter college after the age of 18?"

The reasons why are simple.

  • Discipline: Studying for classes that you're not interested in, like your bachelor-core courses, takes a lot of self-control. How many of us have sat there, voicing in our heads something along the lines of, "Why do I have to take this !$@# course?!?!" Little 10 year-old Olivia may be able to perform integrals in her head like it's nobody's business, and she may even read a math textbook before bedtime as if it were the next Harry Potter novel, but that sure as hell doesn't mean she's going to enjoy Introduction to American History, let alone have the discipline to avert her math-fueled attention to it... And then follow through with the weekly required reading of 50-100 pages... And then write four to six 4-page essays throughout the term of the course. The "boring" classes are relatively easy in high school; not so much in college.

  • Maturity: I could already write a book on how society pressuring kids to join college right out of high school is remarkably cruel; I couldn't even imagine that same pressure on a 14 year old. The decision to go to college is a big one and thus should only be left up to the individual. Even if a child or teenager is intellectually prepared for advanced academics, that doesn't mean that they are mature enough for it. College is where many learn the value of having strong ethics in collaboration, taking pride in our work, and preserving integrity within ourselves; most young individuals will miss this lesson, even if they attend the lecture.

    Additionally, as a parent, I could imagine that the idea of sending your teenager to spend a majority of their daylight hours with people who are mostly of ages 18 through 24 probably doesn't sound too inviting. That's not selfish on the parent; it's their job to protect the child.

  • Knowledge: Being talented doesn't mean you're naturally gifted in everything, especially people skills. Success in college takes more than just being a savant; it demands effective communication, handling intensely stressful situations with grace (at least most of the time), and knowing how to be an adult. There are the few exceptional younglings that can deal with all of that, but as your question reveals, most can't (because they don't have the knowledge on how to).


I teach computer science for a living, at a small college. In my experience, about half of the 18-year-olds that I see just aren't ready for college. They still need someone to wake them up in the morning, to make sure that they're not spending all their time playing games and slacking off, etc. So many of them drop out after a year, since they're just wasting their time and their parents' money. Lowering the age would only make the situation worse.

(Of course, there are gifted 17-year-olds and 16-year-olds who are ready for college. But those people are the exception, not the rule.)


Many of them do, actually. They attend early college high school at two-year community college. Instead of attending traditional high school, gifted secondary students will get their high school diplomas along with college credit or even two-year associate's degrees that totally knock out the general education courses required to earn a bachelor's. In my state, most two-year schools offer these early college programs. As of 2010, they enrolled one in five of the nation's early college students.

According to Wikipedia, early college programs actually started here in North Carolina. The initiative to encourage two-year schools to adopt these programs was funded initially by the Gates Foundation around 2002. They have since become increasingly common nationally in the US, and now enroll students in 26 states. Presently, over 50,000 students attend early college.

I think the early college programs find a unique balance between providing a 'normal' high school experience with other young teenagers who still live with their parents, without sacrificing the opportunity to start earning college credit for students who are totally capable of doing so.

Personally, I dropped out of high school junior year, got a high school diploma from community college in a few months, and started working on my associate's in what would have been my senior year of high school. Every path is different.

  • Correction: That one specific “Early College High School Initiative” program was started in 2002 with help from Gates Foundation. But early-access-to-college programs existed decades before that. Apr 15, 2016 at 6:53

Before the great depression, there was no typical age for entering college. During the great depression, politicians moved to encourage people to stay in secondary school longer as a way to reduce the size of the labor pool. This was an artificial way to reduce the unemployment rate. That is why most people start college at the age of 18.


Incorrect Assumption

You assume there is no early access to colleges, but that is not correct.

For decades now in the United States (at least) many colleges and universities have offered early access. Some of the various ways are described below.

High School Completion programs

“Junior admits” is becoming more common where high school students who’ve have passed sufficient number of courses in the important academic fields get admitted as a college freshman, thereby skipping their senior year in high school.

State governments may grant a High School Diploma after the student has spent several months in college.

For example, Shoreline Community College describes their High School Completion program:

Students in this program take classes and make preparations for completing a high school diploma and transferring to university at the same time. This allows students to begin their college-level studies early and go on to finish their four-year degree early too.

Some even let the student skip up to two years of high school. For example, Seattle Central College has such a High School Completion program.

Another example is the UW Academy program, for gifted High School students to attend the University of Washington.

Dual Credit programs

Some states let high school students take community college classes during the summer quarter (when their high school is on hiatus) or even parallel along with attending high school. The college course may replace some of the high school courses.

For example, the State of Washington has a few of these Dual Credit programs.

Also described in the answer by sig_se_v.

Coordinated Feeder Programs

The Matteo Ricci College is a program where a Jesuit university coordinates its curriculum with local high schools. At the end of their Junior year, successful students are admitted into the university for a continuous Humanities program, skipping senior year in high school.

College Credit for High School classes

High schoolers may earn college credit without leaving campus through either of two popular programs. Google/Bing “AP vs IB” to read many comparisons.

Advanced Placement

Many high schools offer Advanced Placement courses where students potentially earn college credits while staying within the walls of their high school building. Commonly called “AP classes”.

International Baccalaureate

Similar to Advanced Placement in some ways are some programs offered by the International Baccalaureate (IB).