The problems with being a college drop in

By CARMEN SCHAFER | April 12, 2018

PUBLIC DOMAIN Schafer worries that entering college too early means growing up too fast.



Despite attending a high school with an on-time graduation rate of 95 percent, one of my best friends dropped out of high school after our sophomore year. While it would usually be inappropriate to divulge someone’s personal reasons for not completing their primary education to complete strangers, I think she would be comfortable with me sharing her story, so here it goes:

She was a smart girl. 4.0 GPA. While I was occasionally deemed “a pleasure to have in class,” the comments on her report cards were far more adoring and original. On top of that, she was involved in a menu of extracurriculars and was well-liked by her peers. 

So, what went wrong?

Nothing, actually. She dropped out of high school to attend college early, and she never looked back.

I suppose it would have been more appropriate for us to refer to her as a college drop-in, rather than a high school dropout. And while high school dropouts are not uncommon, two years later I ended up teaching a middle school dropout at Kumon. Dropping out of middle school was something I found objectively hard to believe.

To preface, “teaching” is a strong word. I could usually grade her calculus worksheets, but if she got less than 100 percent I had to beckon a more qualified tutor over to teach her. After completing the eighth grade, she opted out of high school entirely and went straight to college.

College, supposedly, is “the best four years of your life.” I’ve heard rumors that sometimes people love college so much that they decide to stick around for an extra year or two (or three). Who could blame her for wanting to fast forward life to the good part? 

While I can’t speak on behalf of my student, as I didn’t know her very well, I know this decision wasn’t easy for my friend. She dreamed of being a doctor, and attending college early would expedite that lengthy and arduous journey. Her academic and standardized test performance suggested that she was more than ready for college curricula. 

However, her hesitation revolved around leaving everything behind. The world doesn’t stop for anyone, and neither does high school. The Class of 2017, a group that she had identified with since elementary school, would attend homecoming festivities, football games, prom, graduation and grad night together, with or without her. 

Nevertheless, with yang there must be yin, and we would also endure two more years of tumultuous friendships, the grim consequences of our procrastination, disappointment — in ourselves and others — and, tied for the worst, the College Board and Naviance. 

Yet, despite my disdain for these facets of my high school career, when I heard that my student was skipping high school to begin college, the second thing that came out of my mouth (the first being an awestruck “what”) was, “How is she supposed to make mistakes?”

I wasn’t ready to go to college when I was 15, let alone when I was 13, because even though I had indeed had my fair share of screw-ups already, I hadn’t had enough. And even though I weathered all four years of high school, I still don’t completely know how to handle tumultuous friendships; I regularly face the consequences of my poor time management; and I continue to struggle with disappointment. 

So while I could have lived without the College Board and Naviance (but preferably neither), considering the amount of times I’ve already screwed up in less than one academic year of college, I can’t imagine how much more of a mess I would have been if I had dipped before June 8, 2017. 

When I said, “How is she supposed to make mistakes?” what I meant is, “How is she supposed to make mistakes before it really matters?” Of course, college students and actual adults alike make mistakes all the time without their lives falling apart. But there’s a reason we take practice tests, attend dress rehearsals and conduct trial runs. Because given the option of screwing up with low stakes, why wouldn’t you take it?

That being said, this is just my humble opinion, and I know in my friend’s opinion, it was the right decision for her. After all, we all grew up at a different pace, and even though I wouldn’t have been ready, she was, and I continue to respect and support her decision. 

As for my student, while I have no way of knowing how she’s doing, all I can say is this: I hope she doesn’t look back and regret growing up too fast.

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