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Profoundly & Exceptionally Gifted Youth
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Very early completion of the school curriculum is a natural consequence of radical acceleration. Some  exceptionally and profoundly gifted children finish school and enter university in the same sequence as their classmates, while a few choose to study more A levels before moving on. Depending on the child’s interests, either choice can be a good way to maintain the right level of intellectual challenge and hence the child’s enthusiasm for learning.


Despite negative coverage by the UK media, a dispassionate review of the research on early university entrance shows that thoughtfully chosen and carefully planned radically early entrance into university is as appropriate, valuable and successful a method of meeting the educational needs of exceptionally and profoundly gifted students as is radical acceleration within school. (See acceleration).



“Research provides strong support for the use of thoughtfully planned and monitored radical acceleration as a process allowing educators to respond to the academic and affective needs of a significant subgroup of the gifted population. In general, the academic performance of students who radically accelerate is highly impressive. These students earn higher GPAs, [grade point averages] and they are more likely to complete college on time or early, earn general and departmental honors, make the dean's list, enter graduate school, engage in research, and embark on prestigious careers (Olszewski-Kubilius, 1995, n.d.; Stanley, 1978c; Swiatek & Benbow, 1991; Terman & Oden, 1959). Research also documents positive outcomes for social and emotional development, with radically accelerated students adjusting well to their new learning context, making friends easily, being accepted by older students, and enjoying increased levels of self-esteem and self-confidence (Gross, 2003;Janos et al., 1988; Pollins, 1983)”.

From "Radical acceleration and early entry to college: a review of the research" by Gross and van Vliet (2005), an excellent and thorough review of the various research papers which have been published in this area.



What about a social life?


Research into the social development of early entrants shows that radically accelerated students typically divide into two camps, either socialising well with normally aged undergraduates, or choosing to socialise outside university in activities in their home communities.


The research also shows that, although some early entrants may take less part than 'normal' aged students in University extracurricular activities in their early years, most generally achieve extremely high academic standards and usually go on to postgraduate study. At this point they are often of an age to participate fully in extracurricular activities. Whichever way, flexibility is paramount but it is entirely possible to provide these students with exactly what they need to support their voracious educational needs and to be socially well-balanced.


What happens to those who do not receive an appropriate education, and concomitant early university entrance?


Some nations (see those discussed in “Radical acceleration and early entry to college: A review of the research”, and here “Early Entrance College Programs in the USA”) have specially designed early entrance programmes which allow appropriately qualified underage students to enter a tailored university programme. UK universities have not designed such programmes. Admission is granted to underage students on an individual basis, if at all, although according to figures from UCAS the number of those aged under 18 on admission has been rising in recent years. Students who are academically and developmentally ready for university are sometimes refused admission on the grounds that UK child protection and/or health and safety legislation makes admission impossible.  Early entrance is very unusual, as is radical acceleration in school, but with good will and ingenuity these regulatory problems can be overcome, or ways found to safely and legally work around them. Otherwise refusing admission to well prepared and enthusiastic students can cause a catastrophic hiatus for eager learners who are expected to put their natural intellectual development on hold whilst their chronological age catches up (this could be a wait of a number of years).



“Young people of equal abilities [ie exceptionally and profoundly gifted] who accelerated by only 1 year or who have not been permitted acceleration have tended to enter less academically rigorous college courses, report lower levels of life satisfaction, and in many cases, experience significant difficulties with socialization. Several did not graduate from college or high school.”  Miraca Gross “Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and Nonacceleration”  



“We of SMPY have seldom observed an extremely accelerated student who did not earn the Bachelor's degree readily (even at age 12 years 47 days!), whereas a number of those who completed high school age-in-grade have even flunked out of college. They tended to cut many classes, hoping to coast on their brilliance. By the second or third year they became so far behind that they dropped out or were terminated academically. Others went through in four years but with mediocre grades. Sometimes, perhaps cynically, I say that they have a defective academic character brought on by 13 long years of being grossly under-challenged." From “Follow-up insights on rapid educational acceleration” in Roeper Review, Spring, 2002, by J C Charlton, D M Marolf, and the late Dr Julian C. Stanley (2002), professor of psychology and Director of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) at Johns Hopkins University, an on-going longitudinal study which began in 1971.


Robinson, director of an early entrance college programme in the USA which has been running since the 1970s writes:

“our hearts ache every year for the enormously bright students we can't help because they have turned off their engines too long ago. We've tried, without success, with too many students, who are real casualties of an underchallenging educational system and whose families are not patterned in such a way that their children have learned to succeed in spite of the system.” In “The Case for Radical Acceleration to College”  by Nancy Robinson (JHU Press, 1983)



“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?...” Langston Hughes


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How to decide if early University is right


Even though the research evidence is so positive, it should be emphasized that early university MUST be the student’s choice, and NOT something that parents or teachers push them into doing. Apart from being extremely academically able the student must also by very enthusiastic. Like radical acceleration through school, early university entrance does not suit every single exceptionally or profoundly gifted child, as research reviewed in “Thinking About Early Entrance to College” by Olszewski-Kubilius shows.  


Even those who have successfully completed their school based education may not be ready to go to university, and as an alternative, might consider studying extra A levels, internet or correspondence courses, or broadening their interests by undertaking courses in drama, music or the arts, or spending time doing voluntary work or developing practical or work-based skills.


“ Benbow (1991) points out, accelerative strategies are not for every gifted child and it is appropriate that students self select themselves into these opportunities”  from “A Summary of Research Regarding Early Entrance to College” by Olszewski-Kubilius.


PEGY strongly recommends that those considering this option read as much as possible on the subject, taking advantage of research articles, books and the accumulated experience of those who have been counselling early university entrants and running early college entry programmes.


We particularly recommend:


Food for thought: Is early college entrance an appropriate alternative for you?” by Robinson, a useful short article from the Davidson Database, which contains

“The following list of issues -- addressed to students -- is meant to help both students and parents gain perspective in order to:

Decide not only whether such a path is appropriate but if so, when

Select, among available alternatives, a menu of appropriate choices for college-level work

Explore a list of the kinds of preparatory experiences that are basic prerequisites for succeeding with excellence in college-level work

Assess your maturity and readiness for early college entrance

Think about what sort of institution might fit your needs…”


Considering the options: A Guidebook for Investigating Early College Entrance (student version)”. This is designed as a self study guide to help prospective early entrants assess aspects of their readiness to enter University early. Thoroughly thought out and highly recommended – but a pity that so very few of the ‘alternative options to early college’ which are available in the USA are available in the UK. Written and published by Robinson and the Davidson Institute.

And the companion guidebook for parents “Considering the options: A Guidebook for Investigating Early College Entrance (parent version)


Early Entrance to College: a guide to success” by Michelle Muratori

From the cover: “Making informed decisions about college is difficult enough for traditional students who plan to enter college after their senior year. Those who deviate from this trajectory and exhaust their high school's course offerings 1, 2, or even 3 or more years before their age peers may consider part-time or full-time college as an alternative. Understandably, for prospective early entrants and their parents, decisions regarding college are considerably more complicated. This comprehensive guide, which incorporates the views of experts on early college entrance (ECE), ECE programme administrators, early entrants, and their parents, is aimed at helping families navigate through the complex decision-making process. This book identifies important issues that need to be discussed and choices that need to be made before and after one enters college. Factors affecting academic, social, and emotional adjustment to college are explored, and information about ECE programmes in the United States is provided.”

The book contains references to early college entry programmes in American universities and the practice of some of them in accepting profoundly gifted children who have not completed the school curriculum. This material is irrelevant to those considering early university in the UK. However, it contains much material on choices and adjustment to university which is very much to the point, as well as reports of the experiences of children who have entered University independently, and their parents.


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Media comment


Most parents of identified and radically accelerated exceptionally and profoundly gifted children are aware of the unfavourable tenor of the media coverage given to advanced learners, particularly those who are early entrants to university in the UK. Most of these young scholars do not seek publicity.


Those considering media exposure should read the following articles:

Indecent Exposure: Does the Media Exploit Highly Gifted Children?” by Meckstroth and Kearney, and their summary presentation with Annemarie Roeper “Indecent Exposure”, and

Highly gifted children and the press” by Kathi Kearney.


Media stories of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children, some of whom enter

university a considerable number of years early, often ignore the large body of good quality research available which shows that such acceleration is likely to be a very positive and enriching experience, and probably essential to the student’s well being. Without this crucial element the stories are unbalanced, misleading and exceedingly unhelpful. As such, these stories favour the sensational stories of a tiny minority of early entrants, only adding fuel to the misconceptions of things like intellectual burn-out, social and emotional disaster, and the idea that early entry is only attempted by those whose ambitious parents push them into it, living through their children and eager for reflected glory.


The most notorious story is that of Ruth Lawrence, who entered Oxford University at 11 years old. Professor Lawrence achieved a starred first class degree with special commendation in mathematics, another in physics, and several academic awards and offers of academic posts from prestigious universities in the UK and the USA. In addition, she is quoted by the New Statesman (22/7/02) as being ‘pleased to have had a head start in life “It makes bringing up a family easier, as I already have an established career”’ and the article adds ‘Her advice to young geniuses: “Go for it!”’. She gave an interview to the Radio Times (13 – 19 October 2023) in which she said “I found it thrilling to be able to pursue the subject as fast as I could, at home with my father and then at university, where I encountered world class minds.” She now works as Associate Professor of mathematics at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Other cases which appear to have had poor outcomes are a tiny minority of early entrants and illustrate the importance of thorough preparation of child and family, following the child’s wishes, and avoiding publicity. Many more children have worked anonymously and successfully through university at an early age, without courting publicity, enjoying success in their personal, academic and professional lives.  

No educational strategy can be guaranteed to be satisfactory for every single child, or to compensate for adverse family conditions, and early university entrance is no exception to this rule.



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“For me, attending college early--I was 12 when I began taking classes at Indiana University--was truly a happy accident....

My parents let me follow my creative and intellectual inclinations without pressure, never planning things in excessive detail or much in advance. Early college was thus never a goal in itself but simply the result of a freedom and enthusiasm in letting me follow my dreams. If that pursuit can be made with joy and simply for the fun of learning, with sensible parenting appropriate for a student's age and no hurry to be party to the numerous temptations of college, I think the experience can work out wonderfully. Even if I had the chance, I wouldn't change my own path in the slightest! “


First Person Perspective on the Early College Experience” by Cory Cerovsek, Davidson Institute for Talent Development 2003







Sometimes Open University courses would suit a child, and enable them to stay at school or at home rather than attending courses at another University. However, four factors should be borne in mind:

- the first level courses are written for those with no qualifications and are written in such a way that those studying alone should not go wrong, which may be an advantage, although on the other hand the highly gifted child might find they tend towards repetition of the obvious

- many texts explain concepts at great length in place of using diagrams

- the child will mostly be working alone from written material, which can be problematic for a child who craves intellectual peers to discuss ideas with, and enjoys learning from real life lectures and seminars

- Professor Julian Stanley, who studied  profoundly gifted youths for many years, cautions “Taking correspondence courses at the high school or college level from a major university such as California or Wisconsin is a possibility, but it requires so much self-discipline from the student that we have not found it very satisfactory. Feedback from the homework-grader at the other end of the line comes too slowly for most youths. If this approach to acceleration is used, some suitable support system at home or school such as a mentor is needed, or else the student is likely to lose interest.” from A Look Back at Educational Non-Acceleration: An International Tragedy


Parents and schools should allow children to inspect the course materials at an Open University Regional Centre so that they can decide whether this mode of presentation will meet their needs.




On this page:




How to decide if early university is right


Media comment









“My interactions with profoundly gifted students and their families in SET have taught me that flexibility and creativity in curricular planning is paramount to their satisfaction and happiness”   


Michelle Muratori, from “Early Entrance to College

In her longitudinal study Professor Gross writes of 17 exceptionally and profoundly gifted students who were permitted radical acceleration:

   “The majority entered college between ages 11 and 15. Several won scholarships to attend prestigious universities in Australia or overseas. All have graduated with extremely high grades and, in most cases, university prizes for exemplary achievement. All 17 are characterized by a passionate love of learning and almost all have gone on to obtain their Ph.D.s.

     In every case, the radical accelerands have been able to form warm, lasting, and deep friendships.”  

Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and NonaccelerationJournal for the Education of the Gifted 2006 29, p. 404-429