Getting an early start on college

Senior year in many American high schools is little more than a holding pattern for college and a monument to fun - and in some cases, trouble. Once their academic requirements have been met and their college boards and SATs completed, many seniors like Rob Arnold are ready for college before college is ready for them.

''When I got back from spending my junior summer in Europe I knew I wasn't a high school student any more,'' explains Arnold.

So he enrolled as one of 300 students at Simons Rock of Bard College in Great Barrington, Mass. Simons Rock is one of several early colleges in the United States admitting 11th and 12th grade students.

Early college was the brainchild of Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago in the 1930s. Hutchins believed that the last two years of high school and the first two of college should flow together. Unfortunately, students as young as 14 found little emotional and social support at the University, and some abandoned college entirely.

Simons Rock provides small classes, individual attention, and guidance programs tailored to the needs of younger students.

Syracuse University and Kenyon College (Ohio) are among traditional institutions which offer college courses to high school seniors, while many others accept 17-year-olds as freshmen or provide a one-year program as a bridge between high school and college.

The Clarkson School, a division of Clarkson College of Technology in upstate New York, gives 11th graders a one-year program designed to bridge the social and intellectual gap between high school and college.

The New School for Social Research in New York City has a freshman program for 11th graders and a few qualifying 10th graders. They take college courses designed to increase their skills of inquiry and capacity to make judgments. After the year most transfer into college with a sophomore standing.

Many high school athletes and student leaders wouldn't want to miss their senior year at high school. Some do take advanced placement courses there to earn college credit.

But others can't wait to get started at college. And because of dwindling college enrollments, many will find welcome mats awaiting them at the college of their choice.

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