12-Year-Old Youngest Student of Calif. College

Nicole Tan wants to cure cancer, find a vaccine for AIDS and treat sick children in Vietnam.

It might sound impossible to squeeze all that into one lifetime, but Tan has more time than the average college student.

The 12-year-old started her first day at a four-year college Thursday with 14 units of physiology, chemistry and Chinese.

The biology major from Byron, Calif., is the youngest full-time student to ever enroll at the University of California, Davis.

It runs in the family: Before Nicole, her only sibling, Andrew, was the youngest student at the college. Now 14, he is a senior.

Nicole said she can’t imagine what it would be like to be in a regular classroom with other 12-year-olds.

“Home schooling was a big advantage because you can go at your own pace,” she said.

Tan’s legs aren’t long enough to touch the floor when she sits back in her chair. Dressed in a small UC Davis shirt featuring a surfing Snoopy, the shy preteen doesn’t look intimidating, but she will likely throw off a few test curves.

Getting Ahead

Tan passed the state high school proficiency exam three years ago and has since taken enough courses at a Pittsburg, Calif., community college to make her a junior in college.

Accelerated home schooling allowed her to skip some dreaded teenage experiences: junior high and the SAT college entrance exams.

She declined to provide any information about her parents, who declined to be interviewed. The family has moved into an on-campus apartment.

“I play with other children my age,” Tan said. “I don’t study a fixed amount. Sometimes I study all day and sometimes not at all.”

University administrators admit they had some concerns about enrolling a 12-year-old, but say Andrew Tan’s success at the university convinced them.

“We love to have young scholars here,” said admissions director Gary Tudor. “We are paying high attention to her well-being. But she has earned the right to be here and we are pleased to give her the opportunity of some accelerated learning.”

Davis students say the young student should also try to squeeze in other college activities.

“A big part of college is finding out what kind of person you are and you can’t get that just by studying,” freshman Lisa Robbins said.

Nicole said she probably won’t go to football games, but wants to hang out with her classmates. She might even help them with their homework.

“If they ask, probably,” she said.

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