College Wary of 12-Year-Old Whiz Kid

Colin Carlson's summer has been very different from those of other kids his age.

Instead of video games, sleepovers and summer camp, the 12-year-old has spent the last couple of months wondering where he'll attend college this fall.

Colin, who earned his high school diploma from Stanford University Online High School in June, had planned to go to Connecticut College, where he intended to double major in eco-biology and environmental studies.

But his dreams of the quintessential college experience on the liberal arts campus were ruined, his mother told, when school administrators told him he wouldn't be allowed to set foot in a campus dormitory.

According to his family, the college went back on an agreement that would have permitted Colin to be affiliated with a dormitory even though he would live off campus with his mother -- an aspect of campus life the family says is imperative to the college experience.

"They said no to giving him a dorm affiliation, which is a problem because all school events rely on that," said Jessica Carlson, Colin's mother. "Colin would have been completely left out of the community [without an affiliation]."

Carlson said she got the distinct impression from conversations with the administration that having Colin at school was "too much trouble."

So the family turned its sights to the state university down the road. Colin will begin as a sophomore honors student at the University of Connecticut in a few weeks. He's skipping freshman year because he has already earned several college credits from the University of Connecticut as a part-time student, as well as advanced placement course work while he was home-schooled.

But he says he was still disappointed with Connecticut College's decision.

"I just wanted to be a part of the liberal arts community -- and that wouldn't have been possible without dorm affiliation," said Colin.

Concerns About Drugs, Alcohol?

Jessica Carlson said she believes her son's possible exposure to drug and alcohol use in the dorm was the reason the school denied the dorm affiliation, though she added that school administrators never explicitly told her that was the reason.

"The deans at the school told me in a phone conversation that they were concerned about the adult activities that took place in the dorms," said Carlson, who added that she never intended for her son to be permitted to live in a dormitory. She said she had already found an apartment in which she had planned to live with Colin while he was attending the college.

Connecticut College declined to confirm that Colin had been admitted to the school, but one of the college deans told in a statement that the school had problems with a 12-year-old entering a campus residence hall.

"As a matter of policy, Connecticut College does not condone the presence of 12-year-old children in residence halls after hours," Aramando Bengochea, the dean of the college community, said in a statement. "Residence halls are considered to be adult residences, and all programming and supervision of students in residence is predicated on an assumption that students can be treated as adults."

His mother pointed out that any concerns about Colin's age could have been offset by his abstention from some of the activities known to entice college freshman.

"The point is that he's no trouble at all," said Carlson. "My son doesn't vandalize, cheat, have sex, do drugs or drink."

"I bet there are a lot of students who do drink and do drugs, and I bet they cause problems. Colin would not," said Carlson, who described her son as "well-rounded" and "the opposite of a wallflower."

Nancy Green, the executive director for the National Association for Gifted Children, said college's concerns about exposing a 12-year-old to the freshman experience were understandable.

"The decision to send a young child to college does depend somewhat on the child's social and emotional development," Green said.

"On the face of it [it] makes sense that colleges [would be concerned about a 12-year-old] because a campus is a place where kids live independently for the first time and universities have trouble controlling 18-year-olds most of the time."

But she said her organization believes extremely bright students like Colin should not have their academic opportunities limited solely because of age. Some students, she said, are ready to handle the academic and the social rigors.

"Certainly we want a child to be challenged academically at every stage, and if the other factors [such as social and emotional readiness] fall into place we do think college is appropriate," she said. "But often if the kids are stimulated academically, the other pieces fall into place."

Green said that when gifted children see their options limited, they can face obstacles that aren't there for students who excel in other areas.

"There is a lot of resistance against gifted children," she said. "It's not like a star athlete, who immediately, upon showing they're great at something, they get a special team and a great choice."

Faculty Were Impressed

Despite reluctance by school administrators, Colin and his mother told that several professors who had met with him expressed disappointment when they learned he would not be on campus this fall.

Peter Siver, a botany professor and the director of environmental studies at Connecticut College, told that he was anxious to have Colin become a part of his research team.

"Academically I don't think there's any question he would have been able to handle being here," said Siver, who met Colin during an incoming freshman visitation weekend and kept in touch with him through e-mail. "I think at a place like this Colin could have blossomed and done research with me and maybe even expanded on it."

"I joked with my class that they were going to be bumped by Colin -- he had way more questions then my students ever had," he said.

For Gifted Children, Being Accepted Isn't As Easy As You'd Think

Carlson told that while her son's SAT scores and IQ are off the charts -- she declined to disclose his exact numbers -- he still faced a lot of wary admissions counselors who seemed hesitant to bend the rules to accommodate his young age.

She said admission counselors at another small New England liberal arts college told Colin that, while they'd love to have him at the school, they simply could not waive the residency requirement that the other students must adhere to. Because Colin was too young to live alone in a dorm, Carlson said the school instructed Colin to go back to high school until he was of age -- and then apply again.

But Colin didn't want to go through another four years of high school.

"It's disappointing and irritating when people don't understand why I wouldn't repeat high school," said Colin. "I just graduated from an accredited high school. Why would I do it again?"

'Nowhere to Go'

Colin's mother says she hopes universities learn from her son that it's important to be open to all types of students -- even if they're only 12.

"There is a lot of age discrimination and age prejudice in the education system," said Carlson. "A lot of kids like Colin are being accommodated at young ages, but the problem is they're hitting an age when they're done with high school and have nowhere to go."

"I'd like to see colleges look at applicants in an age-blind way," said Carlson. "That way, if a student is so young that certain practical accommodations need to be made, the college will make them, just like they would for a disabled student with a wheelchair."

Green, with the National Association for Gifted Children, said many of the estimated 3 million gifted children in the United States will face obstacles when seeking out schooling that will keep them challenged.

"Universities do slam the door [on gifted kids] and say it's more trouble than it's worth," said Green. "Our country is set up on age-based learning, so age becomes a huge issue."

"With these children, there are a lot of hurdles," she said.

Colin, who says he's always had lots of friends, albeit most of them are a bit older, said this summer has been a big enough hurdle as it is, and he's ready to move on.

"I'm really excited about starting at the University of Connecticut," he said. "I think my classes are going to be great, and I think I'm going to learn a lot."

"That's all I ask for."