Speaking from experience: A radically accelerated gifted student

Getty Images/Paul Bradbury

Noel Jett

So, you’re considering radical acceleration. You’re running out of education options, and you miss the feeling of actually being challenged with your school work. I started community college when I was thirteen and transferred to Texas A&M when I was fourteen, so I feel your struggle. Now, I’m working on my Ph.D. in Gifted and Talented Education and I am happy to tell you both my experience and the research conclusions are positive. Radical acceleration is safe, healthy, and viable so far!

But I have bad news, too: There is one major con to this option, one that the research doesn’t fully grasp. The more intelligent someone is, and specifically the more advanced they are in school, the higher the likelihood they will have sworn themselves to secrecy about it. This is not completely without purpose: I find it quite fair to say that people constantly drawing attention to their own strengths are narcissistic. However, what is truly upsetting is the fact that it quickly becomes taboo to even tell someone the truth as a radically advanced child. Even if you never refer to yourself as intelligent, just plainly state that you are not in middle school but enrolled full-time at the local community college or what have you, you have now breached the social contract in the eyes of many.

When you tell someone you are radically advanced they quickly segregate themselves into one of several groups. There are the nonbelievers, who become incredulous and accuse you of lying—the younger you are, the more frequent this will be. There are the interviewers, who have heaps upon heaps of the same questions everyone else has. Some of them are pretty benign, if tiring to answer: “How did you skip grades? What’s it like being in college?” Some of them are more aggravating: “Do your parents pressure you? Aren’t you worried about not having any friends? How will you date anybody?”

The questions are nothing compared to the statements, though, which come from our final and most diverse group of people: “You’re so smart, you need to be a doctor;” “I thought I was smart;” “My son is that smart too, he’s in AP US History;” “I mean school is good and all but you don’t have any real world experience;” and the like. Lots of people will try to prove they are better than you; even more will give up entirely and make you feel guilty for having existed in the presence of their low self-esteem. It can be grueling to become a spectacle in every social situation. Even though being called a “super genius” might sound really complementary at first, you’ll quickly realize that when people think you’re a “super genius,” they aren’t too keen on letting you be anything else.

Radical acceleration, if you choose to utilize it, will most likely be a great option for you. It’ll reintroduce you to a learning environment where you have a higher likelihood of learning, you’ll meet people from all different backgrounds and get a chance to improve your maturity by interacting with adults and professionals, and you might actually earn something more valuable than a high school diploma along the way. But it’ll also teach you how to lie well, how to redirect conversation away from yourself, how to put on the right “face” for the right social context, and how to compliment people without being too degrading to yourself. It’s tricky but it’s worth it and, contrary to the layman’s complaints as well as the fear this piece may induce, it won’t destroy your social life. There really are friendly, secure, and encouraging people out there, and they will learn to appreciate who you are regardless of your grade level. Being intimidatingly smart is actually a pretty handy way to weed out all the fake friends and skip straight to the great ones who ‘get’ you, so to speak.

You probably won’t hang out with your college classmates as a fifteen-year-old very often (and you probably shouldn’t). You probably won’t be on the homecoming court, or student body president, and—sorry, I know it stings—a side effect of harder material means you probably won’t be valedictorian. You will, however, get the increasingly rare opportunity to appreciate college more for education than for partying, and I promise you will find your social atmosphere if you search for it. So, next time you tell someone you’re radically accelerated, and they tell you you’re not going to get properly socialized, put on your best smile and ask them whether that is your fault or theirs.

Noel Jett is in the third year of her Ph.D. program at the University of North Texas focusing in Gifted and Talented Education. She completed her B.S. in Psychology at Texas A&M University in 2015 at the age of sixteen.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.