May 9, 2020
College is generally regarded as something for those around the age of 18 to somewhere in the early 20s. The average age of undergrad students at four year institutions is 18-24 years old. This fact is probably easy to guess when going to classes. There are always those who are not part of this age group that attend classes with the average age group. Students who are younger than 18 do not make up a large number of the student body at four year colleges. In fact, they make up the second smallest percentage of students on average. The smallest percentage is people over the age of 40. What is it like for those students who spend their class time and their days surrounded by 18-24-year-olds, but are younger than their peers?
Michele Tweston-O’Toole started her college education at the age of 16 and graduated in four years like most of her classmates. She lived in the dorms at the University of Michigan during her freshman year and spoke about what that was like as a 16 year-old.
“It was very strange,” she reflected. “You really realize the difference between someone who’s 16 and someone who is 18. I didn’t like to talk about how old I was because I was worried that the other people would treat me differently because I still couldn’t even drive.”
Looking back now, Tweston-O’Toole is happy that she was able to make friends and fit in as young as she was. “Being as young as I was it was weird when I was invited to go places or hang out I was always thinking about how I wasn’t even an adult.”
When asked if her classes were made more difficult by not being the same age as her classmates Tweston-O’Toole said no. She said that it was mostly the social interactions that were made harder. “Unless someone knew how old I was it was hard for them to tell while I was in class.”
She felt like she had to hide how old she was from her classmates because she believed that if they knew she was younger than everyone else they would look down on her. Like they would see her as a child, not as a classmate or equal.
She said that she tried as hard as she could to make sure that when she met new people that she kept that out of the conversation, unless she thought it was necessary. “Whenever I interacted with other students I tried to make sure that I didn’t tell them, at least at first.”
Tweston-O’Toole took everything in stride, however. She graduated in four years with her classmates and keeps in touch with some of the friends that she made during that time. Despite some hesitation and some of the awkwardness about being younger than most of her classmates she does not regret going to college as early as she did.
While she doesn’t necessarily recommend sending people as young as 16 to college full time, she does not think that it is a bad thing that kids younger than 18 are taking classes at the college level. Sometimes it is the best thing for the students and she is aware of this.
Younger college students are just like the rest of their classmates. They go to class, do the work and are trying their best just like everyone else at school. They just happen to be a little younger than everyone else, but besides that there is not much of a difference.
Tristan Tanner is a senior majoring in Professional and Public writing. He came back to school after getting a BA in English with a Film Studies minor because he liked undergrad so much the first time around. When he is not doing school work he can be found reading comic books, playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends or watching and talking about movies. If you have a random question about Spider-Man, there is a good chance that he knows the answer.