Skipping high school for college

Chronicle Staff


By Alex Leichenger

Like most 15 year-olds, Michelle Vaisman wakes up and grabs a quick bite to eat before her first class in the morning. Unlike most 15-year-olds, Vaisman’s first class is walking distance from her where she lives.

While most of her former classmates from the class of 2012 are just starting to think about applying to colleges, Vaisman and a handful of other students skip some classes to get into college earlier.

Vaisman enrolled at Mary Baldwin College, an all-women’s school in Staunton, Virginia, at age 13, after being accepted into the school’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted. Founded in 1985, the program consists of over 70 students from ages 12 to 16, according to its website.

Vaisman has since transferred to Bryn Mawr, an all-women’s college in Pennsylvania, and will graduate at age 17. Vaisman is majoring in chemistry, with minors in Math and Economics.

Vaisman took the SAT in eighth grade in order to enroll at a summer program at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and Mary Baldwin obtained her scores. After responding to a letter from the school, she received a phone call that prompted her to apply to PEG. A month later she toured the campus, and she received an acceptance letter the next week.

Vasiman said she was “looking for a more challenging learning environment” when she first heard about PEG.

“In seventh grade at Harvard-Westlake, about halfway through my first semester I started coming home with no homework, because I finished it during my free periods,” she said. “In eighth grade, the same thing sort of happened, not as much, but I still came home with less and less homework.”

The transition to college for Vaisman was difficult at first.

“I cried a lot when my parents left,” Vaisman said.

But she became gradually more comfortable in her new environment, she said, and with so many other pegs, as students in PEG are called, she was not alone in her uncommon situation.

Vaisman said that most professors cannot even differentiate between pegs and older students. More often than not, pegs are actually the most vocal and intelligent students in their classes, she said.

Nonetheless, younger students and older students have their differences.

“Because I’m younger, there are some things that I don’t have in common with the older students, [like some] older students like to drink, but I can’t do that, and I’m not really interested in doing that,” Vaisman said.

Vasiman is the only student who left for college early.

After his junior year at Harvard-Westlake, Michael Stampler ’09 was accepted to the University of Southern California through the school’s Resident Honors Program. Stampler, who would have graduated with the class of 2009, was later admitted to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Stampler described RHP as an “entrance program” that brings high achievers to USC who could otherwise matriculate to other schools. He said that students admitted through the program are treated no differently than regular students in all aspects of campus life.

“Socially, the fact that I was a year younger didn’t really make a difference,” he said. “Everybody treated me the same as everyone else.”

Now a sophomore, Stampler spent much of his freshman year completing the general education requirements he missed as a high school senior. Since Harvard-Westlake does not allow early graduation, Stampler received his diploma with the 2009 graduating class, though he was studying at USC.

Starting in Fall 2010, Hannah Rosenberg ’11 will take history, English, cinema studies and art classes at Harvard-Westlake each day before heading to the Otis School of Design for night classes.

“It’s nice to focus on my interests much more,” Rosenberg said.

Vaisman and Stampler both said they could not be happier with how their experiences have panned out.

“It was probably the best decision of my life,” Vaisman said.