|dc.description.abstract||Through an ethnographic research design, the author examined the lived experiences of gifted students who entered college between the ages of 14 and 16. Research questions investigated both the lived experiences of collegiate early entrants and the students’ perceptions of institutional support factors specific to their program. Students’ motivations for early entrance, their academic and social experiences, and the impact of background factors such as race, gender, parental relationships, and family wealth were examined as well. Data were collected through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and document analysis.
Findings indicated that participants were primarily motivated to enter college early due to high levels of dissatisfaction with prior schooling experiences, both academically and socially. Academically, participants were fully immersed in collegiate intellectual life, taking high credit loads, earning excellent grades, and helping professors with research. Several were also dealing with their first experiences with academic rigor, forcing them to develop improved study habits and confront perfectionistic attitudes. Socially, participants reported “finally fitting in” among the other early entrants while “trying to pass” as older students when among the university’s general population. Early entrance provided new social challenges as well, including those related to acclimation to college, personal development, and finding outlets for stress relief.
Common background factors for many participants included histories of frequent relocation and school switching, along with having parents who emphasized education and personal independence. Issues of race, gender, and religion experienced a dynamic juxtaposition of tolerance and tension, while family income mattered for little socially. Finally, students’ perceptions of institutional support factors were generally very positive and all eight participants were highly satisfied with both their early entrance program and their decision to enter college early. They especially praised the program’s supportive administrators, plentiful creative outlets, campus events, and residential staff. Common suggestions for improvement included the need for increased advertising, facilities concerns, and the need for help in fostering and maintaining healthy lifestyle choices in terms of nutrition, sleeping habits, and stress management.||