People are often amazed when I tell them I’m only 18 and a college graduate. While I am certainly proud of this achievement, I do not give significant weight to it and believe many of my peers could’ve done the same given the appropriate knowledge and resources at the time. Most of the paths I took are available to everyone should they choose to pursue them, though everyone has their own unique journey and I do not recommend any younger students attempt earlier graduation without significant deliberation. This talk often brings up the topic of maturity, friendships, and lost childhoods. While these are crucial factors to be considered, I will not extensively discuss them here and instead focus on my timeline. I will add, however, that while I’ve certainly “experienced less life” than my peers, I do not think I missed out on any aspects of the high school or college experiences. Additionally, those around me consider me just as mature as other graduate students. On to my story!
I was born in California at the supple age of zero years old and no, I did not come out holding a calculator. I spent my early years abroad for family reasons and came back to the U.S. around five years old. English was not my first language and I only first picked it up in preschool. Moving to elementary school, I was largely a typical student and though I received high grades, even topping the state’s testing scores in the third grade, I was highly unsatisfied with the speed of my education and started to consider school a waste of time. I began looking into accelerated paths and came across the GATE (gifted and talented education) program. Unfortunately, my elementary school did not offer one and the private schools that did were far too expensive or far away. Instead, I decided to attempt skipping the third grade, and with significant effort from my parents, convinced my school to let me try. I was given an additional exam and though my scores were in the average range for fourth-grade students, my school wasn’t convinced and brought up concerns over bullying (which I had experienced in the past for my race).
The next year came and I was placed in a 4th/5th-grade combo class. As such, I learned a majority of the fifth-grade curriculum that year and decided to capitalize on it. With more convincing from my parents, I was again allowed to take the appropriate tests and this time, I aced them. Oddly, the school again did not consider this enough and convened a long meeting with my fifth-grade teacher and parents. As far as I know, the principal supported my plan while my teacher was strongly against it for reasons I do not know. Either way, I was allowed to skip the fifth grade. Doing so did not put me significantly ahead, and after a relatively normal middle school experience, I started high school at 13.
Having taken algebra and geometry in middle school, I started high school with algebra 2 and following my interests, took mostly STEM-related classes. As I had finished AP Calculus BC and exhausted most of the science classes my class offered by the end of my second year, I used online classes to complete my remaining A-Gs (except for English) and applied to college. Had I stayed, I would’ve likely dual-enrolled in a community college for my third and fourth years, and decided matriculation would be the superior option. Though I didn’t have high hopes given I only applied to five schools, three of which were top 5s, I got into Cal Poly and UC Davis, choosing the former for its Learn by Doing approach. To obtain my high school diploma, I took the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) and officially graduated at 15.
Moving to college, I was determined not to feel any boredom and enrolled in 24 units (7 courses) in my first quarter. Though this wasn’t the smartest decision, it worked out and I even made the dean’s list. Following this success, I continued taking large numbers of units and set my sights on graduation in two or two-and-a-half years. Given course prerequisites and senior project/thesis requirements, I now know that the latter is the shortest possible path through a bachelor’s in electrical engineering at Cal Poly. Due to COVID-19, all of my classes were virtual after my second quarter and until my second to last quarter. Thus, I completed more of my degree virtually than in-person. Though this turned Learn by Doing into Learn by Watching, it helped me significantly and allowed me to sustain a normal life while taking so many courses. While I think I could’ve likely followed the same flowchart if my classes had remained in-person, it would have been significantly more arduous. Having completed all but two of the electives I needed to graduate, I used my last quarter to take enjoyable classes such as bowling and tick off the final few items from my college bucket list (including going to a party and winning my first two games ever of beer/water pong :D). After a very eventful two-and-a-half years, I graduated at 18 as the youngest engineering graduate in Cal Poly history last week.
TLDR: I ran out of useful classes in high school after my second year and graduated at 15. In college, I took an absurd amount of courses in multiple quarters and finished my degree in 2.5 years, graduating at 18 as the youngest graduate in Cal Poly history. Despite my accelerated path, though, I still made sure to enjoy college and leave plenty of time for myself, as everyone should!