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Saturday May 28th

Not yet an adult, but ready for college: how college at 17 changes your first year

(From left to right) Mallory Ward, senior peace, war, and defense major, and Logan Anderson, first-year global studies major, pose on the steps of the FedEx Global Education Center, April 22, 2019. Ward, who is currently 20-years-old, started college at the same age as Ward who is currently 17-years-old.
Buy Photos (From left to right) Mallory Ward, senior peace, war, and defense major, and Logan Anderson, first-year global studies major, pose on the steps of the FedEx Global Education Center, April 22, 2019. Ward, who is currently 20-years-old, started college at the same age as Ward who is currently 17-years-old.

First-year Logan Anderson is more than ready for Aug. 3. On this day, months after his first year at UNC concludes, Anderson will finally be 18.

Coming to UNC, first-years undergo many transitions and challenges, but Anderson is part of a small group of students who face the initial changes of college life as minors. 

“It’s kind of a novelty,” Anderson said. “It’s always entertaining when people find out I’m not 18, just because of their reactions.”

Anderson came to UNC a year early because he completed kindergarten and first grade in the same year in elementary school.

Although Anderson's parents ultimately decided his fate in coming to college early, senior Mallory Ward is one student who elected to go to college a year earlier when she chose to complete high school in three years instead of four. For Ward, who will soon attend law school, the process to graduate high school early was an uphill battle, with a discouraging guidance counselor and a forced parent meeting with her district’s Board of Education to demonstrate that Ward was emotionally ready to be at college.

Once at UNC though, Ward said being a year younger allowed her greater flexibility in life planning. She also feels that she changed a lot more during college than her peers.

“There’s so much to learn from everyone,” Ward said. “I think having an earlier exposure to that definitely changed who I am at my core a little more than it would have if I had stayed at my high school for an extra year.”

There are both benefits and drawbacks to a life as a younger student at UNC. Senior Maya Kapoor was accepted into UNC when she was 16 and began attending at the age of 17. Kapoor said professors sometimes doubt her capabilities and have expectations that she will be more immature when they find out her age.

“You’re definitely missing out on part of your childhood,” Kapoor said. “That’s for sure. But the benefit is that you get out early. I think because I’m younger, even though some people have lower expectations, that can be an advantage because then you can really show off and do something.”

For Anderson, paperwork has been a main struggle as a 17-year-old UNC student. He said he had to explain why he had not signed up for Selective Service and then prove it twice, first when initially applying for financial aid, and again after the government shutdown caused the University to lose his previous information.

“There’s a lot of things that have been harder,” Anderson said. “The biggest difference is there just seems to be a lot more paperwork thrown my way, coming from random places because of my age.”

The costs can also come for family members of young college students, including Kapoor’s.

“My mom has often said that if she could go back, she would not let me skip a grade because she missed having that extra time with me,” Kapoor said.

Ward’s parents supported her decision, but she still felt singled out in certain situations at UNC. As a 17-year-old first-year navigating the college dating world, Ward said she found that some students were reluctant to date upon finding out her age. 

But Ward sees numerous benefits to her decision as well. Since she will graduate at age 20, Ward said coming in early provided her the time and freedom to switch her course of study from the premed path to the Peace, War and Defense major and plan for law school.

“I don’t think I’d change it,” Ward said. “For a while, when I first got here, and I was younger than everyone else, I thought about it and I was like, 'Wow, I wonder what my first-year experience would have been like if I had been 18.' But I graduate in a month and looking back on it, I think that if I waited another year, I don’t think I would have had as much energy or willingness to explore the different things at UNC.”

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