Colleges for Exceptionally Gifted Students

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Introduction and Background

During WWII and the Cold War, America formally encouraged gifted high school students to graduate early and begin their careers at an early age, particularly in the physical sciences. Colleges actively recruited young students for special programs that allowed students to accelerate their education.

These programs have largely ended and been replaced by thousands of independent programs that offer students more challenging high school coursework without offering students the opportunity to accelerate the time requirements of their education and career.

Almost every U.S. college, and particularly the elite academic institutions, has a few traditional early college enrollees who are age 14-16 or younger. Such students must have exceptional emotional maturity in order to attend a traditional residential institution with peers 2-5 years older, and parents willing to allow them to leave home at such an early age.

For each one of these traditional early college enrollees there are thousands of high school students who are academically capable at age 12-16 of early college enrollment but: (1) are not emotionally mature enough to attend a traditional freshman residence program with older students; and/or (2) whose parents would not allow them to attend a traditional residence college along with older students.

Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY)

In 1972 Johns Hopkins University introduced the first Talent Search designed to identify, challenge, and reward academically able young people. Today CTY and its spin-offs at Duke University, Northwestern University, and the University of Denver serve between 20,000 to 25,000 students in summer programs, and 200,000 7th and 8th graders who take the SAT every year in the talent search.

There are approximately 4.5 million U.S. students at each grade level–the 200,000 7th-8th graders who the SAT each year represent approximately 2.2% of all U.S. students.

Specialized Early College Enrollment Programs for Younger Students

There are approximately 41 early entrance college programs (see in the U.S. that formally recruit and enroll younger students in Specialized Early College Enrollment programs.

Examples of these early entrance programs include:

  1. Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS) at the University of North Texas began in 1987. Today it enrolls 200 tenth-graders each year. TAMS grants high-school diplomas to students while they simultaneously complete their last two years of high school and the first two years of college. Graduating students typically transfer into their Junior or Senior year at a 4-year college. Tuition, books, and fees (but not living expenses) are free for Texas residents. This is a full-time residential program.
  2. University of Washington Transition School and Early Entrance Program (TS/EEP) in Seattle began in 1977. The program enrolls 16 middle school students (ages 12-15) in a one-year Transition School before they become full-time freshman (at ages 13-16) at the University of Washington. This is a non-residential program open only to residents of Seattle who must live at home. A companion program (UW Academy) accepts 35 10th graders from Washington state high schools who then enroll the following year as traditional freshman at the University of Washington. (See Super Smart Teens Prepare for Early College Admission, ABC News Nightline, April 12, 2009.)
  3. Bard High School Early College (BSHEC) program in New York City began in 2001. The program admits 135 9th grade students each year who, in 4 years, complete their high school diploma and two years (60 credits) of college. Tuition is free and students must be NYC residents living at home. This non-residential program is open to a maximum of 500 NYC public school students.
  4. Mary Baldwin College Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) in Staunton, Virginia began in 1985 and today numbers 70 students. It is a residential program only for female students age 12-15. See Young, Gifted and Skipping High School, The Washington Post, December 12, 2007.)

For a complete listing of Colleges for Exceptionally Gifted Students (CEGS) please visit our companion website,