An update on having skipped two grades: the high school years

Looking back, skipping DC1 two grades has accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish.  DC1 is being challenged an appropriate level in school.  Zie has to work to get As in many of hir classes.  It would be nice if zie always succeeded, but I’m not sure that two additional years would fix the stupidity, capriciousness, or sheer right-wing craziness of some of these English teachers or that one Spanish teacher.  I do think that getting high grades in the other classes would take less work if zie had a couple more years under hir belt, but it is good to learn how to study.

What we are missing out on is DC1 being clearly one of the top genius students in the school for hir year.  Zie is definitely in the top 10% and is taking all 5.0 courses (except one required semester of PE and the first two years of Orchestra which are only 4.0) and a packed schedule of AP classes, but zie is not Tabitha (valedictorian, name changed) or Rylan (top junior, name changed).  Zie isn’t blowing away scholastic bowl (name of team changed) or qualifying for nationals at all three exams for math, chemistry, and physics (in fact, DC1 FORGOT to even take the qualifying math exam last year!!!!).  DC1 isn’t much of a joiner and hates competition… I assume with a couple of extra years zie would have more free time and it would have been easier to bully hir into one of these things.  With more free time, I suspect DC1 would have a bigger sound-cloud and maybe more stuff on hir youtube channel, as well as a potentially viable video game or two under hir belt.  I don’t know how attractive those would be to colleges, but …

Skipping two grades in many ways is much less impressive than single-subject acceleration would be.  (But soooo much easier on the parents who don’t have to drive to middle school to drop a kid off at the high school in the middle of the day.)  It’s more impressive to be a freshman in AP physics than it is to be a junior of the same age in that class.

With two more years, DC1 might have been more attractive to schools like MIT and Harvey Mudd.  (And depending on how viral hir hobbies got, maybe someplace like Stanford, who knows!)  Zie could always take a gap year to explore life and become more attractive to top schools, and that may still happen.

But, I think having skipped two grades, it’s ok to go to a college that isn’t insanely difficult.  Like, I understand why Obama had to transfer from Occidental. Occidental is great, but I would literally have run out of classes to take at my level before I hit senior year.  I’d have had to transfer or graduate early (or get a third major if that’s allowed…).  If DC1 had not skipped a couple of grades and done single-subject acceleration instead, I think zie would be in the same situation that I would have been in given college credit as a high schooler.  Skipping two grades means that it’s ok to get that additional difficulty while picking up a masters (or maybe a PhD, who knows what DC1 will end up doing?).  So going to one of these smaller schools that is likely to take hir is not off the table (for example, zie was really impressed with the love letter the Fiske guide wrote to Grinnell).  I don’t know how competitive zie will be at the regional ivies (ex. Northwestern, Vanderbilt. etc.) but those would probably be fine too, though DC1 seems less interested in them.  I mean, sure if you’re going that level it would be nice to have the cache and excessive grade inflation of a Stanford or Harvard, but these top private universities give excellent educations.

Sidenote:  In the larger scheme of things I’m glad my (prestigious SLAC) alma mater got rid of legacy admissions, but at a personal level I’m a little annoyed!  I do think that it would be perfect for DC1 in terms of difficulty level and support networks, but DC1 is not really that good a fit from a what-they-say-they-want in admissions standpoint.  (I really was a perfect fit in terms of what they wanted outside of grades and test-scores in a way I wasn’t for the prestigious SLAC I was waitlisted at.)  DH’s uni still has legacy.

Before I get too derailed about college admissions, let me get to the part that inspired this post.

So DC1 is a junior now and is the same age as the average Freshman, give or take (younger if there’s a lot of redshirting).  Spanish 3 was so awful (see above note about the terrible teacher) that a ton of current juniors just decided not to go on to Spanish 4.  That means that DC1 is one of two juniors in a class with a bunch of dual-language Freshman who took Spanish 1-3 in middle school.  Originally Tabitha was in that class, but she decided to drop and take study hall so she could devote more time to being the best at sports and extracurriculars.  The other junior in the class was thinking about dropping too, but DC1 begged hir not to– “Don’t leave me alone with all these freshmen!”

There’s also a Freshman in hir AP Physics class.  I’m like, this is great, what’s hir name?  You can get to know other high achieving people your age.  And DC1 is like, but zie’s a freshman!

Zie completely and totally identifies with the junior class and with being a junior.  Because of some course selection choices and being in varsity orchestra, zie also knows a few of the high achieving seniors.  Zie mostly socializes with what I would call “normal mostly college-prep kids” and not the other kids who are taking all AP courses.  Zie seems to fit in with them just fine, though this semester in order to protect hir sibling zie is not sitting at their lunch table because they are ignoring social distancing protocols.  Zie says they talk across the table and wave.  Zie does not get invited to things (there was a birthday party once pre-pandemic at a friend’s mom’s apartment, but that’s really it) and doesn’t go to dances or anything like that.  Zie doesn’t text hir friends (I don’t think?) but does have an active life on Discord on a minecraft forum playing and hosting text-based mafia-style games (I think?).  Zie seems really happy with hir level of socialization.  Zie is just kind of a low-key chill person (much like DH).  Most of my friendships throughout my life have been situational as well– just whoever is around without any deep connections.  DH may have been my first really close friend.

Sidenote 2:  DC1 also noted that zie sleeps a lot more than hir friends and gets teased about it.  (Zie is usually in bed by 10pm.  But gets up on hir own around 7am every day including weekends.)

One part of the high school experience that DC1 is missing is the drama(!)  My colleague is always telling me about the dating tribulations of her senior (the salutatorian) and their friendship group (which includes Tabitha).  I reported back to DC1 and zie said, “Why would it take so much time to get over being dumped?  Shouldn’t it be like just a few hours?”  Which… there’s something to be said for doing hardcore AP classwork while *not* worrying about your crush or any of their drama.  (DC1 mostly hangs out with same-gender peers who are also not dating, whereas the super high-achieving friendship groups are mixed gender and sound pretty incestuous in terms of dating– meaning they all date and dump each other.  I am so glad I am not dealing with teenage dating angst either as a participant or first-level observer anymore!  The stories through my colleague are more than enough!)

I do feel a little bit guilty that DC1 is unlikely to be finding true love in high school because we skipped hir two grades, but there’s no guarantee that zie would have followed DH’s family norm (they all have married their first significant others that they met in high school) instead of the more random could happen at any time norm in my family (or indeed, most families).  And zie will still be a good catch in college or out or may decide never to date at all.  That’s up to hir.

So, as a whole, no regrets so far.  DC1 seems to be happy too.  Would zie have gotten into Stanford with another two years?  Who knows.  Is that worth it over wherever zie will end up going instead?  No idea.  We made these decisions for DC1 back when zie was 4 and 5 years old (and zie would have started Kindergarten even earlier if zie had been the decision-maker!)  What comes after is up to DC1.

40 Responses to “An update on having skipped two grades: the high school years”

  1. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    Did you mean to use “sibling” above instead of the gendered term?

    This is fascinating. I have no idea about Smol of course but skipping grades was never a need for JB so it’s really interesting to see it play out with your kiddo.

    My cohort in high school rarely dated so we had similar friend dynamics to DC1 and not a lot of dating related drama either. There was a little, but nothing significant. I’m glad I didn’t spend a whole lot of energy on that from this end of things and rather hope for the same low-level drama for Smol and JB but one never knows.

    I do think it’s rather sad that the bright stars, particularly the valedictorian and salutatorian, of our class both deeply went off the rails in college. They had so much potential and now, who knows where they are or what they’re doing. The overachievers that I remained close with are doing fine but a fair lot of them seemed to fall off the map.

    May DC1 and DC2 paths lead them to happiness and contentment no matter what happens in high school and college.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Good catch! Thanks!

      We didn’t have a valedictorian or salutatorian, but one of the guys in our class graduated college and got a phd in technical fields way early from tippity top schools (including a top engineering school that destroys people) and then kind of just dropped out– his brother (who I know professionally because this is a very small world) told me he basically spent years backpacking with almost no money doing odd jobs across the world, mostly developing countries. That doesn’t last forever, and I just googled him and he’s now a manager at a research non-profit in the US. I think that counts as turning out ok.

      • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

        Our friend just told us about how his high school best friend was just about a dropout, struggled for a bit, but now he’s heading up something like a NASA thinktank situation (roughly speaking, details very fuzzy for privacy reasons ofc). I think I have had more personal experience with people (mostly family) who wandered aimlessly and never managed to get themselves on any kind of track where they could support themselves, so I worry more.

  2. mnitabach Says:

    As you know I am not a big fan of how skipping grades affected me, at least as a kid & adolescent. Altho I’m quite happy now with how things transpired after that. I think your kid is benefitting from having emotionally & cognitively competent parents who are engaged in hir happiness & fulfillment (which I did not), and sounds on a great trajectory. 🎉🎉🎉

  3. gwinne Says:

    This is interesting to me. Skipping grades is not a thing that can be done in my kids’ school district, as far as I know. What LG and others have done involve the gifted and talented program via the university and dual enrollment in college courses in areas of interest/need. LG will be graduating a semester early, just shy of 18, having taken three college-level Eng courses and one in econ (to meet a high school requirement). Next semester the master plan is to get a part time job and take some gen eds (likely math, bio, and chem) at the community college. Then….we’ll see.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Is she applying early decision anywhere this semester? (Those applications are usually due around November– my friend is freaking out because Tabitha has already sent in her application to MIT but her son is dithering about working on his Harvard essay.) I guess financial aid is usually better with regular decision though. Neither my friend nor Tabitha’s parents are expecting to get financial aid just because of their annual income so that part is moot.

      • gwinne Says:

        Yes, all “early action” due Nov 1 via common app. From my understanding scholarships are MORE likely if you apply early…. I’ll need to look closer. FAFSA is not fun….need to finish.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Interesting! I have been putting off looking at this stuff. I do know there’s a big difference between early decision and early action– I know you can only apply one place early decision. Theoretically if you’re bound then they don’t have to be as generous and early action they won’t have run out of scholarship money yet.

        The CSS looks even less fun than the FAFSA.

      • Ewan Says:

        Our experience (for admission in 2020) was that admission odds were a LOT (like, factor of 5) higher for ED applications; we didn’t bother to fill out FAFSA for same reason, but the admissions folks did say pretty clearly that aid would be higher/more guaranteed for the early-admit folks.

  4. Natka Says:

    Maybe a little bit of dating/friendship drama in high school is a good thing? Because otherwise, the kids go off to college somewhere far away and may be totally unprepared for that kind of stuff and the parents will not be near by for moral support. This is not just for kids who skip grades, but more of a general observation.

    Were there some things you were glad you “got out of your system” at a certain stage in your life? Or maybe some dating experience in middle or high school that helped you make decisions later in life?

    I didn’t date until college, but I did experienced plenty of drama when it came to people stuff earlier on (like when I was 14-15). I feel like without those experiences, I would have been a lot more naïve and vulnerable in college.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I dunno, #2 and I had PLENTY of drama both in high school (boarding school) and college. I don’t know that having had it in high school made it any better in college. It was just 4 more years of it. DH didn’t have much drama in college because he only hung out with smalls group of low-key guys that didn’t date much.

      And, also… being at home doesn’t mean kids want their parents involved in their love lives even for comfort after a breakup. I didn’t want my parents involved either– much better to get comfort from other kids. My friend was looking up child psychologists because she had no idea what was going on with her kid last semester– only recently did she find out it was that he’d been dumped. My kids can always pick up the phone if they want to sob to one of us.

      Most kids in college are pretty naive, so colleges are set up to help. Not all colleges– I would never send my kid to Caltech, for example. But my Alma Mater and the place I did graduate school and was a graduate residential advisor at both had huge numbers of systems in place to help kids get through stuff. We’ve been focusing on making sure that DC1 can do laundry and cook simple cheap healthy meals and follow a recipe, so zie will already be a step ahead of most college students.

      #2 and I both married our high school sweethearts, so yes, I do feel a little guilty about that. DC1 will not be marrying a high school sweetheart. But most people don’t!

      I had a (math major– we did homework together but had different socialization groups) friend who was redshirted a year who went to my same college and didn’t date anybody until she was 28 years old and in graduate school. (She did not experience relationship drama either in high school or college, with the exception of having friends come out of the closet, which is not actually that dramatic where we went to college, though probably a big deal for the friend in question.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Also definitely something to be said for no teenage pregnancies in high school!

      • xykademiqz Says:

        I had a friend from college who didn’t date in HS, college, or grad school. Everyone thought he was not interested in that kind of stuff. It turns out he just needed a lot of time and was super shy. He started dating in his late thirties or early forties, and has been living with a woman whom we knew in college for years now.

  5. Chelsea Says:

    I would be curious to read your thoughts about choosing a college. Particularly the perceived benefits of trying to go someplace like an Ivy or MIT or Williams. My DH and I both went to our flagship state school and have well-paying jobs and live happy, quiet lives. Honestly, is there any reason to do anything other than that if we think that’s what’s in store for our kids? Meaning, we hope they have well-paying jobs and happy, quiet lives. I have one child who has special needs and I’m not sure what higher ed will bring for him, one who loves math and science and may be interested in engineering, and a 3-year-old. Obviously, I would not try to stop a kid from going to a prestigious school if said kid really wanted to go, but it seems like so much stress for… I’m not sure what benefit.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Most ivies are pretty easy and have lots and lots of grade inflation. The education is about the same as at good Flagship state schools. But you get cache and connections. In terms of the academic research, going to an ivy over a state school benefits life outcomes for low SES kids but doesn’t have any effect on life outcomes for high SES kids.

      I didn’t get into Williams (waitlisted *sob*), but there are benefits to SLACs in terms of the college experience.

      We are not honing our kid to get into an ivy. If we were, we wouldn’t have skipped. Zie would have taken high school classes during middle school (meaning we’d have to drive every day to drop hir off). We would have forced hir to do competitions. And I’d probably be forcing hir to coauthor papers with me or DH would be pushing DC1 to get programming things out into the world. Not having those *special* things doesn’t mean a person can’t get into an ivy, but having them makes it more likely.

      A small part of me wishes I’d gone someplace like MIT or Caltech as a college student (though not really Caltech because it’s so brutal). In high school and college I was searching for like-minded peers who just loved learning for learnings sake. These two engineering schools have lots of them as undergrads. Students at my fancy SLAC were way more interested in the OJ Simpson trial than in thinking or tinkering. (Not all of them– I did have my people in the math major, but not the econ major.) Any large enough school is going to have people like that, but you have to find them– you won’t necessarily get placed with them, and if you’re like DH or me and tend to hang out with people who are geographically close you may not connect with them.

      I’ll pull this up as an ask the grumpies one of these fridays. Maybe it will displace the cracker preference question currently scheduled for this week.

      • heridfel37 Says:

        I went to a peer school of Grinnell, and there is definitely something to be said for small liberal arts schools. They are full of students who love learning and professors who love teaching.

  6. geochick1 Says:

    This is fascinating to me, as someone who was in the top 10% of my class in high school and rejected by Cornell and MIT. But, Colorado School of Mines is no snooze fest either. I used to be so focused on academics until I realized that valedictorians were dropping out of Mines. Then it became clear that grit is what really makes or breaks an academic career, not the high school ranking.

    As a parent of kids who have not been identified as gifted (one who is neurodivergent and one is clearly an artist) I’ve had to completely let go of what “I” think they “should” be doing or learning. That’s been an exercise in trusting my purpose to guide them to whatever their academic path is.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Grit is so important– we saw that when we were graduate resident tutors. The students who did the best as juniors were not the ones who were breezing through things as first semester freshmen.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      p.s. Cornell is way easier than Colorado School of Mines.

      • FF Says:

        That might be true within their narrow range of majors–my fairly common science major is not offered there. Since I only attended Cornell, I have no way of judging. I also started at 16, and definitely did not find it easy. Cornell was known at the time (’80s) for not having grade inflation, not sure how much has changed in the past decades.

      • Ewan Says:

        Ha :). Our son is there now, and I’ve occasionally checked on his problem sets and grades – we gave him all kinds of in-jest grief for his first ever B last semester. The grades are definitely not inflated in Cornell Engineering right now – slightly harder in my assessment than the same classes at MIT, for example.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        So, even at Harvard the engineering classes aren’t grade inflated compared to the rest of the school (last I checked they were averaged to a B- instead of an A/A-). Stanford is really the only school I know of that has grade inflation in engineering.

  7. CG Says:

    Aside from the effects on the individual of skipping a grade, it’s interesting to think about what other people that choice puts you in contact with that you otherwise might not have encountered. I entered kindergarten at age 4 and my best friend skipped a grade when she moved to our town. So we both ended up a year ahead. The high school class below us, that we should have been in, just didn’t have that many interesting people in it, in my opinion. Our class had a really tight-knit group of high-achieving and fun friends, including DH. Of course, if my friend and I had both stayed in the class behind us, WE would have been there. :) I realize this comment sounds kind of snobby, but it was really the most wonderful group of friends and I probably wouldn’t have known them very well, and mostly likely not married DH, if I’d been in my original group. Creeps me out a little to think about it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      One of DH’s best friends in high school (and the guy who introduced DH and me) was two years younger than the rest of us. We still keep in touch. He has not married though. (After some insane drama with his best high school friend and him dating the same girl in college and the girl choosing the other friend who got really weird as an adult he hasn’t really dated much since. Draaaaama. They were a bit uncomfortable at our wedding.)

      DC1 had a best friend that he grade skipped with and they’re occasionally in the same classes and DH and his dad are still friends but the kid and DC1 no longer hang out. They didn’t have a falling out as far as we can tell, but they’ve gone different paths.

      I do feel guilty about DC1 not finding hir true love in high school, but most people don’t!

  8. nanani Says:

    Not being into dating drama paired with not understanding how it can be so ALL THAT sounds very very close to my experience, decades ago!
    Nerds will be nerds. As long as it doesn’t morph into incel-style resentment or any red-flag strains like that, I don’t think there is anything to worry about. Zie will sort themselves out on their own time.

    FWIW I am not in touch with anyone from high school, regardless of fondness level of the memories. It’s just not the massively important period media makes it to be for everyone!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t even remember most people’s names from my hometown high school anymore. I’m sure many of them have different last names now anyway.

      Plus almost all my friends when I was a freshman were juniors (I was the class pariah for my year from 3rd grade until I left, but always got along with the kids a year or two above me).

  9. MathProfMom Says:

    We had two skip two grades and one (summer birthday) skip one, but then do study abroad senior year anyway because they were pretty much done with what high school had to offer. While not without drawbacks it was definitely the better option than sticking with age cohorts. I think all three would have checked out mentally if we’d tried that. FWIW they were competitive for selective schools even with the skips and in the case of 2/3 less than perfect grades – MIT, Mudd, Princeton for matriculation. Never quite clear what excites one admissions officer and not another. At least one rejection seemed to be solely based on age. MIT and Mudd in particular have lots of experience w grade-skipped kids tho.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Interesting!

      We’d kind of given up on top schools at this point. DC1 is so low-key and not really focused on anything measurable (unlike say, Tabitha, or my colleague’s son). But one doesn’t know until one tries. Mudd has gotten so incredibly competitive. DC1 does own a unicycle, but hasn’t really learned how to ride it. Zie does do magic tricks and coding and composes music and creates games etc. So is not unlike a lot of kids at tech schools. Just not enough of anything to really stand out.

      One nice thing about the skips is that if DC1 doesn’t like hir choice set, zie can go to my school for a year (living at home) and then transfer to a preferred school if that works out. There’s just more time for things.

  10. FreshLifeAdvice Says:

    You really can never predict what an admissions officer will think of your application. All you can do is try your best! Skipping grades is controversial, but you should do whatever works best for you personally! Keep up the great work, I enjoyed the read.

  11. First Gen American Says:

    My comment got eaten.

    To summarize. I think the reason my young for his grade kid isn’t tops isn’t because he’s young but because he’s been able to skate through a lot of school with minimal effort. Now that the workload requires actual discipline and good study habits, he’s not getting A++ across the board because he still defaults to trying to mail it in if he can get away with it.

    We are so behind on testing because none of the usual test prep stuff happened last year in our district. This year is going to be busy.

  12. Sarah Says:

    At the recommendation of his prek teachers, we had planned to skip kindergarten for my child, but he ended up getting into a public “gifted” school and we put that on hold. The public gifted school was gifted in name only and we had every intention of him skipping 5th grade, but then we moved out of state. He now goes to an independent gifted school where there is so much flexibility in class choice and movement (for example, in science and math they move the students around after every module depending on their skill set) that there is no need for anyone to skip a grade. The current school is very well regarded but offers no AP course, no gpa, and does not rank students. It is a mystery how they get students into top-tier colleges.


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