These days, many gifted students take AP courses and then pay to take AP exams. While that sounds nice, the reality is that 1.) there's no guarantee they'll pass the exams and 2.) whether they receive credit for the course will depend on which colleges they attend. Perhaps less well known than AP courses is the possibility of taking college courses while in high school (or skipping part of high school to jump straight to college).
Many colleges now allow students to start college early before obtaining a high school diploma. An increasing number of local community colleges allow for dual enrollment in college courses while completing high school (allowing a student to earn credit for both high school and college at the same time). Other colleges allow students to enroll without completing the high school degree first. Additionally, other programs exist to help young students transition to college life. Some offer housing and special support for young students.
Not all gifted students will want to start college early, and some may not be ready emotionally or behaviorally (don't forget about asynchronous development that is very common in gifted kids!). However, some gifted students may be ready. They may be able to handle the work itself and also may be able to adjust to the change of taking college classes.
Research has shown that students who attend early college have higher rates of graduation (regardless of gifted status). They also graduate earlier, which allows them to start working at a younger age, increasing their potential lifelong earning. It's also more cost-effective. A study by AIR found that the average annual cost of tuition and fees for early college was about 3,800 for 4 years compared to 8,300 USD for a 4-year in-state college.
The decision of whether to start college early and which type of accelerated program to pursue is one that should be made after thorough conversation within the family. Consulting with your child's counselor and programs of interest is also helpful. If you're not sure where to start, look at your local community college to see what is possible in your area. You can also find additional options on our Resources page.
To read more about the research on Early College, please visit the Acceleration Institute at the Belin-Blank Center.
There is also a new policy brief from the American Institutes for Research on the Lasting Benefits of Early College High Schools.