Many students, especially those who have graduated from high school early due to course acceleration or homeschool programs, wonder if they can jump right into their college education. Is there a minimum age to begin taking online college courses? The answer is mixed and is often determined by each individual institution.

Age Discrimination Act of 1975

A key piece of legislature surrounding this issue is the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. This act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

This means that any state college, community college or any institution that is not entirely privately funded must adhere to the Act. Since Federal Law does specify a minimum college age, this can be a very slippery slope for admissions administrators. By letter of law no such institution can deny a student enrollment solely because of their age. There are, however, other ways to make the argument. The student would still have to meet other requirements, such as passing entrance exams, having a GED or HS diploma, and having the required GPA.

Some colleges also have a “best-fit” clause built into their programs wherein students must meet with enrollment advisers or submit a paper explaining why they would be a good match for the program. There are no laws governing the requirements for this practice, and the institution reserves the right to reject any applicant on the basis that they are not a “good fit” for the program. The institution would have to be taken to court to determine if they are being discriminatory such a case.

Online Different From Campus Classroom

There have been cases where very young students have been denied college entry because of their age. A 13-year-old girl girl was denied college enrollment despite the fact that she had passed the entrance exam and completed a high school diploma via legal homeschooling. The college administrators cited fears for the girl’s safety on a campus designed for adults. There were also concerns about her ability to interact well face-to-face with college-aged students. These concerns are well founded, but do they apply to an online learning environment? If the students does not have to go to campus or interact directly with peers, does it matter how old they are?

Online college courses do still often specify an age requirement for their admissions. The average age is 15 years, but it can vary by institution.

Exceptions

There may still be room for exceptions. Many colleges have a clause in their admissions requirements that allow administrators to waive certain admissions requirements on a case-by-case basis. What are common things a student will have to prove to be granted a waiver to the age requirements?

First, the student will need to show they are academically prepared for the course. They should meet all other academic requirements or prerequisites for the course. Second, administrators will be looking for maturity in the student. If the student can prove that they will interact in an online discussion environment at an appropriate maturity level, then their age may be overlooked. The student will probably be asked to write one or more papers or samples of what their discussion content might look like. Finally, administrators will be looking for independence. The administrator does not want parental hand-holding to occur. College level work is designed as independent work. This is what separates it from grade-level education.

If a young student can prove they are as prepared as any adult learner, then the age-based entrance requirements may be waived. Simply, there are age requirements for online college learning, but they are not set in stone.

Sources:

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/06/16/age

http://education-portal.com/articles/How_Young_is_Too_Young_to_Enroll_in_College.html