Young Folks

May 3, 2010, 12:51 a.m.

With Admit Weekend just concluded, Stanford students can all remember a time when they were ProFros, itching to escape the clutches of their parents and strike out into the world on their own, as adults, for the first time.

Yet, for a small number of Stanford students each year, the “as adults” part doesn’t apply. The select group that entered Stanford before turning 18 is an invisible minority, difficult to identify by any conventional means.

For Frank Liu ’13, who came to Stanford fall quarter at age 16, such anonymity is a good thing, both academically and socially.

“Everyone here really treats me like I’m just another 18 year old or 19 year old,” Liu said. “It’s just like I’m one of them.”

According to data supplied by the Registrar’s office, Liu is just one of 54 freshmen aged 17 or younger who entered Stanford this year, out of a total freshman class of 1,692 students. These numbers indicate that about 3 percent of incoming students were not legal adults in September (though there is no data on how many have turned 18 since entering).

Only one upperclassman started in the fall younger than 18, suggesting that most underage students enter at 17 and turn 18 at some point between the start of their freshman and sophomore years.

Perhaps contrary to expectations, official University policy does not differ in most respects when dealing with these students.

Shawn Abbott, the director of admissions, wrote in an e-mail to The Daily that, while the University does receive “several” applications from students younger than most, these applications are put through the exact same admissions process as all other candidates, with no differences in evaluation procedures.

“Their age isn’t an advantage, nor is it a disadvantage,” he said.

While these applicants are not given any special consideration in the academic evaluation process, Abbott said that his department strives to ensure that younger applicants are mature enough to handle living in Stanford’s residential system alongside their older colleagues.

“We require any admitted student who will be under 16 at the time of entry to interview with senior administrators, to ensure that the student is ready to be in a residential environment with older students,” he said.

In an e-mail to The Daily, Deborah Golder, the dean of residential education, elaborated further on why Stanford has chosen to treat underage students as though they are legal adults.

“We have an expectation that every student who lives with us in the dorms is offered the same amount of resources and services–we expect all students to be responsible for themselves and responsible to others, regardless of their age,” she said. “We will treat all of our students, regardless of age, similarly–there are no ‘special dorms’ that are assigned. Each student has his/her own preferences or needs, and we work to honor those.”

Golder also said that Stanford doesn’t want to play any role in attaching a social or academic “stigma” based on a student’s age.

Lena Potts ’13, who started fall quarter at age 16, shared Golder’s outlook.

“I don’t think anyone would have known unless I had told them,” Potts said. “I don’t think anyone can really tell how old I am.

“My friends have always been older than me,” she continued. “It’s not a social issue.”

While Liu and Potts both consider themselves to be no different than their older peers, Danny Gould ’13, Liu’s roommate, felt that age does matter and expressed concerns that younger students lack a level of social experience and maturity.

“When people find out, they look at [Liu] differently,” he said. “16 is still child status. His maturity level is that of a college student, but his life experience is not that of a college student.”

However, Gould did continue on to say that his roommate’s age had not caused any academic difficulties and few social ones throughout the year.

Another student, Brogan Miller ’13, echoed Gould’s sentiments, especially about life experience.

“Obviously, they’re intelligent enough to be here,” he said. “But I feel that, in certain social circumstances, they’re immature, and it’s not their fault.”

Still, Miller doesn’t mind too much.

“They’re amazing people and I love them to death,” he said.

Stephanie Chong contributed to this story.

Kabir Sawhney is currently a desk editor for the News section. He served as the Managing Editor of Sports last volume.

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