Gifted Education Communicator (A Journal for Educators and Parents, published by the CAG), Fall/Winter 2003


Early Start

The Early Entrance Program at California State University, Los Angeles, by Richard S. Maddox

The Early Entrance Program (EEP) at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) is a unique educational program that is specifically designed to permit young, highly gifted students to enroll in college as full time students up to six years earlier than normal. The EEP was established at CSULA in 1982 by a psychology professor interested in finding educational alternatives for her preteen child. Supported for the first few years through faculty release units, by the late 1980s, funding was eliminated and the faculty involved began other projects. Program survival since and currently, has depended in large part on the efforts of several dedicated educators and hundreds of academically needy and talented students and their parents.

From the program's modest beginnings with only a handful of early entrants, limited organizational structure and a single staff member, the EEP at CSULA has now become a potential national model for education alternatives helping to educate hundreds of our most academically talented and educationally underserved gifted student population. In brief, the program allows qualified students as young as 11 years of age the opportunity to excel at the university level. The average entering age is currently 13.5 years and all EEP students must be admitted prior to their 16th birthday. The program maintains a population of approximately 100 full-time highly gifted teenage students on the CSULA campus who are among the finest students at the University.

The Mission of EEP

The EEP serves a specific and valuable portion of the California student population whose needs are not addressed by the established educational system. Highly gifted students often require a more challenging and focused scholastic environment, without the drill and repetition that is offered at most secondary schools. These students often need a setting in which they can associate with their true intellectual peers. EEP students may explore their intellectual curiosity and receive an appropriate and balanced education while also enjoying the benefits of a high-school atmosphere and a population of like-minded students. The resulting kinship encourages more than academic excellence; it removes the stigma so often attached to giftedness by creating a place where these young students can develop and flourish together. The EEP provides the opportunity for highly gifted students to begin their college studies early at CSULA, and offers them the support, guidance, and counseling necessary to prepare them for success at the university level. Most of the EEP students bypass high school and for many students, part of junior high school as well.

The Admission Process

The EEP reaches prospective students in the Los Angeles vicinity by conducting a biannual talent search, typically testing between 200 and 600 highly gifted middle school students each year. The Search for Exceptional Academic Achievement (SFAA) talent search utilizes the Washington Pre-College (WPC) test, which as part of its scoring provides estimated SAT I scores. These estimated SAT I scores are used to qualify exceptionally high scoring students to participate in the EEP and also for two other part-time programs supported by CSULA, the Pre-Accelerated College Enrollment (PACE) program and the Accelerated College Enrollment (ACE) program at or above 450. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of the students who take the WPC have test scores that meet this threshold and are invited to apply for a provisional summer quarter of study.

Provisional placement. This provisional quarter allows both the EEP staff and the students and their families a chance to determine if the EEP is actually a good choice; it does not disrupt the normal flow of a student's education if the EEP is deemed not to be the optimal choice for that particular student. The average qualifying score for EEP students is over 1200, which according to a recent Los Angeles Times education report is substantially higher than the average SAT score achieved by college-bound high school seniors throughout the great Los Angeles area.

During this provisional quarter, prospective EEP Students take two entry-level college classes of their choice, and must earn at least a B grade in both classes. Students are expected to earn a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA in approved academic classes in order to be considered for full-time admission. EEP Students must receive a passing grade on all essays, reading or writing assessments given by faculty and/or EEP staff during their provisional summer quarter. They are expected to display the appropriate motivation, maturity, and academic skill needed to succeed in the college environment. In addition, every attempt is made to ascertain a student's need for this type of radical acceleration. Need, as expressed often through motivation, is critical to the decision to admit a particular individual as an early entrant. After all, if a student does not need a more challenging educational experience, the choice to accelerate is not in the best interest of the student or the program.

Students and parents complete an interview process and are invited to remain in close contact with EEP staff throughout the provisional quarter. The regular EEP students and upper class EEP students (4th and 5th year seniors, commonly called Elders) volunteer their summers to serve as mentors. These mentor teams organize a series of orientation meetings, tours, group assessments, and tutoring assistance. Such close and supportive interactions between regular EEP students and EEP hopefuls provide the applicant with a personal peer viewpoint of the program and allow the mentor teams to gain valuable insight as to the applicant's reasons for applying.

As noted earlier, one of the most critical components of the provisional quarter is to allow students the opportunity to consider if early college enrollment is the correct choice for them. If a student is invited to join EEP, the decision to continue in college should be made by the student in consultation with parents and with consideration of their current friendships and social groups such as sports or band. Some qualified students may wish to have a traditional high school experience, and that decision should be respected. Some students may be viewed as not ready for a full-time program; the summer provisional process program allows them to return to their regular school in the fall should EEP not be the best choice for them.

Advanced to candidacy. After conferring with all applicants and their families, all mentor teams, EEP university faculty, and careful reviewing of all application materials (i.e., letters of recommendation, school transcripts, academic history, and applicant questionnaires), a select number of applicants are designated as Advanced to Candidacy. Advanced students are invited to a final interview with program staff and the EEP Student Counselor, whereupon the student's complete file is reviewed and discussed. This meeting allows students and parents yet another chance to consider the ramifications of acceleration through the program. The candidates are also invited to participate in an end of the year camping trip that serves as a bonding experience for all new freshmen. Upon receiving final summer quarter grades the EEP staff submits recommendations to the Faculty Admission Committee for its approval.

Admissions Criteria

The Early Entrance Program may be appropriate for a student with some of the following qualifications -- one who: The student likely to be admitted to the EEP is one who: The High School Atmosphere

In many ways, the EEP experience is quite similar to a typical high school experience. Entering freshmen have a common schedule of curriculum including classes designed to simulate a normal secondary school curriculum. These classes include science, history, English and mathematics. EEP students must be on campus at least 4 days per week, and are encouraged to maintain a presence in the EEP lounge to facilitate the development of friendships and inclusion in campus events and activities. The students in the EEP are also encouraged to maintain the relationships they formed with their friends at their previous schools and often participate in their traditional school activities. Such normal activities include sports, dances, and of course, the prom.

In addition to EEP, the campus at CSULA also houses the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), which has a population of 500 adolescent high school students. While these students do not take classes with the EEP students, we encourage interaction between these two groups of highly talented young students in clubs and other mutual activities.

Freshman Schedule of Curriculum

In order to ease the transition to university life, to simulate a traditional secondary school curriculum, and to provide students the opportunity to share common academic and social experiences with their first-year peers, freshman EEP students are required to follow a common schedule of curriculum during the first full-time year of study at CSULA.
Sample Early Entrance Program Freshman Schedule of Curriculum
ENGL 202
Frosh Composition (A1)
ENGL 102
Composition II (A1)
ENGL 250
Literature (C1)
MATH 102*
College Algebra (A4)
U.S. History II (AI)**
POLS 150
American Govt. (AI)**
U.S. History 1 (AI**)
Any Natural Science
Any Natural Science
Intro to Higher Ed.
(1HE) (A5)
Any Elective***Any Elective****
Frosh Study Hall    
*Math 100 for
non-science majors

**AI is American Institutions
***science-based majors
take: MATH 102
****science-based majors
take: MATH 206
Calculus I

All EEP freshmen are enrolled in a Frosh Study Hall course instructed by the EEP Director and, typically, an EEP Elder student interested in teaching as a career. The Study Hall, a misnomer actually, is part a University assimilation course, part group therapy, and part study skills preparation. One of the most interesting facts regarding the students most qualified for the EEP is their underdeveloped skill at time management, class organization, and general study skill strength. This is not surprising since most of these students never needed to develop strong study habits in their typical secondary school classes. They received As and Bs with only minimal preparation or effort. Study Hall elicits the support of various faculty members and academic advisors, research offices, university student life organizers, parents of EEP students and alumni, and of course, EEP staff and students who teach methods of success at the university.

EEP students are advised on an individual basis and adjustments to the schedule and regulations might be made or waived; they may also opt to complete a number of General Education or major/degree specific courses/units before formally declaring a major and choosing a faculty advisor. EEP students are expected to select a major course of study sometime during their first three (3) years in attendance or when 135 quarter units are completed. Based on the radical nature of the educational acceleration and the varying levels of experience, academic skill/acuity, maturity, and age, EEP students may petition for an extension of this policy regarding declaration of majors.

EEP Costs

EEP participants are fully enrolled students in the University, so their tuition costs are set by the regular fees charged by the California State University (CSU) system. The approximate yearly cost is between $2,500 and $3,500, depending upon whether the student plans to attend three or four quarters per year. The students are responsible for purchasing their own books and supplies and the cost estimate includes a small portion of these expenses as well. The cost of transportation is the responsibility of each student and family.

Life in the EEP and After

EEP students are very active in campus life including participation in events, organizations, clubs, governing bodies, social programs and, of course, university academic departments and research efforts. EEP students are also involved in intramural sports, CSULA orchestra-jazz ensembles, University Times campus news publication, the Creative Writing Club (CWC), the Model United Nations project, and the Asian-American Fellowship Club among many, many others.

The EEP student body is also actively involved in campus life through the university recognized EEP Club (EEPC) which allows for leadership and personal development and growth of the students through involvement in planning and sponsoring extracurricular activities, campus activity participation, and community service projects. Among the many undertakings of the EEPC is the Tutoring Program which employs EEP Elders for class assistance and tutoring services for regular EEP students.

These young scholars bring to CSULA a spirit of community by involving their families in campus events and activities and they enrich the classroom environments through their special perspectives as teenagers with extraordinary scholastic abilities. EEP students generally graduate in the traditional four years, but some EEP students will graduate in three years, while some will choose to finish in five years.

Beyond Graduation

Upon graduation from CSULA, EEP students attend graduate programs at many of the nation's most prestigious universities including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Vanderbilt, Cornell, Columbia Law, and a host of others.

EEP alumni maintain a close relationship with the program and its current students, often providing guidance and advice. In addition, EEP graduates have begun to make an impact as contributing adults in medicine, law, engineering, computer science, science research, and business. The future holds much promise for CSULA's Early Entrance students who, instead of being forced to curtail their abilities and interests, are given the opportunity to explore their individual talents at a pace appropriate to their intelligence.

These young adults are often asked if their decision for early admission was a good one and the response is always, "of course." The EEP is viewed by many as a salvation from what they perceive as the oppression often associated with a traditional public secondary school curriculum and environment. They note that in the EEP, they found their true peers and were finally accepted -- not ostracized -- because of their intellectual gifts and unusual needs for scholastic challenge. Considering that the students who apply and are eventually accepted to the EEP are already atypical in terms of our concept of a traditional teenager, it is reasonable to conclude that they would be comfortable taking an atypical path both academically and socially.

It is reasonable, if not absolutely necessary, to understand that such a program is not the right choice for all highly gifted students but it is viewed by the majority of EEP alumni as the only choice that would have allowed them to reach their potential as scholars and as people.

As the EEP continues its growth many more highly gifted young students will have the opportunity to develop as adolescents and scholars en route to successful and productive lives. The EEP will continue to work toward meeting the mission we have undertaken to allow some of our best and brightest the chance to develop their intellects in an environment designed to support, nurture, and provide a level of education commensurate to their unusual skills and needs. We look forward to continuing to serve the special needs of highly gifted young scholars.

Richard S. Maddox is the Director of the Cal State University Early Entrance Program (EP) in Los Angeles, CA. He is an expert in adolescent development with special emphasis on the scholastic maturation of extraordinarily gifted and talented students. For more information, see

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