by Shari Rosenman
My daughter, Maya, age 16, started attending Bard College at Simon’s Rock this past August after finishing 10th grade. She’s having an amazing experience so I thought I’d share her journey with you.
Maya was homeschooled from 7th-9th grade. In 10th grade, she decided to see what all of the high school hype was about and enrolled in a private high school. Along with traditional school comes the PSAT. Maya took those a couple of months into high school, I guess as practice for 11th grade. Soon thereafter, she started receiving brochures from lots of colleges, one of which was Simon’s Rock. Maya was intrigued by Simon’s Rock, the only “early college” in the country that is designed exclusively for younger students who wish to start college before high school is over. I think it also registered in her mind as we had previously read about it in Donald Asher’s Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming and Just Plain Different. In that book, the author describes why some people might want to attend Simon’s Rock as follows:
Some people are too bright for high school. Is this you? Do you find the level of academic endeavor at your high school slightly beneath sea level? Are you drowning intellectually while you wait, wait, wait for the day when you can escape and join a real college. Well, you are not alone. All over North America smart young people are bored out of their minds by high schools that de-emphasize academics and emphasize sports and a warped view of adolescent social life. Here’s the really important question: Are you ready for college now?
While Maya was enjoying her high school experience well enough, and taking advantage of lots of extracurricular activities that are hard to put together while homeschooling (i.e., debate team, school plays, choir), she felt that her peers were playing the grade game to eventually get into good colleges, but with no real desire for current intellectual pursuits. So Simon’s Rock seemed like the solution to what was missing.
The application process was much like applying to any college other than that she did not need to take the SATs or ACTs (or graduate from high school, for that matter). The school is very friendly to homeschool applicants and simply had me provide a narrative of Maya’s academic and extracurricular high school experiences. I submitted transcripts of the two community college courses she had taken, a 9th grade homeschool transcript that I had prepared for her, and the 10th grade transcript from her private high school.
Maya collected recommendations and wrote essays. I had to write a few myself, explaining to the school why I believed Maya was ready for independent college living. While we also submitted the FAFSA (federal financial aid forms), we knew we were ineligible to receive much in the way of financial aid. But we also knew we couldn’t afford the hefty tuition and room and board, especially two years before we had planned for college. So Maya wrote an additional essay and filled out another form and applied for merit aid. She also conducted her interview over the telephone since we live in California and the school is located in Massachusetts.
Maya was notified that she was going to be awarded a merit scholarship and was invited, along with the other 55 awardees, to visit Simon’s Rock, to get all of our questions answered and to participate in another interview. Maya and I flew there for a long weekend. There were lots of panel discussions and tours, so we got many of our questions answered. We learned that while it’s part of Bard College, Simon’s Rock has its own campus at a different location in western Massachusetts (Bard is located in NY). Simon’s Rock is an actual 4 year college, not a boarding school. Because it’s so small though, about half the students transfer out after 2 years and they do well transferring to desirable colleges and universities.
Most students go there when they are 16 or 17, but there are kids as young as 14 there. The school does a good job of balancing between providing the students with enough guidance that they can succeed emotionally and academically, while giving them the freedom that comes with college life. The college is known for very small classes, very rigorous academics, and close relations with professors. One recent article rated it the second nerdiest college in the country.
Over that weekend, and then in the subsequent parents’ weekend we attended this past October, I’ve heard from several alumni and current students that Simon’s Rock is so academically rigorous that students who transfer to other colleges, even the most elite in the country, sometimes feel disappointed by the lack of academic rigor at the new school. By the way, all of our interactions with the Simon’s Rock administrators, including the provost, over those two weekends and over the telephone, were very positive and helpful.
Maya received a generous merit scholarship and is now attending Simon’s Rock. She lives in a female-only freshman dormitory (her choice). She headed into the program with psychology as her major and a bit of math anxiety to work through. Halfway through the first semester, and with an amazing college advisor guiding her, she has announced she will also fulfill the pre-med requirements so she can become a neuropsychologist. She is already registered for another math course (shocking) and is prepared to do what it takes to see these intentions through. So it’s a little early for final conclusions, but from what I can tell, Simon’s Rock is already helping Maya maximize her potential and conquer her fears. What more can a parent ask for?
Shari Rosenman has been homeschooling her children for the past five years. Before that, she was was a lawyer and a history teacher. She started LA Jewish Homeschoolers 4 years ago. Any Jewish homeschoolers in the southern California area are encouraged to check out this organization at www.LAJewishHomeschoolers.com.