Freshman enrolls in ACC’s Early College High School

Lucy Layne Urdahl

College always seemed like something that would cost way too much and be something that I would have to wait until I could help pay for it. Well, that was until I learned about Austin Community College’s Early College High School program last year in eighth grade.

I learned about the program about seven months ago when my dad came home with a poster and some information about it. I began, because who wouldn’t want to be a 14 year old college student?  Over next few days, we began talking, and we went to a meeting that explained the process. This was like the “honeymoon phase,” where everything seemed perfect and easy. I remember that I was worried to talk about it to anyone at school, because they only took so many students, and I thought that kids would flood the program.

We started the long and lengthy process of acceptance. The application was easy. I just had to answer some questions about my life and write two essays about myself. For the first essay, I wrote about what my biggest fear was and how I overcame that. One of my biggest fears is rejection, and I overcame that by joining the football team after I had been cut from the volleyball team. The football team completely accepted me, despite the fact that I am a girl and was on a team of all boys. The second essay was about why I actually wanted to be in the ACC program. I thought about this one for awhile. Why did I actually want to do this? I wrote that I wanted to do this because it was something different, and I had been thinking about college since I knew what it was. College has always been a goal for me, and this program was just a quicker way to get there.

After submitting everything, we waited until I got accepted into the interview stage. I felt stressed, which was strange because I’ve always been told that I could be a professional talker. It was because this was going to be the first time I would talk to the head coordinator without my father. This is when it really began sinking in that this isn’t like high school. There, your parents are going to be there, even if you don’t want them to. But in college, you are almost completely on your own. Sure your parents are there, but they aren’t an active part of your education anymore, except they’re paying a lot of money for it. This all came rushing in as I introduced myself to the interviewers.

The interviewers were nice and if they picked up on my nervousness, they didn’t say anything. They asked me about my essays, with only a few questions about other things. Right after I walked out of the room,  I began to freak out. What if I said too many wrong things? Did I sound like I had practiced? Did they like me? Did they hate me? Questions like this plagued me for days, until I got the relieving news that I had passed.

About a week later, I went to a mandatory introduction, where I could meet the other students and talk to some possible future professors. Everyone was welcoming, and we had fun doing a scavenger hunt throughout the building. About 86 percent of the other students were homeschooled. It was a chance for all of us to just see that there were other kids doing the program. It was a good thing, knowing that I wasn’t crazy for doing this.

Now I had to take Texas Success Initiative, which is a test required before enrolling n ACC classes to determine students’ level of learning. I took  different tests for English, writing and math. I thought that this would be something easy, like the STAAR. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. I had to relearn old things and learn brand new things. I hunkered down and began studying. I had to make sure I knew everything that was going to be on the test.  When the test finally came around, I knew that I studied everything I could. But even with that knowledge, I still didn’t feel ready.

The testing room on the Rio Grande campus was just a computer lab you’d see at any high school, even though it was in a college. There were a few other people in there, all older. I was terrified. I took the test over the course of two days. English was on the first day and math and writing on the second. After I finished, I got the scores immediately. I was shocked at this. I looked at the numbers on the page, not fully registering what I was seeing. Then I realized I had passed. I was officially a college student and I wasn’t even 15 yet!

It was right about here that I ran into some trouble with the school. It wasn’t that they didn’t want me to take the next step in my education, it was just that they just thought I was taking it too soon. I felt myself begin to panic. I had finished everything! But the school I thought would be encouraging me to do this program was trying to discourage me instead. We had to meet with the vice-superintendent as well as my counselor. We had to look at the program over the course of four years. We needed to look at how I could find a way to balance everything, especially when I start taking on harder work loads in both high school and college. It took a lot of effort, but in the end, we got everything worked out. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.

Finally, I got to register for General Studies, which is the required class that all ECHS students take before enrolling in any other classes. The class itself is just a course in study skills. I have no idea why it is required. Growing up in this school district, I learned how to study fairly early on.

My first class was on Aug. 26. I walked into the classroom with my backpack and a water bottle clenched tightly in my hand. I sat down right next to door, only because it was the first seat I saw. After the students filed in, our professor walked in. He greeted us with a warm smile and I knew right then and there, that this wasn’t going to be as hard I believed it to be. And so far, it’s not. Even though I have just started this program, I know that I’m going to enjoy it. I mean, how many other kids can say that they’re a 14 year old college student?