Do you have an academically talented high school student who would be better served in a college environment? I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Brent Jones the director of admission for the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS), an early college program for Texas students entering their junior year of high school. If you live outside of Texas you may want to find similar programs in your state (keep reading; I list some).
What is Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS)?
TAMS was created by the Texas legislature as an early college program for academically talented students. The program is located on the campus of the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton.
TAMS takes students entering their junior year of high school and puts them in a college environment. The 400 students in the program live together in McConnell Hall and take college classes through UNT. At the end of two years, students graduate with a high school diploma and a minimum of 57 college credits which may transfer to other universities.
What type of student succeeds at TAMS Early College Program?
The TAMS program is designed for students who are academically and personally ready to accept the challenge of college courses. Most students have shown high achievement through grades and standardized test scores.
Many TAMS students found themselves under-challenged in high school, perhaps even bored. They may not have had a peer group that supported or understood their academic interests. TAMS is a math and science intensive program, so ideal students have an interest in these subjects and have completed Algebra II by the end of their sophomore year.
Successful students will need to have the ability to work independently and the maturity to succeed in a college environment. TAMS provides academic and social support with academic advisors, a counselor for each grade (200 students), and a staff psychologist, but some academically gifted students may not have the maturity to live in the dorms and adapt to being “average” after years of identifying as “the smart student.”
What is the TAMS curriculum?
TAMS students take college courses from UNT professors. Students must take classes in English, Political Science, and History to fulfill graduation requirements. Other requirements in math and science include: biology, chemistry, physics, and math through Calculus II.
A student who spoke at this presentation talked about how he had been #2 in a class of 650 at his high school. He was smart and used to being at the top of the class. But he was also quiet and didn’t really fit-in to the high school social scene. At TAMS he found a group of like-minded peers. He started speaking up in class and now would describe himself as outgoing and confident. But he is also an average student now because everyone in the program is on his level. He likes the challenge and variety of classes, but said it was an adjustment from the curriculum he had in high school.
What does TAMS offer outside the classroom?
TAMS students get the best of both worlds. They can attend university events, use the 25 million dollar campus recreation center, and enjoy the flexibility of a college class schedule at the same time they have TAMS-only dances, field trips, service projects, and clubs.
Students have a lot of freedom, but are still more supervised than a regular college freshman. Students have a resident advisor (RA) who acts as a confidential advisor and helps take students to different TAMS events.
TAMS clubs include many typical high school offerings: yearbook, Model United Nations, film club, student council, business organizations, Bible study, theater, and art. They even have their own prom. What TAMS does not have is competitive sports. Students who intend to play varsity sports in high school may not find the intramural sports club at TAMS to be an acceptable substitute.
How does TAMS make admission decisions?
Students apply to TAMS during their 10th grade year. 200 students will be accepted. Decisions are made based on academic credentials, maturity, motivation, behavior, and career interests. To apply students must submit:
- Report cards from grades 7-10
- SAT scores
- Evaluations / recommendation from math, science, and English teachers and a school official such as a counselor or principal.
Applicants may be invited to interview for admission. Scores and grades are important, but so are personality factors.
Is early college a good idea?
As with most college programs—it depends.
Financially the TAMS program is a good deal if you compare it to the cost of earning college credits elsewhere. Families pay a $1300 program fee plus housing and personal expenses and in return get transferable college credits. (Financial aid is available and one third of TAMS students receive some aid.)
Academically TAMS offers students opportunities to work with professors, engage in research, and participate in hands-on learning that isn’t possible for most high school students. Courses are more advanced and the availability of options is unparalleled, even from the largest high school offerings.
Socially TAMS is right for the right student. Many top students won’t want to leave their families and peers to “begin college” in 11th grade. Others would miss out on sports or other extracurricular opportunities if they left high school to attend TAMS. For the student who is mature enough to leave home, TAMS can provide an ideal social environment. TAMS may be perfect for the student who was bored in high school, didn’t have peers he or she could identify with, or felt like he or she didn’t fit-in because of academic talents.
Questions to Consider
Perhaps the biggest question for families considering TAMS or any early college program is maturity. Here are some questions to consider:
- Can your child get up and get to class on time without your prompting?
- Will he or she complete assignments in a timely fashion without parental supervision?
- Given the choice would your child go to class instead of sleeping in, goofing off, or playing video games?
- Has your child been away from home for a week or more? If so, was he or she so homesick that you worry about longer periods of time away from home?
- Do you generally trust your child to make the right decisions when faced with situations involving alcohol, sex, drugs, or other personally challenging dilemmas?
- Is your child able to effectively advocate for him or herself when dealing with teachers and school officials?
- Will your child be able to manage his or her personal grooming, nutrition, and health needs? (not looking for perfection, just the ability to take care of day to day needs)
- Does your child have any needs that you feel may not be adequately addressed? (learning differences, medical, physical, or psychological needs.)
- Are you ready to have your 11th grader live on a college campus? (Students may go home on weekends, but they live on campus Mon – Fri.)
If you think your child would benefit from an early college program, I encourage you to explore the options in your area. Many universities offer early college enrollment programs allowing students to complete high school education while earning college credits.
TAMS offers families a couple opportunities to become more familiar with the program. The Summer Mathematics Institute for younger students provides initial exposure to the campus and academic programs. For families of students grades 7-10 who want to learn more about the program, TAMS offers a Preview Day and campus Spend-A-Days. Visit the TAMS website to learn more.
Other Early College Programs
If you want to learn more about other programs check out this starter list of other early college possibilities. This is NOT a comprehensive list, so please search for programs in your particular area.
Early college programs may or may not be right for your family, but the more information you have, the better decisions you will be able to make.