Alumnus Sam Hong, class of 2011, was just 12 years old when he enrolled at the university, but Hong said trying to fit in, not academics, made attending college at a young age so difficult.
Hong, now 19, recently talked about his experiences. He said he had read about Carson Huey-You’s story, the 11-year-old who enrolled at the university this fall.
He said it was hard enough trying to fit in as a 16- or 17-year-old first-year student, and that he thought it must be much more difficult at only 12 years old.
From the age of eight, Hong studied piano as a private student under John Owings, professor of piano and chair of the piano division at the TCU School of Music. After his family decided to move to California, Hong lived with Owings and his wife in order to continue his musical training.
Upon enrolling in middle school, Hong was placed in pre-algebra, which he had already taken once or twice, Owings said.
When middle school was not challenging enough, Owings said he suggested Hong take some classes at the university. An interview with admission directors revealed that Hong was ready to enroll as a full-time student, Owings said.
“He simply didn’t fit in [at TCU] because he couldn’t,” Owings said. “On certain levels socially he didn’t fit in with students much older than he is.”
Hong said things got easier as he got older. The collaborative nature of his music classes meant that he had to interact with other students. Many people told him he seemed mature for his age, which also helped him fit in, Hong said.
“In a year or two, when you start getting the respect from your peers for what you’re doing in the professional sense, and when they start to see that you’re on the same intellectual level, then it starts to become much easier,” he said.
Associate professor of music theory and composition Till Meyn had Hong as a student and has known him for six years.
“He always had a strong work and study ethic," Meyn said. "He engaged his older colleagues and me in thought-provoking discussions about music theory-related
Hong even rivaled some of his older classmates, Meyn said.
Hong said he did not fit in with kids who were his own age either.
“You end up in this strange limbo where kids your age, you seem different to them because you’re going to [college] early,” he said.
One of the problems faced by individuals like Hong and Huey-You in the public school system is how unaccommodating the rigid curriculum is for them, Hong said.
“People are not the same,” Hong said. “There’s lots of different people, and it’s great that TCU offers this chance for students that don’t necessarily fit into the norm.”
He said it is great to see the university help out individuals who are advanced beyond their age because it gives them a head start in life.
Hong said Huey-You will do just fine on campus.
“He’s a smart kid,” he said. “He can handle it.”
When asked if he had any advice to offer the 11-year-old, Hong said Huey-You should not compromise anything, no matter what anyone else says.
He also said Huey-You should follow his dreams.
"Whatever you do, make it count toward that final goal that you have for your life,” Hong said.