When I was in high school, I befriended a girl named Anna in the grade above me. We met in a journalism class, which was comprised of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors—an unusual dynamic for sure. We were all grateful for the opportunity to branch outside of our grades and discussed this one day in class… which is when it was revealed to me that Anna was actually a year younger than me! I was shocked—I’d always viewed Anna as older and wiser, but in reality, I was the older and wiser one. (I was in high school, okay—this stuff was important.)

Anna was bumped up a couple grades when she was much younger, which put her on the fast track for life. She started attending college at the age of 16 and graduated by the age of 20. To say that I was impressed was an understatement. It’s pretty rare and remarkable to go to college (not to mention graduate) at such a young age—especially considering new research published by the American Psychological Association.

This study “The Negative Year in School Effect: Extending Scope and Strengthening Causal Claims” says that students who are considered old for their grade are more likely to attend college. These teens appear to feel more confident about their academic abilities than their younger classmates. This obviously wasn’t true in Anna’s case, but there are others who do struggle due to their younger age.

Philip D. Parker, PhD, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Australian Catholic University further explains the team’s findings: “Being young for your grade really does lead to lower academic self-confidence, especially in math, even accounting for student’s actual performance in those subjects. Further, being young for your grade appears to slightly lower a student’s chances of entering college, and the most likely reason for this is a lower level of academic self-confidence.”

The researchers made this discovery after analyzing data from more than 10,000 students in Australia who were monitored for over a decade. Fifty-eight percent of these students who were almost a year older for their grade were enrolling in college, while a smaller 52% of students who were about a year younger for their grade were enrolling in college. These differences aren’t large, but they are still significant; and Parker believes these findings should be taken into consideration by government agencies, schools, teachers, and parents.

Parents oftentimes choose to put their kids into school later so as to give them an advantage in sports or academics later. And while this makes sense, Parker says it can be potentially harmful to other younger students. However, he says that you still shouldn’t worry too much if your kid is younger for his or her grade—the findings were, again, modest in size and should concern school systems and policymakers more than anybody else. It’s their job, he says, to create a level playing field for all.

“It is critical that school systems have a clear and strictly enforced school starting-age policy. While there may be joy or shame for students who are advanced or held back a grade, educators also need to consider the implications that those decisions will have on other students in their classes.”

American Psychological Association. (2018, March 15). Students Who Are Old for Their Grade More Likely to Enroll in College. Retrieved on March 15, 2018 from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/03/old-students-college.aspx

Parker, P. D., Marsh, H. W., Biddle, N. & Thoemmes, F. (2018, March 15). The Negative Year in School Effect: Extending Scope and Strengthening Causal Claims. Journal of Educational Psychology. Retrieved on March 15, 2018 from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/edu-edu0000270.pdf