LEONEL DE VELEZ/THE HOYA The decision to begin college early brings a unique set of challenges for younger-than-traditional students like Wardah Athar (COL ’13), who received her Georgetown acceptance letter at the age of 16.
LEONEL DE VELEZ/THE HOYA
The decision to begin college early brings a unique set of challenges for younger-than-traditional students like Wardah Athar (COL ’13), who received her Georgetown acceptance letter at the age of 16.

Until the beginning of his senior year, few of Armen Avagyan’s (COL ’10) friends knew that he was just 17 years old when he matriculated at Georgetown as a sophomore.

“I liked being younger with nobody else knowing,” he said. “No one had any idea I was younger and everything was fine.”

That all ended at Senior Disorientation, when the then 19-year-old was given a differently colored wristband from his drinking-age friends.

“As soon as people started noticing it was less enjoyable,” he said. “People … treat you differently.”

 

A Class Apart

Avagyan, who grew up and went to high school in Armenia, moved to the United States when he was 15. Once here, he decided that he wanted to move directly on to college, and an adviser from the University of Maryland helped him to apply to community colleges.

He transferred to Georgetown after spending his first year of college at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md.

Avgayan is just one of a small number of students who began attending Georgetown at a younger-than-traditional age.

Santhia Varatharajah (COL ’14), who finished high school in three years, is about two years younger than most of her classmates.

According to Varatharajah, it was common knowledge among students that there was a 16-year-old freshman in the class of 2014. People would ask her what she thought about it and express their own negative opinions on having someone so young in their class. None of them knew that she was the 16-year-old student they were talking about.

“I heard stories straight to my face about what people thought of it,” she said. “I don’t want people to think of me that way.”

These negative reactions compelled Varatharajah to act older, never giving anyone a reason to suspect that she was two years younger than her classmates.

Avagyan had a similar mentality.

“If you do something crazy and stupid and you’re their age they think its okay, but if you do something crazy and stupid and they know you’re younger [they won’t],” he said.

Still, these students find that there are many situations in which simply acting older is not enough.

According to Wardah Athar (COL ’13), who received her Georgetown acceptance letter when she was 16, being younger has affected her ability to apply for scholarships and jobs.

“Something that’s sometimes tough is applying for internships where they’re looking for someone a little bit older,” Athar said.

Under the Radar

According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon, young applicants to Georgetown are few and far between. Most students who deviate from the standard applicant age tend to be older than the typical 17 or 18 years rather than younger.

In the rare circumstance that a particularly young applicant does show up, his or her age weighs heavily in the acceptance process.

“The younger the student, the more the question will be looking at the student’s maturity and ability to move into an older setting,” he said.

But the Office of Undergraduate Admissions does not keep track of admitted students’ birthdates, meaning that it is easy for younger-than-traditional students to go unnoticed once accepted.

“They could be slightly invisible. Unless you focused in on the age it wouldn’t be apparent,” he said.

 

Looking Forward

Despite the challenges of starting college earlier than their peers, younger students find that their position has some perks.

Avagyan pointed to the fact that he was able to start his job application process almost two years ahead of anyone his age.

“You graduate early, you get a job early,” he said.

Avagyan graduated from Georgetown as a math and economics double major with honors. He now works with a government subcontractor as a research analyst while attending graduate school for math at Georgetown.

Athar, who will soon begin applying for M.D./Ph.D. programs, appreciates that her age makes her stand out among other applicants. Although she will be only 20 years old when she begins her graduate school application process, Athar’s resume will speak for itself.

Though these students are reluctant to admit it, their academic records and achievements are remarkable.

Varatharajah has assumed leadership positions in several campus groups, where even now few people know her true age. A few years ago she also co-wrote a bill for Congress with her father about the economic recession and illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, Athar works in the Donoghue Laboratory on campus researching cortical development. She also won the McTighe prize, a Georgetown award honoring community involvement, in spring 2011.

Despite her accomplishments, Varatharajah prefers to focus on the day-to-day reward of being at Georgetown.

“The biggest benefit of coming to Georgetown at 16 is identical to that of all university students:  college is a great place that people never want to leave,” she said.

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