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Kelsey Caetano-Anollés

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Too Young For College? My Fight Against Reverse Age Discrimination

Posted: 08/29/11 04:14 PM ET

Being turned down from the college of my dreams was heartbreaking.

But it was even worse when I found out it happened because I was "too young" to learn.

I'm Kelsey Caetano-Anollés, and at 17 I'm the youngest graduate the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has ever had. At 14, I was the youngest student ever admitted to the school, and I graduated this spring with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. But when I applied to UIUC for graduate school, I was told I was "too young," "lacked experience" and was even told that I would be better suited to "go backpacking through Europe" than to continue my studies.

We hear a lot about age discrimination in the workplace and I agree that this is a serious issue. But I'm arguing that age discrimination cuts two ways, which is why I started a campaign on Change.org calling for more legal protection to make sure young people aren't denied schooling or opportunities because of their age.

This year, I applied to the the Graduate Program in Psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign. After I applied, a professor in the department explicitly mentioned to me that it would be best for me if I took a year or two off backpacking in Europe and apply again after my return, stating that I would not be taken on board as graduate student because of my young age.

When I responded to her that I had no plans to put my career on hold because of my age, she replied, "Age does matter here." After I received the unofficial news that I had not been accepted into the program, I requested a meeting with the admission director to inquire about the reasons I was not selected.

To my surprise, when I met with the admission director and I started the conversation talking about my studies at UIUC, the admission director interrupted stating that my application to the graduate program was hampered by my young age. My family and I were in disbelief when we heard that age could have played a role in the selection process.

My mother asked if young age in a student like me, who had received nothing but straight As in the last semesters of classes, should be considered an asset. The admission director responded with the question, "Why do you believe that young age should be considered positive for the application? To the contrary..."

I was in disbelief that the same situation could have happened to me twice. At 14, I had applied to UUIC's undergraduate program but was denied because of my age -- even with a perfect high school GPA and an almost perfect ACT. I worked with State Senator Michael Frerichs to pass Bill 263 -- reversing the minimum age requirement for college admissions -- which passed unanimously in the Senate and in the House with only one vote against it.

I'm 17, but I consider that a benefit, not a drawback, as I work to continue my education and someday be a clinical psychologist. I'm shocked that a respected university would deny a student on the basis of their birthdate, and hope that others will join me in my fight against reverse age discrimination.