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'Time on my side': Experiences of accelerated students who entered university early in Aotearoa New Zealand

This qualitative study investigated the lived experiences of 10 young people who had been accelerated in their schooling and entered university at a much earlier age than is typical for students in Aotearoa New Zealand. Although the literature suggests that academic acceleration is an effective educational intervention for high-ability students, it is not a common form of provision in New Zealand schools and early admission to university is comparatively rare. A phenomenological methodology was adopted for this exploratory study to ensure that the individual voices of the participants were heard and acknowledged as an integral component of the research process. Consistent with this approach, in-depth semi-structured interviews were undertaken to explore the impact of acceleration and early entry to university, as perceived by the participants. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009) was selected as the most appropriate method of data analysis for this study because it has an explicit focus on the idiographic nature of lived experience. The findings were structured around three superordinate themes, each of which represents a distinct temporal phase of the participants’ lived experiences: (1) Pathways to University; (2) ‘Being at’ University; and (3) Critical Reflections. Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed that many of the young people in this study had endured years of boredom and frustration at school, as well as ongoing issues with bullying and social isolation. Although some participants found the initial transition from secondary school to university difficult, the findings suggest that most of the challenges they faced were relatively minor and tended to be short-lived. Ongoing support and encouragement from family/whānau and friends, as well as active involvement in extra-curricular activities, were viewed by the young people in this study as critical enabling factors for positive adjustment. Overall, the results of this study demonstrate that accelerated students who gain early admission to university can be very successful, not only in terms of their academic achievement but also in relation to their social and emotional development. With the benefit of hindsight, none of the participants regretted their decision to enter university early and most could identify significant advantages, such as being awarded prestigious international scholarships and having more time for early career exploration. The findings presented in this thesis highlight a need for parents/whānau and educators to be better informed about the potential benefits of academic acceleration and early admission to university as a legitimate pathway for high-ability students in New Zealand schools.
Type of thesis
Easter, A. M. D. (2019). ‘Time on my side’: Experiences of accelerated students who entered university early in Aotearoa New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12362
The University of Waikato
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