Olivia Harmon has always been an independent soul, so when she learned about the dual-enrollment program, she knew that was the academic path she wanted to take.
Dual-enrollment classes enable high schoolers to take classes at a local college, earning credit toward their associate's or bachelor's degree.
Harmon, 18, was a sophomore at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School when she started taking a few classes at Georgia Northwestern Technical College. By the time she became a junior, she was ready to start classes full time at Dalton State College at just 16 years old.
"I thought it would be a lot better than [advanced placement] courses, because you don't have to, like, pay for the tests and stuff," she said. "And you get the credit no matter what, as long as it's in Georgia."
Throughout her last three years of grade school, Harmon worked diligently toward her bachelor's degree.
Harmon said she didn't encounter any teasing over her age. A few people were surprised at how young she was, especially when she was at the technical college — she was 15 at the time — but most didn't say anything or care, she said.
Most of her friends were from the college, since she went to the high school only a few times a year to get some papers signed.
"When I showed up to graduation, a lot of people didn't know who I was," Harmon said. "They were like, 'Where did she come from?'"
Harmon could have elected to get an associate's degree in early childhood education, but she chose not to because she wouldn't be able to complete a practicum while still in high school.
"There were some that I could get, like a general studies degree, or like a biology, but I wasn't really interested in that," she said.
Instead, she took classes that would chip away at her four-year degree. That way, when she transfers to the University of West Georgia in the fall, she'll already have gotten most of the courses out of the way.
"I'm going to try to graduate [with my bachelor's degree] within two years like I did now," she said.
She plans on majoring in speech therapy and hopes to one day work in a school setting where she can work one-on-one with children who need help with speech and language disorders and social- and cognitive-communication disorders.
"I've always liked children, but I like the idea of being one-on-one with people versus a class," she said.
Speech therapists help people of all ages find alternate ways to communicate, such as learning and following rules of conversation and storytelling or learning sign language.
Harmon said she'll be job shadowing this summer to make sure she likes it.
She said she's really excited about transferring to a bigger university, though she's a bit frustrated that she'll still be considered a freshman since it's her first year out of high school — meaning she'll have to live on campus — despite having enough credits to be a junior.
"I don't like having to pay all the money and everything, but I'm excited for the experience," she said.
Regardless, Harmon's expected graduation date is 2020, meaning she will have a bachelor's degree under her belt at only 20 years old.
"It feels really good," she said of potentially having a four-year degree at such a young age. " I'm excited for it."
Contact Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327.