To the next level

Andrew Li

While there’s nothing to stop parents from planning for college from the moment a child takes his first breath, the reality is that the parents of most kids have maybe 18 years before they have to make any hard decisions. But Andrew Li isn’t like most kids.

Li’s mom and dad, who immigrated from China in 1995, have found themselves firming up college plans, asking where their son will go to college just like the parents of other West Brook High School kids.

“My parents say I should go to Rice or something,” said Andrew.

What makes Andrew special? He just turned 13.

Although Andrew is officially in the ninth grade, most of his classes are above the ninth grade level, especially those involving math and science. While still in middle school, Andrew tackled every math class he could take, skipping the fifth grade before finishing AP Calculus in the seventh grade. Due to his above-average academic performance, Andrew will likely graduate high school in two years.

“Now there’s no more math for him to do,” said Andrew’s father, Xianchang Li. “He’s so advanced in this area that ... we have to spend time and energy to think what are we going to do next year? What kind of classes is he going to take? There’s nothing left. That’s not a problem for other kids, but it’s a problem for him.”

Last year at 12 years old, Andrew shocked his parents and administrators when he took the ACT college placement test, scoring a 30 out of 36 — well above the 90th percentile. With a score that high, Andrew is almost guaranteed a spot at the university of his choice.

“That score is acceptable for many of the universities already,” Xianchang said.

Andrew’s parents said they worry about their son, whose behavior problems in school they say are a culprit of a boring schedule that doesn’t challenge their young savant.

“He had a pen and somehow it became a rocket and he (shot) another student,” his father said. “That, again, is because some of the subjects are not his favorite. He doesn’t understand yet, like an adult, you have to do whatever is assigned to you whether you like it or not. He still wants to do something he likes in school.”

When he’s not outpacing students three to four years his elder, Andrew spends most of his time on the computer. The 13-year-old dabbles in computer programming and has written at least four programs of his own.

“I made a program for Spanish recently,” Andrew said. “Our teacher told us to make flash cards for extra credit. I don’t want to get a million cards and write everything down and flip them ... so I’ll just make a computer program. Basically I just type the words in and I’m done.”

Having put their son through various accelerated learning programs, Andrew’s parents said they were going to enroll Andrew in another program that could have put him in college even earlier, but didn’t for fear Andrew was too young.

“Sometimes we pull him back. We don’t want to push him,” said Andrew’s mother, Sharon Gao. “The teachers said, ‘You can’t pull him back. You just can’t.’”

Andrew’s parents said their son still depends on them for youthful guidance.

“If I send him to college now, he may call me the next day saying he got sick because he didn’t wear the right clothes,” Xianchang said. “Being a parent, we want to give him the best. But sometimes we don’t know what is best.”

When asked what he plans to do with his career, the youngster is thoughtful, but indecisive. He said his parents want him to be a doctor, but he isn’t so sure.

“I actually don’t know yet,” Andrew said. “That’s what I tell everyone when I grow up _ I tell them I don’t know what I want to be. Actually sometimes if I want to make a joke, I tell them I want to be a person.”