Lots of high school kids are way too busy keeping up their grades, participating in extracurricular activities, preparing for university, maybe working after school.
Braxton Moral took a different approach. The 16-year-old studied for two diplomas: one from his high school in Ulysses, Kan., and the other from Harvard.
Moral will receive a bachelor’s degree this May from Harvard Extension School, an online program for degree-seekers who do not have the time to pursue a “normal” college campus experience.
But he doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
“I mean, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before,” he said.
Moral is among a small number of gifted high school students who, in addition to sitting through hours of classes, participating in extracurricular activities and finishing their homework, dedicate their evenings and weekends to online courses from the Harvard Extension School.
Despite his modesty, Moral’s case is pretty unusual, according to Harvard.
“It’s very, very uncommon to have a student that age going through the degree programs at Harvard Extension,” said Henry Pierre, associate director of communications for Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education. According to Pierre, 96 percent of the current Harvard Extension School student body is older than 21. In the program’s history, it has never had more than 10 teenage students in one class.
Moral’s case is especially uncommon because soon after he enrolled in the program, Harvard Extension School required anyone enrolling in a degree program to be at least 21 because, according to the admissions website, the program is “intended for working adults with years of work experience.”
“Harvard Extension School really caters to those people who, for some extenuating circumstances, weren’t able to come to the traditional campus experience,” Pierre said. The average HES student is an adult with a full-time job and/or a family, he added.
WATCH: 16-Year-Old Kansan to Graduate From High School ... and Harvard
The right fit
But for Moral, HES seemed like the right fit.
“I was really bored. I was really looking for more stimulation in school,” he said.
After a lot of research, Moral’s father found the program, and even though Braxton was not its target demographic, he and his family felt the flexibility of the program and the prestige of access to Ivy League courses was just right.
The program, which costs $54,400 for the 32 classes required to earn a bachelor’s degree — relatively cheap even compared with costs at many public institutions, not to mention one from Harvard College, which weighs in at $46,340 a year for those who do not receive financial aid — is entirely online. But in Moral’s case, because of his age, he was able to also attend classes on the Cambridge, Mass., campus in the summer with other teenagers taking courses through a separate summer school program.
The summer school program, however, is not a degree program. And given Moral’s eagerness to earn a degree, his family and guidance counselors at Harvard decided the extension school would be best.
“A lot of our Harvard Extension students, their full-time job is their career and they’re coming to school part time, meaning they’re not in class 10 hours a day,” Pierre said.
High school important, too
But Braxton said he didn’t want to give up high school despite being ready to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
“I get to have a normal high school experience, which is nice,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about lacking those social skills that you develop during that time. So, I appreciate all the benefits that I get from being able to be in both.”
“He’s never had the arrogant attitude. He’s been just a pretty down-to-earth student,” said Mark Paul, Moral’s high school principal.
“He is bright, but it takes more than just being bright to do this. It takes being committed. And he has taken on this goal and been committed to it,” Paul said, adding that Braxton’s whole experience has been “pretty normalized.”
Braxton says his teenage life in Ulysses, a Midwestern town with a population of 6,101, is like that of any other high school kid: movies, video games, martial arts and a “good friend group.”
“They all, you know, make fun of me for this type of stuff,” he said, referring to his hefty extracurricular commitment of earning his bachelor’s degree.
“But other than that, they they’re nice,” he said. “They don’t treat me differently.”
A career in politics?
Being relatable is extremely important to him, he said, because he hopes to go into politics later.
“It’s very important to people. They really do search for relatable people to run for office,” he said. “Because you’re supposed to be representing them, and how can you represent them if you’ve never had the same experiences?”
“From the very beginning he wanted to get into politics and that’s his demeanor at all times — when you talk to him, he’s very jovial,” his principal said.
The next step to Moral’s career? Law school.
“I’ll probably end up going to Harvard Law, I hope,” he said casually.
But before starting that chapter, Moral will walk across the stage of Ulysses High School to receive his high school diploma. A week later, he will walk across the stage at the Cambridge campus to receive his bachelor’s.