This month, Karan Singh surpassed a major milestone in his life as he celebrated his 18th birthday. In March, he will experience another milestone: graduating from college.
Singh will be graduating from Cal Poly this winter with an electrical engineering degree completed in two and a half years. This will happen before many other 18-year-olds will even graduate from high school.
Singh’s childhood was fairly traditional, complete with an interest in classic video games and sports. At nine years old, he discovered a curiosity in modifying old Android phones and designing custom LEGO projects.
However, upon entering the educational system, he said he realized that the conventional academic pathway was not tailored to his desired pace. This realization prompted him to skip fifth grade, complete high school in two years and become a student at Cal Poly by age 15.
Priscilla Butler currently holds the record as Cal Poly’s youngest graduate in history, having graduated at age 18 in 1988 after studying English for only two years. Now, Singh will claim this title upon earning his degree later this March.
While her liberal arts major was very different from Singh’s, the two share a similarity in the average course load necessary to complete college at such a fast pace.
Currently, the maximum number of units allowed per student to take quarterly at Cal Poly is 22 units, with few exceptions made. However, Singh was able to take 24 units in the first quarter of his freshman year and, despite the staggering number of classes and initial adjustment, he still found that he was able to maintain a G.P.A. between 3.5 and 3.8.
Throughout his unique journey, many of those closest to Singh said that they saw he was capable of more than the school system was allowing for and encouraged him to forge his own path.
“My calculus teacher did push me to graduate faster. He also thought that my school didn’t have anything left for me,” Singh said. “And my parents definitely –– they’ve always supported me and they really fought to make sure I could get the opportunities.”
This external support system and an internal drive to succeed pushed him to extensively research what options were available outside of what was standard. Singh said that he emphasized the importance of evaluating every avenue that exists to “see what’s possible before you make the choice”.
Pursuing a less traditional direction often elicits the presumption that the college experience is incomplete or less fulfilling; Singh said he feels otherwise.
“I don’t think I made many sacrifices. I mean, of course there are some things that I missed about the college experience like parties, but I don’t think those affect me,” Singh said. “I still have a social life. I still do fun things with friends.”
As a younger scholar, an age gap in his friendships does exist, generally ranging anywhere from five to ten years. Some may believe this would jeopardize the opportunity to foster friendships, but Singh has found that connecting with his peers has been easier than expected despite the assumptions he has faced.
“Being in the same classes all the time — that of course helps. I don’t think there’s much of a difference, like before people used to tell me ‘Oh I thought you were younger but I didn’t want to say anything,’ but not anymore,” Singh said. “I feel like mentally I’m on the same level as them.”
His insistence that his time at Cal Poly has been no different or less valuable than that of a student completing their degree conventionally reaffirms his philosophy that life, especially education, is fluid and “never one size fits all.” Instead, he said he believes that life should be spent following passion.
He developed a passion for innovation at a very young age, which has remained constant throughout Singh’s college career. Then, taking different classes opened his eyes to the world of biomedical engineering.
After further research into what was available for this field, he was soon accepted as one of only 20 applicants for an exclusive project opportunity at Stanford University that focused on the treatment of epilepsy and Alzheimer’s using ultrasound.
Now, Singh’s ambition is to use his passion and expertise to “improve healthcare and make it more accessible and non-invasive.” To reach this goal, he plans to earn his PhD in electrical engineering, most likely at Stanford.
When he is not dedicated to academia, he enjoys playing the piano and occasionally badminton. Singh finds that learning an instrument refines discipline and is something he has benefitted from, given that he began to learn how to play right around the time that his education gained momentum.
But despite his age playing a unique role in how his life has unfolded, Singh does not want to be solely characterized by this.
“I wouldn’t give too much weight to it, I guess. It’s just, as I said, everyone’s different path,” Singh said. “I would want my contributions and actions to define me more than my age.”