Getting a head start and graduating early

The U of I Commencement ceremony took place at the Assembly Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 13, 2007. Erica Magda

The U of I Commencement ceremony took place at the Assembly Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 13, 2007. Erica Magda

By Meghan O'Kelly

Meghan Collins has never been a typical student.

While her elementary school peers aspired to be firefighters, doctors and teachers in their adulthood, Collins declared that she wanted to be a Supreme Court justice in fourth grade.

“I idolized Sandra Day O’Connor,” she said.

Collins is graduating after her third year at the University and will begin law school in either Chicago or Champaign in August. Collins entered college as a political science major with about a semester worth of Advanced Placement credit. After one summer school class and taking 17 or 18 hours of class each semester on campus, Collins, now a communication major, decided to jump on the opportunity to graduate early.

“I wanted to keep moving on, stay on the ball and keep moving forward,” she said. “I have momentum in my favor.”

Grace Giorgio, undergraduate academic advisor and program coordinator for the department of communication, described Collins as mature, capable and driven with a “true sense of altruism.” Giorgio said since she began working with students as a professional at the University in 2001, she has never known a student to graduate in three years and go straight on to law school.

“She’s just dynamite,” Giorgio said. “She’s just capable of taking any task put before her and tackling it and really taking on the challenge with enthusiasm and eloquence.”

As the oldest of three daughters in her family, Collins said she has always worked to set a positive example. Caity Collins, the second of the three sisters, is a freshman in Education.

“Meg is an amazing role model and is extremely dedicated to everything that she does,” Caity said. “It is hard to be around her and not feel motivated to better yourself.”

Collins said her work as a teaching assistant for Speech Communication 101 and a learning community leader, along with her involvement in her law fraternity and pre-law club, strengthened her law school applications.

The biggest challenge, Collins said, was studying for the LSAT exam, which she took last December. She credits her competitive score to the Kaplan class she took to prepare.

“It is the hardest test I’ve ever taken in my life, hands down,” Collins said.

“When I came out of it, my mom said I looked like I had just come out of a funeral.”

Caity said living with her sister in their Elmhurst home was a challenge as the LSAT approached.

“I don’t think I have ever seen her study so hard and be so nervous for anything,” Caity said. “It was definitely a stressful time in the house.”

Collins credits her work ethic and competitive edge in large part to 15 years of Irish dancing.

“It really helped with time management, because when I was dancing five times a week with school, I had to learn to study effectively,” she said, adding she used her dance experience as the topic of her law school personal statement.

As she completes her senior thesis, works for a 4.0 grade point average this semester and prepares for her internship at an intellectual property law firm in Chicago this summer, Collins said she is sad to graduate but does not regret her decision.

“I’m excited to get a jump start and start life in the outside world a year earlier than I would have,” she said. “It’s kind of strange how quickly it went by.”