When Haley Taylor Schlitz graduated from her Texas homeschooling high school program at age 13, she said she was simply moving at her preferred pace.
“It was never like ‘I’m doing this because I want to graduate early.’ That has never been the goal. It’s always been about where I needed to be,” Schlitz told Know Your Value.
But she wasn’t finished. Three years later, Schlitz graduated from Texas Women’s University at age 16. And on Friday, Schlitz, now 19, became the youngest Black woman ever to graduate law school, at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
Schlitz was born in Los Angeles but attended a customized homeschooling program in Keller, Texas. Her education was overseen her physician mother, and her father, a political campaign manager.
“I completed geography in about three months and moved on, for example. It was my natural pace, and my education was personalized,” she said. “There was also a curriculum for students who were right on time, who can go with the flow. I had a lot of socialization because I could attend in-person college-style classes twice a week. It was wonderful.”
Schlitz said she was by far the youngest student at her college and law school, but that she was immediately accepted by both communities.
“It really wasn't as dramatic as people might think. College and law school were both very diverse. When people found out I was young they’d think ‘Oh, that’s so cool how’d you do it?’ and move on. Then we’d get back to our group project, because we’re all just there at the end of the day studying for exams,” she said.
Schlitz is currently prepping for the bar exam, which takes place at the end of July. She is hoping to enter the field of educational policy.
“Standard K-12 education has not been updated, fundamentally, in a very long time. I would like to help amend that on a national and state-wide level,” she said.
When asked what advice she had for ambitious scholars like herself, Schlitz shared five keys to success:
1. Use your village.
Schlitz did not complete her schooling all by herself. She had the support and inspiration of her family and mentors throughout her journey, including her godmother, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Schlitz advised everyone to lean on their own structures.
“You don't walk any road alone. You can't do anything by yourself. You stand on the shoulders of giants, and there are great trees in your forest. Listen to their wisdom and to the tools they are giving you,” she said.
2. Manage your time to include YOU time.
Schlitz is clearly accomplished when it comes to meeting deadlines, but, she also values socializing and relaxation time. She advised scheduling these things, and not just assuming that they will happen. Schlitz said she makes time for her hobbies and passions, like hanging out with her friends, playing harp and videogames.
“Time management is key. Get your assignments in on time, study, take advantage of your learning opportunities, but also schedule time for yourself and with your friends,” she said. “Actually schedule it, so it’s like a promise to yourself. You know that you’re going to get free time later, so you can approach studying in a more relaxed way.”
3. Make your path, don’t wait for it.
Schlitz was highly proactive when it came to her education. While her path is not for everyone, she advised people to forge their own way, and not to wait around for something to happen.
“You don’t find your path, you make it,” she said. “Keep that ambition. You're not going to find a golden path with lights saying ‘here's all the success you've ever dreamed of.’ You have to accept that we’re life workers and life learners. And if you don’t like how something looks, that’s an opportunity to repave the road and change the direction of your life.”
4. You can live and learn outside of the box.
Schlitz’s fluid education taught her that people don’t have to be bound by mainstream, traditional paths. Her upbringing made her realize that people can exist outside of the box across institutions, whether they’re dealing with school, work or family.
“Make sure you remember that you are unique,” said Schlitz. “You know you best. You can listen to what people have to say, but you’re not handcuffed by that. Have your dreams. We get caught in mainstream systems, but most people aren’t cookie cutter.”
5. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
Though Schlitz graduated law school faster than most people, she said she will gladly move at a slower pace when it comes to changing the world.
“It’s hard to accept, but big change doesn’t happen overnight,” said Schlitz. “I say this to myself as a member of Gen Z: be ready to make the world better than you found it, but making a difference is a long game. Don't expect to finish, even in your lifetime. Sometimes change takes generations.”