Parents' Perspectives on Early College Entrance for Profoundly Gifted Children: Readiness Issues and 1st College Class Options
Publisher's Note: This is the first of two articles by Beth Wright, the mother of a profoundly gifted early college entrant. Both articles offer an insightful collection of parents' perspectives on early college issues and experiences. The second article, which focuses on testing and enrollment options, will be available next month.
Should my profoundly gifted child take college classes? While the research is very clear about the benefits of radical acceleration for the profoundly gifted child, there remain many nagging questions that may confuse parents facing this hurdle. Raising these children can be a daily exercise in frustration, challenge, and most of all, wonder.
Nowhere is this struggle more obvious than in the quest for appropriate educational options for our kids. College for a ten-year-old? You've gotta be kidding! They will call us "pushy parents" for sure. But, do we really have a choice? Intellectually curious, highly abstract, emotionally sensitive, and driven by perfectionism, profoundly gifted children are more appropriately defined by their mental age rather than their chronological age. In the keynote address titled, "From 'The Saddest Sound' to the D Major Chord: The Gift of Accelerated Progression," Miraca Gross states, "In children and adolescents, emotional maturity is more closely related to mental age than to chronological age. . .intellectually gifted children are characterized by advanced affective (as well as cognitive) development." (Gross, 1999)
While IQ testing is only one way of describing a highly gifted child's uniqueness, it serves the purpose of demonstrating the discrepancy between chronological age and mental age. The highly gifted ten-year-old (IQ of 160) is mentally 16 years old, and the same child, if profoundly gifted (IQ above 180), is mentally at least 18 years old. Some have lovingly dubbed these exceptional children "chronologically challenged" when describing the asynchronous development of a ten-year-old who thinks like a young adult.
If these children are so cognitively mature, it makes sense to assume they are capable of subject mastery commensurate with such maturity. Indeed, the legendary researcher and author of the book, Children Above 180 IQ, wrote, "A child of 170 IQ can do all the studies that are at present required of him, with top 'marks' in about one fourth the time he is compelled to spend at school." (Hollingworth, 1926, page 287)
The average child spends 13 years in primary and secondary school, culminating with graduation at the ages of 17 and 18 years old. The profoundly gifted child is capable of finishing high school between the ages of 7 and 11 due to ripping through the K-12 curriculum or even skipping entire grade levels, and therefore parents may find their profoundly gifted children are ready to begin college classes.
For some of the parents interviewed for this article, this readiness was evidenced by their child's deep dissatisfaction and boredom with his academic work. Some profoundly gifted children demonstrate their distress by developing disturbing behavior such as talk of failure, depression, or even suicide.
Jill tells of her conclusive proof of her son's need for more challenging academic work, "Peter underwent three major IQ or achievement assessments between the ages of 4 and 7. Each report found that Peter did exceptionally well on difficult tasks, and exceptionally poor on easy tasks, due to a lack of interest. The final evaluation from the neuropsychologist expressly stated, 'Failure to place Peter at his academic level was abusive and emotionally damaging.'"
Beverly, mother of home schooled Conner who is now a sophomore honors student at a large state university at the age of 11, says, "We ended up spending too much time going over dull, repetitive material that Conner should have skipped because he already KNEW the material. He was bored, but wouldn't tell me that in plain language. Instead, when he was 6, he would do his math problems backwards or upside down...just to try to make it interesting for himself! I was a nervous wreck wondering if these were signs of those infamous "holes" everyone kept warning me about! Nope, just signs of extreme BOREDOM!!! We started skipping material when I finally caught on."
Deeply compelled to learn and grow intellectually, profoundly gifted children may feel stymied by an academic program that shackles them to review previously mastered material or shallow exploration of a subject. Some of these children seem to know that they need an academic challenge as much as they need air to breathe.
Rose Marie, the parent of 9 year-old Tom, offers this, "My advice would be to allow your child to explore to his heart's content and let him take the lead on what level of information he is processing and playing with. It took us a few years to follow that advice with our son. . . He requested taking college engineering and math classes when he was 6 years old. This was thanks to some friends who felt he would enjoy their old college and engineering textbooks and gave them to him, which had him questioning why he should have to work in 4th grade books where he felt he wasn't learning much of anything new."
Veterans of the early college entrance gauntlet all experienced the same doubt and confusion, and ultimately asked themselves the same questions regarding college for their children. While the legion of early college options can be mind-boggling, this article focuses exclusively on profoundly gifted children attending a local community college or university under the close supervision of their parents. (Highly gifted children enrolled full time in special Early Entrance Programs or regular residential colleges far from home may find themselves facing problems and issues not addressed by this article.)
I have garnered the real-life stories of parents with highly gifted children across the country, and offer their words as support, encouragement, and validation for the sometimes quixotic experiences you face as you raise your profoundly gifted child.
How Do We Know He is Ready?
The negative messages we receive from society really prey upon our confidence in our children. We know they are smart, process information differently than other kids, and pace restlessly for new information to learn. Yet, they can seem more different than smart to teachers, principals, program directors, and other adults-in-charge. These adults, in turn, may present us with all the reasons why our children are not ready for a leap like college...and we may vacillate in the face of their objections.
Kelli describes this tremulousness perfectly, "I guess the fear comes from the fact that I am having such an issue with educators to skip an obviously competent child one grade. How will I ever convince a high school or college that my 10-year-old really needs to be enrolled?"
To address some of the most pressing "readiness" concerns faced by parents considering early college entrance for their profoundly gifted children, I offer five subjects for your consideration: examining the holes in subject matter mastery, socializing in college, taking notes and writing skills, organizing schedules, and exploring adult themes in course content.
Proponents of sequential subject mastery progression may contend with your child's ability to comprehend complex concepts. When our son, Octavian, was nine he enjoyed reading about physics through the work of Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman. I was shocked by the number of adults who were unwilling to believe that he understood the books without a foundation in algebra or calculus.
We faced early college classes for Octavian with trepidation because he had never had any math higher than pre-algebra or any formal English grammar. Yet, he understood Feynman well enough to discuss those books with physicists. Many parents experience this confusing incongruity in highly gifted children. Jill says, "My son has shown classic examples of what Martha Morelock calls 'cognitive leaps,' which she says are inextricably linked to how a profoundly gifted kid learns. We thought that his verbal skills were moderately behind his math skills, UNTIL he took his first English class at age 11. My explanation for why his verbal SAT-I jumped 230 points after he had spent a month in that class is that he had not been ruminating about English-related things before, but that the class started him thinking about such things."
Some parents of these amazing kids say, "Holes? What holes?" Rose Marie's son had never studied any math higher than Algebra I formally, yet tested into calculus and received an A in the class. He also performed well in a pre-med biology class with neither of the prerequisite science courses, biology nor chemistry.
How is it possible for a child to understand a subject that he has never studied? Doesn't such a feat defy all the collective academic wisdom cherished by today's schools?
Jill, mother of a profoundly gifted young man in college, believes, "PG (profoundly gifted) brains make connections where no one else perceives connections; or maybe it is more accurate to say that PG brains do not separate information that most others perceive as discrete information. It is simply a matter of bringing all the many bits of understanding to the top and suggesting some kind of order to them that allows the PG kid to suddenly leap tall buildings in a single bound - with their brains."
Helene's daughter, Sasha, began attending college at 11 years old. True to form, Sasha simply picked up the skills for academic achievement as she went along. Helene writes, "My kid is going to college to pursue her own interests. If and when she perceives a need to take a course in something that she's not interested in, she certainly has all the academic skills under her belt already to do well in whatever she desires. Knowledge isn't really a collection of memorized factoids. Knowledge is the ability to look at the world in a particular way and know how to find solutions to problems, with whatever resources are called for."
Maria Droujkova, the webmaster of www.naturalmath.com, describes the unusual abilities of highly gifted children and adults, whom she has lovingly dubbed "learning geniuses," "The more a learning genius develops, the better he is able to learn everything, including how to learn. Learning geniuses have highly structured thinking and 'data storage and retrieval' systems in the brain. Of course, every single one of them may use a different structure. When a genius starts to learn something new, the structure helps him to efficiently answer questions of the sort:
The structure means that the learning genius uses data and resources more efficiently. Learning geniuses operate on meta-levels. This means that they immediately see the generalizations of the new concepts they study, and their connections with other concepts. Adept learners apply their knowledge and understanding of general structures to every new topic they learn. Speaking in the language of mathematics, learning geniuses use algebra to learn arithmetic. Formulating clear and exact local, or tactical goals of learning, and finding efficient ways to achieve these goals, is a trademark of many geniuses. Often without giving much specific attention to it, a successful learner will answer the questions such as the following somewhere early on the way to accomplishing a task:
Learning geniuses exercise their skills, but many of them tend to avoid repetitious tasks. They seem to prefer exercises of ever-increasing difficulty and with a wide variety.
Jill tells of 2.5-year-old Peter who, after gazing at a MasterCard logo, said, "Red minus orange equals negative yellow." Following his statement, his daddy asked him if he understood what a negative number was, and Peter explained that if he went to the toy store and had no money but asked to borrow $20 and spent it, he would then have negative twenty dollars....
"His first formal math class was honors pre-calculus in high school (age 8), followed by AP Calculus BC at nine. Did all the other stuff appear in the 'normal' order? Darned if I know! He just swallowed it all whole!" she said.
Can we grow to trust the fact that our children learn in ways that sometimes defy explanation? Whether your child grasps concepts never before encountered or has completed so much of primary and secondary school that little is left for him to accomplish, your profoundly gifted child will enter the college classroom ripe for subject mastery.
This is one of the first questions on every parent's mind. The naysayers point out the fact that your child is, after all, a child. Somehow the uninitiated believe that a child, regardless of intelligence, has no place on a college campus.
When we attempted to sign Octavian up for World Civilizations at our local university, the admissions department explained their new policy regarding young children. Some of their professors were uncomfortable teaching "children," and they refused to do so. Expressing their ignorance of the characteristics of profoundly gifted children, these professors believed that "teaching children" would require more hand holding, unusual accommodations, and corrections for disruptive classroom conduct. I explained to the admissions director that my son was very conscientious, dutiful, and serious about his work. I explained to her that of all the students in the class, my son was most likely to do the assignments, care about his grades, participate and excel. She replied that she and the others in the admissions department had seen enough gifted homeschooled children applying early to know that such children are model students. She explained that her hands were tied by the professors' decision.
Once again, we bump into others' ignorance about our kids. I too, used to be ignorant to some of the key characteristics of profound giftedness. For many years I believed that my son was simply an odd child who happened to be very bright. Now, I understand that profoundly gifted people possess a constellation of qualities that make them entirely different from the general public. Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D, writes of this difference, "The promise of high potential and creative intelligence is accompanied by a specific set of personality traits and inner processes-not simply more of some attribute, but an altogether different manner of thinking and experiencing." (Jacobsen, 1999)
This "different manner of thinking and experiencing" is what makes the highly gifted child able to enter the college campus on equal footing with the other students. Granted, the ten-year-old profoundly gifted child is not prepared to deal with adult social issues, but such interaction can be easily avoided. Indeed, the biggest problem surrounding the fledgling college student may be allaying his varied and sometimes non-specific fears about college. Perfectionism and the "imposter syndrome" (a crippling fear of inadequacy common in the highly gifted) may double-team your youngster while he contemplates his first class.
Beverly tells of her son's fears, "When we first enrolled Conner in college at age 9, we started with just one class to make sure the transition was an easy one for him. He was terrified. He wasn't sure how he was going to be received. He was afraid everyone would just stare at him in class (they did for the first few weeks...) and that they would pick on him (they never did...). He was worried that he just wouldn't fit in with students that much older than himself. All his worries were for naught. Yes, they did stare at a 9 year-old being in the class, and yes, it took a few weeks for them to realize he really did belong there, but once they did, they accepted him fully and with arms opened wide. They even elected him Treasurer of the Spanish Club that semester! That did wonders to help Conner feel more accepted and secure. Now, he couldn't imagine being in any other situation and being happy. Even his friends who are gifted and the same age wish they could follow suit and avoid the problems they find in their traditional school track."
Harkening back to the original assertion that profoundly gifted children are a breed apart, the issue of socialization touches that truth as much as any other aspect of giftedness. The child-who-thinks-like-an-adult often prefers adults for friends. Stephanie Tolan, respected author and mother of a profoundly gifted child, writes, "Highly gifted children may have trouble establishing fulfilling friendships with people of their own age when there are few or no other highly gifted children with whom to interact. For most highly gifted children, social relationships with age peers necessitate a constant monitoring of thoughts, words, and behavior." (Tolan, 1990)
Leta Hollingworth, herself a highly gifted woman, wrote, "But those of 170 IQ and beyond are too intelligent to be understood by the general run of persons with whom they make contact." (Hollingworth, 1926)
For the profoundly gifted public or private school child, the "general run of persons" is likely an age-peer. How many intellectual peers will your child encounter in his grade if people of his intellectual capacity only appear at a ratio of fewer than 1 in 10,000? And, while he is not likely to find many more persons with his intellectual capacity at university, he will at least find others who can converse with him about the sorts of things that interest him, a feat not possible for his less intelligent age-mates.
Of course, while the academic environment may provide intellectual peers for our unusual kids, the child's specific personality type will dictate, to a certain extent, their interactions with other students. Is your child a gregarious extrovert or a quiet introvert? Depending on the answer, your child's social college experience will vary.
Helene says, "My daughter has never had so many friends in her life as she has now, since she's been attending a local college. My daughter has found lots of kindred spirits and fellow animal lovers in their Vet Tech program. Also in the Biology/Biotech classes. Many of the students there are not your post-high school crowd. Many already have bachelor's and master's degrees and have come back for specialized training or to do the basic sciences that are prerequisites for Vet/Medical school. So many of my kid's friends are in their 30's and one is 40! They're wonderful friends! Great interesting people who are, in turn, very fond of my daughter. These are real friendships!"
Many parents find that their profoundly gifted children blossom socially in college. For the first time, these children are able to befriend people interested in their favorite subjects.
"There is a considerable bank of research evidence which suggests that not only are the academic achievements of early college entrants superior to those of regular college students and equally gifted students who did not enter early (Janos & Robinson, 1985b: Brody, Assouline & Stanley, 1990), but also that the experience of early entrance has no negative effects on, but rather enhances, the social and emotional adjustment of accelerants (Brody & Benbow, 1987; Noble & Drummond, 1992).” (Gross, 1994)
Beverly uses the term "social butterfly" when describing her son, Conner. She says Conner is an extrovert, but she still used specific strategies for acclimating him to the college social scene. "I networked Conner with other students through campus clubs the first semester he was taking courses. His first class at the community college when he was nine was a second year Spanish class. That semester he joined the Spanish club and was elected treasurer. He loved it!"
Rose Marie tells of her extroverted son's antics that won him friends all across the campus. "He seems to magically find something to converse about with everyone. Which reminds me, he started off his college experience doing magic tricks for students in his biology class (while waiting for the lecture hall doors to open) and the cafeteria staff, which went over very well. In addition to getting along well with fellow students (many of whom he has never had a class with, but just met on campus in other ways, like when he won 3rd place in a comedy contest on campus one night), he gets along well with quite a few professors, who often come sit with our son in the cafeteria and spend quite awhile chatting about things like the book Rocket Boys or computers or whatever."
Certainly, not all profoundly gifted children are quite as extroverted. In fact, the opposite is more common. Our son almost never spoke to other students while on campus. When asked why he didn't engage them in conversation, he responded, "What would I want to discuss with students who can be overheard discussing the previous night's party? I don't find them very interesting."
Such disinterest notwithstanding, his ability to discuss course content, term papers, goals, and other specific subjects with students or his professor was never in question. Octavian, able to converse with anyone from a position of self-confidence, simply did not find any fellow students intriguing enough to befriend. We hope that more challenging classes will afford him the opportunity to meet students who are as dedicated to the subject as he is. Maybe honors classes? Maybe graduate level classes? Who knows?
Does your profoundly gifted child hate to write? If so, you are in good company. Many highly gifted children experience frustration with the physical act of writing that they seem to have a predilection for avoiding it.
Different children demonstrate different approaches to the challenges they face when they write. Octavian diligently learned calligraphy when he was seven and eight, eventually developing a lovely hand. However, by the time he was eleven, his handwriting looked like chicken scratch. I believe he applied himself to mastering the aesthetically pleasing artistic work of calligraphy, with little attendant concern for writing as a communication tool. Once he began writing for writing's sake, he abandoned his art form in order to write more quickly and sank into the abyss of bad handwriting. We worried that his professor would not be able to decipher his almost illegible writing, but the A's and B's on all of his exams proved otherwise.
Other profoundly gifted children NEVER enjoy writing. Jill tells of Peter, who, "dislikes the physical process of writing, always has and always will. If he is required to handwrite, he will put down the minimum he can get away with."
Parents worry that this hand-writing phobia will translate into failure in college classes, yet many options exist for those truly averse. Some of the tricks of the trade include the following: one child's teacher instructed another student to carbon copy their notes for him, another teacher allowed keyboarding and the use of palm pilots for note taking (palm pilots utilize a type of short-hand), and one child's teacher would review his tests before the end of class and ask him to verbally elucidate an answer she felt was less than what he knew.
Some parents limit the number of classes taken by their child until the child's physical skills catch up with his mental ones. Leila, mom to an extraordinary child named Zane, says, "Zane started taking classes at the college when he was five years old. The asynchrony of his physical development versus his mental abilities slowed him down in some of the classes. The math classes required him to do so much writing in class and for homework, that one 5 unit semester with computers and other individualized classes was enough."
We found it useful for Octavian to tape all of his lectures. Recently, I enjoyed reading of another highly gifted youngster utilizing the same technique in a Huntsville Times article, ". . .after a long day of classes [Ben] will gather his books, climb into [his grandma's] car and take control of the radio. Ben has peculiar taste in cassette tapes. He likes to cruise home to lectures he just recorded in class."
As a matter of fact, some profoundly gifted children may not need to take notes at all. Rose Marie reports that her son, Tom, "usually opts not to take any, and so far we haven't seen where lacking notes has affected his learning."
Auditory learners actually learn more information delivered verbally than in print, and these children may simply listen and still ace their tests with ease. Helene's daughter did the same, "When Sasha took her first Biology class she was so thrilled and amazed at the wonderful experience that she never bothered to take notes. She remembered it all in her head. Out of a class of about 100 students, Sasha got the top grade-998 out of 1000 total points."
The profoundly gifted child is so driven by their internal perfectionism that they will rarely need to be coached to do what is necessary for them to excel. These kids thrive on challenge and the acquisition of knowledge. They will rise to the occasion unless hampered by an attendant disability that prevents them from doing so, and even still may compensate in some way that enables them to outperform everyone in class.
Helene's feelings about her daughter's note-taking strategies reflect her trust in her daughter's abilities, "How she takes notes or not, is her concern. She knows what's expected on exams so she performs accordingly. In anatomy and physiology, rather than take notes in the notebook, she just took them in the margins of the text and on the textbook figures. One of her fellow students taught her about '3x5' flash cards. So now Sasha likes to make flash cards of salient facts. And this also helps her fellow students who love to share her flash cards and study together."
I was amazed when Octavian, after seven years of unschooling, took copious notes from the first day of class in Latin Literature. He did not seem to be hampered at all by the fact that he had never taken notes in a classroom before. I laughed when he observed that the girls were the only ones taking more notes than him! Another unschooling parent, Helene, found that her child learned to take notes by doing it, without having been taught. She remembers, "I never taught her any of these skills. She just figured out what to do, just like I did when I got to college, except she did it at 11 and I did it at 18."
These kids shake up all of the most cherished mainline academic notions of how people learn. We can expect them to surprise and challenge us. One parent said that trying to keep up with their profoundly gifted child was like racing ninety miles an hour down the road in a chariot (with our children steering), our hair streaming behind us as we frantically try to read the road map as it flaps in the wild wind. We just want to know where we are going before we get there.
I was surprised when a fellow classmate asked Octavian if he had any extra "blue books" to loan. A college junior, the young man had forgotten to bring one and needed it for the exam they were taking that day. Apparently my son was not the only one who needed someone to remind him to pack specific materials for specific days.
I seem to bump into far more parents who ease their profoundly gifted children into college one class at a time than those entering their kids full time. Children as young as five have experienced college success with the attentive management of a parent. Homeschooling is such a hands-on type of educating that I do not balk at Octavian's need for my management. He is only thirteen and I have no problems with glancing at his course syllabus daily to remind him of his readings, or his papers, or his upcoming tests. Such tending would be part of our daily interaction if I were teaching him anyway.
For those parents struggling with elementary school profoundly gifted children who can't seem to remember their homework and put off completing projects, the thought of college may seem like an impossibility. However, so many parents of highly gifted children seem to work through these issues regardless of the academic environment in which their children find themselves. The highly abstract thought processes of the gifted make them prone to distractibility, disorganization, and procrastination. These characteristics work both for the child and against him. Such traits make the child adept at dreaming, creating, inventing, and discovering while also making him scattered and often unable to follow through on tasks that lose their luster. How do such challenges pan out in college, where the academic stakes are much higher than in primary and secondary school?
Rose Marie's son is nine. He uses a Palm Pilot. Even still, she says, "I think we probably are babying him too much. We make sure he has his homework not only in order, but copied in case a teacher or teacher's assistant loses it. I suspect he might be able to handle the organization on his own, so I should work to let him try to do that."
Straddling the line between helping and helping too much can be tricky for parents. We want to see our kids succeed, yet want them to develop independence and self-direction. I believe each family is different and there is nothing to do but work through these issues as they come. Octavian asked me to attend his class with him throughout the semester and, with the professor's sanction, I did. Because I was privy to all of his assignments, I reminded him of them, checking the syllabus regularly to make sure that he was reading all of his homework on time. Octavian wanted to read every assignment in preparation for class and often asked me to check to make sure that he had done so.
Will he need this much interaction from me this fall? I plan to spend his class time with his younger brother and sister, at the nearby public library. Octavian is ready to attend his fall classes alone. He will, by necessity, be more responsible for knowing his assignments and deadlines on his own. I am comfortable with such a gradual transition to more independence and responsibility.
Such a transition is probably necessary and perhaps even painful for the regular students. Jill says, "There is a 'Learning Center' at the college which is set up for ALL college students who need help with organization-not just the 12-year-olds. What a concept! This is NOT just a young-student problem! Peter will meet with them weekly to learn ways to organize his time and take some of the burden off Mom."
And then there are the families that follow tightly controlled schedules in order to meet deadlines and keep appointments. Helene says of Sasha, "Her schedule rivals that of any Silicone Valley executive. So she has to be organized to do all that SHE wants to do. Sasha has her daily piano practice, weekly lessons, written theory assignments, and 20 units of college courses including lab courses. She also goes to various storytelling gigs, opera rehearsals, and social engagements with friends, and volunteer work. She really has no time to waste!"
How does Sasha keep up with that staggering schedule? "We put all her exam/quiz/important dates on the family calendar that I keep in the kitchen. She’s free to check everyone's responsibilities and commitments whenever she needs to," says Helene.
One of the most common responses of professors and administrators at college seems to be, "how will the gifted child react to 'inappropriate' adult reading material in class?"
We faced this question when we called the Latin literature professor to ask his permission for Octavian to take his class. His concern was for not only Octavian's response, but mine as well. How do you tell a stranger that your 12-year-old has been reading all manner of adult books since he was nine?
Jill tried to explain just such a seeming improbability to the admissions department of the university to which Peter was applying, "If Peter has not read every book required in high school English, he has nevertheless read at least as many books as any incoming college freshman six years his senior. Many of Peter's books are written at a significantly higher level than those read by college students. He was reading at the level of a second-year graduate student by age seven. He has also read a wide variety of books, not just in the sciences and math. He has read philosophy, fiction, history, biography, and politics, largely self-directed. He devours books, and often cannot put one down until he finishes it. I have no worries about any deficit in literature hampering Peter in a college English class."
A deficit is rarely the problem with these kids. Many were tackling advanced reading material so early that parents may find it hard to remember that other adults less familiar with profound giftedness behavior will not automatically assume their child is well-read. And, it can be equally difficult for us to fully paint the picture of our little ones reading our old college textbooks, tiny hands turning the pages in eager anticipation of the next juicy tidbit.
Leila tells of her frustrations with this problem, "I made this argument two years ago with the college before I filed a class action law suit for age discrimination. I said Zane had read more than their average incoming freshman as a mean average, and probably more than the average of any ten of them. I argued that this level and volume of reading led to an understanding of some issues at a more adult level." She added, "They were also worried about an 8-year-old being exposed to 'concepts' that might not be age-appropriate in English classes."
Adult themes are not only prevalent in English literature class. We faced the exact same issue when Octavian chose Latin literature for his first class at William and Mary. I assured the professor that Octavian had been reading about Rome and Greece for so many years that he barely flinched when he came to references to sensuality or violence. The professor seemed genuinely relieved to hear that Octavian had encountered such sensitive material under my care, and, therefore, I would not criticize him for exposing the same to my son.
Perhaps every parent considering college for their profoundly gifted child needs to assess their position on the matter of adult themes in college literature. I have read of parents who monitor their child's reading and decide when the child will be allowed access to certain works. Highly personal and worthy of consideration, the issue is not whether or not the profoundly gifted child can read at an adult level, but should he. Only a parent, together with the child, can make that decision, and then choose classes accordingly.
The First Class...What Are Your Child's Options?
So, you have conquered the doubts and are considering that first college class? Great, on to the challenges of narrowing down your child's options. One of the problems of being profoundly gifted is the sheer variety of subjects that one finds fascinating. Such a gifted child may feel overwhelmed with all of the glorious options when he opens the course catalogue. How many classes did you say he could take at once? Better buy your chauffeur's license now and get set for lots of driving!
If you are confused about how to help your child pick his first class, the following three topics may help illuminate the perfect option for him: picking his favorite subject, enjoying a non-matriculating community college class, and taking a high school class at the college level.
Early college entrance is not a one-size-fits-all prospect. Every child is different and so is every family. These real-life stories may help you see where your child fits best.
Octavian has been studying ancient civilizations, with a concentration on Roman and Greek history for over three years. That meant many trips to the library for hundreds of books, countless hours spent on the sofa or my bed reading and reading, and extensive Internet searches for sources of information in the field. When he read the William and Mary course catalogue, he knew that he wanted to continue this serious research at the college level. After the dean of admissions suggested he choose a class taught by the chair of the classical studies department, he opted for Latin Literature. His time spent reading Ovid, Vergil, and Petronius broadened his perspectives of the culture and its history.
Study the course catalogue carefully. Once your child has identified the course that sounds interesting to him, call the instructor and make an appointment to visit. Many parents recommend this first step in deciding whether or not a class is right for your child. Chatting with the professor about the material to be covered is a great way for your child to become acquainted with the professor's expectations. Check out the texts or books assigned to the course. The school's bookstore will carry the required reading list. Look it over carefully. Does the material appeal to your child?
This fall Octavian wanted to take a senior-level class called "Age of Alexander." We not only asked the professor some key questions about course content, but we stopped by the college bookstore and checked out the required reading material. Octavian asked himself, "Does this class cover the campaigns of Alexander the Great?" "Does this class deal with his life, both military, and private?" Or, he wondered, "is it a more generalized sampling of Hellenistic civilization in the Middle East and Egypt?" The answers to these questions determined his decision regarding this class.
Beverly recommends, "Choose a class that would excite your child. Meet with the Department Chairman for that class, letting your child meet him, too. Find out who will be the most exciting and challenging (read that 'interesting') professor, let him spend some time talking with that professor, and get a feel for what he is like. The professor should be excited about having your child in his class. Then sign him up for the class."
She adds, "Meeting those in charge of the classes beforehand really helps break the ice and develop relationships prior to starting the class. Your child will walk into the class already friends with the professor, and that goes a very long way toward making these profoundly gifted kids feel comfortable!"
Many parents seeking early college entrance for their highly gifted children are working hard to keep up with their children's demand for more challenging academic material. Their advice to other parents includes carefully choosing a first class that stimulates and captivates the profoundly gifted child. For some, this means a class that makes them stretch. For others, this means a class that is familiar, but harder than the level they are working on in school or at home.
Beverly and Conner picked Spanish as his first college class, "Conner had been studying high school level Spanish with private tutors who were native speakers. The college class was wonderful for him. The instructor at the community college adored him and enjoyed his being in the class. Since the material was easy for him (his Latin I- Honors class with Northwestern University also had helped him with the grammar/structural part of Spanish immensely), it helped him to be able to focus on the classroom dynamics and become used to them. He was initially nervous the first couple of weeks in class. He was unsure of what to expect in the class, but after the 2nd week of class they held elections for officers of the Spanish Club. Conner was elected Treasurer. He felt accepted." She adds.
Focusing on the environment and the social dynamic of a college class was challenging for nine-year-old Conner. Even though the subject matter of the course was familiar, he thrived in his first class. Some parents find such an approach eases their child into the college experience and helps to ensure their success in the young-adult environment.
Conversely, the death knell for some profoundly gifted children seems to be boredom. Choosing a college class that makes them repeat information they already know may seem the "safe" choice for insuring success. But, with these kids, it could spell disaster. A normal child may get an "easy A" in a class that requires little work, but our kids are not normal!
Helene advises, "Take what you really love. I've told Sasha that she can take anything. Sasha has all the time left in the world. College is not the world's land speed race!"
Unencumbered by more traditional approaches to the order in which college classes are taken, our kids have more time to study subjects for the sheer enjoyment of them. Take a senior level history class just out of the starting gate? Why not? Astronomy for fun? Sure!
One of the coolest tricks I have heard for gaining college admission for young profoundly gifted kids comes from Cathy, "Community college in our state seems to be easier to get into than high school. Moira entered via a 'back door' -- an open enrollment theatre class/group -- at 8 (the director simply looked at her, commented 'The costumers are going to love you,' and went on about directing the play) and has since taken language courses, art, and a world history class..."
Some community colleges are sticklers for adhering to their minimum age requirements and finding creative solutions to this problem may take some thought. Apparently one such loophole is whether or not the child is degree-seeking. Cathy found that their local community college's policy was, "...no questions asked; as long as she isn't in a degree program or seeking college credit, they only need an address and a social security number."
What kind of classes could a profoundly gifted child find in a not-for-credit program? Cathy's daughter was, "taking classes that are not part of their associate degree program, like Italian I and Theatre (they also have Vegetarian Cooking, Knitting, etc.) and most of the people taking the classes are adults taking them for pleasure or in preparation for travel. The question of auditing, etc., didn't come up: she just signed up and paid a registration fee."
The courses not listed with attendant credit hours fit the bill when it comes to this type of community college entrance. The credit hours are noted in the course catalogue as numbers beside the name of the course. Many community colleges offer adult enrichment classes that have no such credit-hour designation. My eleven-year-old son, Antony plans to take a computer basics class like this in the fall through a university's program called "Center For Community Learning."
Some parents consider college classes to be a continuation of homeschooling for their profoundly gifted children. In their book, Gifted Children at Home, Janice Baker, Kathleen Julicher, and Maggie Hogan encourage the use of college classes as viable substitutes for high school classes. One of the authors writes, "Seth began taking college math at age twelve, and, being the bright and competitive homeschooled kid that he was, he quickly became the top student in the class...his college class counted for high school credit and I no longer had to worry about staying one step ahead of him in the book." (Baker 2001, page 15)
Often, the highly gifted child exceeds his parents' ability to teach him, especially in math and the sciences. You can't teach your child the calculus he craves at ten? I'll bet you didn't expect to face that so quickly. College classes provide the perfect venue for an a la carte approach to subjects. The child takes only what he wants or needs. And, in many states, the college classes accomplished while in high school count not only toward the child's graduation, but also toward a college degree.
Helene explains that her daughter, Sasha, took a math class at a local college as her first class. "She first matriculated there when she was 11.5. It was entirely her decision to go. The college has had loads of experience with young gifted homeschoolers. So she certainly wasn't the first nor will she be the last! Because she's young, we don't have to pay tuition - just the fees, parking permit, and cost for books and materials. Because we're homeschoolers, my R-4 affidavit was sufficient. Because Sasha was "under age" I had to fill out a form stating that the reason my daughter wanted to take class ___, class ____, class _____ was that Border School, our homeschool, didn't offer them. Then I had to sign the form as both parent and principal. So no tests, IQ's or other stuff required."
Not all colleges or school systems are as welcoming to the radically accelerated student. David's daughter had to take a placement test in order to convince the schools to let her take community college classes as part of a high school program.
Author of the book, And the Skylark Sings With Me, David Albert, tells of a recent experience with his local school system, "We've just had a run in (now finally resolved!) with the school district. My older one -- now 13 -- wants to do 'Running Start' - Washington's program for allowing high school 'juniors' to do courses at the local community college, but you have to do it through the local high school. The 'guidance counselor' (a misnomer if ever I've met one) at the local high school was not happy, to say the least (why, I don't know -- they actually make a little money on the deal.) Especially when we marched in with a copy of the law that does not restrict the program by age. 'Ah, but she has to be a junior.' So we brought in her Internet Academy transcript, showing she had finished all of her high school math, her registration from her first advanced placement test, her work in Latin (a correspondence course through the University of Colorado), and her reading list for the past six months, which included papers on Ibsen, Tolstoy, and Samuel Barber, and her prize-winning poems. We also brought in her SAT-I's (top 5% of entering college freshman), and evidence to the fact that she had the highest verbal score in the state two years running on the Johns Hopkins gifted kids' test."
"No luck," David said.
David continues, "So we cornered a very sheepish assistant principal. He didn't like being in this position. So he said, 'well, have her go take the placement exams at the Community College.' (now, mind you, all she wanted to take was chemistry!) I think he was hoping she'd flunk them and the problem would go away. Well, he ended up with a different problem -- she not only passed, but passed out of all pre-requisite (first year) courses at the Community College! Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins awarded her a free course at a private college in Washington. So, she was admitted to the second year of college and was awarded a scholarship from Johns Hopkins, but didn't qualify for 11th grade!"
Come on in, the water's fine!
Whether your child chooses a core high school curriculum course, a new subject he's been wanting to study, or an unusual class that simply strikes his fancy, your profoundly gifted child will continue to demonstrate his amazing abilities, challenge your resourcefulness, and shine, shine, shine.
We know how special our kids are, and we know that they need academic stimulation almost as much as they need love.
It remains for us to advocate on their behalf in a world that segregates educational opportunity by age, in order to ensure their access to the classes they need, the stimulation they crave, and the actualization of the dreams they hold dear.
How can you become an effective advocate for your child? Find support for yourself, first. Parenting these kids isn't easy. Join an online support group, read the stories of other parents, and see your family's experiences echoed in their words and gain courage from their success.
Early college for profoundly gifted kids does work. If we can do it, so can you!
Baker, Janice, Julicher, Kathleen, Hogan, Maggie, Gifted Children at Home: A Practical Guide for Homeschooling Families, The Gifted Group Publishing, DE 2001.
Gross, Miraca U.M. PhD, "From 'the saddest sound' to the D Major chord: The gift of accelerated progression." Keynote address 3rd Biennial Australasian International Conference on the Education of Gifted Students. Melbourne, Australia. 15 August 1999.
Gross, Miraca. 1994. Radical Acceleration: Responding to academic and social needs of extremely gifted adolescents. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. V, Number 4, Summer.
Hollingworth, Leta, Children Above 180 IQ (Stanford Binet) Arno Press, NY 1975.
Jacobsen, Mary-Elaine Psy.D, The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius, Ballantine Books, NY 1999.
Stephens, Challen, "He's only 12, but that's no knock against this freshman already in college. Wood well on his way to becoming a doctor."The Huntsville Times, June, 18, 2001.
Tolan, Stephanie S., "Helping Your Highly Gifted Child." ERIC EC Digest #E477 1990.
Parents' Perspectives on Early College Entrance for Profoundly Gifted Children: Testing for Admittance and Choosing Enrollment Options
Publisher's Note: This is the second of two articles by Beth Wright, the mother of a profoundly gifted early college entrant. Both articles offer an insightful collection of parents' perspectives on early college issues and experiences. The first article focuses on readiness issues and first class options.
When did you get that sinking feeling that your child was ready for his first college class? Was he 10, 8 maybe even 6? Perhaps you are facing this juncture right now.
Yep, it's official. He's not normal and your dreams of raising an easy, pleasantly gifted child will never be realized. You are not the only parent to find yourself struggling with questions such as, "can he really do the academic work of a college course, how will we pay for it now, will the local college think we are lunatics when we approach them with our small child in tow?"
Interestingly, research demonstrates the benefits of early college entrance for profoundly children. Miraca Gross, renowned gifted education authority, often writes and speaks of "...the evidence, from very many years of longitudinal research..." (Gross, 1999). Evidence proves these kids can do the work, they can fit in socially with young adults, they can thrive in a world of people twice, and sometimes three times their age. So what are parents worried about?
Unfortunately, few college admissions officers are well versed in gifted education research. Some may have no experience with children like ours. Children with IQ scores of over 160 appear in the population at a ratio of fewer than 1 in 10,000 (Gross, 1999), so, realistically, how many kids like yours have crossed the admissions manager's path? If we are to find ways to meet the profoundly gifted child's intense need for appropriate academic stimulation, we may need to be willing pioneers in our own hometowns.
Many parents face these same hurdles as they help their profoundly gifted children attain their academic goals. This article is filled with the stories of real parents and their true-life experiences with early college entrance for their profoundly gifted children. All of the stories deal with the young child or adolescent in a nearby college or university, under the attentive management of a parent. Children enrolled in full time residential or special Early Entrance programs away from home may have experiences not highlighted by this article.
To Test Or Not To Test...
Well, if your head isn't swimming now, it will be once you contemplate all the different testing that may be required for your child to enter college. It all seems so overwhelming at first, but before you pull your hair out, consider all of the options. You may need SAT-I s, ACTs, standardized achievement tests, IQ tests, placement tests, or none of the above!
Maybe the stories of other parents will give you a frame-of-reference for testing options. The five themes in this section are: "charming" their way in, using standardized achievement tests, braving a placement test, taking the SAT-I, and avoiding testing completely.
We found our son, Octavian completely capable of charming and impressing the dean of admissions when he interviewed with her. He simply let her see the real Octavian. At one point in their conversation, I remember thinking he was so relaxed and affable that he even impressed me. She gave him the thumbs-up after a simple interview!
Savvy administrators, professors, and even college presidents may be enthusiastic about welcoming your child. Rose Marie's son, Tom, was invited to spend a semester at the Rhode Island School of Design after meeting the president of the college at a conference.
Beverly says, "The admissions director of the community college is on our side and adores Conner. She always comments that he is not only a 'genius,' but is charming! You want that attitude. Then they start thinking about how your child will enhance the school's image by going there. And believe me, they do look at that! I've had students on both campuses comment to me that Conner's being there made them feel that their school was a cut above the rest as a result. They have all seen the latest T.V. specials on gifted kids in college and are surprised to find they have one on their campus!”
Get to know your child's professors prior to the first day of class. This fall, Beverly and Conner introduced themselves to the chemistry, biology, and psychology department chairs. Shaking hands, chatting about Conner's interests and goals, looking for good eye contact between the professor and Conner, were all part of their pre-class routine.
Helene Sue echoes such advice when she says, "Sasha had a miserable experience with a chemistry teacher. Sasha was the best student in the class and got an A, but this was not an appropriate teacher for Sasha. The teacher resented Sasha being in her class and made her life miserable. Of course, what backfired for the teacher was that the other students picked up instantly on her treatment of Sasha and the other students formed a buffer. This infuriated the teacher more. Sasha was well accepted in class and wound up tutoring a number of her fellow classmates. But it took its toll on my kid's earliest experiences with college."
Such words of caution should not go unheeded. Not all professors will be capable of overcoming their bias against children in college. Not all admissions directors are savvy to the abilities of highly gifted children, either. Some parents find the professors eager to work with their children and the admission department truculent, and some find it the other way around.
Helene Sue says, "[One university] took one look at Sasha's application and insisted on an interview. [The admissions director] kept asking her why she wanted to go to their university. Sasha kept telling him that she really wanted to take Communications 105B and really wanted to study under that particular professor (who had personally invited Sasha to take her class). The admissions director kept trying to tell Sasha that, at 13, she really wasn't ready for college."
At that point Sasha had been in college for over a year with all A's and B's. Wasn't that proof enough of her readiness for college?
How do you navigate these waters? Perhaps you could approach the professor first to give him or her the opportunity to warm up to the idea of your child, and then once you have his or her approval, approach admissions. Many parents find this is a workable solution to the problem of the shock factor that many in academia experience over their children's age. We turned this approach on its head and called the classical studies department chair to ask his permission for Octavian to attend his class and offered him the approval of the dean of admissions as an endorsement.
Standardized achievement tests are nationally normed instruments used by school districts and homeschoolers to assess the academic achievements of students. Some of the popular tests include Stanford Achievement Test, California Achievement Test (CAT/5), and Iowa Basic Test. The level of professionalism required for testers varies with each. The Stanford requires that the tester hold a four-year degree and the testing environment remain tightly controlled with specific parameters enforced. The Iowa loosens that rigidity somewhat, and the CAT/5 offers the greatest degree of freedoms by allowing anyone to administer their test, and without non-family member restrictions.
Most homeschooling parents use standardized achievement tests to help them assess their children's educational needs as well as provide proof of grade-level proficiency for their local school board. The CAT/5 allows homeschooling parents to test their child throughout the year, and each time the scores are mailed directly to them. Such an instrument offers complete control over the testing process. Parents can accommodate a test-shy child in the comfort of his home and take as many days as necessary to accomplish the task. While each section of the test is timed, any child with an IEP indicating learning disabilities may take the test un-timed.
This year we decided to use the CAT/5 for fun. Octavian wanted to try his hand at taking a standardized achievement test so that he could grade-skip to eleventh. He took the 9th/10th grade test. Later we decided not to utilize the opportunity to grade-skip in order to take advantage of dual enrollment status for as long as possible. But, we found the CAT/5 quick, efficient, and very easy. In fact, Octavian was surprised at how easy it was.
Many references are made in the gifted education literature to the fact that a standardized achievement test can be used as an out-of-level test in the same way that the SAT-I is used if the test is at least two grade levels above the student's current grade level. While not an IQ test, such a use of the test illuminates the student's superior abilities and may help you gain the confidence of an admissions officer.
When your ten-year-old decides to take Biology 101, without any previous science or higher math classes, will the college want him to take a placement test? That may depend on the college. Some parents find that in-house placement tests are the entree du jour for some colleges, especially when their children blow the tests away.
How can you ensure your child's success with the placement tests? Take into consideration his ease with testing and his personality. Will the college accommodate a student needing a private testing environment? Every college should have such accommodations and be willing to offer them. It is not uncommon for learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, and other problems to affect some highly gifted children. Requiring a quiet non-distracting testing environment for such children is reasonable. Such a request does not reflect badly on your child's ability to accomplish the academic rigors of college classes.
If your child is a slow test-taker, an un-timed placement test would be ideal. Some children need ample time to orient themselves to the environment, examine the test and its instructions and focus. Profoundly gifted children are notorious for being very careful, deliberate and perfectionistic. For some, this means slow. Again, asking for an un-timed version of a placement test does not cast dispersions on your child's intellect or his competency as a college student.
Peggy, the mom of 8 year-old Schroeder, reports of their recent experience with placement tests, "It wasn't that bad! Yes, the receptionist gave us a "look", and the admissions clerk gave us a seriously stern look, and we did have to explain that the registrar had said Schroeder would be able to enroll. However, the folks at the testing center were very nice. The exam wasn't timed (big blessing), and the room had windows so I could be where Schroeder could see me. They said I was allowed to stay with him, but I didn't want there to be any chance of anyone questioning the validity of his test, so I stayed out. His score was high enough to qualify him for Chemistry 100, the class he wanted."
It would seem the college went out of their way to accommodate young Schroeder's needs. What a relief!
Placement tests can wreak havoc with our confidence in our children's abilities. We know that they teach themselves material far beyond their years; yet, we wonder how that accomplishment translates into college-level mastery of a subject. How will they perform in a stressful environment? Or will they find it stressful?
Should they study for a placement test or take it cold? Will the dreaded "holes" show up?
Peggy adds, "So far, he's only taken the math placement exam. He didn't do anything to prepare. I did tell him the test was designed to go beyond what he knows, and that he needed to pass the 'Intermediate Algebra' section of it in order to qualify for the class. If the test had been timed, he likely would not have passed, as he spent an inordinate amount of time studying the directions for the test scanner printed on the answer sheet."
Once again, the profoundly gifted child's unusual ability to rise to an academic challenge prevailed. Many parents have seen their children answer questions on material they have never previously encountered. I will never forget nine-year-old Octavian effortlessly working trigonometry and geometry questions on a take-at-home SAT-I test. He had never even had algebra!
Rose Marie says, "Before taking calculus, Tom did take a math placement test. He placed into calculus having had only algebra I under his belt. That was most surprising since we were told that over 10% of students with 700+ on the math section of the SAT-I and/or having taken calculus in high school and having passed the CLEP test for calculus credit actually do not pass the calculus placement test. Those unfortunate students are required to repeat pre-calculus."
How do profoundly gifted children do that?
Will your child need an SAT-I (not to be confused with the Stanford Achievement Test) or ACT score in order to take his first college class? Maybe, maybe not. After Octavian had been in class at William and Mary for several months, we approached our city's small university again, hoping his college work would sway them. The admissions department insisted on an ACT score before they would be able to consider Octavian. Octavian was not comfortable with taking the SAT-Is or ACTs and we decided to wait.
Many of the young highly gifted children entering college early do not have SAT-I or ACT scores. There are so many ways to gain access to that first college class that SAT-I scores may never be an issue. Helene Sue explains, "Sasha has not taken the SAT-I or PSAT yet. She passed the CHSPE, making her the equivalent of a high school graduate as far as any institution in California is concerned. My rule of thumb is that my kid may never take any sort of test from which she derives no immediate benefit."
Many unschoolers will echo Helene Sue's sentiments. Your child's school environment may shape the way that tests are viewed, both by yourselves and your child.
Some children love to take tests. Many highly gifted children are encouraged to take the SAT-I as an out-of-level test loosely measuring IQ. Jill tells of Peter's experience with the SAT-I, "Peter took his first SAT-I when he was eight. He did it mostly because he thought it would be fun and interesting. It didn't hurt during his first semester in high school to be able to show the principal that his scores were substantially higher at age 8 than the average of 18-year-old seniors at the high school."
Often the SAT-I is seen as a fun, non-threatening way to measure the academic progress of the highly gifted. Taking the SAT-I at 8, then later at 10, then again at 12, certainly demonstrates the child's acquisition of knowledge, skill, and cognitive maturity. For these extraordinary children, the SAT-I at 8 yields a score rivaling that of most high school seniors. As they mature their scores keep rising. Some parents treat the SAT-I as almost a lark since the scores do not become part of a child's permanent record until they are 14, so, they take the SAT-I as often as they desire with no repercussions if the child has a "bad day."
Jill saw a substantial rise in Peter's score, "Peter took the SAT-I again when he was 12, because the university to which he was applying required it. He scored a very respectable 1430, which I am sure helped university officials understand that he was not an average 12-year-old. Peter has always enjoyed thinking through challenging problems, so taking the SAT-I was a couple of hours of concentrated fun for him. He was certainly much more relaxed than the teenagers taking the test!"
How do such young children gain access to a test normally reserved for much older high school students? The first order of business is getting a test registration packet. Any high school in your area will carry them in their guidance department. Go by the school and pick it up.
Want to familiarize yourself with the SAT-I and check out the test dates? Go to https://www.collegeboard.org/ for all the information you need. There is even a mini-test that your child can take free.
ETS, the company that owns and scores the SAT-I, provides a category for homeschooled students on its entry form. While it is not possible to register an underage student online, they do provide space for such accommodations on their mail-in form. The process is quite simple. You merely fill out the registration, providing all the necessary information, pick your chosen test location and date, and mail it off!
The test results will be returned to you, the parent. The child may re-test as often as desired and the results will never be sent to anyone else for a child who is younger than 14. This makes them totally risk-free for children who enjoy taking them.
One of the scariest aspects of early college enrollment for your child may be taking the placement tests or SAT-Is. Some children will feel not only test anxiety but also fear of failure at the prospect of such tests. Highly gifted children are acutely aware of the level of excellence they hope to attain in any endeavor, and taking tests is no different.
When Octavian was ten, I researched all the ways to gain college entrance for him. One of the seemingly unavoidable hurdles was testing. It appeared that tests were the only way to verify his ability to do college-level work. Octavian had never taken a test of any kind at that point and was very leery of taking one with such loaded stakes. We decided to forgo the tests, and since we knew of no tricks for avoiding them, we waited on college.
How can a profoundly gifted child get around placement and SAT-I tests?
Here is Beverly's story of how she pulled off such a clever switchback for Conner, "Conner got around it by splitting two programs; one at the community college and one at the local university. Conner first entered in the community college's 'rising senior' program (high school students who are gifted) at age 9 for dual credit (high school and college). But, that program had the restriction that he could not take their math or English courses without the tests. You could take their in-house test that would let them know where to place you, but Conner was very gun shy about tests of that sort at the time. So, I checked out the local private university that had a similar program, but it allowed him to take any area as long as it was just in the 100 - 200 level. Now, here it gets fun... Conner has completed College algebra and trigonometry and freshman English composition I at the local university and is transferring the credits back to the community college. Their rules say that he doesn't have to take the ACT/SAT-I or any other placement tests if he has taken college level math and English. Next, we will then turn around and petition the local university for a change in Conner's status from "special student" to full time sophomore because he will be applying as a full status transfer student from the community college."
Beverly's suggestions include:
Jumping Through All The Right Hoops...
Ok, you're convinced of your child's competence, he picked the class he wants, you've identified the testing option everyone can live with, now you need to consider some of the enrollment status options that typically exist. Which one is best for your child? Do you homeschool or is your child in a traditional classroom?
Don't think circus tricks, think creativity. There are so many enrollment options and every state will offer a different variety. You will have to play a little Sherlock Holmes to find out what your state's statutes allow, what your local colleges say in their handbooks, and most importantly, what kind of loopholes exist within the college's bureaucracy. Those loopholes do exist. You just have to ask the right questions of the right people and dig a little to find them.
Here are five of the things you need to consider: watch the grade skipping if you plan to use dual enrollment status, be aware of options other than full-time enrollment for the high school graduate, make a transcript that reflects all of your child's work, read about others' experiences with full-time enrollment, and finally, learn to take their "no" in stride!
For all of you parents thinking of radically accelerating your child right out of school, emancipating him or her, so to speak, think again. If you plan to ease them into college one class at a time, dual enrollment is the way to go. It may even be free. In some states, the community college classes taken as a high school junior or senior are paid for by the state. Many parents use dual enrollment at first, as it is the easiest and least formal method of gaining college credits for children.
"Our local community college's handbook only had a restriction as to what 'grade' the student was enrolled." Said Beverly, "At the time, we listed Conner as a Senior in high school and enrolled him under their 'dual enrollment' category for gifted high school juniors and seniors. All I had to do is prove he was gifted since we homeschooled him. That I did with a 'homebrewed' complete transcript listing every class he ever took at the high school level (54 semester hours by my count, 34 or 38 by the official transcript we got from Clonlara, a school that also offers distance enrollment to homeschoolers) which included complete course descriptions, his official transcripts from Stanford University's EPGY and Northwestern University's LetterLinks programs, as well as his Stanford Achievement scores and SB-LM score."
How did this family fare when they approached the college? "They were taken aback when we approached them; it did take 5 months to find approval and they had to go all the way to the president's office for approval, but there was nothing in their student handbook that said a 9-year-old senior in high school (albeit homeschooled) could not enroll in classes," said Beverly.
Other parents have used the dual enrollment status to their advantage as well. Since dually enrolled students are typically between the ages of 16 and 18, most colleges, it seems, will want proof of the child's giftedness. You may provide this proof by your child's school system's classification of your child as gifted, IQ test scores, an avalanche of homeschooling projects and advanced subjects studied, or even a personal interview with the dean of admissions.
When we approached the College of William and Mary about Octavian's first class, we were advised to make an appointment with the dean of admissions. We were told not to bring anything with us! No tests scores, no transcripts, no concrete proof of his high IQ? Unbelievable. Dr. Carey spent one hour chatting with Octavian about why he wanted to attend William and Mary, what classes he wanted to take, his homeschooling experiences, and many other subjects. He "interviewed" her, too, with lots of questions about the campus and the classes. She told him that he represented himself very well. Not only was she capable of determining his intellectual capabilities based on conversation alone, but she was enthusiastic about having him on campus. We were so pleasantly surprised. She was warm, friendly, and very savvy to the abilities of profoundly gifted students.
Kathleen had no problems getting Jeremiah into his first college class, "When Jeremiah decided to go to the local community college, the college just required a letter of dual enrollment from his counselor (he also had to be in a 'gifted program' to be allowed to do underage enrollment.) That was not hard to get. He walked out of the office with the form, got me to sign on the line and that was that."
Since so many profoundly gifted children use dual enrollment status to gain access to college classes, are your options limited when your child graduates from high school extra early?
Not necessarily. Patti, tells of their family's recent success with enrolling Max in an astronomy class at a local community college, "We walked into the college today, and registered Max. There was nothing they could say or do. They have a non-discrimination by age clause and they require a high school diploma and transcripts. We are sooooo glad we put up with all the ups and downs of getting this diploma..."
Working hard for that graduation was worth more to Max and his family than just a sheepskin. Patti tells, "Max was thrilled to be at his graduation ceremony. He held back an ear-to-ear grin, trying to be more reserved. It, by far, has been the most exciting experience of his life."
"Graduation itself is an accomplishment. Doing so at an early age gave him a double thrill. We are very excited that he experienced it all. He had the option of receiving his diploma in the mail and not pushing himself to finish by deadline for the ceremony. The choice to finish at such a young age was his. He felt very important giving his speech even though he could barely see over the podium. It made him feel as though others were taking him seriously and realizing his accomplishments," adds Patti.
Indeed they were. Max and his parents were the subjects of a rash of major news articles, and the profoundly gifted child's desire to excel beyond society's normal standards was on display. While even few educators understand the perfectionistic drive of many profoundly gifted children, articles like those about Max's accomplishment may inure the public and academia to the normal behavioral characteristics of the highly gifted.
Max used an independent study program and worked up to 12 hours a day, six days a week for months to graduate so early. Homeschoolers, especially less structured ones, will often find themselves without any formal documentation of their child's accomplishment. How do families fare without the extra security of a real diploma? Beverly found that her creativity kept her in good stead when it came to finding ways to get homeschool graduate, Conner, into the local university.
Beverly offers this sage advise about working the system, "Never tell the admissions department that you're going to try to go around them; they would never understand. You need to research your approach to enroll your child on your own to discover 'how' you can help the admissions department 'fill in the boxes' on their forms for your child who definitely doesn't 'fit' any boxes at all! Get a copy of the handbooks for the local community colleges and universities in your area. Look under 'admissions categories' and 'requirements for special admissions.'"
"Never approach the admissions department straight on," she continued. "From the beginning Conner was never unclassified--the universities and colleges around here all had the same classification system. At the private university Conner was under the title 'Special Student' because he had technically graduated from high school (I had to provide them the transcript which included complete course descriptions.), but had not yet completed all the necessary requirements for a regular admission. But, this was only a temporary situation soon to change."
High school transcripts are documents designed to demonstrate the subjects accomplished by the student. Transcripts assign a specific number of points to each completed high school class or semester for every year the student is in high school. High school transcripts never include courses taken in middle school. So, how do you document your profoundly gifted child's work when he may have been "officially" in the first grade when he accomplished the work?
Rose Marie says, "The only transcript the university got from our son was a 1st to 4th grade transcript (bet they loved that!). But he did have a rather long 'resume' of accomplishments and activities including essay contest awards from big name companies, volunteer work awards, and state fundraiser awards for years, paid work, paid business trips, extracurricular stuff he had been involved in for years and more."
Indeed. Our kids will present transcripts that look unlike anything the university admissions department is accustomed to receiving. How do we prepare documents that effectively demonstrate our children’s accomplishments?
I turned to several popular books designed for homeschoolers preparing for college. While much of their advice was targeted to the older child, it was very useful for the organization of the subjects and such. One of those titles, The Homeschooler's Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts, by Loretta Heur M.Ed., offers this astute advice, "Before you get down to the brass tacks of writing your curriculum, acquire a copy of a high school course selection handbook. This should be a public document available through your state's Department of Education, your Superintendent's office, or your local high school's guidance department."
As you prepare your child's transcript, keep in mind the type of subjects offered by the local high school. These are the types of courses you should highlight. If you have one of those kids who obsessed over one subject for three years, it may be a little tricky to show the level of work he accomplished. Perhaps you can break down those three years into several subjects and show them as separate entities. My son's study of ancient Rome really incorporates a good bit of generalized world civilizations studies and I would note that as a separate course from the Roman History. His extensive readings in the subject of Roman and Greek mythology also qualify as a separate subject as he spent as much time reading those as he would have if he had been taking a college class on the subject. The year he spent 10 hours a day reading physics books? AP physics! The year he spirited away my husband's college chemistry textbook, reading it all day, every day, memorizing the periodic table of elements and working chemistry problems for fun? AP Chemistry for sure! See how easy it is to make a transcript?
Beverly made Conner's transcript with the help of Cafi Cohen's book, And What About College: How Homeschooling Leads to the Best Colleges and Universities. She tells, "I took every course Conner had done at the high school level and wrote a complete course description of it to include in the transcript. In the case of courses done through Stanford's EPGY and Northwestern's LetterLinks' program, I just had to copy down the course description they provided when we first enrolled in the classes. The same was done for the college classes he took. I listed all special camps, with a brief description of what the camp was about and how many hours Conner attended. The camps were similar to attending workshops and conferences, so credit was given here, too."
"I included any special awards Conner had earned, as well as any publications of his work. An admissions committee should note them. Theatrical performances, musical recitals, clubs/ organizations, and special interests were all noted in his transcript as well. Finally, I also included a reading list in the transcript. This was a list of all high school level reading Conner had done (much of it through the Junior Great Books Program we did for his English credits)," Beverly adds.
Cohen says that it is not uncommon for homeschoolers to have transcripts with 50 or more credits and Conner's transcript was no exception. His transcript looked both professional and impressive. Yet, Beverly's friend suggested Conner might need a transcript or diploma from an accredited school in order to gain entrance into a state university. Where would a homeschooler get such a diploma after almost finishing high school?
Beverly says, "Clonlara School was gracious enough to accept Conner as a senior student. Clonlara is an actual school that also does distance education for mainly unschooling homeschoolers- they have guidelines for you to follow, but let you decide what activities you will accomplish to fulfill those guidelines and requirements. How much did Beverly have to pay for the Clonlara transcript? She says, "The fee charged by Clonlara was fairly hefty (over $1,400), but then, we were asking for Conner to be enrolled at the end of his high school career. To make sure we were legitimate, they needed a great deal of documentation, and rightly so."
Like all unschoolers, I love options and Cafi Cohen offers an endless variety in her wonderful book, Homeschooler's College Admissions Handbook. She writes, "Fortunately, there is no One Right Way to write a homeschool transcript--or any transcript, for that matter. Examine transcripts from your relatives, friends, and family to see what I mean. From small private schools to large public schools to charter schools to homeschools, transcripts assume an incredible variety of forms. They use different grading systems--or no grading system. They report academics by semesters or, more simply, by completion date. Some look professional. Others--including some from large, well-known high schools--use a bare-bones format."
I made a transcript for Octavian, and it was fun and easy. Since we have always used portfolios for yearly homeschooling evaluations, all I had to do was go through them to verify his work, book titles, textbooks used, projects, awards and anything else I wanted to include. The college preparation advice I found in Gifted Children at Home reminded me to include my son's jewelry business on the transcript, even though he developed it when he was only 7!
I used the advice offered in Cohen's book about rewarding credit for subjects studied unconventionally, and managed to come up with a whopping 67 credits! I was excited about using this transcript in August, when we met the admissions officer at the local community college (the one that turned him away three years ago due to his age) to attempt to secure his admission there as a part time student. I'm learning!
Full time college enrollment may be a process fraught with complexities, or it may be as simple as a classification change made in the registrar's office.
Perhaps the colleges and universities with the most savvy regarding our kids are those having faced child-students before. Certainly Octavian benefits from the fact that other young students have and do attend William and Mary. Their admissions department is comfortable with children and adolescents on campus.
But, what happens when the university in your hometown has never admitted a twelve-year-old before? Jill tells her poignant story of Peter's recent acceptance. "Peter applied to a university with rigorous academic standards and requested their 'Early Decision, Single Choice' option. (He had just turned 12, had no desire to live away from home, and this university is not only strong in Peter's favorite subjects but also is located two miles from our home.) Peter's admissions materials showed that he did not have sufficient credits for a high school diploma, but had made top scores on AP exams in Computer Science, Calculus BC, Physics C, and Chemistry, had earned a mix of A's and B's in the four years since he began taking upper-level high school classes at age eight, and had scored 700-M, 730-V on the SAT-I.”
He should have had a response by 12-15-2000, but heard nothing. We called and located the specific admissions officer who had Peter's application. He said he wanted to talk to a few people. A month later, we called again and were given an appointment to meet with him. He met Peter once, asked a couple of questions, but mostly told Peter about other students he had met. Finally, in mid-March, Peter received a letter of admission stating that he would begin as a full-time student in the fall of 2001."
He was in, but that was only the beginning of the fun! Jill found that the admissions department struggled to view Peter as any other student and couldn’t seem to get around the fact that he was only 12.
"After the decision had been made to admit Peter, the admissions officer mentioned that a Dean at the university had appointed a committee to determine what was in Peter's best interests, and that this committee might decide that Peter should take only a part-time schedule of classes, or might decide that Peter should take another high school English class, but he wasn't sure just what the committee was empowered to do," continued Jill.
This waffling seemed to represent the fact that the admissions departments of most universities are skilled at dealing with normal 18-year-olds, not profoundly gifted children. According to Mary-Elaine Jacobsen in The Gifted Adult, the highly gifted are marked by the following abilities: "adaptability essential to creativity; multiple areas of expertise; ability to grasp concepts on diverse levels; advanced original thinking; unorthodox innovation; perseverance and endurance in the face of adversity..." Comparing Peter to the average incoming freshman seems absurd in light of his inherent ability to master material with much less exposure necessary than that needed by the average incoming college freshman.
Jill was faced with convincing the admissions officer that more high school for Peter would be detrimental, part time college would leave him bored, and in order for him to secure financial scholarships, he would need to enroll full-time. She was also faced with the nerve-wracking prospect of waiting on the special committee to convene and make their decision. This delay seriously hindered her ability to procure Peter's scholarship money and correspondence advising the admissions officer of the need for timeliness was ignored.
"I heard nothing more about the committee for a couple of months. Peter continued to attend occasional Physics Colloquiums on campus and to talk to the professors he met there. Peter decided what classes he wanted to take in the fall, and I sent an e-mail to one of the Deans about Peter's choices. In response, I received an e-mail stating, '...an advisory group has been assembled to assist Peter with his academic choices and progress at the university...' and that he should not be talking with professors about classes, but only with the committee; however, the committee did not plan to meet for several months," tells Jill.
The committee finally met, consisting of the dean, his supervisor, two professors, (none of whom had ever met Peter) and one professor who had met Peter several times. They invited Jill and Peter to meet with the Dean two weeks later, where Peter was asked to wait outside while his mother was advised of the committee’s decision.
Ultimately, the committee approved Peter's full-time schedule, with modifications. Their specific recommendations reflected their ignorance of Peter's abilities and character. Jill tells of their concerns, "They don't want him to take the freshman core courses, which is OK, because Peter had to work hard to find one that looked even mildly interesting. Their reason was that he lacked the 'life experience' to be appropriately involved in a small discussion group. Hah! The result was OK, but their reasoning was insulting and incorrect."
In spite of their negative experience with the admissions department of this large university, they remain impressed with the faculty. Jill says that Peter found the professors interested in him; they discussed many issues with him and expressed eagerness to have him as a student.
When Octavian turned ten, he was reading college science textbooks and teaching himself algebra. After casting about unsuccessfully for an academic venue that would meet his needs, I turned to our local community college. I inquired about their admissions process. They offered math and science classes perfect for challenging Octavian. I was eager to enroll him. I was crushed to find that they would not consider him due to his age. The admissions department told me that they were following a state law disallowing students under the age of sixteen. Incredulous, I called the State Department of Community Colleges and they repeated the same unbelievable thing.
Now I know that there is so much more to this picture than the child's age. Many parents of profoundly gifted children find colleges and universities more than accommodating if certain criteria is met. For some, the criteria is a high school diploma, for others it is a letter from their child's principal verifying the child's giftedness and giving permission for the student to attend college concurrently.
Carolyn, whose Hoagies' Gifted Education Pages, http://www.hoagiesgifted.org, have been used by parents all over the world since 1997, reports her recent experience with a state university in her area, "I just called the local college. Seems they have a policy in place for non-matriculated students coming from the high school for college courses. They accept them. All they need is the signature of the high school principal. Period. Wow! I really didn't expect this part to be this easy! Of course, they have no idea that she's 10. But she meets their requirements, and has the signature of the high school principal..."
While attending her daughter's Talent Search Awards Ceremony, Carolyn read in the program that the local private college also accepts gifted younger students with a similar letter, and offers single-course scholarships to 7th and 8th graders they select, who are local to their college.
Carolyn calls the principal's signature, "magical," and tells of another child whose mother did not find the application process quite as easy. She tells, "Another parent in the area contacted the same woman in the admissions department. Her son has completed 8th grade, and he is 11. He comes from a private school that ends at 8th. Same woman, same state university, same department which is chartered to handle our kids and the returning older students. She gave the mom all sorts of run-around (they didn't have his SAT-I scores yet - he scored 730 math, 600 verbal - I think they may change their tune!). So without that magic high school principal's signature, it is not nearly as easy to get in..."
How many parents, like us, don't know that there are many ways to approach the application process and simply give up? We did. For three years we limped along trying to keep our son stimulated and challenged. He met weekly with a physicist at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility and then, later, with a math and science tutor. Had we known that he really could attend college, we would have been thrilled to sign him up and watch him blossom.
When I began writing this article my first question was, "is age discrimination legal?" I asked Wenda, a mother of three highly gifted children, and a lawyer, what the scoop was on the legality of age discrimination by colleges and universities across the country.
She offered this link, [please note: the link provided is no longer active on the www.ed.gov site.], for the Federal law which gives each state the right to make its own policy regarding age-based admittance.
What this means is that when you call your local college's admissions department you need to be aware of the hidden loopholes that exist for profoundly gifted children to gain admission. They exist. Wenda offered these suggestions, "I've gotten my 'ins' in community colleges in two different states by making telephone calls and asking the precisely worded question 'What is the policy for admitting people who don't have a high school diploma'?"
"Notice I didn't say, 'children' and I didn't say, 'don't yet have a high school diploma,'" Wenda continued.
"When someone I called couldn't answer my question without asking me questions, I thanked them and then called other people until I found someone who understood the needs of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children. It's not fun talking to people who don't understand. Those people either (1)think you're crazy and grossly overestimate your children's abilities or (2)think your children are freaks. The community college 'ins' I managed to find were solidified instantly when I revealed my children's SAT-I and ACT scores, which were far above the average for each of the colleges," said Wenda.
There are so many loopholes in the applications procedure that the list goes on and on. Beverly recommends reading the institution's admissions materials carefully to find the option that suits your child. She says, "Check the official student handbook. Go over it like a lawyer would--very carefully, looking for relationships in logic in their admissions requirements (i.e. at our community college, you must take the ACT/SAT-I in order to have full status and take their English and math courses unless you have taken an English and math course at the college level elsewhere. Conner took both at the local private university where he also had a 'special' status. We transfer those credits to the community college, and Conner's status is changed to full-time)."
Beverly further recommends, "Check your state's law books yourself. Call your state senators and representatives. If it is true, it should be changed. If it is not, go back armed with the student handbook and a pleasant attitude and speak directly with the Director of Admissions. The director here is on our side after initially being a bit hesitant; she fell in love with Conner and now makes a point of seeking him out periodically to talk with him."
Of course, you may be the unlucky parent living in a state with archaic statutes regarding age restrictions in community colleges. Jill found herself in just such an unenviable position, "When Peter was 9 and wanted to take a computer class at the local community college, permission was denied. We went as far as the state capitol, but received consistent refusals based on the fact that the community colleges were aimed primarily at adult education and could receive funding ONLY for students who were at least 16 years old. They refused to consider anyone younger for any reason, since the magic age was the condition of receiving funding. Three years later, there is a bill in the state legislature to remove the age requirement in community colleges; unfortunately, it comes at a time when Peter is beyond anything the community college could teach him."
Late this summer, I called the admissions department of our local community college to find out what documentation was needed to enroll him there as a part time student. The admissions officer encouraged me to come to the college bearing CAT/5, transcript, and our letter of approval to homeschool (from the school board) to enroll my son under their dual enrollment classification. When we got there all of the admissions officers were mystified. Who had told me they would accept my son? They cited a state policy precluding the admission of students under the age of 16 for all Virginia community colleges. They insisted that they could make no exceptions, as this age policy was "an agreement between the Virginia Community College System and the Department of Education."
How did I convince them to give us an appointment with the admissions manager for special admittance consideration?
I did my homework. I did not assume that the college admissions officers and assistants were right. Here are the steps I took to educate myself:
I was thrilled to find from my research that not only do we have the right to request the college's consideration of our son, but many young homeschooling students attend community colleges in Virginia. In fact, other previously resistant community colleges across the state now serve students as young as 11 years old.
At the time of this writing, we await the decision of the admissions manager and the dean of instruction. We can only hope they will give us a chance. If they do, perhaps the college's experience with Octavian will open their doors to other students like him. I can only hope we are paving the way for Octavian’s brother and sister, and the countless other gifted and homeschooled children who need community college classes in this area.
We Are Our Children's Best Advocates
Many parents have met their child's need for college-level work. All find their constant role is that of advocate. No one will pull as hard for your child as you will. Enrolling your profoundly gifted child in college may prove to be an uphill battle. You may need to go back to the drawing board many times in order to find a way to get around a college's initial reaction to your child. Just remember your options are not limited. Don't give up after one "no."
When Octavian was ten we were told "no" by a community college. We sought answers from those as high as the state department responsible for the laws governing our community colleges. Everyone told us "no." In despair, we quit, believing that there were no routes to "yes."
This spring we were told "no" by the local small university when we approached them about Octavian taking one class. Again, we tried everything we could think of to convince them of his ability to perform, to no avail.
Now, thanks to some of the tips found in this article, Octavian is not only attending William and Mary, but may also be accepted at both of the institutions that initially told us "no."
If we can meet our goal of college enrollment, then so can you. This article is only a starting-point. Join a chat group for the parents of profoundly gifted children and ask lots of questions! (http://www.tagfam.org, click on "mailing lists") Find out that you are not alone.
Author's Note: This article contains the actual experiences of real parents of profoundly gifted children across the country. At the publisher's request, names of minors have been changed to protect their privacy.
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Number 4, Summer 1994.
Gross, Miraca U.M. PhD, "From 'the saddest sound' to the D Major chord: The gift of accelerated progression." Keynote address 3rd Biennial Australasian International Conference on the Education of Gifted Students. Melbourne, Australia. 15 August 1999.
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Copyright © 2001 by Beth Wright. Permission to reprint article was granted by the author.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.