Looking ahead to college is a very exciting – but also complicated task – when it comes to the profoundly gifted and academically advanced students at The Davidson Academy. Well ahead of their peers and far from the conventional path through high school, these students face more difficult decisions in deciding what course to take to an undergraduate degree. Even whether to complete an undergraduate degree outside of co-curricular study at the University of Nevada Reno remains a decision that DA students and their parents will approach in many different ways.
DA parents are smart in asking fundamental questions such as “What is the best reason to go to college?” and “What is the best way to support your child as they wrestle with these questions?” Those are big questions but for starters, reasons to attend undergraduate years of college revolve around gaining a degree for professional advancement, establishing a foundation in a field of study to pursue an advanced degree for professional advancement, exploring many fields of study to determine where a young person might like to spend his or her intellectual talents, and of course, years of independent school away from home and family to develop a young person's own community of peers and mentors. The flip side (as in the worst reasons to go to college) is two-fold: first, as a race to a degree, and second, as a prestige game, where only a handful of institutions are worth attending. The latter is the window sticker and sweatshirt charade, where quality and great match for a student is subservient to what some outside source has said is the best place to be.
For parents, the best ways to support a student is to help them to also ask good questions. What do I want to do with my talents? What haven't I explored that I want to? What kind of learning community suits me? How do I see crossing that bridge to more independence in my life? Visiting colleges, encouraging overnight stays with family friends, or as arranged through an admission office, can really give students a firsthand view of what college life is like, and what places may be a fit for them. As your children chart their course to this milestone, help them uncover the information they need and keep a very open mind about a school match. Opportunities and launching pads come in so many, many great packages.
In general, students should take the reins of academic and non-academic decisions, with a background of support from parents. Both should be equipped with a general knowledge of how admission works and what kinds of schools may be a student's target goals. It's an oldie but a goody -- but I still recommend parents and students read “The College Admission Mystique” by Bill Mayher.
Balancing the desire of DA students to take university-level courses (and the speed at which they may rapidly accumulate college credit) makes course planning essential for DA students, far in advance of the college application process. DA students need to understand that many universities have strict policies about the number of credits a freshman applicant can apply to their undergraduate degree, and the number they can have to still be considered for first-year admission. Transfer admission is a more difficult process – both competitively and because it rarely offers students the same college experience, community and advising at the university, since the student does not begin with a class of peers.
Course planning issues also extend to insuring that the content of university-level courses matches on the content of national subject exams like the Advanced Placement tests and SAT II subject tests, important markers in undergraduate admission review.
The DA is actively working to help parents address these issues, most importantly through the development of their school profile, a packet that will accompany every college application and detail the student body, academic achievement and possibilities open to DA students. School profiles provide vital context that allow college admission officers to measure a DA applicant in the very best light. DA is also working to develop its first transcripts for graduates – again, addressing the co-curricular coursework with UNR and highlighting the fact that many students achieve far beyond a typical high school academic profile.
Still, parents and students need to be keenly aware of the restrictions placed on college credit at the institutions to which they may want to apply or the fact that some DA student profiles will require admission by exception. There is no way for a school to assure anything in the college admission game. DA, like any excellent college preparatory school, will not be in a position to advocate beyond the normal role of the written school recommendation for any special considerations for profoundly gifted students. DA students need to plan to present their strengths in such a way that they stand out among the applicants in any given admission pool.
Though DA students may be extraordinary in the classroom, they need to be encouraged to take the time to be equally passionate in their non-academic pursuits. The ways to distinguish beyond grades and scores are as numerous as there are applicants to college. But general categories include school and community leadership, music, sports, artistic pursuits, community efforts, international experiences and language study, academic research (beyond class work), academic teams and work experience. Within all of those categories there are standard pursuits that might take up a lot of time, but not make a student stand out. Taking risks, being entrepreneurial, leaving a legacy, making an impact, and having a breakthrough in these pursuits are what lead to a personal story recognized by both the student (and those that recommend them for admission) as a window into unique character and contribution of that young person. They show the kind of engagement with the world that colleges are looking for.
DA students should avoid the old myth of being well-rounded. Colleges want students to have angles -- one, two or three angles that they take to the fullest potential and really have personal meaning behind them. The best applicants are living their young years to the fullest -- not filled with a list of "what" but with a few choice activities that they want tell the world about "why". For DA students, in particular, they must show a balance between classroom and community experiences, intellectual and independent excellence.
Getting the Word Out
Since The Davidson Academy is a new, and still yet-to-be-accredited high school, its earliest graduates will be pioneers in teaching colleges just how exceptional a DA student is. This is a growing effort. In general, communication about DA to admission offices should come from the school. Communication from parents is tricky and may be viewed more as a parent advocating for a student, than the school educating the admission office about the student body.
Admission offices are busy places. But they do welcome questions. Still, questions related to coursework, or the individual programs of a department should be emailed, as it is less disruptive and won't appear like advocacy for an applicant. Visiting college admission offices and attending their information sessions is a great way to make this personal. As DA parents make this visit, please share your first-hand knowledge with the DA community. By working together – these pioneering first graduates will have the information and support to see superb admission success.
A Snapshot Calendar
Although most DA students have a unique profile, due to their advanced academic pursuits, the following is a “typical” calendar for the most important milestones prior to the admission decision.
Back to school:
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.