This seminar covered easing into early college, handling new and necessary adjustments, dorm life, dietary needs, internships, common issues between parents and Young Scholars and how and when to raise them.
For those still contemplating early college, there were several tips on making it easy for colleges to say “yes” to a young, accelerated learner.
Before starting: Have you asked yourself and your Young Scholar the important questions?
Beginning early college is not simply a matter of ability to do academic work at college level. There are a lot of things to consider, not only for your Young Scholar, but for you, as a parent, and the family as a whole. I suggest taking time to really think through the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions before making any binding (even for a semester) commitments. There’s no ‘right’ answer, there is only what’s right for your child and your family.
Who is your Young Scholar? Three-dimensionally speaking. Age, gender, loves, hates, habits, hobbies, strengths, areas that need work in order to really make a ‘go’ of college level work in a college classroom (i.e., independently getting things done neatly, in full and on time), general personality, emotional readiness and emotional maturity. All these are factors that impact a happy early college experience! Who are ‘you’ as a family unit? Adding in college will almost certainly impact the working of the family as a whole so you want to consider the big picture!
What do you and the Young Scholar hope to get from early college – whether a single course or a full time program? What kind of preparations have you and your YS made to demonstrate readiness for this challenge? And…time for soul searching… What are your motives? Make sure this is ‘all about’ what’s best for your Young Scholar right now – don’t worry about being ‘impressive’.
Is this the right time? And to what degree? Have you considered the time commitment for both the student and parent outside the classroom?
Are there local resources? Are you looking at online opportunities?
This is extremely important. Why early college? And why now?
How much early college is the right amount for your Young Scholar right now? How are you going to ensure that the Young Scholar continues to participate in family life? How are you going to swing this financially? Timewise? Logistically? In terms of the family schedule?
Consider the non-academic factors
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, early college may become increasingly challenging for the ‘tween and teen. Even if your Young Scholar started taking college classes at 8 or 12, and is used to college-level work in a university setting, new emotional factors seem to bubble up with adolescence.
For a 14-17 year old Young Scholar on a college campus, the matter is complicated by the fact that though they may do the work of older students, they may also look and dress exactly like their academic (but not age) peers.
How will you help them to be prepared to face the parties they don’t go to? The adventures and exploits that they are not-quite-ready to have? The young adult activities going on around them (open sexuality, drinking, etc.)?
When you are nine, everyone can see you are nine and there is no smudgy social blur. When you are fifteen and feeling very ‘adult’ in some ways and very childlike in others, the college setting may be harder to deal with than it was at nine.
A little one takes parental authority as a ‘given’. A fourteen-year-old amongst nineteen year olds may feel that they are closer to 19 in judgment and experience than they really are and resent appropriate boundary-setting and guidance.
Informal conversations with recent early college grads led to some been there-done that tips that might be helpful, such as:
Parents – prepare!
If your Young Scholar is going to be taking college classes on a campus, and especially if your Young Scholar is going to move into a dorm, the time to establish expectations and boundaries is before school starts!
Two handy sayings to keep in mind:
“Start as you mean to continue.”
“No use shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped!”
In other words – begin on a clear footing, check in at clearly established and agreed-upon intervals. If your Young Scholar is away from home, a regularly scheduled, non-negotiable Skype chat, face to face, is a way to really keep in touch. Seeing your child’s face, even on the computer screen, will tell you a lot about how he or she is faring. Likewise, seeing the family (and don’t forget pets!) will help maintain that all-important feeling of connection.
Don’t wait for worrisome signs or bad news to establish boundaries and expectations. If you wait, it may be too late.
One participating parent shared an idea that was very well received: before her adolescent Young Scholar went off to live in the dorms, they wrote and signed a contract together.
Jointly spelling out expectations, responsibilities and agreeing on what is, and is not acceptable before the adventure begins helps pull everyone’s focus on to the big picture.
This helps the Young Scholar to understand that with the privilege of early college comes a new level of personal responsibility. As a parent, you need to be comfortable with what’s going on (and how)¸and your Young Scholar needs to be accountable to you as a parent.
That said, be realistic. Keep expectations appropriate for the age and circumstances.
(Ask yourself the hard questions before you get in too deep. For example: If your child is not yet a good self-manager with strong boundaries and social skills, should he or she be miles away on a college campus in a dorm?)
Avoid over-scrutiny and micro-management. No child wants to feel like they're always under the hot white lights.
Keep that all-important sense of humor at the ready. You’re going to need it!
Sometimes things don’t quite work.
If necessary, be ready to re-evaluate without shame or blame.
It’s an old saw, but a mistake is a learning opportunity. If something goes off kilter during the early college experience – emotionally or academically, don’t wait, evaluate with your Young Scholar. It may be a message that a re-adjustment has to be made. If it’s too soon, too much, too far away, that is important information and you need to work with it.
What’s great one year may not be the ticket the next – for any number of reasons. Be willing to change the pace.
After early college – what’s next?
One of the things to remember about early college is that it exists to meet a present need – not to predict or guarantee the future.
Expect the unexpected. Remember that your Young Scholar’s needs and priorities are evolving as they grow up and mature. You, and your Young Scholar may start out thinking that directly after the completion of an undergraduate degree, grad school will be the next step. Not necessarily. Their dreams may change. What was ‘right’ once may not be ‘right’ five years down the road.
That’s OK. One of the great advantages to early college is that your Young Scholar doesn’t have to barrel through fast and furious. Even if things don’t go as you imagined when you embarked upon the early college course, time is on your Young Scholar’s side!
Things may go as you imagined, or your Young Scholar may feel the need for some time to do something else -- like travel, volunteer, work in a bike shop, write poetry and waitress, or just simply sort things out – before continuing on an academic path.
Parents may see a maturity-gap that needs evening-out, or a need to take a little ‘space’ before embarking on graduate school. There are many options that don’t include signing up for another round of intensive coursework.
If your Young Scholar is approaching adulthood, he or she may both be tired of ‘being the youngest’ and uncomfortable outgrowing that role at the same time. It’s all part of the process.
Making early college a happy experience for everyone is a matter of planning, flexibility, adaptability, boundaries, clear expectations, connectedness, communication, willingness to roll with unpredictable outcomes and…maintaining your sense of humor!
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.
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