Raising a gifted child is full of surprises. Emotional intensity, asynchronous development, and advocating within the schools, to name a few, become routine challenges most parents face. But just when you think you've got it figured out and life gets a little more predictable, college looms on the horizon.
But why should this be a challenge? After all, getting into college should be a piece of cake for your child. Right? She's smart, talented, gets amazing grades, and probably will ace her SAT's. Most colleges should be thrilled to accept a child like her.
You swore you wouldn't be obsessive and enroll your child in "strategic" extra-curriculars starting in the first grade. You promised you would let her take the lead when the time came - after all, it is her future. And despite the school's dismal track record with her education, you somehow trusted that they had the wisdom to counsel her about college admissions.
So can you just sit back and let the school guidance counselor guide away?
Not so fast.
The nagging reality of college admissions
Many parents of gifted children are blindsided by the competitive nature of college admissions. While your child may shine in his school or community, there are more valedictorians, national merit finalists, varsity sports stand-outs, and science fair winners than openings at prestigious colleges. And despite the media's critique of elite colleges, these schools often provide the best fit for gifted students - where their intellectual abilities are appreciated and classrooms are (finally!) filled with like-minded peers.
In my work as a psychologist and parenting coach, I have spoken with frustrated, bewildered and sometimes heartbroken teens and families who felt betrayed and misled by their high school and the hype about colleges. Parents may have assumed that their highly ranked child would automatically gain admission to the school of his choice, and are stunned to find that he was rejected - along with thousands of other equally accomplished applicants. They regret relying upon guidance counselors, and wish they had received practical information, and had started planning years prior to sending in those applications.
How students' college dreams get sidelined
Many families learn much too late that the school offers little guidance - especially for gifted children. Overworked guidance counselors may provide information relevant to the majority of students, but offer little direction for gifted students. And some parents - who might have micromanaged every birthday party and who monitor their teen's activities - suddenly abandon all responsibility when it comes to college planning. It's her life; her choice.
Yet, expecting your child to assume full responsibility for such a critical decision (at an age when many teens understandably lack that level of maturity) can be a recipe for disaster. How many teens have chosen a college because of its reputation as a party school, or because their friends like it, or because they visited their cousin there and love the dorms, or because they think going there will boost their self-esteem? How many 17-year-olds truly understand the financial issues involved, including what you can really afford, what loan repayment entails, and whether a particular college is really worth the cost? How many teens can assess all of these variables without your input?
I also wish I had known what I know now - before my children started high school. Fortunately, I woke up to the reality that I had to educate myself about the process. The school offered no roadmap and little guidance. Online tips about college planning and information from colleges didn't necessarily apply to gifted children's needs. While my children ultimately made their own decisions, it fell upon us as parents to "suggest" what classes, tests, and activities seemed advantageous, and what colleges might provide the right fit for their academic, social, and financial needs.
Gifted teens thrive in a college environment that pushes them to stretch themselves, instills a work ethic (which may have been lacking for some gifted underachievers), and encourages inquiry and creative expression. Many finally feel they can "breathe" when given the freedom to excel without fear of social repercussions. Finding a college with the right "fit" that fosters this growth and development is essential for all teens, but is especially critical for gifted students.
How can you help your child plan for college - and find several colleges that offer the right fit?
Help your child make this happen
Both of my kids were fortunate to emerge relatively unscathed from the college application process. They encountered a few bumps along the way, but also some surprises and amazing opportunities, and enrolled in colleges that were well-suited to their different needs. My kids put in the effort; but I doubt they would have succeeded without the necessary information about these schools and the application process.
Unless your child's high school has an exceptionally astute guidance department, unhurried and unburdened by an enormous caseload of students, and with an understanding of gifted student's needs, I urge you, as parents, to become informed and involved. Start the conversation early. Remaining educated, offering your own wise counsel, and staying involved is not helicoptering and hovering - as long as you are attuned to your child and respect his (realistic) wishes. Your child will appreciate it when he eventually enrolls in a college that offers the best possible academic and social fit for his needs.
Additional Gifted Challenges blog posts about college
Ten essential tips to help your gifted teen plan for college
Five tips gifted students need to consider when choosing a college
Ten no-frills articles on college planning for gifted children
Five reasons to consider an elite college (and they're not what you think)
How the media discredits successful students
Your musically gifted child's road to college
Choose wisely: Some truths about elite colleges for gifted students
April 1st is no joke for some gifted high school seniors
Five hurdles gifted college students must overcome
Sending your gifted child to college: Providing support when fears arise
There is life after high school - even for gifted teens
When gifted kids get to exhale
Choosing the right college for gifted students: The fit factor
This article is reprinted with permission from https://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/ and is used here with permission.
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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