Gifted youth need to start planning for college before the eighth grade. Why so early, when most teens don’t start until their junior or senior year? Because they need to develop an academic plan for course selection in middle school and high school. Parents, you should help with these plans and continue to discuss goals throughout your child’s secondary school career.
Gifted students should take the most difficult group of courses they can manage without burning out.
Classes: What to Take, What to Take?
Gifted students should take the most difficult group of courses they can manage without burning out. If options for advanced courses are limited in your child’s school district, look to local community colleges or universities for courses your child can take in lieu of normal schoolwork. University- or district-sponsored distance learning via the Internet or teleconferencing is another possibility. Forming partnerships with teachers and high school and college counselors will ensure that your child receives the enriched curriculum needed to reach his or her academic goals.
A student résumé is important in the college admissions process. The usual categories are
- volunteer and/or summer study experiences;
- extracurricular activities—athletics and community service; and
Encourage your child’s interests and record them in summary form.
Colleges look for dedication and passion. The goal is not to have the most items on a résumé but to show a high level of commitment to the activities listed on it.
Activities and achievements in sports and the performing arts need to be recorded in a portfolio as well as on a résumé. Portfolios include news clippings, playbills, awards, and audio- or videotapes. Keep slide portfolios for the visual arts. Your child’s résumé will also be a passport to special opportunities during the middle school and high school years. These opportunities include academic summer experiences, outdoor camps, intensive arts programs, governor’s schools, and internships. Such experiences may lead to special consideration when applying to colleges. College and scholarship applications ask for this information, and an updated résumé will have it organized and readily available. Keep résumés computerized, so the information can be reformatted to fit each application.
Keep your child’s résumé current. You and your child may think you’ll never forget the wonderful activities and learning experiences he or she has participated in, but it’s almost impossible to remember everything the night before an application is due.
College Marketing Materials
By high school graduation your child will have received enough marketing information from colleges to fill several file cabinets. Brainstorm with your child about his or her vital parameters for colleges—a particular curriculum area, a certain school size, a sports or music program, and so on. Learn to sort the materials according to these interests.
Starting the Search
Middle school isn’t too early to start looking at colleges. On family trips, try to drive by or walk through campuses; physical layouts and styles of college life will become part of your child’s basis of comparison. The earlier you start, the more information your child will have and the easier some of the choices will become.
The Alphabet Soup of Admissions Tests
PSAT, SAT I, SAT II, ACT, PLAN, TOEFL—for gifted kids, the testing can start as early as the seventh grade as part of programs such as the Duke University Talent Identification Program. Not only are these out-of-level tests a means of assessing your child’s abilities, but taking them is a great way to become familiar with college entrance exams. If your seventh-grade child can sit in a room with juniors and seniors and take them, it won’t be nearly as stressful in high school. Taking college entrance exams more than once is often a means of preparation in itself. Initial test results can expose weaknesses that further study can overcome the next time around, and taking the tests early also gives students another chance if they have a bad testing day or miss the exam. For gifted students, the PSAT or PLAN may be required for consideration in special programs offered for high school students. Finally, if your child does well on the tests the first time, the testing may be over for him or her in the junior rather than the senior year.
College planning is an intensive and enormous job. Following these key steps will spread the work out from middle school to high school graduation and will make the process achievable with minimal stress.
—Jill F. VonGruben
Jill F. VonGruben is the author of The College Countdown: The Parent’s and Student’s Survival Kit for the College Admissions Process (McGraw-Hill, 1999) and the parent of two college students. She has spent 20 years in an advocacy role in gifted education.
- Fighting Invisible Tigers: A Stress Management Guide for Teens, by Earl Hipp, edited by Pamela Espeland. Rev. ed. Free Spirit, 1995.
- The Gifted Kid’s Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook, by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle. Free Spirit, 1998.
- Smart Parent’s Guide to College: The Ten Most Important Factors for Students and Parents When Choosing a College, by Ernest L. Boyer. Peterson’s Guides, 1996.
- The Survival Guide for Teenagers with LD (Learning Differences), by Rhoda Cummings and Gary Fisher. Free Spirit, 1993.
- What Teens Need to Succeed: Proven, Practical Ways to Shape Your Own Future, by Peter L. Benson, Judy Galbraith, and Pamela Espeland. Free Spirit, 1998.