“We don’t recommend skipping to third grade for your son, but it’s okay because there is one other boy in his second grade class with the same IQ. They can challenge each other!” ~My first clue we should have been homeschooling
One of the biggest challenges for gifted children and their parents is the ability to find true peers: other kids their age who also match on an emotional/social and academic level. Young gifted children are considered socially immature if they prefer to hang out with the teachers at lunchtime to participating in the burpfest on the playground. Conversely, a third-grader’s academic ability to participate in an 8th grade English class can be a bad mismatch for their ability to deal with the adult content in “edgy” YA books. And gifted people have the usual issues finding people to connect with. Despite what my son's principal believed. just because there was another child who matched mine in age, gender and IQ, that didn't mean they had anything in common!
Add to this the pressures of high school, where everyone feels like an outsider, and it’s no wonder gifted children struggle and drop out in large numbers: nearly 54,000 every year. Even homeschoolers can feel stigmatized by other homeschoolers for wanting to “label” their kids or for encouraging early dual-enrollment or early college. The restlessness of adolescence can cause strained relationships at home as well as at school and the gifted teen can begin to feel rejected by peers anywhere they go.
So here’s my version of the “It gets better” movement. Ready?
It gets better!
Feeling alone, and as if no one understands you and you don’t fit into the social rules goes away when you are in an environment with a high concentration of other bright and gifted students. Dating and developing friendships relies on allowing yourself to be vulnerable, which is much easier when you’re surrounded with people who love the same things you love, and who understand having an overwhelming visceral reaction to Aristotle or Tolstoy or Fermat’s Last Theorem.
Finding such a paradise doesn’t necessarily require a $65,000 Ivy League tuition. Gifted students, particularly those who have many areas in which they’re gifted, often do better in liberal arts programs where they are expected to try on ideas from many different disciplines. But that doesn’t mean that the overwhelmingly STEM-oriented kid won’t do well at an engineering school or a large research university. I suggest that students investigate smaller private liberal arts colleges with outstanding undergraduate teaching, like the Colleges That Change Lives, or perhaps an honors college at a public flagship or large private research university. Honors colleges concentrate your true peers by offering smaller class sizes, dedicated dorms and additional learning and/or research opportunities.
Sound fun? Investigate universities with honors colleges. You can find a list of universities with honors college programs on Wikipedia or US News.
Guess what my number one question was this month? Scholarships! Paying for college is no joke, even if you have savings in the bank. The average college student takes 5 years and 8 months to graduate from college these days. I don’t know about you, but I was only saving for four years—the money just doesn’t go as far.
Since I can’t magically fill your bank account, I’ve collected a bunch of resources that you can use to begin—or turbo-charge—your scholarship search. Remember that finding and applying for scholarships can begin long before winter of senior year and does not end at graduation. Yes, there are fewer scholarship opportunities for students in grades 9-11 and those past senior year, but the well is not dry. Keep searching!
The first thing your student should do is approach local businesses and organizations. Local scholarship are likely much less competitive than those on the major scholarship search sites, simply because not so many people know about them. Search for” [your town] + scholarship.” Be sure to check at both parents’ employers and any community organizations they may belong to. (Grandparents, too!) Of course, if you’re working, check out the opportunities at your own job or community group. BK Scholars and McDonalds/RHMC give out millions of dollars in scholarships each year, and in some cases, you don’t even have to work there to be eligible!
Reviews.com has gone through an extensive review process and ranked the 17 best scholarship search sites, as well as giving a very thorough overview of the scholarship process. The scholarship review at US News is less in depth, but adds some other great resources, including JLV College Consulting. Jessica Velasco at JLV was a classmate of mine in the UCLA College Counseling Certificate program; she’s fabulous. US News encourages checking with your high school counseling or student services office as they often get notification of local and national scholarship opportunities. Be sure to check the counseling offices at other local high schools, too!
Once you’ve used a scholarship site and found a number of scholarships you’re willing to apply for, be sure to read this two-part article from Georgia Tech about scholarship selection. Just like with colleges, there’s no point spending time to apply to a program that does not fit you. Author Chaffee Viets is discussing institutional scholarships specifically, but the selection process is the same for outside scholarships.
Finally, keep in mind that the majority of your scholarship money is going to come from the college where you eventually enroll. This is why choosing your college is so important. Here’s a terrific post from the Princeton Review, showing which schools’ merit scholarships have a bias toward a particular entrance exam: ACT or SAT. Very important information for you juniors who are just beginning to build your list!
For more information on the scholarship process, sign up for my free webinar “Paying for College: Grants and Scholarships.” I’ll be presenting live on February 21 at 6:30 Eastern/3:30 Pacific. One lucky viewer will get a fabulous door prize! Visit https://www.yourcollegeyourway.com/register.html to register.
First off, life isn’t fair. Second, unless you were in the room where the admission decision was made, you don't know that the other student was less qualified than you. Sure, he might have similar, or even lower, grades and test scores, but numbers aren't all there is in holistic admissions.
Simply put, college admission has never been fair to the applicants. Admission to a particular college is not something you earn or deserve. If your abilities match their institutional priorities, then you will be admitted. One of those priorities might be “We need more students whose wealthy families will give us money.” C’est la vie. Those students’ families are paying for other students’ scholarships.
But, if I’m correct in assuming that your “dream college” is one of those top 20 name-brand colleges, you need to face the facts that admission to those schools is not a given for anybody. There are more high school valedictorians every year than there are seats in the freshman classes of all the Ivies combined. I had a student last year who applied to all of the Ivies (against my advice). She had perfect grades and test scores, leadership, honors and awards, great essays, the whole nine yards. She was eminently qualified. She was also only admitted to two of the eight; two of the others flat-out denied her, the other four put her on the waitlist. Fair? No. Reality, yes.
So rather than grousing about the students who did get in being “less qualified” than you (which you don’t actually know), I suggest you rethink what you mean by “dream school.” Maybe that college didn’t see the fit with you. That’s fine. You have many, many other schools that might fit you better. Do some research and find that perfect school that really is your perfect fit.
P.S. I have yet to have a client still hate their college after completing first semester. Most realize by May 1 which school is their best choice. Others spend all summer languishing on the waitlist and trudge off to college reluctantly, moping about what might have been. All those students did was ruin their last summer before high school. By October, every. single. one. found that they really loved their “next best” school, and couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. Don’t start your adult life consumed with jealousy. That’s a terrible way to live.
12/22/2017 0 Comments
This is less a matter of “currently” than of type of college. Some colleges, particularly state flagship public universities like the University of Minnesota, don’t care at all about recommendation letters or essays. There’s no place in the application to include those things.
Other schools practice “holistic” admissions, which means they take all of these things into consideration. Lets look at what admissions officers gain from each of these application pieces:
Other schools have an emphasis on each student, so they value the more insightful parts of the application—the letters and essay—more highly than simply grades and test scores. This is especially true of the many test optional colleges, and colleges where the application allows more creativity through ZeeMee, video applications, portfolios, etc.
In short, you should make sure that the real you shines through on all parts of your applications, but evaluate carefully to make sure the colleges that you apply to really fit your strengths.
Applying to college is a lot like paying your taxes. It's expensive, time-consuming, complicated and there are a lot of papers to juggle and forms to fill out. There's a lot of information about taxes, and deductions and withholding and stuff on the web, if you have time to read it, and if you have an interest. Some people genuinely enjoy the challenge of, or at least feel competent at, navigating the peculiarities of the US Tax Code. I am not one of those people. I keep all my receipts in a box and, once a year, I take the box to my accountant and say, "Here. Now go do that voodoo that you do so well!" (Bonus points if you can name that movie!)
As a college consultant, I am on the other side of that transaction. I'm the one who takes the papers (transcripts, extracurriculars, test scores, essay drafts) and does the voodoo that gets your son or daughter into the best fit college for him or her. Along the way, I form a relationship with your family that allows me to, among other things, make good suggestions about other schools that may interest your student, ways to handle financial aid if family finances change, pertinent deadlines, and ways to turn down the colleges who accepted you but you decided weren't the best fit. This is why I prefer to work with students and families from the junior year of high school or earlier.
Not all families need that level of service, though. Just like with taxes, some parents prefer to do most of the heavy-lifting themselves. For you DIYers, I offer this blog, this website, my Pinterest, Facebook page and Twitter feed, all about college and the college admissions process. I'm happy to answer questions that come in through any of those channels, as they come up. I'm also willing to do short-term, need-focused research and recommendations (college recommendations for special needs students, study skills or test prep evaluation, etc.) for a small fee.
The vision of Your College Your Way has nothing to do with making me rich and everything to do with getting students into post-secondary educations that excite them, educate them and help them grow. Unlike most college consultants, I'm a teacher. I'm all about the one-on-one connection that helps students succeed. Let me teach your teen how to be successful college student.
In the world of acronyms, the PSAT/NMSQT is the biggest mouthful. But what does it all mean?
The PSAT evolved as a practice version of the SAT, but now is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Only juniors can take the NMSQT, so if you took the PSAT for practice as a sophomore, your scores were not forwarded to National Merit Scholarship Corp. even if you got a perfect score. You also cannot retake the PSAT/NMSQT, as it is only offered once a year. There are other versions of the PSAT: the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10. They all test the same skills, but "in ways that are appropriate for your grade level," which means the questions are likely easier, and the high scores are not as high. These tests are also offered at different times through the school year.
Every year, the NMSC identifies about 16,000 National Merit semi-finalists on the basis of these test scores. To become one of 15,000 finalists, semi-finalists must submit grades, SAT scores and a school official's recommendation. About 8,200 finalists win scholarships from NMSC. Another 1,500 students who are not finalists also win special scholarships. [Source]
You can practice with sample SAT test questions online through Khan Academy. The SAT has the same format as PSAT but with more difficult questions, so practicing for the SAT might make you even better prepared. https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/new-sat/new-sat-tips-planning/new-sat-how-to-prep/a/full-length-psat-to-take-on-paper
You only get one shot at the NMSQT and it can mean considerable merit scholarship money at your colleges. Thus, it can only benefit you to put some work into preparing for it. This year, the PSAT/NMSQT will be administered on October 11 or October 25, 2017. It should be available at your school. Check with student services or your guidance counselor to find out about signing up. Taking the test will cost $15. Find out more about the PSAT on the College Board’s website by clicking the link or cut-and-pasting the URL into your search bar: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/taking-the-tests
Keep an open-mind and be willing to go outside your normal routine. When opportunities present themselves, take them. Is your school putting on a fundraiser of some sort? Get involved. Even if the cause is not inspiring to you, you may find that volunteering/working with people, fund-raising, getting out into the community, and/or making a difference do inspire. Is someone looking for a tutor in a subject you know well? Volunteer. You may discover a passion for teaching, or working with young (or adult or elderly or language-learning) students.
Are you a problem-solver? You don’t have to love education or public service to see a problem in your school or community and figure out how to fix it. One student recognized that the crowded halls at her school were causing kids to be late to class, and the crowds were caused by people on their phones. So she proposed a “texting lane” in the hallways, where the texters could stand still and the walkers could get where they were going.
Think about the classes you have taken or are taking now. What was it about your favorite classes that intrigued you? Would you like to go deeper into a historical time period or scientific concept? Would you like to do more creative writing or perhaps take music lessons? There are competitions for historical research, science fairs, magazines and newspapers that might accept poetry, many performance opportunities you could pursue.
What do you do for fun? How could you expand that activity? One student I worked with loved playing video games, so he proposed a video game review column to his local newspaper (when he was 15, coincidentally). His eventual college was so impressed, they mentioned the column when they were bragging on their new freshman class at the first day welcome assembly. Another student was intrigued by 3-D printing, so he taught himself how to use the software to create his own 3-D printed designs.
There are lots of things you can find that interest you enough to spend a significant amount of time doing them, if you look. You don’t have to find one single thing that you “love.” Just get out there and get interested in things.
Let me tell you a story:
I decided in 9th grade that Northwestern was the only school I wanted to attend. I wanted to be an actress and someone told me NU was the best undergrad program for acting (that didn’t require an audition). So the stakes for writing that essay were really high.
I put off writing the essay so long that my mother actually had to ground me to my room for three days to get me to write it. It took three days because I was completely blocked. The college essay is so intimidating—they’re going to judge me on this piece of writing alone!—and because it was my first choice school, I had built it up that much more in my mind. Total performance anxiety.
I couldn’t think of any way to begin and, this being the era before word processors were affordable, I wasn’t about to type multiple drafts of this thing, so I had to begin at the beginning. Finally, I decided I had to borrow an opening. I sat at the typewriter and wrote three words: (Get ready; you’re going to laugh.)
“Call me Ishmael.”
Yes, that just happened. But wait. I followed it up with literary gold:
“No, don’t. Well, you can, but I might not answer. My name is Lessa S and I’m the daughter of a contralto and an Irish tenor.”
The rest was some stream of consciousness BS that I don’t even remember. I typed one draft, showed it to no one (because I hadn’t left myself enough time and it was too personal, anyway), sealed it in the envelope and dropped it in the mail.
Now that I’m a college counselor, I am both amused and embarrassed by this story. I have no way of knowing if my essay hurt or helped me. Why it could have helped:
Someone stood up in committee and fought for me, maybe in spite of my essay. I had the equivalent of a 33 on the ACT, I had three APs at a time when most people had zero, I was in the top 10% of my really academically challenging high school class, and I wanted to be an actress. Not the typical academic profile of most of the theatre department. I was also economically diverse: I was raised by a single mother and almost a first generation college student (both parents had some college but neither had graduated at that point). Also, while NU was “impossible to get into” back then as well, at the time that meant they accepted 43% of their applicants, not 11%.
The moral of this story is this: Tell a story and leave your voice/personality in. Don’t be afraid to be a little goofy. But also excel academically and extracurricularly so they can’t deny you outright.
You know, the ones that make straight A’s in all upper-level classes, in “National Honor Society”, top-level band or orchestra, graduate at top of their class. What happens to these kids after high school or college? Do they end up being “average," or go on to be CEOs or high earners?
This depends quite a bit on what college the overachievers go to. Malcolm Gladwell, a writer who deals with math and social science, gave a really fascinating speech at the Zeitgeist Conference in 2013 that shows that being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a small fish in a big pond. He demonstrates that students in the top 5% of their class publish research at about the same rate (X papers per year) no matter whether they go to Harvard (which accepts only 5% of their applicants) or the University of Toronto, which accepts 82% of their applicants. Students at the bottom of the class at Harvard are no more successful than students at the bottom of their class at the University of Toronto.
This means that the smart overachiever types who go to Harvard are more likely than not to consider themselves not-so-smart and not-so-overachievers once they get there, and this change in their perspective follows them for the rest of their lives. These students often get what is call “imposter syndrome,” because they begin to believe that, no matter how much they have accomplished in their lives, there is always someone way smarter and more accomplished than they are. Imposter syndrome is the more dangerous cousin of humility. Obviously, we don’t want everyone to believe they are the smartest person in the room. Those people can be insufferable. Nor do we want people to feel like everything they’ve accomplished is a fluke and sooner or later people will realize they’ve been faking all along. Imposter syndrome can lead to depression and anxiety—like the epidemics of depression and anxiety we currently have.
So that’s one thing that can happen to those smart overachievers. I have yet to meet a smart overachiever type who didn’t have a crisis of self-confidence in college.
Some obviously go on to great things, but as often as not, those CEOs of multimillion dollar companies and governmental leaders did not go to the super-elite colleges. This doesn’t mean they weren’t smart or overachievers. Condeleeza Rice is a classic smart overachiever type who went on to be Secretary of State. She attended the University of Denver and overachieved there, too. ;-)
But if you think in terms of pure numbers, there are something like 40,000 high school valedictorians graduating every year. There are 4,000 seats for freshman in the Ivy League; say 10K seats for freshmen if we count all the highly-selective colleges in the country. This means that only one out of every ten valedictorians will be able to attend a highly-selective college (really less than that because some of those seats go to non-valedictorians). Multimillion dollar corporations only need one CEO a piece, when there are more and more amazing graduates coming into the job market every year. It’s just not numerically possible for every smart overachiever-type to be a famous highly-financially-successful-type person after graduation.
Does this mean they’re average? That depends on what your definitions of “success” and “normal” are. Many people choose to step off the “success” treadmill for one reason or another. They want work/life balance, or to be their own boss, or to do something outside the mainstream. I would argue that this does not mean they’re more or less successful than normal. But I think it’s a good idea for us to stop encouraging our teens to be overachievers and instead support them in finding and following their interests. Being happy and fulfilled is more important than “achieving” as far as I’m concerned.
 Malcolm Gladwell - Zeitgeist Americas 2013
Why do colleges care how well you can write an essay? You can be a great student but one of your biggest weaknesses are essays. Obviously if you hate essays, you aren't going to have a career that deals heavily in essay writing. Why single someone out like this? Can't they have alternative options?
The essay in the college application is only tangentially related to how well you can write an essay. The essay is your opportunity to speak directly to the admissions committee and make your case. Many admissions officers I’ve spoken to have said they like to leave the essay for last, so the student has the last word. (Although some prefer to read the essays first, before they’ve formed an opinion. This is subjective.)
The rest of your application is everyone else’s opinion of who you are and what you are capable of. The transcript and test scores put numbers to your ability, curiosity and drive. Your recommendations give the opinion of your counselor, teacher or other adults. Only your essay answers tell them who you think you are.
Why do they want to know who you are? They’re trying to figure out who you would be on campus. They ask about extracurriculars to find out how you are likely to participate in campus life. They ask for test scores and transcripts to find out whether you are likely to be successful on their campus and come back for sophomore year. They ask for recommendations from your teachers to find out what you will be like in the classroom, and whether the faculty will be glad to have you in their classes. Will you be a good leader, a good roommate and someone they will be proud to have their name attached to after you graduate.
Think of the essay not as a writing assignment, but as a written interview. The interviewer has just asked you “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?” (Common App essay #6)
Instead of feeling put on the spot, you have a chance to think carefully about your answer, and get some feedback from others about what you want to say and how you want to say it before you respond. This never happens in an interview! Embrace this opportunity to tell a story about who you are on the inside, and what is important to you and why. Then you’ll do just fine.
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
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