College Preparation Advice For High-Ability Students And Their Families

Knowing Me, Knowing You

  • Kristen Seward
    ** B.A. in English Education
    ** MS in School Counseling and Guidance (9 years)
    ** In progress- PhD in Gifted Education

College planning stuff is second nature for her. The gifted way to teach is great for all kids. In her quest to become a teacher of teacher.

Nearly everyone in the room has at least a 16 year old. Many 9th & 10th graders. Our kids are the youngest in the room, represented.

Going to need to use the word “school” generically regardless of the nature of the specific schooling arrangement.

So what is high ability?

  • Joseph Renzulli Definition
    ** Above average intelligence (broader definition)
    ** Task Commitment
    ** Creativity (not just art)
    Presented as a Venn diagram. Overlap in center => gifted.

These three things result in gifted behaviors

“Ability and ambition do not always translate into purposeful action” — Nicholas Colangelo
Just because know what we can do, doesn’t mean we know what should do with it.

How is college planning with High-ability Students Different?

  • Multi-potentiality (Multiple talents)
    ** Asset and a burden (Choice is hard. Difficult to narrow down.)
  • Sensitivity to Competing Expectations
    ** Heightened sensitivity – an asset and a burden
    Not all gifted students have heightened sensitivity. They want to try to please everyone, so they don’t talk about their own ideas. Not what they really wanted to do.

This sensitivity can help you see things normal people don’t see. But this makes making choices harder.


  • Find it hard to narrow to a single career choice when so many viable options exist
    ** Overchoice syndrome.
  • Complicated by perfectionism.
  • Feel coerced by adults to make decisions based on status and high earning potential
  • Make commitments that require long-term schooling and delay of independence, starting a family, etc.

[Starting a family is an interesting dimension to this issue that I hadn’t considered before.]

How to help

  • Explore careers as a way of life, a lifestyle, not just a job
  • Focus on careers over a lifetime rather than finding “ONE” career
  • Use leisure activities to continue to develop areas of ability and interest unrelated to career
  • Focus on values rather than skills or abilities when discussing careers.
  • Seek out professionals who can assist with career counseling

People will change careers five times at least and have seven distinct careers in their lifetime. [I’m right on tract for this.]

Remind kinds that they can continue to enjoy things outside of their career. Example, you can play piano in church on Sunday, and do neuroscience during the week as your job. A choice doesn’t mean you’re giving up on everything you could be.

Shift it away from what can you do to what do you value?

Example: Do you value? Or not? Do you value being in one place? Or do you want a job where you travel? Job security or is some risk OK?
These answers help you winnow down choices.

Especially when people start to get stressed about these choices, please remember to seek out professionals to help.

Heightened Sensitivity

  • Be aware that your expectations and observations about your child’s goals and career options may complicate the situation rather than help.
  • Heightened vulnerability to criticism, suggestions, can delay decision-making.
  • Be a good listener and bite your tongue when necessary
    You know they’re always thinking… Ask them.

Talent Development in Children and Teens

  • Explore a variety of experiences
  • Facilitate skill development in a child-identified area of interest
  • Encourage creation of projects and find outlets for your child/teen’s interests
  • Realize kids will likely change their interest as they mature (Expect this. Sunk cost doesn’t matter… We need to suck this change up.)
  • Budget for expenses and talk about realistic economical ways to pursue interests.

If they continue with an interest for several years, then be willing to expend more money and time against it.


  • Career exploration should begin in elementary
    ** Begin with general areas of interest then narrow to more specific careers as child matures
  • Career planning should begin in early adolescence
    ** Job shadow, mentoring, interviews, internet resources
  • Career preparation should begin in middle/high school

Job shadowing. Interviews. Find ways to explore the world of work in concrete ways.

After graduation…

  • It’s all about “FIT”

If a child goes to college, and is miserable, it’s time and money wasted. Once you pay – you don’t get it back. Terrible situation.

FIT is harder for gifted kids.

Values play a key role. Cultural expectations (big city vs. rural small school.)

Options after Graduation

  • Apprenticeship
    ** 800+ in construction, manufacturing, transportation
    ** Must be 18 to qualify
  • Trade school, Proprietary school, Technical school
    ** 100’s of programs in cosmetology, business, diesel mechanics, etc.
  • Four-year college
  • Military
  • Job market

Apprenticeship is great for mechanically minded kids. Typically paid. Interview and application process. 144 hours in classroom. Then 2,000-8,000 hours on the job training.

For Homeschool Families

  • Keep a journal to record high school courses taken, textbooks used, examples of work, evidence of progress (reading logs, essays, sheets of math programs, photos of lab work,…)
  • Extra-curriculars are important for competitive colleges.
  • Find ways to interact with college admissions representatives – college fairs, special visit days
  • Contact colleges of interest to ask what credentials they require (e.g., Will they accept a parent-create transcript? Many will. They may require additional evidence like AP test scores.)

Colleges don’t want to know how intelligent your child is. They want to see what you’ve done with.

There’s been a shift from a quantity focus on community activities to a depth of participation.

Leadership activities (club or sport).

College Knowledge

  • Campus visits
  • Apply to college – EARLY
  • Choosing a college
    ** Consider your personality and preferences
    ** Top 10 Reasons NOT to choose a college
    ** Remember, it’s all about the FIT!
  • Financial Aid
    ** Scholarship searches
    ** Scholarship scams
    ** FASFSA is a MUST! Be aware of your state deadline.

Plan family vacations around college visits.

Early means apply in the Fall before Halloween. Two reasons: for competitive colleges, they fill their programs early. They make their decisions usually by November 1st. Second, scholarship decisions are made by November 1st as well. (Think donor specific scholarships. Often not advertised.) [This is new information for me.]

10 Reasons:
10. It looks good in brochure.
9. Tuition is low.
8. School is prestigious.
7. Your guidance counselor told you to chose it.
6. It has an awesome football team.
5. Your mom and dad are alumni.
4. The student body is attractive.
3. It’s a party school.
2. Your best friend is going there.
1. Your boyfriend or girlfriend goes there. is a great way to get a lot of scholarship options. Go into this with your eye’s wide open.

FASFA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Gateway to Pell Grants, etc. There are financial aid benefits to going to college in the state you’re living in. [Oops. Need to look @ the implications of this.] = bad. Don’t pay to do this. You can do this for free. This is done every year you go to college.

Different states have different deadlines.

Pay attention to not piling on too much college loan debt.

Resume and Other Tips

  • Develop a resume that highlights your achievements, work experience, community service, leadership experiences, etc.
  • Get organized.
  • Recommendation letters and essays
  • Contact your local school to take the PLAN or PSAT as a sophomore.
  • Take the SAT and/or ACT in the spring of your junior year; take gain in fail if necessary
  • Send in deposit by May 1!
  • Meet with college advisor in early spring

Have a separate folder for each college to collect mail. Track college specific to-do lists because there’s lots of response requirements.

Identify the three people for recommendations in the junior year. Suggestions: church, community leader, teacher/tutor.

College essays are about what makes you different. Did they learn something exciting. Are they going to say wow! This student has done something awesome. Keep them college agnostic if possible for efficiency. Besides, admissions people don’t want to see “yeah school team!” anyway.

Take the PSAT as a sophomore and again as a Junior. That automatically enters you to a national merit scholarship programer. This is a big deal. Win this and college come looking for you instead of you looking for colleges.

Make an appointment with your advisor early. Don’t wait until late. Many of the classes will be full and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Internet Resources

  • National Association for Gifted Children
    There’s a college on-site camp program. Perdue does this. [Booth 2030].

  • Indiana Pathways to College Network (IPCN)
    Personality testing. Career assessments.

  • Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dept of Labor.
    What people do for a specific job, expectations of future growth.

  • BigFuture
    SAT prep stuff & college and career planning.

  • College Search (part of Big Future)
    Search for colleges based on preferences.

  • The ACT (
    World-of-Work map

  • Cappex (
    Scholarship site. Campus visit planning. Get your admission chances on a chart. College fit gauge. [This looks worth further investigation now.]

  • Federal Student Aid:

  • FinAid:
    Very informative

  • Federal Student Aid:

  • Google: Common Data Set Purdue
    Wealth of information. Look for Freshman profile for sure.

The more you know, the more informed decision you can make for your child.

Thank you for attending

  • Kristen Seward