When Your Gifted Student Enters College

So, your student is advanced. Maybe even in the gifted program. Great! They have sailed through school at the top of the class. Now comes college.

If your child gets into a good school, Congratulations! You’re done! Right? Maybe. 

It might be, for the first time, your child is finally surrounded by peers who meet them at their level. That they can finally have all those deep nerdy conversations that made others roll their eyes all those years.

However, now, with all those straight-A, top-of-the-class students together in one class, someone is going to land at the bottom. For some students, it may be the first time they are not the smartest student in the class and, suddenly, B’s, C’s and D’s could be coming back on those papers. For students who have built their identity around being the smartest person in the room, this can be devastating. Failure may never have been part of their vocabulary and, more importantly, learning to fail is a skill they may not have had exposure to before college. If they skated through school, then they may not have needed to learn good study habits or those executive functioning skills that help the rest of us get through the day. 

Ideally, students learn these skills –  and, more importantly, how to fail – under the roof of their parents’ house. At home, when they fail, they have family support to help them learn how to pick themselves up and carry on – they develop those habits and skills that help them get through the semester, and they develop that “grit” that is so important for future professional and personal survival.

But if your child hasn’t had that opportunity, it may be a shock in college. And, in college, they may not have that support system around them to provide the right cushioning. They may find they don’t have those skills honed enough. In high school, they may not have had the chance to practice being in second, third or even last place.

During this time – the first months or years of college – be sure to keep the channels of communication open for your students. Let them know that even if they stumble and get that D, this is a learning opportunity. You can guide them with pragmatic study habits and calendaring advice. You can tell your students that every time they didn’t get an A, it was the prof’s or TA’s way of telling them to come to see them during office hours and that they just hadn’t learned the material fully … yet. But, most importantly, you can let them know that it’s alright to not always know the answers and that you love them just the same.

College is a time of discovery, exploration and figuring out who we are. Sometimes, shedding the skin of “the smartest student in the room” allows room for new identities and affiliations and allows them to become the amazing adults they were meant to be.

To find out more about gifted students, please see MAGE for more.

Michelle Barmazal is the co-President of MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education)

The University Network