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College Planning for Gifted Kids

Deciding on college starts with your own self-discovery. Once you can begin to answer questions about yourself -- your values, strengths, interests, and needs -- you're on the right road to matching who you are and what you want with what a college offers. Start with your grade, below.

Seventh Grade

In seventh and eighth grade, classes are divided into separate academic subjects. Take advantage of opportunities to explore and investigate new academic areas and extracurricular activities. Take time to learn about yourself -- your strengths, the subjects you like most, the extracurricular activities you might enjoy.

Examine and evaluate academic options that may be available in your community. For example, does your community have a high-school magnet program or school enrichment programs?

Search for summer programs or clubs that will allow you to explore your interests. Many summer programs offer a variety of opportunities to try new academic courses, earn high-school credits, refine skills, make friends, and live away from home. Check out the programs sponsored by regional talent searches, universities, and independent schools. Summer programs vary in quality; investigate them carefully. If the price of a program prevents you from participating, find out whether scholarships are available from the program or from local sources. Some summer programs offer partial scholarships to match local gifts.

Begin to think objectively and realistically about your abilities, aptitudes, values, interests, and how you learn best.

Begin to think about your aspirations and goals. Develop a preliminary plan to achieve them.

Seek ways to expand your horizons. Take risks and try new courses and activities. Some courses you take will appear on your high-school transcript. However, the grades you earn now will be far less important to colleges than the grades you earn in your junior year.

Learn a variety of ways to study efficiently and manage your time.

Improve your skills. Read widely (books, newspapers, and magazines); keep a journal; or write short stories, poetry, or prose. Enter contests. Are you working on a math or science project? Record your impressions and prepare a story about your work.

Look for opportunities to do volunteer work.

Ask your guidance counselor how to participate in a regional talent-search process by taking the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT-I), ACT Assessment Test, or other nationally normed test. Apply by November of this year. Students who require extended time or fee waivers should contact talent-search programs in early September.

Eighth Grade

Discuss the transition to high school with your parents and guidance counselor. Develop a master four-year plan: This should include an academic plan listing courses required for high-school graduation and courses you want to take during the next four years. You should also have a time-management plan that will address the hours you spend in classes; the hours needed for homework; and the time you require for extracurricular interests, family activities, rest, and relaxation.

Investigate career options and opportunities. When you meet an adult with an interesting career, ask her about it. Take career exploration tests such as California Occupational Preference System (COPS), FIRO, or JOB-O. While seventh or eighth grade is much too early to make college and career decisions, you can start learning more about yourself.

Volunteer your time. This is an excellent way to explore careers and develop community spirit.

Look for ways to strengthen your study skills in specific academic areas. Improving study skills can help you manage your time wisely.

Experiment with new academic courses and extracurricular activities. Broaden your skills. Learn how to ask good questions.

Plan a creative summer. Many programs have early enrollment deadlines. Start planning no later than December.

Ninth Grade

By this year, you should have developed a four-year plan that will help you decide how to use your in-school and after-school hours most effectively.

Review your four-year plan with your parents and high-school counselor. Get copies of the courses offered, the requirements for graduation, and an explanation of the grading system. Build a flexible schedule that will accommodate time for studying, extracurricular activities, working out, and relaxing.

Select the most rigorous courses you can handle. The more selective colleges will check to see whether or not your courses represent the most challenging program offered by your high school.

Think about additional academic areas you might like to explore that are not offered by your high school (e.g., philosophy, archaeology)? Consider a summer program and send for an application if the program has an early deadline.

Talk to your parents about financing college. What portion of college costs will be your responsibility? Do you need to work during high school?

If your high school includes a career center or multimedia center, get to know the people who work there and the resources available.

Look for opportunities in your community to share your talents with others by volunteering. Get involved.

Read widely. Exposure to different kinds of material will improve your vocabulary and language skills.

Familiarize yourself with the most recent version of the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT). Obtain a Student Bulletin (free from CEEB) to learn what the test is like, how students may prepare, and how scores are reported and used.

Investigate computer-assisted career guidance programs such as Career Options, System of Interactive Guidance and Information (SIGI or SIGI PLUS), or DISCOVER.

In the spring, review your four-year academic plan with your guidance counselor and parents. Decide which extracurricular activities you are committed to and which activities to eliminate from your schedule.


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