Book Review: College at 13: Young, Gifted and Purposeful

I was on an Ivy League campus last week, and fell into conversation about how old a student would need to be to fit into the campus. With that in mind, I'm reposting a book review previously posted on the Institute for Educational Advancement's blog. Co-author Razel Solow Ph.D. posted a reply on IEA's blog (included below) which is very helpful for a reader to understand the context and intention of the book.

Book Review: College at 13:  Young, Gifted and Purposeful

Razel Solow, Ph.D. and Celeste Rhodes, Ph.D. turn the chief criticism of early college entrance–that early entrance inhibits healthy social development–on its head in College at 13: Young, Gifted and Purposeful (Great Potential Press, 2012). Their book is centered on a longitudinal study of fourteen women who entered Mary Baldwin College’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) between the ages of 13 to 16. Dr. Rhodes, who had been the Assistant, Associate and Executive Director of PEG, began the study supported by a grant from the Malone Family Foundation. When poor health precluded her from continuing her work, Dr. Rhodes invited Dr. Solow to finish the project. Dr. Solow is the former director of the Center for Gifted Studies and Education at Hunter College.

Rhodes and Solow’s case study materials stretch from birth into well-formed adult lives. Pseudonymously presented, the PEG graduates share their stories in detail. The reasons they entered PEG offer important insights into the life of a gifted girl in middle school. Many scholarly publications on the development of gifted children precede College at 13, but Rhodes and Solow stay away from normed studies. Instead, they stay with their subjects’ voices and let these fourteen women describe the world of giftedness. The women share stories of being isolated, confused, humiliated, and slapped. The authors spare nothing.

Grounded in this detail, Solow and Rhodes make the case that socialization and social development ought not be confused. Socialization, the art of joining a group, can be an impossibility if the group is fundamentally hostile. The middle school years, when students turn away from their families and toward their peers, present a painful choice: give up your passions, conform, and be included; or not. Beyond fellow students, the girls’ teachers are a mixed bag, some supportive and some clearly destructive. The consequences of socialization denied include social development inhibited. Echoing her fellow PEGs, Julia says, “Not caring about what everyone thinks is one thing, but feeling okay about being different is something else.”

Supportive parents are the heroes of the book, and Solow and Rhodes get to the parents’ stories straightaway. It takes a special kind of mother and father to move a thirteen-year-old daughter onto a college campus. Words describing home life with these parents include “peace,” “trust,” and “seriousness.” Over and over the parents talk about how they want their daughters to pursue their dreams and interests. Comparing these students to a study of 81 class valedictorians in Illinois, Solow and Rhodes observe that there are important differences between parents who want their children to succeed and parents who want their children to grow. Identifying those parents and the support they have given, and likely will give, is crucial in making radical acceleration work.

And what happens twenty years or so later? These students have remarkably unremarkable lives. To be sure, most of them continue as students (eight Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Fine Arts degree holders, and one in progress; one lawyer; one Ph.D. and one in progress; one M.D. in progress). But they don’t speak of isolation and feeling different, even when they are different. One young woman entered law school at eighteen and surprised her classmates when everyone went to a bar and she couldn’t order a drink. She was confident, they were respectful, and the evening rolled on. Other alumnae describe the nuts and bolts of everyday life: putting a bed in an office because of fibromyalgia; struggling to come out to a father; juggling her desire to build a woodworking business and her promise to finish her parents’ kitchen remodeling. These details are small, sometimes humorous, and very reassuring. Being denied normalcy in their mid-teens, these women are having typical, mostly stable and happy, ordinary adult lives.

Two clear advantages of radical acceleration for women emerge. First, they have more time to complete their educations and build careers before they start families. For a number of women, there is a new dimension to balancing career and family development. The challenge for some women, especially working in professions which require lengthy educations and apprenticeships, is finding the point at which to divide a career between working long hours and working with flexibility once professional credentials are in place. Radical acceleration adds years to early career building. Second, being younger at graduation means the women have “extra time as a bonus, not as a launching pad for another round of running ahead.” It struck me that these bonus years can be transferred years. Skipping over high school moves years that can be destructive and esteem-busting into post-college years better lived because the whole self is more formed. Social development is a lifelong affair.

College at 13’s shortcoming is that these are successful entrants and graduates of radical acceleration. Rhodes’s and Solow’s fourteen PEG alumnae are among twenty handpicked by Mary Baldwin’s administration. Did everyone’s story go so well? What about the students who dropped out of PEG, or struggled with their youthfulness after graduation? And are all successes Mary Baldwin graduations? Several years ago I worked with a young woman who attended PEG for one year, “because I needed a break from high school.” Feeling better about herself, she was ready to return to high school.

Solow and Rhodes do us all a favor by shining light on a subject that can arouse passions without understanding. We talk often about supporting the whole gifted child. What exactly does radical acceleration offer the whole gifted adult? Not every gifted child is a good candidate for radical acceleration. Not every gifted child is a good candidate for high school. College at 13 contributes to understanding the differences.


Comment from Razel Solow, February 14, 2017

Kate, Thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive review of College at 13, which Celeste and I wrote. To address the shortcoming you mentioned: The theoretical framework for this book was positive psychology. Since the book was not meant to be “overly academic,” that aspect was downplayed. Its significance, however, is that when you do a qualitative study in positive psychology you explore people who demonstrate strength, hope, optimism, etc. The “disease model” of psychology often looks at people whose outcomes aren’t as positive. The young women in this book did struggle and have to overcome various difficulties, of course. In the studies, we hoped to learn how their coping and their support systems led to their healthier and/or more fulfilling outcomes.  -- 

A Little Advice for First Generation Students

Freshman year of college can be daunting to anyone, but the prospect of leaving home and living with several thousand strangers can be even more nerve-racking if you come from a background where few people in your family or neighborhood have experienced college. You might feel as if you’re alone, but many of your classmates will be going through the same exact thing. Here are a few tips that can help you make a smooth transition:

Find a regular schedule:

College means freedom, but that feeling of liberation can quickly turn to stress as you are inundated by a seemingly limitless number of classes and clubs. Finding a routine and sticking to it can help you stay focused and feel comfortable in your new surroundings.

Reach out for help:

When I asked my friends and former clients what they wish they’d known as freshmen, one of the most common answers was that professors are willing to help if you reach out to them or go to their office hours. Furthermore, most schools have offices or administrators dedicated to assisting students in the transition to college, be it helping to fill out a financial aid form or even getting money to buy textbooks or a winter coat.

Find your niche:

International and first-generation students are just a few of the groups that often have student organizations dedicated to helping their peers acclimate to college. Many colleges have a pre-college orientation week, and all colleges have student clubs that offer immediate opportunities to meet new friends. These clubs include some that focus on specific backgrounds, or on interests and activities.

Photo:  "Cornell University, Olin Library Conservation Lab," courtesy Preservation Services, U.V, October 13, 2006

How is college Selection and admissions unique for gifted students?

College Selection and Admissions for Gifted Students.

Kate will speak about the special issues facing gifted students and their families during the college search and application process. She has worked with IEA supporting gifted students since 2009 and has a wealth of knowledge about their unique challenges and their wonderful potential. Kate has a BA from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She earned College Counseling Certification from the University of California, Los Angeles. Kate is a member of the National Association of College Admission Counselors, the Western Association of College Admission Counselors, and the California Association for the Gifted. 

Institute for Educational Advancement Gifted Child Parent Support Group Meeting

Wednesday, March 30, 6:30-8:00 at 569 South Marengo Avenue, Pasadena (at the corner of Marengo and California Boulevard)

This is a free event. Please invite other parents you think would be interested.

In order to provide an open forum for the speaker's discussion and attendee questions, all of IEA's Parent Support Group Meetings are intended for adults only. Thank you for understanding.



Photo: "Butler Library, Columbia University," courtesy In Sappho We Trust, October 30, 2011, FlickrCC




What to Do While You Wait for Admission Decisions

Between November 30, when the University of California applications are due, and February 15, when the very last of the selective colleges' applications are due, students think they have only one job: wait. For some students and their families, this waiting time can be pure agony. Here are some suggestions for managing this last month.

1.  Keep tabs on your application, even if you have confirmation that it is complete. Sometimes there are questions, perhaps related to a school-awarded scholarship. This year the ACT and College Board have experienced several frustrating scoring and reporting problems.  Interviews might contact you. Check your e-mail or the school portal every single day.

2.  Keep tabs on your financial aid applications. The FAFSA and CSS Profile must be complete and submitted on time. Although colleges often say that they are need-blind or meet a student's full need, the truth is that they all have a financial aid budget. By not having your forms in place on time, you are making it easy for a financial aid officer to give what could have been your scholarship to someone else.

3.  Interviews are still being conducted. Respond immediately to any e-mail regarding an interview. Alumni interviewers are setting time aside to meet you, and they don't take kindly to students who don't reply promptly. Even if you aren't available in the next week or two, tell them that. A shocking number of students take a careless attitude here. I've seen alumni interview reports that begin, "It took me five attempts to set up a meeting with Rachel...." After all of the work you have done, do you want to undermine your application by insulting the interviewer? And always, always, always, write a thank you note to the interviewer within 24 hours.

4.  Contact the school if you have additional information. Additional information is worthwhile if it is significant: you won a major award, had an article published, received recognition for something important.  To communicate with the school, ask your school-based counselor for the name and e-mail address of the admissions officer who is responsible for your school, and write a brief note. You may need to explain the award, and for that I encourage students to include links to websites with relevant information. Caution: This does not mean write them a letter to let them know that you got a good grade in your English class. E-mails like that appear as if you are trying to submit one more essay.

5.  Write thank you notes to everyone who supported your application. This includes teachers who wrote recommendations for you and helped you edit your essays; counselors who wrote counselor letters; administrative personnel in the counseling office who gather and submit information such as transcripts; outside recommenders who took extra time to write on your behalf; your interviewers. They have worked hard on your behalf, and you should acknowledge that. And, if they are for some reason questioned by the college, wouldn't you like them to mention that you behave in mature and thoughtful ways?

6.  Keep your grades up! It is very tempting to tell yourself, "My transcript is in so I am done." Not quite so fast. You might clear a wait list in the summer. Teachers might be questioned about your ongoing performance, especially if you have had irregular performance in the past. Working hard in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes can lead to higher test scores which can lead to college credit which can lead to lots of good things. Don't waste those opportunities. 

7.  Make a decision and stick to it: do I tell other people about my applications, or do I keep it to myself? In general, I prefer for students to keep everything private. Nosy friends, family members, teachers, even neighbors are sometimes very curious, and just can't stop asking. Actually, I've found that the parents of other students are the worst offenders. A simple decline to share, "I've chosen to keep this private, but I'll let you know my final decision," should be enough, although you may have to repeat this several times.

8.  Don't focus on only one school. Turning, "Will I get into Harvard? Will I get into Harvard?" over and over in your mind is neither healthy nor helpful. Imagine yourself at all of your schools, with a little extra time on your safety schools. 

9.  Regret nothing you did during the application process, even if you did some really dumb things. Instead, focus on what you did accomplish. Your work may not have been your best work, but it was yours. Own it.

10.  Once your applications are complete, you will have more time to spend with your friends. Years later, you won't remember the application process as much as you will remember your classmates. Use these last months together to build more memories with your friends.


Photo:  "Western Washington University Fountain in Red Square," courtesy Michael Kuroda, April 17, 2005, FlickrCC