Gifted Underachiever

What are good colleges for a very bright underachiever? My son needs an environment where he can be influenced to study hard and improve his work ethic. In high school (current junior) his grades are good (3.88 UW, 4.68 W) but they are slipping fast coming out of Covid - he is not motivated and seems to have forgotten how to study and work hard. He has pretty basic extracurriculars and does not have a passion for anything in particular yet (except video games and TikTok :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:). He has so much potential so I’d love for him to find the right fit - but also somewhere he can get in. He doesn’t have a lot of other selection criteria of his own yet for a school….

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This is a very difficult question because it is hard to tell how he will react. If pushed, he may respond positively or negatively.


With his GPA, there is zero issue with him getting into college. And a great one. Will he take a standardized test?

One thing kids have to learn is time management. We live in a top district and both my kids have really had to adapt to work quantity in college. While they thought with all the APs, they’d be good. Not true.

If you can figure out a passion, you can maybe send him to a session or two next summer to glean interest. My son was motivated for senior year because he went to Purdue’s STEP program after junior year. He almost went to a camp about designing rollercoasters at Michigan. Does he like trivia ? Join the quiz bowl team.

Covid has been tough. Hopefully he has teachers this year that will engage him. If not maybe hire him a tutor. He may not need the help but some kids would benefit from the 1:1. They don’t want to waste mom-dads money.

Type of college is hard to know. What would his interests maybe be ? Budget ? State.

In theory small schools because they’ll likely have smaller classes and then you’d have more attention. On the flip side, what if he wants a large or football school. Does he have interests, like nature or cold weather or a sport? Or if Tik tok maybe video production. Large schools have Honors classes where some would be small.

If he’s not working hard now, have him get a job. Teach him about budgeting. Show him what he’s making vs what an apartment costs. Life is coming quickly.

He’s not abnormal. Zillions are unchallenged and on tik tok.

He needs to explore and figure out what interests him. Hopefully you can give him a nudge.

Let us know more. I’m sure you are not alone.

Good luck.


I agree that we need a bit more information about what he thinks he wants in terms of size, location, climate, etc. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is that there is no substitute for an informed, helpful parent who can provide some guidance during this process BUT there needs to be 100% buy-in from the student. You can support and encourage applications but you can’t make them show up in the classroom and do their work every day.

When she was a sophomore, D20 was insisting she did not need to go to college. She was very interested in the music scene and was going to be a producer. DH has some connections and brought her to the studio of a multiple Grammy winning producer who spent the afternoon letting her play in the studio while telling her all the reasons he wished he went to college first, why he hires college students as interns, and how he would be glad to have her as an intern but ONLY if she was going to college. The next week, she was planning college visits and knuckled down at school, not for us, and probably not really for herself but because he said it. It needs to be their idea, however you get them to see it. (Oh, and she’s abandoned the music producer idea)


This brings up an important point. It’s possible our kids aren’t getting enough mentors. Sport and hobbies/pursuits are a great way to interact with adults that aren’t parents. It’s the old, “I know you, what do you know?” issue.

Finding mentors to get a kid to see that they have agency over their life is a crucial experience that leads to successful adults - no matter who they are, where they are, or how they grew up. This isn’t just for succeeding in school, but in life.


This sounds like a situation that is almost entirely due to COVID. Is his school in-person now? In my area the opportunity to work or intern or volunteer or other EC’s is still limited. He has basically missed out on high school. If seeing a counselor would help, find one for him, but I would assure him he is far from being alone with this traumatic experience.


You might start by looking at schools that support his interests through Esports or courses in game design, social media, etc. That might help him realize how different college is from high school and motivate him to find a good fit.


My son needs an environment where he can be influenced to study hard and improve his work ethic.

I don’t think you’re going to find a college that sees it as their responsibility to monitor students. Peers can have a positive influence but at any college a student can find those that just want to sit around and party. Hopefully what he went thru is just a part of the troubles many kids had with the Covid year at home and he’ll bounce back this year.

If not, maybe going to college right after HS isn’t the best choice for him? A year or two off and out working may give him time to realize the advantage of college. I know a successful lawyer that went into the Air Force right after HS and gives it credit for his success, saying he wasn’t ready for college and the maturity he gained made all the difference.


Just want to add that this can wait until late in junior year. My son showed no interest until the fall of senior year and he went to his top choice.

Your post says that his grades and motivation slipped since COVID. Was he doing school online all last year? Was he able to do an extracurriculars?

I am going to say again, this sounds entirely COVID-related. The disruption and even trauma involved are huge. If he were my kid I might have him talk to someone. We all need to affirm to each other that times have been difficult and our reactions are natural.


Cornell College and Colorado College may be worth a look. Students take one course at a time, with each course lasting 3 1/2 weeks.


Yes I agree with the thoughts expressed so far about the effects of Covid and needing to support our kids as they work their way through. To be honest he has always been a bit of an underachiever - hard to motivate, procrastinator, etc. ON paper (test scores, etc) he has always shown himself to be a naturally bright/gifted kid. I am hoping to find a list of schools where he can not only get it in, but be successful. I am thinking smaller would be better overall.

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Has he been evaluated for ADHD(via questionnaire and interview, no objective tests)? It sounds like a possibility. If so he could get accommodations at college when needed. Speaking from experience!

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