By J. Ruhl, CDB Mom
My son is a 2014 Caroline D. Bradley Scholar (who graduated high school in 2019), and as such I am frequently asked to give advice to families who are considering applying for the CDB Scholarship. I have realized that I’m repeating myself, and so I wanted to note down the advice I always give. I hope to offer a better sense of the landscape, as of course it can feel shrouded in mystery if you are on the applicant’s side of the fence.
First things first. To decide to apply means that you and your child are willing to take a risk that your child will put a lot of effort in, and, they might not be awarded the scholarship. Or, maybe they will be awarded. Taking on the application means some amount of living in this unknown for a while, and frankly, learning to breathe through the what-ifs, and importantly, helping your child do the same. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but I think it’s a kindness to say to people: yes, there can be some anxiety in it all as you wait around after submission. It is important to be kind to yourself — and to your child — as you wait. And to give your child the message that who they are, and their value, remain the same regardless of outcome.
One thing I always try to communicate up front to applicants is that the people who run the scholarship, and all of the folks at the IEA (Institute for Educational Advancement, Pasadena), are real people. They are kind people. This is not some lofty group of Judgers. It can bring a lot of ease to the process if this is made clear to your child from the start.
Expanding on that, it is important to understand the perspective of your child’s audience as they approach the application. The IEA was founded to support gifted kids as whole people, including their social and emotional selves. As such, the people at the IEA are all very interested in the whole picture. (Your family would be wise to explore the IEA’s website to get a sense of who they are, what they support, and their philosophy about supporting gifted kids.) Yes, it is a scholarship to support exceptional and gifted kids, and as such, the kids are accomplished and interesting in a variety of ways. But I think many take this to mean that all of the CDB Scholars have perfect SAT/ACT scores, or have all won amazing awards, or are all…perfectly something. Some one thing.
But the truth is, the people who run the scholarship are looking to build a class, much as a college does. So, the final group that is selected will reflect a variety of abilities and interests. Know that there are kids with perfect SAT/ ACT scores who do not receive the scholarship; perfection is not the defining qualification they seek. While they do look at numbers, and those numbers tell part of the story of your child, know that they are certainly not looking only at numbers. There will be some very STEM-y kids. There will be musicians. There will be historians. There will be artists. And any number of descriptors. Often the Scholars have a number of interests and abilities. But there is not just one defining profile of a CDB Scholar. Since these are gifted kids, the applicants do have good grades and probably impressive scores; but they do not all look alike.
That said, there are some basic underlying truths. It’s my observation that all of the Scholars are genuinely, enthusiastically engaged in whatever it is they’re engaged in. They have a spark. The thing or things that interest them make them come alive. They may have the high scores, or good grades, or be accomplished in areas, but they are doing whatever they do because it is an authentic interest or joy. This is key. There are many personality types. There are a fair amount of introverts (and so that spark may be a quiet one). There are extraverts. But they are all engaged in their lives.
(And a side note on that point. The Scholars are engaged in their lives because they are drawn to do so themselves; they are internally driven. This has not been a parent-driven development; they are not doing what they do because their parent wrote the script of their lives and handed it to them. Surely parents have helped and scaffolded — but this is in response to their kids. That scaffolding is in response to observing, asking questions, and following the child’s lead.)
The IEA knows that these kids are 12, 13. They do not expect these kids to be polished. They know that even if some of the kids do have some impressive accomplishments by the time they are that age, they still are looking a lot at potential. (Know that the IEA does understand asynchrony.) Does this kid follow a spark? Does this kid have a genuine enthusiasm for whatever they are interested in? Will this kid be able to take this enormous opportunity and keep expanding, keep growing, keep engaging? How does this kid move in the world? Does this kid move forward with agency? How does this kid approach learning, or any activity?
When it comes time to work on the application, then, what I always say is this: Be authentic.
This is where you reference what I said above. Your child does not need to try to be somebody else to be a CDB Scholar. In fact, if a child is trying to be someone else in the application, then it seems pretty certain to me they are unlikely to get it. It will be evident to the committee. Your child needs to be exactly him, her, themselves. They are presenting their genuine selves, not an idealized notion. It needs to be clear that the application is their work, in their voice. That is the only voice the IEA wants to hear — not a parent’s, not a consultant’s. And the child needs to know this. This will give them freedom that allows them to address the application well.
As the parent, you will have the chance to speak to the committee in your own statement. That is the place for your experience, your observation; that is the place for your parental voice as you tell about the child you know, as you tell the story of your child. As the parent, you have to walk a fine line with your involvement in the application process. You, as the adult, will have a larger perspective than your child could have — both regarding a view of who they are, but also regarding what it is to submit an application like this. You will be a necessary part of the equation, but as an ally, as a support. You are there to help them talk out what they want to say, maybe help with edits for clarity; to be the adult who has done applications before. But your main job as a parent in this process is to help your child express their own voice.
Many I have spoken with said that the application process was valuable. This has also been true for those whose children were not awarded the scholarship. Certainly, that outcome was disappointing for them, but they experienced value even with that. Here is what I experienced as an observing parent, and what I think has been true for others: arriving at the age of 12 or 13, this is often the first time the child has been asked to self-reflect. What a powerful process that can be. Use that. This is not just about “Do a great job on the application so you can win an award.” This is “Let’s take time so you can find your voice, show who you are, and what you enthusiastically run toward on your own. Let this be an opportunity for you to sit back and reflect on who you’ve become already, and who you want to become. And then express that.” Those who deeply engage in the process find they are changed by it.
I repeat: the folks at CDB are real people (friendly, kind, funny, compassionate people) who are looking to award real kids with the scholarship. They are people who really want to support gifted kids.
The most important thing is for the application to be an authentic representation of the kid. For the kid to be authentic in the process. They want the real thing, not what an anxious parent might think they want to see. Yes, the people who apply are very accomplished and bright, and so that all comes out, and does need to be presented (things done, awards won, recognitions, talents, passions, etc.). But really, they are looking for kids who are kind, have integrity, are creative: who are essentially good people. Good people who are enthusiastic about learning and their own passions and will take advantage of the scholarship. (The people at the IEA take the organization’s main tenets seriously. Passion, Creativity, Integrity, Perseverance. The kids who are awarded live those tenets as a natural part of who they are.) It’s not all about bells and whistles, though the Scholars have those. It’s who they are, along with the bells and whistles, that counts the most. The task is to show the committee who the child really is. Your child’s heart needs to come through. That is essential.
People ask my advice, and often it seems that they think I’m going to be able to give some nudge about how their particular kid should approach it. But I always come back to the same thing — everything I’ve written here. And often, after I repeat all of this, I see that parents have an awakened notion, and seem to feel relieved that the task at hand is not as mystery-laden or out of their range as they’d feared it was going to be. Because in the end, it’s about showing what is already true. You already know this. You just need to sit and ponder, ask your child to ponder, ponder out loud together, and let it come into clarity. Let who they are come into clarity. Jot notes. Have discussions. ‘Who am I? What do I love? What do I like to do in my free time? What excites me? What do I want for myself? For the world? How do I approach things?’ You have the opportunity to guide this awakening, and then sit back and let them go at it. Make sure your child knows that this is about communicating what they have already been doing: being themselves.
2020 Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Applications are due Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Click here to learn more.