Even for gifted kids, higher education equals higher anxiety

As I write this, I'm standing in a classroom at Northwestern University, teaching journalism to 14 exceptionally bright students, ranging in age from 9 to 12. They startle me with how much they know; some of them wield iPads with more skill and flash than adults. Others correct me when I make a spelling error--and they do it as fast as my words hit the chalkboard. They boast imagination, creativity, smarts and great humor; they know more about the LeBron James NBA free agency talks than half the sports writers in the country.

Yet these students--part of Northwestern's esteemed Center for Talent Development program--also have very real concerns about their future, about college, and about how things will change by the time they enroll in a university. (Note: In the interest of protecting my students, I have refrained from using last names.)

"I'm afraid that I might get into a college, and that I won't be able to take classes in the things I want to learn," says Ava Z., 11, who starts 6th grade this fall in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. "When I see movies about college, it makes me think 'What happens if I get shunned?' " She also worries that the aggressive nature of higher ed jockeying will get even more intense as she matures. "The world seems like it's getting more and more competitive."