Engineering Nerding

Our First College Visit – At Age 13?

The wife, kids and I just got back from visiting family in Maryland. While we were there on vacation, we decided to take a side-trip to Annapolis. I grew up not far from the quaint little state capital on the water, and I wanted to share some memories and old haunts with my kids. We window shopped, ate crabs, and bought goofy souvenirs. Of course, it’s not a trip to Annapolis without a tour of the US Naval Academy.

Earlier this year, NerdBoy joined up with the Civil Air Patrol, a great youth service organization run by the US Air Force. The program focuses on skills development, leadership and physical fitness. Think of it as the Boy Scouts of America if it were run by the Air Force. NerdBoy loves the program, and it’s helped him delve deeper into his love for aerospace engineering. So, I thought a visit to the Naval Academy might be an exciting moment for him.

As we toured the hallowed grounds of this amazing institution, we learned more about the camaraderie among the male and female Midshipmen (26 percent of the Plebe class are women), the well-rounded experiences they gain at the Academy, and the intense curriculum they undertake while attending.

At one point, I looked over at NerdBoy and realized this was much more than just a tourist stop for the kid. In his mind, it was his future. We hadn’t intended for this detour to become a recruiting trip. It was just something we thought would be fun for the whole family to do. But it quickly turned into a “what if” moment for NerdBoy (and also his parents).

Throughout the entire tour, his eyes grew wide with excitement at the very thought of attending this one-of-a-kind institution. As Gene, our tour guide who served more than 20 years in the Navy, ticked off all the classes and activities available to Midshipmen, NerdBoy’s eyes grew even wider.

The Naval Academy takes the very best of the best. And, once accepted, that’s when the hard works starts. It’s difficult for me to imagine setting a goal so high at just 13 years old.

It’s almost scary to think of my son, the uber-Nerd, barely a teenager, pushing himself the next five years to reach this goal. I fear the pressure he puts on himself might be too much for him to handle.

NerdBoy has been talking about college since he was a third grader. First it was MIT, then Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and now the Naval Academy. In the end, he may or may not decide to go Navy — or even get in. But, even at his age, I think just the exposure to and learning about such respected institutions – and the dedication and hard work it takes to get in – is a great lesson.

Most families don’t start thinking about college until a student is in their junior year of high school. But by that time, their path already may be set in place and their choices limited.

And that’s definitely OK.

I was one of those kids that didn’t think more than a few days ahead and I turned out just fine. But in researching the subject, recruiters recommend that students begin building their “resumes” during their freshmen year of high school.

And it’s not just about their grades. Here are some resume-builders to consider as your Nerds approach high school.

  1. Activities – Colleges look for well-rounded individuals that pursue all kinds of activities. This doesn’t mean your Nerd should join every club and sports team available at their high school. But they should commit to a few activities that interest them. And they don’t need to all be sports-related. Drama club and Robotics club are just as good as the lacrosse team, as long as your Nerd is having fun and learning something along the way.
  2. Community Service – Get your Nerds involved as volunteers in the community.
  3. Part-time Work – Earning/managing money, keeping a work schedule, and learning responsibility demonstrate to recruiters that your Nerd can be an independent learner.

Though college seems far off for you and your family, setting long-term goals and learning what it takes to accomplish them can be a fun and worthwhile experience. So, take your Nerd to visit your Alma Mater or a local college or university. Attend a football game or take a campus tour. You’ll be surprised at the positive impact it may have on their academic motivation and future aspirations.

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