Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Research

First Advisor

Marcus Weaver-Hightower


Gifted college students often arrive at universities with high GPAs and/or ACT/SAT scores. Their achievements in extracurricular activities such as in the arts, athletics, service, and leadership are well beyond the average student. To admissions representatives and faculty, these students look well-adjusted and successful on paper. However, many of these gifted college students come with unique challenges that go misunderstood, ignored, and underserved during their years in higher education—specifically involving their mental health.

There are copious amounts of literature on gifted K-12 students and their mental health behaviors but very limited research done on the gifted college student population. Although gifted research declines after the twelfth grade, giftedness does not end as those students age. Along with being gifted, some of these individuals also experience mental health issues throughout their lifetimes. When giftedness and mental health overlap, the individual is considered twice-exceptional. Twice-exceptionality includes physical and learning disabilities, but the term can also describe a person who has a mental health diagnosis that coincides with their giftedness.

Because twice-exceptional individuals tend to mask their mental health issues very well, it is difficult to identify that they need support—especially when they are in college. With my professional experience in honors education, I came to realize some of these twice-exceptional college experiences and stories have never been heard. The purpose of my dissertation is to bring these narratives into the light with the hopes of more widespread understanding of their specific needs. In order to understand the trends and challenges of twice-exceptional college students, I present a literature review as well as identify research gaps. Using a qualitative research design, I shape interview questions for my participants that illustrate their past experiences with growing up as twice-exceptional along with their present journeys as twice-exceptional college students. I use narrative and discourse analysis to bring their experiences and voices together in conversation with one another to give readers a clearer picture of what it is like to be a twice-exceptional college student. As a result of this analysis, my study culminates in better understanding the twice-exceptional student experience in terms of their behaviors, academic performance, social lives, and the intersectionality of their gender. My participants also gave insight into how universities can better support this student population through honors education programs, holistic academic advising, counseling and support groups, as well as more flexibility and understanding from university administration, faculty, and staff.