One of the scariest things about homeschooling is that you are deciding to put your kid on the road less traveled. Who knows if it’s a good road? We can see the standard path is bad, but it’s hard to know for sure that the alternative path will turn out better.

So I wonder a lot whether it too late for me to change my mind. The research about the damage that school does is clear –  each year hurts a kid’s creativity, self-esteem, and resilience. Each year they learn to accommodate someone else’s idea of interesting, which closes doors for finding their own passions. Your child forgets what uniquely excites him.

But when is it too late for an unschooler to decide to be academically oriented?

I talked with Iris Even, head of The School for Young Performers. She deals with totally fascinating families – kids who are recording artists, actors, athletes, and models.

Iris Even says that eighth or ninth grade is when kids need to start building an academic record if they want to go to college.

There are exceptions. Kids who are very self-motivated can get a GED. Kids whose parents who are very involved and can take up the task of rigorously homeschooling in preparation for a range of college entrance exams.

There are kids who are taking alternative academic paths—Westinghouse Winners, for example—who clearly have the academic chops to do college even if they are not taking a conventional path. But most of the students at The School for Young Performers have a non-academic passion.

When your child is aiming for the very top of a field, you want a plan B. And Even says plan B starts forming in eighth grade. I liked knowing that limit – I feel like I have a few more years to wait and see about my older son. For now I feel secure that I can get him to his goal, a Phd in paleontology. But if I can’t, I know I need a new plan in eighth grade.

I thought my conversation with Iris Even would make me nervous. But talking with her made me feel confident that parents and kids who choose alternative paths still have options. There’s not actually one road not taken. There are infinite.