Colleges don’t want generalists in their schools. Colleges want a whole class of well-rounded specialists. For homeschoolers who want to go to a top college, they will need to specialize. Here are some tips for helping your kid find a specialty.
Don’t use curricula.
Serendipity has a lot to do with specializing. But you have to plan for luck. You won’t be lucky if you overload your kid with things you think they might be interested in. You have a much higher chance of landing on a specialty if the kid is doing things every day that he picked, not you.
It’s no coincidence that the kid I forced into violin wants to be a scientist and the kid who begged to play cello wants to be a musician. Yes, kids should try a lot and experience a lot, but it should be mostly what they choose.
Recognize which specialties need to happen early.
In the string instrument world, the top teachers choose their students by the time the students before they are teens. Gifted gymnasts and skaters are identified even earlier because girls, especially, will age out too quickly if they are not identified early. If you don’t want the pressure of a focused, competitive childhood then don’t have a kid think about spending their time in these arenas.
Find the best coaches.
In every specialty there is a typical path kids take to get to the top. Sure, there are exceptions, but this is a game of odds, and your kid has better odds with a better coach. So assume a typical path.
Take baseball, for example: The scouts are clocking fastballs of young boys, and if you don’t have impressive speed in junior high, you can’t get access to the best coaches. Jeff Passan, author of the book The Arm: Inside the Billion Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, shows how we have enough data to know how to make a pitcher a 100-mph pitcher. But you have to get access to the “propeller heads” for that coaching.
It’s never too late.
Even in business, getting high-profile mentors to shepherd you though the system is a huge advantage. So if your kid hasn’t found a specialty by the time they are nearing college applications, try focusing on the sort of thing that mainly attracts adults: Business.
In all of business, there’s a prejudice that younger people are more exciting to mentor, (in many cases the prejudice is blatant and unapologetic,) which means kids have to start fast right out of the gate if they want to get access to top mentors in business.
Try looking backwards.
Often a kid has identified their specialty through their actions, even if they are not so clearly articulated. I have been writing in a journal since I was seven years old. By the time I was applying to college I had filled 15 handwritten volumes. Was I a specialized writer? Yes. I was. But I had no idea how to use that specialty, so I spent years drowning in college courses on political theory. I figured out how to use my specialty in my late 20s. Sometimes, all kids need is an adult who understands them to uncover the specialty that’s already there.
My kids do a lot of farm work. But I’m not sure they’d be called farm kids where we live. The kids where we live think my kids are city kids. And the kids in the city have no idea what life is like on a working farm.
I think the kids would probably qualify as third culture kids, and they don’t feel they are farm or city. But for college applications, they could be farm kids—the most knowledgeable about goats, and the best at saving a late piglet from an early snowstorm.
And maybe all kids who are specialists are really faking it. Because no one knows what will happen when they are adults. We are all faking when we assume that a specialized childhood makes a safe path through adulthood. There are no safe paths. Which is why college is probably irrelevant to most of the kids who are specializing to get in.