Parents, it seems, are after an Ivy League admissions hook for their children from a very young age. There’s an article in the “New York Times” this weekend entitled “Family Happiness And the Overbooked Child” that describes how parents will do just about anything to ensure that their children explore and discover their talents from the early years. But is this necessary to gain admission to an Ivy League college?
Maybe your child did cello for two months, swimming for a year, and basketball for four days before realizing that the cello, swimming, and basketball were not for them. Parents see it as healthy for children to explore potential passion areas and maybe – just maybe – they’ll be amazingly talented in a given area. What if, after all, your child could be the next Michael Phelps? Or the next LeBron James?
Parents often think that it’s important to discover a talent at a young age because that talent needs to be cultivated — especially if it’s going to be your child’s Ivy League admissions hook. And they’re not necessarily wrong. Most hockey players at Ivy League colleges started playing hockey when they were toddlers. The athlete who picked up a sport later in life only to become exceptional (like, say, Gary Hall, Jr. in swimming) is the exception to the rule rather than the rule. And keep in mind, Gary Hall, Jr. had great swimming genes since his dad was a former Olympic swimmer.
But for those parents who try to force a talent (and by that we mean the kid is not naturally gifted but you think that with enough practice, they’ll become terrific) or encourage their children to keep sampling everything and not encourage them to hone in on any one or two areas, it’s probably not the way to go. Malcolm Gladwell has demonstrated that people become exceptionally talented in a given area after 10,000 hours of practice in that area (see our blog: College Admissions and Talent). You don’t amass 10,000 hours sampling every activity under the sun for a few hours a month.
So if you’re a parent whose kid has karate belts stuffed at the back of his closet, fins and paddles from that swim team he swam on four years ago, and a collection of DVDs on a proper jump shot, you might want to reconsider your strategy. Maybe it makes your child happy. But it’s costing you a fortune. Maybe they’d be just as happy focusing on only a couple activities. It might just save your wallet.