Backdoor to the Ivies
Guest post from EconLog reader Paul Fredenberg, reprinted with his permission.
Enj0y – and possibly profit!
I read your post about your homeschooling experience. Sounds like you’ve raised some awesome kids. Congratulations to you and your wife (and your twins too)! I am in utter amazement of your curriculum.
I am a father of 10 (yes, I have your “Selfish Reasons” book on my shelf!), ages 4 to 22, and my wife and I have largely homeschooled our kids. My wife took it a step further when she declared one night years ago that we would move to a farm and raise our kids in a different kind of setting. Our oldest kids so far have opted for homeschool until about age 16 and then a transition to public high school (at smaller, rural schools outside of Ann Arbor, MI).
Although we consider ourselves reasonably well-educated (I have an MBA from Wharton), my wife and I don’t have the ability to run our homeschool the way you have. Our parental approach has been much more hands-off on the academics, but certainly very hands on regarding character, hard-work, project management, virtue, etc. We milk cows, bale hay, split wood, and all the other good farm stuff.
Our oldest 2 boys got perfect scores on the ACT and took as many AP classes as our country schools offered. They chose public schools to participate in the extra-curriculars and graduated at or near the top of their classes. But their transcripts were not perfect. There were a few “B’s” sprinkled in there.
When they applied to college I suggested they play the farm angle to their advantage. They wrote essays about burying stillborn calves, milking at 5am in the dead of winter, and baling hay in the 93-degree heat of summer.
The first got into MIT and is in his second year studying nuclear physics. The second was accepted Early Action at Harvard – he is currently serving a church mission in Italy and will start fall 2022. Our third is a senior (35 ACT) and wants to go to BYU, largely because he thinks the other schools are a waste of money (“Dad, I’m ROI-focused”), and because he is keen on the prettier girls and better pickleball courts out west.
My question for you: did we unwittingly discover a secret “backdoor” into these elite schools? The odds of a non-athlete kid from an upper-middle class, LDS/conservative, white, non-legacy family getting into Harvard early seem astonishing low. And he didn’t have perfect grades either. But I maintain there are probably like 3 kids in the world who both milk a cow every day and scored perfect on the ACT. The admissions folks must have noticed – they must have liked the “story.”
I wonder if the advice to anxious parents willing to do nearly anything for their kids to get a sniff of the Ivies – i.e. buy expensive homes in the very best school districts, pay a fortune in property taxes and/or private tuition, and spend years of their livelihood shuffling to whatever next activity might be a marginal help to future admissions possibilities – is actually much more attainable: buy a farm in a rural school district and put the kids to work.