What all those whiz kids getting into elite colleges at the age of 12 have in common

A guiding hand.
A guiding hand.
Image: Reuters/Jeff Tuttle
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Cornell University’s about to get its youngest student: Jeremy Shuler, aged 12.

Over in the UK, 10-year-old Esther Okade last year enrolled in the publicly funded distance-learning Open University and became one of the youngest college students in the country.

The list of precocious kids heading off to university at absurdly young ages goes on. There’s 12-year-old Tanishq Abraham who this year got into both UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, 11-year-old Carson Huey-You who went to Texas Christian University, veritable child prodigies like Sho Yano who went to Loyola University Chicago at the age of nine, and loads more popping up every year from all sorts of different backgrounds and ethnicities.

They share one characteristic. They were all homeschooled.

Shuler, the Cornell-bound preteen, was completely educated by his mother, who holds an aerospace engineering doctorate and quit her own career to focus on him—giving him lessons in every subject, except for some (like chemistry) that Shuler was able to teach himself, according to a local news outlet. Abraham’s trajectory is almost the exact same, with his mother abandoning her veterinary PhD program to take up homeschooling him full-time.

Often, if not taught by their parents, they were at least shepherded from opportunity to opportunity by them—like 12-year-old UC Berkeley student Kiavash Garakani, whose parents started driving him to community college classes when he was eight.

Stories such as these would seem to highlight the benefits of homeschooling, which can be a good choice for high-achieving parents who feel their kids’ talents exceed the limits of standardized curriculums.

But before parents everywhere rush off to snatch their children out of school, they should consider the drawbacks of homeschooling, which include serious social and intellectual isolation. These young brainiacs may be academically impressive, but that’s not to say their skill sets are similarly honed for life outside the classroom.