NYT Article - You Don’t Want a Child Prodigy

For most students in the US, the main “fit” factors are affordability (can the student and parents afford it?) and academic offerings (does it have what the student wants to study?).

For the top 5-10% of students in academic stats, prestige commonly becomes a significant “fit” factor – often the most important one (to the students and/or their parents) once affordability and academic offerings criteria are satisfied.

For most students it goes well beyond that. It’s about school size, location, social life, etc. Obviously cost and major are the prime factors, but there are many more factors that a lot of students give weight to.

The article is nonsense. Roger Federer was without question a child prodigy in tennis and was not a generalist. By age 11, he was one of his country’s top junior tennis players. You don’t compete at that level without extreme dedication and specialization in your sport. He may not have started his sport at two like Tiger Woods, but he was specializing in tennis long before he hit puberty.

For the OP’s situation, I wouldn’t plan on a PhD at the back end for the purpose of making more free electives on the front end. A PhD is a substantial investment in time and opportunity cost and should be pursued for a career in research or academia. If you want to explore other interests, take a gap year or double major.

Most students commute to a local college (often a community college or commuter-based state university). Location can matter as a corollary to affordability (commuting from where one already lives is typically less expensive than moving to the college), but it is unlikely that size, social life, etc. matter much to the majority of college students whose choices are highly constrained by cost limitations, and who do not get admission to the best-financial-aid colleges or large-enough merit scholarships beyond their commuting range.

Though a consideration, DS19 did not opt for Physics over Engineering Physics strictly due to program structure and the ability to take additional electives. What it ultimately came down to for him was program focus. As one professor he talked to summarized, 'If you are interested in “How” choose Engineering. If you are interested in “Why” choose Physics." DS19 is much more of a thinker than a doer. That he might need a Ph.D. is not really a detraction for him. He’s the type who would be likely to pursue one anyway. He would be well suited to a life in academia and/or research. My initial desire for him to choose Engineering over Sciences had more to do with keeping his options open for employment and future studies.

As for Federer vs Woods agreed that it’s probably not the best analogy but his biography states that he played both soccer and tennis until age 12 when he decided to focus on tennis exclusively.

I cannot access the article, but I do think that the idea that parents need to expose kids to a variety of activities leads to the crazy stressed lives so many now have, running around to this activity or lesson or game or whatever. Interests often become clear over time, and then developing the ones that the kid has talent in or loves, can follow.

That said, I discovered a talent for movement in my 60’s when my back could no longer support it well and wish my mother had taken me to dance class at 10!

For college, I personally favor a generalist approach with a “broad foundation” that can be followed by further more specialized study if needed or wanted- and affordable. Many young people have a career in mind in high school but change their minds. That said, there are individuals for whom a more narrowly focused degree works great.

Some like practical studies, other more theoretical. Some want to get right to a career path, and some are more academic and want to savor courses.

It depends!

Often child prodigy status requires potential in a child but obsession level dedication of parents plays a bigger role. We should help kids cultivate their specific talents but shouldn’t let it take over their young lives.

At high school and college level, prioritize intellectual development over a trade certification.

Well, almost the whole world manages to prioritize professional certification at the tertiary education level except the US, and their doctors, lawyers, financial analysts etc are just as capable as ours are and often much happier, and they seem quite a bit more broadly educated too. It seems unlikely the whole world is doing this wrong and only the US gets it right, but if you wish to continue to think that, it is your right to do so.

“The article is nonsense. Roger Federer was without question a child prodigy in tennis and was not a generalist.”

Exactly, the article makes some decent points but Federer probably is not the best example, he started playing tennis at age of 6, and trained 3 times a week! (according to his junior wiki page). He did have other interests sure, but he did not dabble in five sports and then picked tennis at 15. He was focused on tennis from an early age, as are most tennis champions, - Sampras, Nadal, Williams sisters. Tennis is the wrong sport to use for this article, the writer would have been much better off talking about someone like Deion Sanders who played four sports in high school and college and didn’t play one sport to the exclusion of others.

But all these players are world class athletes, the article would have been more impactful if it had focused on more conventional (for a lack of a better word) players, just typical kids who try a few sports and see how they did later on.