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Backdoor to the Ivies

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Guest post from EconLog reader Paul Fredenberg, reprinted with his permission. Enj0y – and possibly profit! Professor Caplan, 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

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Guest post from EconLog reader Paul Fredenberg, reprinted with his permission.

Enj0y – and possibly profit!


Professor Caplan,

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.

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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