Among the nation’s elite universities, Stanford has been one of the most eager to embrace them. Despite the uncertainties of admitting students with no transcripts or teacher recommendations, the University welcomes at least a handful every year. Stanford has found that the brightest homeschoolers bring a mix of unusual experiences, special motivation and intellectual independence that makes them a good bet to flourish on the Farm.
It’s hard to define, but they swear they know it when they see it. It’s the spark, the passion, that sets the truly exceptional student–the one driven to pursue independent research and explore difficult concepts from a very early age–apart from your typical bright kid. Stanford wants students who have it.
“The distinguishing factor is intellectual vitality,” says Reider. “These kids have it, and everything they do is responding to it.”
But conviction, more than convenience, is the reason Baruch kept her children at home. At age 16, she vowed that if she ever had kids, their education would differ from hers. Baruch attended a traditional Hebrew yeshiva in Brooklyn. “I was very much excited about learning, but there was not time to just learn for the love of learning,” she says. “There was an hour [for each subject], and when it was up, the bell rang. That was it. Interested, not interested, awake, asleep–you moved on to the next thing.”
Backing her up is a 1999 survey organized by Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute. Ray found that the typical homeschooler takes part in at least five social activities outside the home every week–from dance classes and sports teams to scout troops and community theater. He also collected previous findings by educators and psychologists suggesting that children taught at home are actually socially and emotionally healthier than those in schools. They are more comfortable interacting with adults and less likely to pin their self-esteem to the fads and whims of teenagers, Ray says.