Why It’s Okay to Be A Late Bloomer

There’s a lot of pressure on young people today to do well in school, get into a good college, then graduate and find a good job–and to do all of this within a certain timeline!

However, everyone is different.

Not all students reach the end of high school with certainty about what they should do with themselves next. In fact, some high school graduates may not be in a position to achieve those “next steps.” 

In our line of work, we encounter all kinds of situations, from students who require an extra year of tutoring to achieve the grades or test scores needed to apply to college, to those who simply need time off to figure themselves out. Some may even conclude that college isn’t right for them.

No matter what the scenario, we want to assure parents and students alike that it’s okay to deviate from the so-called “typical” timeline for reaching life’s milestones.

In fact, research suggests that late bloomers may be at a specific advantage.

The Science Behind Late Blooming

Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, is one of many successful people who consider themselves to be late bloomers. Karlgaard has even written a book on the topic, called Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement.

“Today we are madly obsessed with early achievement…. But precocious achievement is the exception, not the norm,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal. “The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates.” 

He goes on to discuss scientific research suggesting that our brains don’t fully develop until well into our twenties.

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Specifically, it’s the prefrontal cortex that takes longer to develop, an area that has to do with complex processes like planning ahead, connecting actions to possible consequences, and weighing risk and reward. Obviously, those are crucial skills for getting through the end of high school and for big life moves–like applying to college. 

At least one psychologist, Jeffrey Arnett of Clark University, believes that the period from age 18 until 30 is a distinct phase of development, which he calls “emerging adulthood.” Moreover, even past 30, our cognition continues to change and mature throughout our lives.

“At any given age, you’re getting better at some things, you’re getting worse at some other things, and you’re at a plateau at some other things,” says neuroscientist Joshua Hartshorne, as quoted in Karlgaard’s article. 

Notable Late Bloomers

Karlgaard also points out the many successful people out there who didn’t come into their own until later in life. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison didn’t publish her first novel until age 39.

Actor Alan Rickman (a.k.a Snape from Harry Potter) earned his breakout role in Die Hard at age 42. And Karlgaard himself spent his first few years after college working as a security guard.

“Like me, most late bloomers will discover that they have greater opportunities to succeed on alternative paths, far from the madness and pressure of early achievement,” he claims.

Those words are also relevant for people who make missteps during their youth — for example, students who get kicked out of school, commit a crime, or do something else that they immediately regret. The good news is that your life doesn’t have to be over when something like this happens.

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Just ask Hannah Stotland, an academic counselor who helps students with “rocky backgrounds” continue in higher education:

“After getting straight Fs my last three semesters of high school, I received an empty diploma case at graduation, and later my GED,” she writes in Slate. “Dealing with the natural consequences of my homework boycott was a critical part of my growing up. Thanks to that real growth, I now have undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, where I enrolled as a junior transfer four years after my non-graduation.” 

She even goes on to say, “Truth be told, the kids who are to blame for their own misfortune are my favorite students to work with. Seeing the growth and enlightenment that many of these students gain from grappling with their new reality is the greatest joy of my professional life.”

Here’s to Achievement at All Stages in Life

As both Karlgaard and Stotland make clear, it’s okay to take a more circuitous route to adulthood. It’s also okay to take more time getting there!

In fact, changing our thinking about how that journey should unfold would benefit all of us.

As Karlgaard puts it:

“How we evaluate young people places needless emotional burdens on families and has helped to spur an epidemic of anxiety and depression among teens and young adults. The effort to forge young people into wunderkinds is making them fragile and filling them with self-doubt. It suggests that if you haven’t become famous, reinvented an industry or banked seven figures while you’re still in your 20s, you’ve somehow off track. But the basic premise is wrong: Early blooming is not a requirement for lifelong accomplishment and fulfillment.”

At PrepMaven, we celebrate all stages of “blooming,” and we’re here to guide students through all stages of the college admissions process. Have questions? We have answers.

Start a conversation today.

Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg & Kevin

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.