When I first met Mark, he was in his junior year of high school. He was quite polite and respectful, and had a bit of an intentional disarray going on with his look. His hair hung down his eyes from under his hat. His eyes tended to dart up to meet mine and then back down again to the distraction of whatever his hands could find to keep them busy. He wore collared shirts but always with the top buttons undone and was an “always flip flop” guy, even in New England Januaries.

Like most 16 year old’s, he had no idea what to do with his life. He was solid in the STEM subjects and generally got As at his reputable private day school in Fairfield County. As a result, he liked math and science to some degree, though not enough to consider himself passionate about any one subject in particular. His results in the humanities were a bit more checkered, with some scattered Bs, but no Cs; he certainly didn’t consider himself a big reader (more of a gamer and social media consumer…). He had read the Percy Jackson series and had been a huge fan of it when in middle school, but his interest in casual reading had wained with his increasing screen time as he aged. In this, his junior year, he had run into a pretty tough honors English class teacher that had brought some questions executive function skills, which was the reason the family had sought us out.

He played sports and did reasonably well. He started on a pretty competitive JV soccer team and was lower down the ladder on Varsity Squash, and though he was reasonably athletic, he wasn’t going to be recruited. Even though he could have, he hadn’t truly pursued squash in his teens, electing for other activities in the summer, namely a sleepover camp where he was a junior counselor for a large portion of his time off of school. His coaches found him a charming young man, and he was well liked for his even keel amongst players and coaches alike.

As for extra curriculars, he didn’t have much to hang his hat on. He had dabbled with the robotics team, but never really took it seriously enough for it to be a focus. He played the drums in the school band and that was his main extra. It was something he would go on to engage in college, but again, he while somewhat skilled, he wasn’t going on to be Jon Bonham or anything. He had an active social life and good set of friends that he enjoyed spending time with quite a bit. If he were to define himself, probably that social life would have come up fairly soon in the conversation. Unfortunately, while it’s extremely healthy psychologically to be socially adjusted, gaming and hanging by the pool don’t do much for the ole resume.

In other words, in a schooling world grown increasingly fond of specialization and niche pursuits, Mark was stuck in the ‘Renaissance Man’ trap. He was pretty good at a lot of things, but he wasn’t amazing at any one of them in particular.

After I worked with him a couple of times a week for the first month, we got some good systems in place for him that he didn’t previously have(which helped him in all of his classes). We began to plan his weeks un advance (he had gotten by through his natural intelligence to this point, doing things lat minute), which made his life much easier. We completed his essays in steps; I encouraged him to reach out to his teacher when he had questions.  We worked on his reading and annotation skills together. We realized that his ADHD was hindering his ability to participate meaningfully in class and were able to land him some accommodations from the school that made it much easier for him, and even scored him extra time on the final. His grades by the end of the semester were the best set he had achieved to that point and most importantly, he was quite proud of that fact. I also encouraged him to join a local marching band and do volunteer work on Saturday mornings assisting with seniors.

Though I didn’t magically turn Mark into a kid who was a virtuoso at the flute and started a nonprofit for assisting impoverished Rwandans, the efforts to bring his grades up through some simple executive function approaches and forward his extra-curricular efforts were enough to earn him admission to Denison University, a small liberal arts school in Ohio, where he is currently a sophomore. Indeed, small liberal arts schools in the midwest are a great fit for students like Mark, and highly under appreciated.

The ‘dabbler in many things and master of none’ does not need to be a weakness in the college process. With some tweaking of the resume and some tightening up of grades and test scores, he became a strong candidate for these programs, and most importantly, a perfect fit for college life on those campuses. To little surprise, he has thrived thus far in Ohio valley and has a bright future there.