Late Bloomers in Academic Achievement

Parents Helping Children With Homework At Kitchen Table


A late bloomer is a person who appeared to be of average ability throughout childhood and often into adulthood. Throughout early school years, the grades of the late bloomer are mediocre. The late bloomer does not stand out in other ways either. He doesn't demonstrate any particular talents or abilities in academics or any of the arts. The late bloomer who goes to college may not stand out or excel there, at least not for the first couple of years

At some point, however, the late bloomer begins to do well. If in college, he will go from C average grades to straight As. If at work, the late bloomer will go from a barely noticed employee to a star employee.

The transformation is not due to overnight magic, however. Instead, it can be triggered by some event that happens one day or in a specific period of time. A mediocre student might attend college, and as he takes courses in different subject areas, he takes one that sparks his interest. It could be one that he never had the opportunity to study in high school or one that covers a topic in more depth than it was covered in high school. It is the interest that leads the student to excel. At work, it might be a new project that triggers a person's interest. It may even be an opportunity to compete that had been missing before.

The Motivation of a Late Bloomer

Late bloomers do not suddenly become smart or talented. They are most likely intrinsically motivated, which means that they are internally motivated. Their motivation comes from within them. They are not motivated by grades or praise, which are external rewards. Their reward comes from the pleasure of learning or achieving.

A late bloomer "blooms" when he finds something that interests him enough for him to pursue that interest.

A student who had never been exposed to the field of psychology may take a psychology course in college and find that she wants to pursue a career in the field. A young adult who had never been to the ocean or an aquarium might have made use of the opportunity to go on an oceanic fishing trip and realize she's interested in sea life.

Because discovering a passionate interest can motivate a child to work hard and excel, it's a good idea to introduce your child to many different topics and activities. This doesn't mean that you want to enroll your child in so many activities that he has no time for himself. It just means that you want to provide opportunities for your child to be aware of different subjects.

You may be able to turn your undermotivated, underachieving child into one who is eager to learn and highly motivated. Of course, the motivation might not be related to schoolwork. For example, a child may develop an interest in electronics, but since that isn't taught as a subject field, you may not see a change in schoolwork, but if he maintains that interest, your child could become a successful electrician or decide to study electrical engineering in college.

Ideally, all children would be challenged in school, but that doesn't always happen. If your child is not doing well in school, take heart. She may be a late bloomer. You might even be able to help her bloom.

Example of a Late Bloomer

Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs and former Secretary of State, described himself as a mediocre student throughout his first 12 years of school. He seemed destined to continue that way when he first enrolled at City College in New York. But Powell had enrolled in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and that changed his life. He went from being a mediocre student to an A student. He found his "calling."​

Additional Meanings

Children who experience developmental delays in speech or in physical or social development are also referred to as late bloomers. These would include children who experience late-onset puberty or children who have a disability such as ADHD or dyslexia. Any child who lags behind in development but who eventually catches up is a late bloomer.

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  1. Fischer C, Malycha CP, Schafmann E. The Influence of Intrinsic Motivation and Synergistic Extrinsic Motivators on Creativity and InnovationFront Psychol. 2019;10:137. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00137