Fall Applications Lead to Spring Anxiety (10/15/14)

Trading Back to School Night for collegiate sweatshirts

I usually look forward to fall and its seasonal transitions, like switching from swimwear to sweatshirts—but this fall is bittersweet.

My two sons share a combined enrollment of eight years at the same high school, and recently I attended my final back-to-school night. I welcomed the opportunity to meet teachers and learn about my younger son’s senior year; and I hoped, for just one night, to escape the college deadlines creeping closer.

Arriving on campus, my naïve optimism quickly clashed with well-meaning questions about my son, “Where’s he applying?”

Immediately I realized, ready or not, I’d better buckle up to ride the college admissions rollercoaster set to impact my family, again.

As much as I complain about the application process there’s one part of it I cherish – the college tours with my son. I covet our trips together visiting vibrant campuses, exploring scholastic bookstores and imagining his academic future.

After returning home from our last college trip, my son narrowed his college application list into the three suggested categories: safety, probable and reach.

Poignantly, my son’s number one choice is a reach school the furthest distance from our home. This school is also the most elite and extensively diverse university on his list.

Since my son’s middle name may as well be homogenous, I’ve gathered academic information about his legacy ancestor hoping he’ll find a way to weave a thread of his heritage into his application—personally, it’s a double-edged collegiate sword.

Students applying to colleges today face an increasingly competitive environment and it’s predicted to continue as each year it appears the number of college applicants go up and the rate of acceptances go down.

The University of California system recently released its freshman application data for fall 2014. The nine campuses reported receiving approximately 383,000 applications for approximately 33,000 spots.

It’s heartbreaking seeing my son stress about test scores, grade point averages, extracurricular activities and application essays, all intended to impress college admissions boards.

Many colleges expect prospective students to craft a compelling essay of approximately 500 words articulating to an admissions committee how they will stand out, while at the same time fit in, at their university.

Students labor for months to perfect their essay and admissions committee readers spend an average of less than five minutes evaluating each essay that can make the difference between an exhilarating acceptance and agonizing rejection letter.

Even though I hope (sort of) that my son gets accepted into his dream college I warn him that the school he attends doesn’t necessarily determine a bright and successful future.

I’m reminded about the story of a mom whose son received a rejection letter from an elite university, she coped by repeating her mantra, “The Unabomber went to Harvard.”

My older son spent his Thanksgiving vacation completing college applications and I anticipated my younger son delaying the process until then as well. But last week he started the application process to avoid the frenzy of filings over the holiday and risk of websites crashing causing him to miss crucial deadlines.

Armed with his college application checklist and my credit card, I suggested he tackle the state college applications first. I assured him his older brother found their application easiest to complete since letters of recommendation, essays, resumes, and transcripts aren’t sent electronically.

Apparently, like childbirth, I blocked out the painful process from three years ago, and the procedure proved far more labor intensive than I recalled.

Soon my son will complete all of his college applications. Then he’ll spend anxious months anticipating and hoping for university admissions letters inviting him to wear their collegiate sweatshirts in the fall.

After he’s reviewed every acceptance and rejection letter, my son will make his final decision and commit to one college.

And, just as I shed tears of joy 18 years ago when my son arrived and I wondered how our family would adapt to life with one more in our house, this time I’ll weep wondering how our family will adjust with one less at home.

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