One more month
For some of us, March Madness had nothing to do with basketball. The field of 16 was weeded by the early decision process. The elite eight were reduced this month as the ordinary admissions decisions showed up in the badly abused mailbox at the end of the road. And now, the final four must do battle.
For some of us, March Madness is the penultimate, anxiety laden, whipsawn month, when the colleges to which your kid applied announce their decisions. It would be nice if that were the end of it. But, it's not. March may end with the national basketball coronation, but the college application ordeal has yet more thrills in store. When March ends, the application torture that began about a year ago is nearly over, but before the blessed final decision, the one made by your college-bound student, there remains April Anguish.
The other day - a rainy one, oppressed by a nasty easterly wind - I ran into the Stones at the post office. They are summer residents, never here before June, just to be sure of the weather. Before I could think, I asked, What are you doing here? Not very hospitable, I know.
We're hiding, they said. And recovering.
I was shocked. Had there been some terrible misfortune? They have kids, I know. Had one become ill, been injured? No. It turned out that they were in recovery from college application season and then college acceptance season. They had left the kids back in Colorado.
We just fled, they told me. Who knows if the house will be there when we get back? We need therapy, intensive therapy.
The newspapers are full of stories about anguished college-bound seniors, depressed by rejection and uncertain about their futures. But who extends a helping hand to the parents, I'd like to know.
Of course, getting into college is tough these days, tougher even than it was a year ago, but USA Today, in a November news story, reported that of 857 four-year colleges with freshman classes greater than 1,000 students, only 2.6 percent accepted fewer than 25 percent of their applicants. And, in fact, 82.5 percent accepted more than half of those that applied. The analysis was based on 2004 data, the latest available according to the reporter, and things have changed no doubt, not in favor of the applicants. But despair and depression, at least for college-bound seniors, ought to be avoidable.
Writing on March 20 to the applicant horde, Marie Hartwell-Walker, a doctor of education, makes comforting noises: "Will the college you really want accept you? Will you get enough financial aid? What if the only school that is excited about you is the one you weren't very excited about? Maybe friends have started getting envelopes thick and thin and the only school you've heard from is the "safety school" you applied to last minute. Talk about stress . . ."
Ms. Hartwell-Walker offers advice. "Getting into your first choice is not as important as you think. Schools spend millions advertising their uniqueness, their specialness, their wonderfulness. After all, they have to fill the freshman class and they have to justify the considerable expense of going there.... The point is that a 'top choice' is partly a reasonable response to good information, partly a reaction to how it 'felt' on the day you visited, partly a function of what schools you investigated. You can rethink it.
"Rejection from a college is not the end of the world. Yes, the information about who got accepted and who got rejected goes through the high school like wildfire. And there are always the competitive types who will feel somehow superior because they lucked out and you didn't. But rejection from a college, or even several colleges, is not the end of the world. The way you handle a rejection will have an influence on how others perceive you and how you feel about yourself. Although it may be hard to see it at first, sometimes having to alter a plan is a gift. Keep things in perspective and focus on what you want to do next."
Very wise, all of it, but all of it is aimed at the kids. The Stones want to know, What about the parents? What about the tattered lives of the grownups who've suffered through the whole dreadful experience, and whose reward is to pay the bills? Enough about the kids, what about us?