Passover and Easter were earlier than usual this spring but like clockwork colleges all over the country sent out their admission’s decision letters right on time. This annual rite of spring doesn’t affect my house this year, we have four years to go, but it’s easy to get caught up in the drama when you know someone whose child has been wrestling them to be first at the mailbox for the past week.
I remember my own experience like it was yesterday (and in my case this yesterday was over thirty years ago). I know firsthand that the failures and triumphs of admission’s week will trail these seniors for the rest of their lives (or until they’ve completed twenty years of therapy). I was a lack-luster high school student (as you may recall from last week’s post, Memory lane is a lonely road) and my father despaired of me getting in anywhere respectable. While my friends were grudgingly adding UMass as a “safety school” just in case there was an act of G-d and they didn’t get into the more prestigious universities, my dad was strongly advising me not to waste his money applying to anywhere other than UMass. I ignored him and applied to half a dozen or more schools, none of which was UMass.
I knew from all the seniors that had come before me that a thin envelope was not even worth opening since it signaled defeat; you wanted the fat ones. On April 9th, my father’s birthday, I got my first envelope, and it was fat. I’m sure I was happy that I was now assured a college education, but that paled next to the pleasure I took in waving that big, fat letter in my dad’s face and saying, “So there!”
The real victory that week was that I was accepted by a school that had rejected my straight-A, over-achieving, older sister. (In deference to her, since I’m sure this must still be a painful memory, being bested by her academically inferior little sister, I won’t name the school here but do email me if you’re curious.)
At the gym today, my neighbor on the next elliptical was shaking her head over the fact that her daughter had gotten into Oberlin, but not Tufts, but that her daughter’s friend had gotten into Tufts and not Oberlin. We agreed that there must be a capricious element to the whole process that no amount of extra-curricular activities could defend against. That knowledge, however, does nothing to take the sting out of receiving a thin envelope from the school you have your heart set on.
Even though I know it’s long past time for me to define myself by which colleges I was accepted by, I won’t be giving that up anytime soon. My other sister, also a straight-A, over-achiever, tells me that there’s no way we’d get into those colleges today. I say that’s the opinion of someone who didn’t have to buck the odds in the first place.