the wait

March 21, 2014

Post image for the wait

It’s mid-March and a hellish time if you happen to be seventeen or eighteen years old and have applied to colleges. Some colleges have started sending out their acceptances and rejections, via email and sometimes letter. Most are coming in the next week or so.

Meanwhile my girl waits, on the very precipice of the next stage of her life, utterly unable to envision it because the specifics aren’t up to her. Will she wind up in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York City? Her future sits on the laptops of a bunch of admission officers in some far-flung universities. They’ve decided by now whether she’s in or out, but they haven’t let her know.

These have to be some of the suckiest few weeks in a teenager’s life. And it isn’t much easier for the parents, I’ll tell you.

Lulu applied to twelve colleges. A ridiculous number, but her original list contained a few very-hard-to-get-into schools along with some very small liberal arts colleges in remote places she’d never visited, and this kept her mother wide-eyed in the dark one night, and insistent the next morning that Lulu research a few more schools, so she would have “options” once late March rolled around.

Her mother also insisted that she apply to one school back home in California, to go with those other eleven on the east coast. Sheesh. It’s not enough that our oldest has been in New York City for almost four years now (and plans to stay after he graduates in May.) You might think our kids are trying to get as far as they can from their parents, because they pretty much are getting as far as they can from us, while still staying in the country. Lulu claims, though, that she just wants to experience living somewhere different–somewhere with snow and brick buildings and cannoli–and that she’ll come back to California for good.

I’m counting on that, young lady. I’m getting it down in writing here–on the Internet! No going back on your word now.

Twelve applications is a heck of a lot of work, I’ll tell you that too, from my second-hand perspective. Four years ago when H was applying, I wrote about the college application monster. H applied to film programs, so the process required short films and resumes and screenplays, along with the traditional essays. It also required a lot of nudging and nagging from his mother. Still, although Lulu only had essays to worry about, she applied to twice as many schools as her brother did, which made for a different sort of overwhelm.

I wouldn’t call the process a monster this time, though. Lulu, truth be told, required less from the nudging department. (I know I shouldn’t be sexist, but: girls.) Lulu approached the process differently. Every essay was an opportunity to understand herself better. A chance to distill herself into sentences and paragraphs. None were deemed finished until she’d wedged her soul between the lines. It was an awe-inspiring process to witness. And I did get to witness it because she rehearsed each essay first on me. Lucky me.

Wes Anderson appeared in her essays. Also, Lemony Snicket. Myers-Briggs tests were there, and street artists, and Franny and Zooey. I’m hoping that maybe she’ll let me share one with you here one day, after it’s done its job. The one she wrote for her Common App might make you teary, like it did her high school counselor.

I keep hoping that since Lulu got so much of herself into those essays, they spoke to those admissions officers–at least the officers at the schools that would suit Lulu best. I hope she emerges from those words and tells them where she belongs.

Hoping is all Lulu can do right now. But she can’t hope too hard; can’t hope too specific. It stinks. I try to distract myself, try not to wonder about the different possible permutations of acceptances, waitlists and rejections. Mostly, I try to stay off College Confidential, an online forum which is like a drug to desperate, worry-crazed applicants, where they scrape around for some clue about when a college will send their decision email, or some sign that they have a chance at that dream school. Most pathetic are the parents who lurk there like junkies. Okay, okay, sometimes I lurk. But least I don’t post. It’s those desperate parent posts, the ones in which they lay out why their kid really ought to get into that dream school that shake me awake like a Red Asphalt film in Driver’s Ed class. That scare me into clicking the screen closed.

Still, I understand what drives applicants and parents to College Confidential. As you’ve probably heard, the college application process has amped up over the years. It’s like The Hunger Games without the killing. If you don’t believe me, listen to this NPR story from a few years back, in which the interviewer sits in on decision meetings with admission officers from Amherst College. One of those officers cries.

It’s a crazy thing, to put the next four years of your life in the hands of strangers and to let them decide where you’ll wind up. At least Lulu did all she could to help them along.

And so we wait.

The only thing that keeps me from wishing away these last weeks in March is this realization: once she knows where she’s going, she’ll be once step closer to being gone.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny Briffa March 21, 2014 at 10:31 am

The thoughts and well wished of those who have gone before, as you have, go out to you and her. I believe in the end the young person they take to the college where they end up is really the most important thing. Lots of sincere care.

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patricia March 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm

“…the young person they take to the college where they end up is really the most important thing.” That’s lovely, Jenny. Whichever school she chooses will be lucky to get her, as far as I’m concerned!

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Dawn Suzette March 21, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Thoughts with you and her. It sounds like she got a lot out of the process. That is awesome in and of itself.
All the best in getting through this next week or so.

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patricia March 21, 2014 at 5:34 pm

She did get a lot out of the process, Dawn, and it was a neat for me to get to experience it with her. It would be nice to get into a school early decision, but she would have missed out on a lot of self-discovery–and I would have missed out too!

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Eliza Twist March 21, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Nothing about this seems like fun! Lately I’ve been banking a lot on how much easier parenting gets past the rigor of the first few years. It’s been the sort of thought that mostly rolls around in the back of my head and only surfaces periodically. The last time it did, I realized my folly. And you’ve just vindicated me. I can only offer the lame overarching encouragement that goes along the lines of somebody who’s so dedicated to honoring herself in the process of applying to college will most certainly thrive in her college years with the same sort of approach. And so the long term prospects most assuredly look good, in spite of the current drag.

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patricia March 24, 2014 at 7:37 am

It does get easier, Eliza, while at the same time getting more complicated. Any parent who has been a teenager can anticipate some of the difficulties! It requires less of you on a daily basis, and more of you in spurts. The constant care gets replaced with worry, I suppose.

This is lovely: “…somebody who’s so dedicated to honoring herself in the process of applying to college will most certainly thrive in her college years with the same sort of approach.” I think so too. Thank you for that!

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Susie March 23, 2014 at 7:19 am

The weight of the wait. I am watching many of my friends go through this as my kiddo took the ED route. I just believe it all happens the ways it is supposed to. Glad you daughter gained so much from the process.

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patricia March 24, 2014 at 7:40 am

We were hoping the ED route would work out too, but when it didn’t, she had those other eleven applications to put together! I think she learned a lot about herself through the process, so it wasn’t time wasted. It’s just that much longer to wait…

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KC March 24, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Oh my. Wishing her the best of luck! I remember apply to college. All I wanted was to go to art school. Everyone told me I had to go to a liberal arts college. I was a straight A student 17th in my class and I failed the SAT! But I got into all the colleges I applied too and was offered scholarships. It’s all so strange.

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patricia March 26, 2014 at 8:55 pm

It’s strange, unpredictable, and in many ways ridiculous. Did you end up studying art in college, KC?

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Nancy Carol March 25, 2014 at 8:21 am

I hope the next step involves choosing from twelve colleges! :-)

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patricia March 26, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Wouldn’t that be nice? It’s crazy, though. Talk to any eighteen-year-old who has applied to a handful of colleges, and ask him or her to tell you where they were accepted and where they were rejected. There is no rhyme or reason to it. Feels like a crapshoot! Hanging in there for the crapshoot…

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Kristin March 26, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I sympathize with both you and Lulu. I’m sure it will work out, but the waiting must be exasperating. Any day now I hope to hear where she has chosen to go–not who has chosen her. She has the ability to do a lot of interesting things in life. Ultimately it is she who will test the college.

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patricia March 26, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Exasperating, yes. You will hear all the gory details, my friend. ;-) In the end, I think this whole process has got to be making a more sympathetic person of her, if nothing else. And the world needs sympathetic people–like you!

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