Well, the past week has been decision week for early decision applicants, and even though I’m two years removed from the process I still feel my pulse quicken, my palms sweating, and basically the whole flight or fight response kick in. (I’m not a fighter—get me Sully!)
Surprisingly, a New York Times survey of elite colleges reveals that all but two (Yale and Williams) reported increases in early-decision applicants. That’s surprising because, what with times being tough and all, you would think that applicants and their parents would want to keep their options open in terms of financial aid, whereas most early decision programs are binding, thus eliminating any negotiating leverage.
The paradox is explained by someone quoted in the Times:
“The fear of not getting in is a trump card,” said Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, a private school, and a former admissions officer at Stanford. “That fear is more powerful than any piece of factual information, such as, ‘Gee, colleges are having a hard time with financial aid, maybe we should cast our net fairly widely and not jump the gun and throw our eggs all in one basket.”’
Yup, this process brings out fear and all sorts of other emotions. At our suburban high school, the winter concert was scheduled for the very same evening when many seniors got the word, so there was the unfortunate spectacle of kids coming out on the stage in tears to do their solos. A friend told me that on the day before decisions were announced he got a bizarre phone call from a coach who had been semi-recruiting his daughter: “Tell her to call me when she hears if she’s gotten in.” My friend thought that was the equivalent of white smoke. But no, the child was not even deferred, but rejected. He still has no idea what was going on with that phone call. And here and there one sees unseemly outbreaks of schadenfreude—people (almost always grownups) made merry by the misfortunes of their neighbors’ children.
The whole thing is bad medicine. My congratulations to all those who got good news, but to everybody else, I quote the immortal words of Bruce Springsteen: “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny!”