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College application follies - a cautionary tale

by Valerie Bock

Yesterday was the deadline for Early Decision for a number of selective U.S. universities. "Early Decision" permits students who are sure of their first choice school the opportunity to find out early whether they will be accepted in exchange for committing to attending that school if they win that acceptance. Many of these schools now use "The Common Application" a service which allows kids to apply once (well except for the supplements different schools tack on) to as many schools as they would like to pay the $50-$70 application fee to.

My youngest daughter is applying Early Decision to a school which just started using the Common Application, so despite my having been involved in the process twice before, with her brothers who currently attend her target school, there was new stuff for us this time around.

I am, among other things, a project manager. So I'm all about risk analysis and leaving slack in the timeline to accommodate the glitches which are inevitably part of any process new to its practitioners. This was not, however, a project which was nominally mine. I have a partner in the parenting-the-daughter project whose views on how one parents a teen through the college selection process are heavily weighted towards giving her ownership and control over said process. I basically agree with him, in theory. But I like to leave a lot of room for error on important stuff, and I'm the one who usually manages complex processes in this household, so to my mind, the two of them shared a sense of unfortunate naïveté with regard to the number of unknown things which could go wrong and hence justified setting a personal deadline well before the official one. So I have suffered through this process.

I wrote this up to amuse my sisters and sister-in-law, who have this fun to look forward to, and to my parents, aunts and uncles who have been through it, but I figured it might be fun here, too.

Here, for your edification and amusement, is my tale.

You would think that by the third kid, the whole college-selection-application thing would be a science. But no.

A timeline for your amusement, and for those of you who have yet to experience this, a cautionary tale.

School year 2005-2006: Darling daughter (DD) takes PSAT as a freshman. Does well. Colleges
start sending stuff.

School year 2007-2008: DD takes ACT for real. Colleges start sending stuff in earnest. Conversations begin about what she is looking for in a school.

Summer-Fall 2008: Research into schools gets serious. DD identifies that she wants a selective school, a university, good writing and pre-med curricula, a defined core curriculum, proximity to a major city, not too far
from home.

September 2008: In conversation with mom about what schools are rising to the top of list, DD identifies a school we refer to here as Prestigious Midwestern University. PMU is where her brothers are, and where her parents matriculated from, so has been previously pushed very far down the list, as DD fancies doing something different. Mom asks, if that's what you want, do you want to apply early decision? DD bursts into tears. Mom suggests that this response is instructive, and we explore just what the concern is. DD worries that she could make a commitment, and something amazing might appear the moment after she does. So we talk about what she thinks might qualify as something amazing, and figure out how we might find that amazing thing BEFORE committing to a second-best option. She decides to take another look at Columbia.

Early October 2008: Heading out to dinner, DD comments to mom and dad that she's had an epiphany. It has occurred to her that if she were not accepted to Prestigious Midwestern University, she would be very upset -- not as a pride thing, but because it would make her very sad not to be able to go there. "So are you going to apply Early Decison?" "Yes, I think so." "When is the deadline?" "November 1."

Thus commences the period of intense difficulty for mom, who really would like to do DAILY "how's the application coming" checks but who figures that it's sort of not very useful to push the point when there is an upcoming campus visit weekend of Oct 10-12 after which there will be both an experience to write about and a looming deadline doing mom's work for her.

Oct 10-11: DD stays at PMU. Hangs with brothers and their friends, sleeps in brother's girlfriend's dorm room. Goes to football game with the crew from the Dorm and the fraternity. Has time of her life.

Oct 12: DD runs around city with Mom and good family friends Brett and Eric while Dad runs Chicago Marathon. It's a beautiful day, and the City is showing itself off to good advantage.

Oct 13: Mom starts asking "how is the application coming?"

Oct 19: Mom asks what the plan is for getting the application done. Asks whether there is any part which needs to be mailed, as there was for the boys. Is assured that all is done online. Asks whether teacher has been alerted to need for recommendation. Is assured yes. Dad suggests this level of oversight is unnecessary with highly responsible, highly motivated kid.

Oct 25; Mom asks where we are on the application. "Done, mom, just waiting for teacher rec which is expected Monday, and need to put a few finishing touches on essay." Dad again suggests this level of oversight is unnecessary with highly responsible, highly motivated kid.

Oct 26: Teacher rec comes home. (Teachers don't have to send the recs home, the rec can go with the transcript, but this teach always does. She's a terrific writer. We love her.) It's really great. Mom gets a peek at Essays, also really great. Mom makes a few suggestions, but is not really overly concerned whether they are adopted or not, because Essays are really great. Mom thinks maybe Dad is right -- this level of oversight might well be unnecessary with highly responsible, highly motivated kid.

Oct 27: Mom asks when we're pushing submit on the online application. DD says "tomorrow." Mom expresses concern, notes that many people push to last minute and it would be bad for the DD application to be part of the avalanche which brings down the server.

Oct 29 10:30 p.m. DD discovers that there is a form for Early Decision which must be printed out, signed by parents AND COUNSELOR, and mailed separately. And she can't get the damned thing to print. Mom is Unhappy. Chooses not to get out of bed, but promises to look at it in the morning.

Oct 30 6:45 a.mL Mom prints out form, signs, sends to school with daughter.

Oct 30 during school day: DD presses submit button on form, finally.

October 30 3:30p.m. Guidance counselor calls, apologizing for not looking at his part sooner, but noting that the schools using the Common Application want to see the app either altogether on paper or altogether online, and he is not set up to send DD's transcript online. Could she please print it out and bring it to her to play rehearsal and he will send it with transcript. DD comes home prepared to be victorious. Is unhappy, but goes to print out forms. Realizes that there is a teacher form which her teacher has already filled out online, but which is not printable by DD.

Panic strikes.

Mom recalls that DD spoke earlier about what is on that form, asks how she knows. DD says she's seen it on the paper form PMU sent. Light dawns. She calls teacher, but teacher is not answering phone. She calls counselor, but he's not answering phone either. Mom suggests popping an email to undergrad admissions, letting them know why her online submission will be incomplete, and that her paper one is coming but may be slightly delayed. DD grabs teacher form from PMU packet, adds mom-suggested post-it notes for which needs to be filled out by whom, delivers package to Counselor.

October 31, during school day: Mom sits on hands, trying not to be obnoxious helicopter parent. The counselor approaches DD -- there is a problem. There is a counselor recommendation sheet too, which she did not provide in her packet. ACK. (Why in the hell did we not think to go through that whole packet to check for anything else which might be necessary?) DD goes to class. Counselor apparently figures out how work the Common App site. Hooray, Internet! He fills out and prints form, sends packet out in school mail with October 31 postmark.

Have I mentioned, that aside from my hopes that my daughter gets the educational experience she is dreaming of, I'm REALLY hoping they accept her, because I don't EVER want to go through this again?

©2008 Valerie Bock
May not be republished without permission.

Last updated May 27, 2016


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