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Next, settle on three safety schools. These are colleges
that will probably accept your child whether she wants to
be accepted or not. Unless, of course, they, too, are suddenly
deluged with applications.
If that should happen, go immediately to Plan LD. Late
Decision is essentially a behind-the-scenes triage system
that matches overlooked students with one of the country’s
1,925 schools which still have room even after the admissions
process has officially ended. The good news is that some
of those are sleepers, good colleges that have yet to be
discovered. Until that happens, they will probably be happy to
take a look at an overlooked student or two.
“That’s not the way to do it!” Henry said, pounding his
fist on the table. Henry, a friend for over 20 years, normally
was not a fist pounder. But his daughter was also applying to
college and he was showing the strain.
He had just finished reading a study published by Harvard
University which provided incontrovertible evidence that
applying via Early Decision greatly improved an applicant’s
chances of being admitted to a highly selective college. It was
the equivalent of boosting SAT scores by 100 points. It could
double—sometimes triple—the odds favoring admission to
a prestigious college or university. The study, published in
a book entitled “The Early Decision Game,” was based on
analysis of 500,000 applications at 14 schools.
I’d heard some of this before, but assumed it was just one of
the many theories parents pass around but have no evidence
to support. Henry, however, was a statistics stud (he knew, for
example, the career batting average of every important Los
Angeles Dodger for the last 40 years). When it came to college
admissions stats, I figured if Henry said it was true, it had to
be true.
My husband was skeptical. Our daughter had so much
going for her, he argued. She had done her SAT prep classes
and brought her scores up 300 points. She had A’s in her AP
classes and was passing all her AP exams. She’d spent the
summer at the Rhode Island School of Design, painting. The
summer before, she’d been in Paris, drawing. She was bright
and talented—this was her father talking—and shouldn’t
be asked to limit herself to one school as required by Early
Decision. She should play the field for as long as she can.
It was true that Kate was in love with a dozen schools, all
different from one another: Barnard, Bowdoin, Brown, Colby,
Connecticut College, Carnegie Mellon, the University of
Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford, Vassar,
Wesleyan, Washington University in St. Louis—to name a few.
But when the blush wore off, I knew she’d dump some
of them because they had baggage she couldn’t handle. She
could deal with St. Louis, Providence, even Pittsburgh. But
Poughkeepsie? No way. Bowdoin was too cold; Barnard was
cold in a different way. The tour guide at Wesleyan had an
attitude.
Let’s face it, I ventured, there are problems with all of them.
Why not pick one now, and get it over with?
But most of the schools use a common application form,
so why not give lots of schools a chance? askedMarshall.
Because she’ll have less of a chance.
But she’ll be devastated if she goes Early Decision and
doesn’t get in.
She’ll be more devastated if she gets 12 rejections.
Why do you always have to worry so much? She’s going to
get in everywhere she applies.
Kate ended the debate by announcing that she would apply
Early Decision.
The application
They say the essay is the single most important part of
the application. It is the one thing that is truly unique, where
the applicant reveals a bit of who she is, how she reacts to the
world and what matters to her.
Since I was a writer, I was only too happy to offer my
assistance in this endeavor. She should write about Iraq and
Afghanistan to show her knowledge of current affairs. She
should do more than send a portfolio of her art; she should
write about it and turn her art into words.
She rejected everything I suggested. Instead, she wrote
about herself—why she practiced yoga for two hours a day
seven days a week, how it felt to drink a cappuccino at a
sidewalk cafe in Paris. She explained how she had come to
choose this place, Connecticut College in New London, a
former women’s college most people in California had never
heard of. She wrote about how impressed she was with the
college’s new center for art and technology, and how she
liked the large number of foreign students on campus and
the even larger number of domestic
students who went abroad to study.
New London may not have been
the sophisticated urban center of
her dreams, but it was only a short
train ride to New York, Boston or
Providence.
What really won her heart, she
admitted, was the view from campus
of Long Island Sound. Without it,
New England would be just too
claustrophobic for a girl fromCalifornia
who needed a large body of water and a
big horizon stretched out before her.
Oh great, I thought, she’s going to come off as the
quintessential California girl. They’ll be making LA jokes
around the admissions table all winter. But when I finally sat
down and read the entire application, I was astonished. I had
no idea how fascinating and engaging this daughter of mine
had become. This was a young woman who had everything
going for her; she was a force to contend with. There was no
way any college admissions committee would pass on this
one, not even Connecticut College, which turned down 67
percent of its applicants this year.
Naturally, I didn’t bother to organize applications to other
colleges so she could get them out quickly in the event she was
deferred or turned down by Connecticut College. I told her
not to worry about getting additional recommendation forms
to her teachers. She’d hear fromConnecticut on December
15; her high school didn’t close for Christmas vacation until
December 19. Even if the worst happened, she would still have
four days to get everything together.
The letter was late. We had expected it before the weekend,
a little ahead of schedule. Some colleges send out acceptances
An administrator told
a group of alumni
that in one year alone
Harvard rejects enough
valedictorians to fill
the freshman class
four times over.