Students learn not later than the end of March which schools offered them admission and which did not. By the start of May, after effort that ranges from going to college visitation weekends, campus tours, on line research, blogs, parents, relatives and friends opining to varying degrees (within and not earshot of the student) to in some case doing very little, the student sends a commitment letter with a check to the college of his/her choice.
At least, that's how it used to be...
Several high school seniors with whom I have spoken at events in recent days are wait listed and still hoping to hear from some of these schools before they actually decide their plans for this fall. My own child got word on Friday that a school she had a great deal of interest in has taken her off the wait list and offered her admission, and she is now torn about how it feels to perhaps turn down a perfectly good school that is really interested in her and to which she "committed." I also have heard some students comment that they turned down offers from schools where they were wait listed, they did not want to protract their plans, and, I pereceive, the anxiety.
There is nothing new mechanically about what is occurring, but the churn rate appears to have gone up by one or two orders of magnitude. The Common App, the ability to "customize" applications thanks to slick computer programs that require just minutes to edit and tailor content to appear "custom" to a specific school, the perception that it is better to apply to a bunch of schools, since it is just a numbers game and a crap shoot who gets in where (a little bit of strategy and a little bit if cynicism here)--all this and more has led to many students and families still with plans in a somewhat suspended state, and an unfortunate and helpless feeling that maybe, just maybe, the student will get into XXX place after all, instead of celebrating accepting at a college and beginning the planning around heading there come fall.
I have had dicussions with many parents about how our parents and we chose colleges to apply to and how we decided where to go. I really am glad that the process we have used with our two kids was much more thoughtful and thorough in supporting our kids compared to what we experienced at that age. Most parents with whom I spoke generally share the same point of view, even though we all largely had good experiences in college, despite the way we went about ending up there.
Still, this "new improved" process that kids are going through in this day and age seems to have had at least one largely unexpected and unpleasant consequence for many students and families. As one college President said in an admiited student function we attended in April--the whole thing is overblown, and the anxiety of choosing between several appropriate options does not really lead to the student's ultimate college choice and experience being improved, except on the margins, in some cases.
It is hard to put this in persepctive as one goes through it, but until this past several weeks, I did not appreciate the way it affects the thinking of the students who are making an important life choice, and the way it protracts the emotional roller coaster ride that Palo Alto and students elsewhere now experience. Unfortunately, I don't think the ride is going to revert back to an earlier, simple time, and many students and families going forward must be prepared for a couple more twists and turns before they finally arrive at the terminus.