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By Ana Veciana-Suarez
Where I live, the land of perpetual green, nothing ushers the arrival of spring like a fat -- or thin -- letter from the college of one's dreams. Ah, yes, it's that time again, when thousands of anxious applicants will rip open an envelope (or click on a website) to find out their post-high school fate.
Thank goodness this is my last season of waiting.
Come summer, I'll never again have to worry about SAT scores, GPAs, APs or other references that denote an ambitious college track. I doubt I'll miss the hoopla and hand-wringing. My youngest, now a high school senior with a foot (and an arm and all of his brain) out the door, will head north to a state school, his first choice.
But hardly a day goes by without a frantic call from a friend whose child is facing the inevitable: college rejection!
In all my years of parenting, I've not seen a spring so peppered with NOs. Then again, this shouldn't come as a surprise. It's been widely reported that, even as college costs skyrocket, college applications are way up and college acceptances are way down.
One of my son's classmates, a soccer team captain with an impressive list of extracurricular activities, had very decent SAT scores, in the mid-1,300s, and a matching grade point average. Yet he didn't get into the state school of his choice. Nor did the son of another friend, whose academic and sports credentials would've made him a sought-after applicant a decade ago.
My sister, who interviews hopefuls for her undergraduate alma mater, a school with an acceptance rate that rivals the Ivy League, claims that the high school seniors she meets are more polished, more poised, more accomplished and more competitive than ever before. "When I talk to other alums, we wonder if we'd even get in these days," she laments.
Probably not. Acceptance from the "right" college is Big Business these days, with an amazing array of counselors and coaches feeding parents' over-the-top angst -- an insecurity that begins when a child toddles into preschool hoping to beat out the others with her knowledge of colors and shapes. A Manhattan woman sued a $19,000-a-year preschool for jeopardizing her daughter's chances of getting into an elite private school, or later in life, the Ivy League. Yes, it's come to this.
When The Daily Beast website had Kristina Dell, an editor at Newsweek.com, crunch the numbers at 28 schools to find projected admission rates, she concluded that the class faced "one tough admission season." Rejection records, she wrote, were being broken all over the place.
As were plenty of hearts. I heard from a friend of a friend whose daughter, a brilliant musician, was turned down by a school she had aspired to since she was in seventh grade. Lauded, applauded and complimented for most of her educational career, she was shocked and depressed. So was her mother.
It hurts in so many ways when a deserving child gets a door slammed in his face. It does, it does. But rejection is often an opportunity, a window opening to territory that might have never been explored. It also masquerades as that nudge to work harder, better, faster.
Warren Buffett, considered the greatest investor of our times and one of the richest men in the world, was rejected by Harvard. A few decades later, I bet that vaunted university is sorry.
Every student sobbing over a skimpy college envelope should know that.
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