HIGH STAKES Chapter 1: The start of something terrifying

When President Thomas C. Hudnut gave the graduating class their final “class dismissed” on June 8, the juniors watching the ceremony and those at home had, in the blink of an eye, become seniors. As the audience filtered through the refreshment tent, the students experienced the exhilaration, but also the heavy burden, of becoming seniors. The time had come to prove themselves. Now, they had to reach the goal that four years of high school had built towards—getting accepted into college.

Eli, whose name, like all others in this story, has been changed, will apply to 10 schools. Boston University, Emerson College, the University of Miami and the University of Southern California top his list.

“For me, choosing schools mostly came down to program choice,” he said. “All the schools I’m most interested in are very well known nationally for their communications programs, especially those in broadcast journalism and radio.”

Eli will probably apply early decision to Boston University and early action to Emerson, two programs that do not conflict.

Besides strong communications programs, Eli is also attracted to the schools because of Boston. He spent five weeks in the city over the summer and refers to it as a city with all the draws of Manhattan but one that is “less in-your-face.”

In addition to his top four choices, he is applying to six other schools, including Northwestern.

“I don’t list Northwestern as one of my top choices because I think of it as such a ridiculous reach, but I’m still applying there,” he said.

Although Eli wants to leave California for college, his parents have other ideas.
“If my dad had his way, I would apply to USC, but he knows that I want to leave, so he doesn’t push it to extremes,” he said. “He would rather I go to University of Miami or USC because he thinks I’ll miss out on the whole rah-rah school spirit thing that BU and Emerson really don’t have.”

Over the summer, Eli has worked on the Northwestern and Emerson applications and has finished the Common Application.

“My dean puts all of my top choices in the 50/50 category except for Northwestern which is a realistic challenge,” he said.

“50/50” implies a higher probability of acceptance than “realistic challenge.”

Unlike Eli, Melanie has decided not to apply early anywhere.

“December is too early for me to decide where I want to go to school,” she said.

Melanie will apply to four UC campuses—Los Angeles, Berkeley, San Diego and Santa Barbara. She will also apply to the University of Pennsylvania, Michigan and other schools in the Northeast and Midwest. Although she loved Penn on her spring college tour and still refers to it as her first choice, she is now unsure about leaving California.

“My family is really important to me,” she said. “It would be really hard on them if I went far away, and I don’t know if I could leave them.”

Judy spent part of her summer touring schools in California and went on one of the school’s college tours over spring break. She returned from her most recent trip with a new appreciation for California schools.

“I think people are sort of too into the whole Ivy-League thing,” she said. “There are also great schools on the West Coast. I think people don’t realize how good they are here. I’m also a California girl. I don’t like the snow. I love the sun.”

She is still trying to figure out if and where she will apply early. Of the schools she is applying, she has chosen USC, where she may apply early, Boston College and UC Berkeley as her three favorites. The UC system does not offer an early admission option.
Judy is a varsity athlete and has been recruited by some schools, although she is not interested in attending any of them.

“I have been playing my sport for six or seven years now, so I could go without playing in college,” she said. “But, if it could help me get in, I would probably play for the first year.”
She is also a minority, and, although her dean has never told her how that affects college decisions, she does think that they will choose a minority applicant over a comparable Caucasian applicant.

“The top colleges are all looking for more minorities,” she said. “There is almost no diversity at all the campuses.”

After touring schools across the country, Rick has decided to apply early action to Yale.
“I originally wanted to apply early to Stanford, but I’ve heard that there are so many people there that are so focused, and they don’t let themselves have fun,” he said. “It’s not a very good college experience. And I’ve heard Yale is the most fun of the Ivies. Kids have the best time there.”

Besides the social life, Rick, a devoted musician, was attracted to Yale and his second choice school, Vanderbilt, because of their music programs.

“You can’t really pick a better town to be in for music than Nashville,” he said, referring to Vanderbilt.

While Rick’s strong SAT scores and grades give him hope through the process, he is not overly confident.

“None of my top schools are slam dunks for anybody, especially not Yale,” he said. “I’m not going to be devastated if I don’t get in.”

The Chronicle will follow these four students’ stories in upcoming issues.

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