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Countdown to college: The college admissions courtship

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

The college admissions process has occasionally been likened to an old-fashioned mating ritual.

It starts out with mutual flirtation: Student flirts with college, requesting information and perhaps visiting campus; college flirts with student, sending emails and a forest's worth of brochures, mailings and emails.

It starts to get a little more serious. A student may decide to “go steady” and apply as a binding Early Decision candidate, which means that if they are accepted, they must attend. Or many students choose to “play the field” and open up their search to include many colleges and universities.

Students apply, also known as the “prom-posal” period. This is where they are desperately demonstrating their love. They solicit letters of recommendations, send in affirmations in the form of transcripts and test scores, and write elaborate essays for each of their hopeful prospects. Colleges are now playing hard-to-get and are in hibernation mode, putting off making any decisions for months and months. Colleges hold all the cards in this phase and won’t share details on their decion-making process.

Students sweat through the waiting period, and then the notifications start arriving. They are often pleasantly surprised at the number of colleges that have decided they love them back. Or, they may be deflated by the breakup news when they receive rejection letters.

Then there are the colleges that just can’t decide, and they inform students that they need more time, stringing them along with no commitment at all. They ask students if they’re willing to wait. Some choose to wait, and others turn them down because they received better offers. Wait-listed students need to decide how much energy they want to invest in these relationships, because wait lists are unpredictable.


Some students have unrealistic hopes and expectations of a “destined” relationship that perhaps was never meant to be. But alas, it is often a one-sided romance. Try to prevent yourself from getting hurt again and again by finding a college that loves you just as much or more than you love them.

Offers are now on the table. Students are in control, and colleges are now the suitors. They eagerly await decisions from students, often making personal calls, sending gifts and welcoming them back to campus on “accepted student days.” They serve the best food on these special days that students won’t see again until graduation weekend. Campuses are as clean as Main Street in Disney World, and everyone is happy.

After recovering from what can be a devastating breakup, most students can identify which college represents the best fit for them. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, make a solid decision and live happily ever after.

My favorite anecdote/statistic that I heard at a college counselor conference is that by Halloween, 95 percent of students are at their “first choice” school. Kids are resilient, and most are happy wherever they choose to go.

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