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The Agony of College Acceptance Time

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During my son's junior year in high school, he got more mail than Santa at Christmas. Granted, they were all college brochures, but still. Overwhelmed by the choices, my husband and I suggested that he pick a handful of colleges to visit. After checking his schedule, he registered for open houses at every shape, size and type of college located within a three-hour radius of our house.

The first we attended was at my alma mater, a downstate campus my son had been to before. After hearing the admission director's presentation and peering into an actual dorm room inhabited by a real, live college student, he was sold. No need to look any further. This was where he wanted to go.

"Whew! What a relief," I thought.

Then, came the next open house.

This time, we found ourselves at a small private college nestled in the suburbs. My son joined a campus tour led by a vivacious upperclassman named Kristi. By the time the tour was over and we were enjoying the complementary catered lunch under lovely white tents situated in the middle of their diminutive "quad," he was busy reshuffling his choices.

"Well, good. This is all part of the decision-making process," I reasoned.

Five campus tours later, he had a solid list of schools to which he wanted to apply. One was a "reach" school, two were slam-dunks and two were fall back schools, but only one of them was his dream school.

When my son walked onto this college's campus, my husband and I saw it in his face before it even hit him. That's where he belonged. When we drove home from that event, his smile said it all.

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So, naturally, when it came time to fill out his applications, he spent the most time on that particular one. Deciding which faculty members to enlist for letters of recommendation was the easy part. He still had to write the essays. Thank goodness for application deadlines.

Typically not one to fret, my son was frequently seen sporting a small crease right between his eyebrows. Not a good look for him, but it was about to get worse. He still had to draft the required essays. Since writing is not his strong suit, I expected to see white hairs sprouting at his temples. The English major in me wanted nothing more than to crank them out on his behalf. But, since I had no intention of sharing a dorm room with him, I stepped back and suggested that he run his drafts by his favorite English teacher for feedback instead.

The deadline was just days away when he finally submitted his entire application packet. By the end of that month, he had the rest of the applications submitted as well.

Then we waited.

White hairs had begun sprouting at my temples, and I, too, began eagerly anticipating the arrival of the mailman.

The first two letters came a month later. One was from a slam-dunk school. As expected, he was accepted. The next came from his reach school. Not surprisingly, he got wait-listed. He was not upset.

Weeks went by before we heard from any of the other schools. By this time, white hairs had begun sprouting at my temples, and I, too, began eagerly anticipating the arrival of the mailman, so much so that at one point he went out of his way to remind me that he was a married man. My son, in the meantime, checked his online profile on the school's website so often that he got locked out of his account. All we knew was that he'd be notified either way by April 1st. As the day approached I tried keeping myself busy with all manner of preparations, and my son, thankfully, had finals to study for.

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Then it happened. After spending the day trying to find the perfect gift for my son's birthday, I had just arrived home empty-handed, save for a pair of lousy socks, when I intercepted our mailman in the driveway.

When he saw me, he cringed. I held out my hand. When I saw the envelope with the dream university's letterhead on it, I let out a small scream and ran inside, leaving him wondering if I slipped something other than cream into my coffee that morning.

I inspected the envelope. It was addressed to my son. I couldn't open it, but I held it up to the light and squinted at the words, barely visible, on the enclosed letter. All I could make out was, "Congratulations on your ... ."

I gasped.

Then I did what any self-respecting mother would do. I hid it. On the morning of his birthday, he obligingly thanked me for the new socks. Then I handed him the perfect gift.

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