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College admissions: yes, no, maybe

YES, no, maybe, that's what they promise to tell you soon enough so that your deposit can be sent to the admissions office by May 1. We're waiting right now. I use we advisedly because we all -- that's my husband, me, and Susie, our first, our high school senior -- are involved. It is not a clear-cut case. The counselors have said that; one though eased us out the school door with a soothing, ``Not to worry, not to worry.''

Since we camped -- my husband on the chair that the puppy chewed and me on the basement stairs -- next to the word processor while Susie ground away at her life, we too are part of this college application business. And we were the handmaidens, the ones who paid $9 to Federal Express on five dif-ferent occasions to guarantee that applications would arrive on time.

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The colleges are mixed up in our heads now. They're all east of the Mississippi, east of the Poconos, up from Washington -- that's how you view the map if you live west of the Mississippi. They're the good old places like Ambury, Princebridge, Willmouth, Swarthford, Vassly, Wesgate; the kind of places that the gents at the downtown luncheon club hold dear.

At the lunch club, the men have announced definitively that answers from the Ivies are received on the 15th. That's right. On tax day. But how could that be? Two weeks ago my neighbor mailed me an in-vitation to a nursery benefit; it arrived yesterday. The lunch club fellows don't know Bill, our mailman. He's on his way, we can tell, because he smokes a cigar. The smoke drifts ahead of him down the street, sometimes even circles a-round his sack, hiding the mail. Like the nursery benefit invitation.

When my husband asks the men at the club for a definition of Ivy, the answers represent the generations. Classicists assure him that if a letter arrives on the 15th, it's an Ivy. A transplanted Texan thinks Ohio has some Ivies. And the oldest of the Old Guard deny Ivy to any place that admits women.

As for those other schools, like the Seven Sisters, my mother's reading group tells her that Vassly mails on April 1. Always has. Doesn't see any need to make the poor dears wait the way the men do.

Mind you, Vassly is high on our list. So on the 4th, we begin to watch the mail. Susie calls home at lunchtime. The cleaning woman says, no, she hasn't smelled Bill's smoke yet. There's no Vassly that day. Nor the next.

One thing we know for sure -- there are never any leaks from the Ivies. Never. Doesn't happen. That's how the Ivies are. The phone rings that night. Bob -- a ``local alum,'' who had interviewed Susie for Will-mouth, one of the crown jewels of the Ivies -- comes on the line.

We hear Susie answer in that hiccuping way she has when she's excited. ``Fine, fine, sir.'' She's never called anyone sir before.

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``Oh yes,'' we hear her answer. ``The whole family is free on the 17th.''

Bob has invited Susie to a Willmouth dinner that night. It seems he also muttered something about it looking pretty positive.

If it's not a leak, is it a consolation prize? Restaurant chicken with a scoop of stuck-together rice for the so-sorry candidates? How about the wait list? Maybe Willmouth has a tradition of waiting together, holding hands to keep up the spirits.

The days go by, and we wonder if Bill has dropped ashes into his sack, sizzling the two letters due from the Sisters, sending up charred scraps of paper we will never see, but that surely say, ``Oh yes, Susie, we want you because of your lovely pen-and-ink drawings!''

My father-in-law, an Old World gentleman, calls to ask if Susie's applied to Tubingen.

At the lunch club, the word comes down. The Ivies mail on the 10th. Always have. Never will change. All of them. No leaks, repeats the school counselor. The East Coast is a class place where there aren't any leaks.

Tuesday the 9th. There's never any mail on Tuesday. Perhaps a cleaners' coupon for storing furs over the summer; a chimney sweep who'll give a free estimate. Bill usually takes the day off, so we won't even smell the mail working its way down the street.

Nobody hurries home. At 4:30 p.m., I pull in the drive from one direction, Susie arrives with the car pool from another. The mail peeks out of the box. Susie drops her backpack and runs.

There is a white envelope -- thick, so thick that it couldn't be a slim rejection, not even a slim maybe with a return card. So fat, so saucy, so unburned, so perfectly arrived on a day when there were to be no replies. Susie rips at the letter. Out tumbles a brochure of welcome with a glowing college seal. Class of '89. Then another one of those pages to be filled in. Finally, onto the ground falls a yellow card. ``Check here,'' I can read upside down. ``Yes, No, if No, Please Explain.'' Due, it says, on May 1.

Susan Rava is a professor of French by vocation and a writer by avocation.

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