Application process harder than going to college itself

Now that the process is over for us, I can look back on it and smile and almost convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. Although there was plenty of anxiety and angst, more than a few tears, and the occasional harsh word spoken in anger, no one died, no one killed anyone else, the family remains intact, and we’ve all more or less resumed speaking to one another, or at least we hope to be once we finish our final rounds of intensive family counseling and primal scream therapy.

I’m speaking here, of course, about the college application process. I believe it was the great Winston Churchill who described the college application process as a riddle wrapped in an enigma surrounded by an essay.

I don’t know if it’s different with girls – I’ll have an opportunity to find out soon enough — but asking an 18-year-old man entering his final year of high school to stop thinking about his impending freedom and focus instead on selecting a college that he thinks he might be willing to grace with his presence for the next four years can be a bit of a challenge.

It’s even more of a challenge to get such a young man to agree to visit one or more of those colleges because doing so not only means having to be seen with one or more of his parents, it also means cutting into the time he has set aside for more important endeavors such as playing on-line poker, updating his page on MySpace and Facebook, and hanging out with friends in front of Safeway to swap stories about how lame it is to have to write stupid essays to get into college.

If you’re lucky enough to get your son or daughter to narrow his or her possible college choices, and if you are fortunate enough to get the applications, essays, transcripts and test scores rounded up and sent off to those colleges, you then find yourself waiting patiently to hear back from the schools. I am using the term “waiting patiently” here in its broadest and most inclusive sense, which, around our house, includes checking to see if the mail has come two or three times a day, even on Sundays, cursing the heavens and whoever it was that invented such a loathsome thing as college applications in the first place, and applying a little “percussive maintenance” to the mailbox as a way to encourage it to cough up acceptance letters more quickly.

If you are very lucky your son or daughter will be accepted at a college that he or she says they will actually attend, and your anxiety is over – until you find out what tuition and room and board cost at that particular institute of higher learning, at which point you may temporarily reach the same conclusion I did – a college education is highly overrated, if not overpriced.

Based upon my admittedly limited and very recent experience in this area, I nevertheless think I’ve been able to deduce a couple of universal and immutable laws of the college application process: If your child applies to more than one college, the one he or she hears from first will invariably be the most expensive one. If your son or daughter has a clear favorite, that will be the last one they hear from. If your offspring does not get accepted into his or her first choice, it will taint all second and third choices, and give your child a momentary thought about reopening the application process all over again, an impulse that must be resisted at all costs.

We have a one-year grace period now before we have to go through this process again. I like to think we may have learned a thing or two from our experience, and that the whole college application process will be easier the second time around. Of course, I also like to think that I may someday win a Nobel Peace Prize, play Madison Square Garden with the Rolling Stones and hit the winning shot in an NCAA championship basketball game. But none of those things are going to happen either. Except maybe the Rolling Stones thing. Keith Richards can’t last forever, particularly if he has a son or daughter applying for college anytime soon.

Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper. This is from his “Classics File” written years ago.