Dear Small, Prestigious Liberal Arts College (which shall remain anonymous and henceforth be referred to as ‘SPLAC’ for the sake of brevity), I want to thank you for not admitting my son last year.
No, really. This isn’t meant as a slight against your fine institution. I really liked it and he really, really liked it – enough so that he applied “early decision,” which would have bound him to attend no matter what sort of financial award he might have received. As much as he pledged everlasting devotion to you in the multiple paeans (supplemental essays) you required, I can now confess that he waffled a bit between playing the early decision card for SPLAC or Super Prestigious University in the Midwest (SPUM). His two visits to your campus really did convince him, though, that SPLAC was the place he could spend the next four years enlarging his mind, making lifelong friends and sampling contraband in his dorm room on the weekends.
From the beautiful, manicured grounds to the old stone buildings with just the right amount of green stuff on the walls (not ivy – lichen perhaps?) and the values of the founding religious sect that we were told ad nauseam still affects everything that happens at SPLAC and makes it unique, we were entranced. My own alma mater (more on it later) is, to be perfectly honest, an architectural abomination compared with yours and lacks any WASPY pedigree. Heck, it was founded in the 1940s, barely making it older than some local junior colleges. The one building that looked old (but wasn’t) and had anything growing on it was knocked down for safety reasons.
He really thought he had a shot at being admitted to SPLAC and so did I. His test scores were just shy of perfect and above average for your freshman class, he speaks Japanese, had started his own business, volunteered at Sunday school for years, had a great internship and headed a couple of clubs. We were led to think that this was the sort of “holistic” stuff one needs to make an application stand out. Wanting to believe, we ignored the fact that you had never, ever admitted a student from his large public high school or even visited it.
So why on earth am I thanking you for denying his application and not even leaving him hanging with a deferral? For one, it was an early lesson in rejection. To his credit, he was sad for a day but moved on and didn’t allow it to affect his self-esteem. Most of his classmates got similar letters from their dream schools and many took it a lot harder. Their parents could tell them until they were blue in the face that an admission committee’s opinion doesn’t say anything about them as a person, but it’s hard for a 17 year-old to believe that.
My son moved on and got a bit of a lift when the acceptance letter to Large Impersonal State School arrived in the mail. Then his mom and I got a lift when a big, fat scholarship offer to LISS arrived a bit later. College isn’t cheap! One of our proudest days, though, was when he got an acceptance letter and a very generous academic scholarship to the place where we met 30 years ago – Brandeis University.
Why didn’t I imagine him going there in the first place? Maybe it was the old Groucho Marx syndrome of not valuing a club that had accepted me as a member. Now that he’s just completed his first semester at Brandeis, though, I see how silly I was. He loves it. Brandeis is even better than back in the day. He is being challenged academically and is surrounded by nice, smart kids. One of his best friends is a bright boy who also applied to SPLAC and was rejected (and his mom is an alum!). If not for SPLAC’s admissions committee, they wouldn’t have met and become potential lifelong buddies.
But what about the snob factor? Brandeis doesn’t have much ivy (or even lichen). There are no old oil portraits of distinguished men with white handlebar mustaches who headed the school long ago, or U.S. presidents as alumni. But, at least where I live, mentioning that my son goes to Brandeis gets a nod of respect – a “wow, he must be really smart” rather than a “wow, you must know someone or have donated a building.” A Brandeis professor just won the Nobel Prize this year and I’m sure that there will be more in the future. Hearing about my son’s classmates, I have high hopes for a current student achieving that sort of distinction too.
So thank you SPLAC. Your college really does seem great and I trust that most of your freshmen have made for a good fit. By not snatching my son out of the applicant pool, though, he wound up at place that was a great fit for him.