Maybe you've noticed that high school senior on your block standing by the mailbox, waiting nervously, looking for all the world as if his Rolling Stone was two days late. It's worse than that. It's the time of year when colleges finally end the suspense with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a few million applications. That's the end of the story. We're going to start at the beginning of the process, as told by one applicant, Angie Littwin, a senior at Dulaney High School in Timonium. Her father, Sun sports columnist Mike Littwin, couldn't resist a few insights of his own.
What's your most humorous experience in the last six months involving trigonometric identities and lawn mowers?
If you could have dinner with any circus animal, living, dead or fictional, what appetizer would you serve?
Are you with me so far? If not, let me explain. I am sitting here writing an essay about the tortuous process of writing college essays. I'm an expert. In the just-completed college-essay season, I wrote 15. I can't believe I'm sitting here on my bed again, with my favorite pen and several sheets of blood-sweat-and-tear-stained paper, waiting for inspiration.
Why am I doing this? Either I'm a masochist, or I'm doing it for the benefit of future high school seniors.
I guess I should start with the beginning. It all started back in the 10th grade when I took the PSATs (a test designed to whet your appetite for the three-hour SAT extravaganza to come). I foolishly filled in the "Yes" oval to the question: "Do you want your scores sent to colleges so they can send you information?" The College Board kept its word, and come spring, my mailbox overflowed with sincere form letters informing me that my scores indicated that I, too, could be among the college students featured smiling and studying underneath trees and on steps in the brochures.
By the way, when I later visited the colleges, I sought out trees and staircases and never found a single student smiling and studying simultaneously. My friend and I considered offering our services to pose studying on the steps.
Midway through the 11th grade, it occurred to me that this wasn't all a Postal Service joke and that I should sit down and figure out what I was going to do about my higher education. So, I bought two books, one put out by the Yale Daily News and the other by Lisa Birnbach. They gave all the important statistics and a write-up to capture the feel of the individual college. I decided on my criteria -- a small-to-medium-sized liberal arts school, with a diverse population and a good English department -- and began to read.
I picked up a few interesting facts, including the American
college experience's best-kept secret . . . nobody dates. I swear I'm not making this up. In the books' sections on the dating scene, it was reported that nobody dates at any of the schools. I don't know what high schools these people came from. It leaves me with one question: What do they do? Apparently, dating in groups is acceptable. There is one exception, Brigham Young. Students don't have coed dorms, they can't smoke or even drink coffee, and premarital sex is highly discouraged. But they do date.
By reading these books, I was able to narrow my college choices to about 20. Now I was ready to begin the next phase, college tours.
Over the spring break of my junior year, my parents, a friend and I set off across America to see what we could see of higher education. The idea sounds good in theory. We planned to take the college tour, spend the night in a dorm and figure out what makes each college distinctive. It wasn't quite that simple.
This particular year Maryland and New York public schools had their spring breaks the same week. At every college, they seemed stunned and ill-prepared for the number of people who showed up. We would be herded into a small room where there were invariably never enough chairs, and we listened to what seemed like the same speech over and over again. It went like this: The school had recently relaxed its core-curriculum requirements; I could design my own major if I so desired; the foreign language departments were so unique they even offered Swahili (Swahili, every time). One parent would ask about college campus safety, and we would be told about the escort systems that are unique to every college. Another parent would ask about advanced-placement credit. If it was a large college, a parent would ask about class size; a small one, resources. The parents asked many more questions than the students.