Four high school seniors awaited what might be the train to their future yesterday at Penn Station.
They have been accepted by Brown University, which reserved three cars of the northbound 9: 23 Amtrak train from Washington to take prospective freshmen to its campus in Providence, R.I.
It is one of the more unusual events of this season, a time when the roles are reversed. For months, students have been hoping that colleges would accept them. Now it is the colleges' turn to ask for acceptance.
Though some schools have been notifying applicants of decisions since late last year, the Ivy League schools and other highly selective colleges send most acceptances and rejections -- except for early admissions -- about the end of March. Students are expected to make up their minds by May 1. So April is the college courting season.
"I'm looking forward to meeting people today. We might be influential in each other's lives for the next four years," said Eva Struble, who is about to graduate from Carver School for Arts and Technology in Towson, as she waited at Penn Station. "We're going to spend seven hours together on this train."
Struble has pretty much decided on Brown, as has Justin Haas, a Gilman student. Pikesville High senior Adam Nemett is weighing acceptances at Brown and Princeton. Kara Mandell, also from Carver, is considering Wesleyan and Dartmouth.
"It's an extremely exciting time for her," said Mandell's mother, Linda. "She's got a great opportunity."
As the four waited for the train, several hundred high school seniors gathered a few miles north on Charles Street, at the Johns Hopkins University. It was the second of four open houses scheduled at Hopkins this week.
Small groups of a dozen or so high school seniors -- each with one or two parents -- were led by Hopkins students cheerfully reciting the facts and figures about the Homewood campus.
"It's very stressful," said Janet Greenberg, who had just finished the tour with her daughter Emily. Like many of the prospective freshmen, Emily Greenberg had spent the night before on campus with a Hopkins student.
"She is making a decision that might affect the rest of her life. They are just so afraid of making a mistake," Janet Greenberg said.
Paul White, Hopkins director of undergraduate admissions, said about 800 of the 2,850 students accepted by Hopkins for its class of 980 come to such open houses.
"It's very important for us," White said. Many prospective Hopkins students think the school is a huge university with a high-rise, concrete-laden campus. "One of the real selling points of Hopkins is seeing the place. This is not an urban campus, like NYU, Columbia or
The day at Homewood began with a talk from Robert Massa, dean of enrollment. "In the last decade, I've seen more students making their choice on the basis of status rather than substance," Massa said. "Sometimes Hopkins can benefit from that situation, but I'm not sure that students ever benefit."
Amy Pickering of Charlottesville, Va., was beginning a weeklong odyssey of the schools that accepted her, including Hopkins, Cornell, Columbia and Carnegie-Mellon, as well as her hometown school, the University of Virginia.
"That's a very good school," said her father, Craig, of his state's university, where tuition is a fraction of that charged by the private colleges on her list. "We're looking for some compelling reason to spend the kind of money it would cost to go somewhere else."
Such open houses are taking place at campuses across the state -- and nation.
"We had 500 people out here on Sunday," said Martha O'Connell, dean of admissions at Western Maryland College in Westminster. "I woke up and saw the weather and thought half the people would cancel, but they all came through the rain and hail and lightning.
"I think these students these days are so busy and booked up, [and] suddenly, here it is, they have to make the visit, or the revisit," she said. "And they stayed and stayed and stayed. We started at 1 and didn't leave until after 5: 30. There was a lot of tension in the group. It's decision time."
Loyola College chose Saturday for its open house. "It was a beautiful day," admission head William Bossemeyer said. "We had about 1,450 people here, maybe 550 prospective students. There were lots of questions about financial aid, which you expect at this time of year."
One thing that makes the Brown train different is that parents don't accompany the students -- it's a chance for them to be with their peers on the train and on campus, where they spend about 24 hours before heading down the East Coast.
Brown has been running the train for a couple of decades. The school encourages students from other parts of the country to fly into Washington or Baltimore and take the train instead of going directly to Providence. About 250 students sign up for the ride, about 10 percent of the students Brown accepted.
Brown President E. Gordon Gee got on in New York and rode the train to New Haven, Conn.
"It's a wonderful way for Brown to get to know the students and for the students to get to know each other," Gee said over the phone after leaving the train. "I met students from Texas, from North Carolina, from California, and they saw something of what their classmates are going to be like.
"By the time I got off, they had gotten out the guitars and were sitting around singing `Kumbaya.' "