“I knew you and I were a perfect match,” the young man begins, “ever since I laid eyes on you at my sister’s graduation. And spending time together this past year, learning everything there is to know about you, has only made me more convinced that you’re the one for me.
“And I believe you know everything there is to know about me,” he continues. “That I’m a hard worker, a deep thinker, extremely accomplished in and committed to my field but, at the same time, open to new ideas and adventures.
“I’ve told you that I volunteer at an afterschool literacy program and develop water-filtration systems for Third World countries. You know how much I value teamwork: I abandoned my high jump prospects in the 2016 Olympics in order to run the anchor leg on my school’s relay team.
“I’ve shared that MP3 of me playing oboe — at the White House. I’ve discussed my favorite books with you, including a few I’ve written, and I confided in you the story of how breaking my leg at summer camp set me on a path toward becoming a doctor.
“I’ve laid myself bare; I believe we have a future, that together we can accomplish great things.
So, how about it?” the young man says. “Are we a match?”
He gets silence in return. Lots and lots of silence. Six weeks of silence. Finally, the reply:
“Can I get back to you in a few months? I want to see if there’s someone out there I like better.”
This is my story. Not all the details — those stand in for every student’s over-amped college application resume. But a few months ago, I proposed to a college. Two weeks ago, the college deferred my application.
We’re not breaking up, exactly; we’re just giving each other some space. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. It wasn’t a mutual decision since I was 100% prepared to commit. But the university needed more time to decide if we were right for each other.
I’m trying to respect that. I’m resisting the temptation to bombard the admissions office with arguments as to why this school would be lucky to have me. I’m trying not to parse too closely the logic behind its saying that while I didn’t rise to the top among 5,000 other early action candidates, perhaps I will when the applicant pool expands to 35,000. It may just be the school’s way of letting me down easy, instead of rejecting me outright. It’s hard to know.
But here’s what happens when the university you’re smitten with puts you on ice: You start looking around. After all, you’re a pretty great guy, an excellent student with diverse accomplishments; you’re not going to be unattached forever. There are other fish in the sea.
You consider a school you don’t know very well, the one with killer U.S. News and World Report ranking and a campus that just won’t quit. You ask around. Everyone has great things to say. And it offers an interdisciplinary major in the two subjects most interesting to you. Let’s just say you’re intrigued.
And another one will allow you to take any class Pass/Fail so you can dabble in unfamiliar subjects without having to be concerned about your GPA. It never occurred to you before how liberating this might be. What new passions might you discover ?
There’s one that’s already hinted at a yes. It knows you want to be a writer/director, has seen one of your movies and wants you to know that it’s shoring up its media studies department. It feels good to be wooed. Another flirts with you by showing off its student-teacher ratio. It’s impressive. Maybe a more intimate college experience is what you want after all.
The risk a college takes in deferring a candidate for admission is that its ambivalence may make the student’s heart wander. The college can weigh its options, but so too can the student.
My first-choice college is going to take the next three months to reconsider me. I’m going to do the same. I am imagining how it might feel to walk across the quad of a different school, in a different state, with different initials on my sweatshirt.
And if it turns out that, after a three-month reprieve, my first choice chooses me back, I will approach my decision to accept or decline admission better informed about what alternatives are available, with a clearer sense of what I want and where I see myself.
Regardless, come next fall, I’ll be hitched, either to a long-time love or a new flame. Even though our relationship is unlikely to last more than four years, I fully expect that once we both decide we are meant for each other, there will be champagne and dancing.
Haskell Flender is a senior at Crossroads in Los Angeles.
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