The College Insider: Admissions Freak-Out Countdown #14: Much Ado About What Felt Like Something at the Time

06/01/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

So now you know.

You got what you wanted or you didn't, but isn't it strange, whatever you got, how quickly that polarity smudges into something fuzzier, like relief that the whole thing is over?

That seems to be the way extended anxiety works, whether you're waiting for admissions notifications or worrying about any of the other big issues that could fall on either side of undecided: A cure for cancer, pick your sub-type; the threat of war, ditto; the economy, tolerance, diversity, and so forth.

I am not a member of the snark generation, but you are right to observe a certain sardonic tone in that last paragraph. Now that you have an acceptance somewhere, you must admit that things have gotten a little bit out of hand, of late.

The most frank among you will go even further, and confess to feeling chagrin at the way you've behaved. No matter. The best thing about any acceptance at all is that it spells an end to the situational madness, which is part of the reason you're feeling so grateful. You have been formally, officially let off the hook the whole family's been dangling from since last September, if not September of, oh, say, seventh grade.

Getting into college - any one of the colleges on your list, even the bottom-feeders, which suddenly don't look all that bad, right? - restores your equilibrium, at least temporarily. And when I say "you" I include everyone, seniors and parents alike. Bask for a couple of days before you address the ambiguities that may have accompanied the acceptance you like best, and yes, I'm talking about the wait list and a family's single opportunity for revenge.

The double deposit.

May 1 is the normal - now there's a word you rarely here when talking about college admissions - deadline for signaling your intention to attend a specific school, but of course May 1 is also the start of the extended wait-list season, known in some glum circles as the second acceptance season. For the last couple of years, schools who are off their game because of the unexpected flood of apps have started putting more and more qualified students on wait lists, and leaving them in limbo for a small eternity.

Why? In case they're too qualified, in case they get in someplace better and enroll there instead. In the good old days of single-digit apps, schools could depend on a formula to predict what percentage of accepted students would end up deciding to attend, and the better that crucial percentage - their yield - the better a school looked.

But now, you wanton seniors, you're flirting with a dozen schools, or two dozen, and mathematical certainty has gone out the window. So schools are likelier to accept students they're fairly certain will attend, and put some great candidates on hold.

They have no problem prolonging the agony? Parents who can afford it are quietly retaliating by writing a check on May 1, an insurance check, if you will, and then making a second deposit if something better comes along.

I make no judgment. I'm only telling you that people do it. You can also check out the high-road strategy for beating the wait-list, if you so choose; the folks at the Fiske Guide probably helped you get this far, and they'd like to finish up the job.

Or you can do both, do your homework and cut the second check. Because 'fess up: After all these months of doing exactly what every guide book and counselor and visiting expert told you to do, doesn't mischievousness hold a certain appeal?

The other place to be smart - funny, how it keeps coming back to money - is the financial aid letter, for those of you who hit even a small jackpot in terms of a helping hand. A very savvy, very experienced financial-aid guru I once heard liked to put three competing offers up on a screen and ask parents to pick the best one. Inevitably, parents went for the biggest purse, and just as inevitably, they were wrong.

If you got money, think about what kind of money you got. It's likely to be a combination of grants (as in scholarships you don't have to pay back), loans (paid back either now or later, with interest), and work-study (yes, there's research that says students with jobs perform better than students without; it won't kill them). Before you start dancing around the living room, pay attention to the proportions: A smaller package with a larger scholarship component might be the best deal, as opposed to a larger amount that has to be repaid.

Yes, now you know, but that hardly means it's over. Not quite yet.

Next: Admissions Freak-Out Countdown #15: Fall Into the Gap.

Karen Stabiner's comic novel about college admissions, Getting In, has just been published. Visit or write to