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The College Insider: Admissions Freak-Out #12: What A Long, Strained Trip It's Been

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None of what I'm about to say is implausible: A senior in high school started SAT prep in eighth grade, took every advanced class offered him or her, racked up extracurricular activities like any number of guys racking up steroidal home-runs, slept way less than eight hours a night for way too many nights running, and rewrote that personal essay with a diligence usually reserved for the State of the Union.

And you're worried about second-semester senioritis? Seems like what the stock market calls "a correction" to me, a yin to the application process yang.

Still, people worry; high schools schedule tests and assignments and send out notices about attendance with well-intentioned zeal, as though public-school taxpayers or private school tuition-payers were going to demand an accounting of these final months of senior year. They promote self-discipline and responsibility and maturity -- as though an 18-year-old who's filed a minimum of a dozen applications and impressed a bunch of admissions directors and alumni interviewers hasn't had a crash course in those attributes.

Here's a heretical suggestion: Why not let the kids have a little fun?

I'm not talking about the kind of year-long abandon that would jeopardize the little darlings' chances, as cited in College Board and various experts' warnings. But I do recall a group of second-semester high-school seniors watching a film every day for a week in English class -- a film adaptation of something they'd read, so they could hardly be accused of slacking off, but they didn't have to think about the participation part of their grade as long as they didn't start to snore. It seemed at the time like a very good idea.

Three years after my own daughter graduated, I hear faint rumblings about this stellar student or that, seniors who never let up and are starting, it seems, to flame out. "Teacups." "Eggs." There are enough fragile undergrads out there to have earned the category a couple of nicknames.

We are a few weeks from a slew of state-school notifications, and before you can say wait-list it's going to be April 1, official notification for all the private schools. Everybody's on tenterhooks (oh, c'mon, go look it up), about to be very happy or very sad; there isn't much middle ground to college admissions.

Remember, despite their brave faces, seniors are more apprehensive than their parents are, simply because they haven't logged as much life-time as we have. Even the luckiest of us have survived disappointments or rejections here and there, but for many seniors, this is going to be either the first big thrill or the first heavily-witnessed heartbreak.

Oh, and in case you've forgotten over this last year, it's their future, not yours.

Now that the initial post-app haze has lifted, they'd like to be irresponsible. Just like we were, if we're honest about it. With the elimination of analogy questions from the verbal side of the SAT, senioritis may be the last vestige of the baby boomers' college app experience. If you think of it that way, it's our common ground with our children, the one part of today's process with which we can identify.

Some of you remain unconvinced, still worried that a zealous teacher will give your child a B, and that an equally zealous Ivy League admissions officer will revoke the kid's acceptance in favor of a grind on the wait-list, so again: I'm not saying a senior should bail altogether. But keep in mind that your senior's acceptance matters almost as much to his or her high school as it does to you. You look forward to being proud beyond comprehension - and to all the perks you still believe pertain to that acceptance. Your high school looks forward with equal gusto to a class admissions profile that will attract top prospective students.

Trust me: Nobody's going to flunk or reject an ace who slides toward graduation with something less than full-tilt focus. Those of you whose child is bent on being valedictorian can ignore me, but the rest of you might want to lay off, just a little bit.

If you don't trust a mere civilian, how about Henry David Thoreau, as cited in a poster you can buy on senioritis.net: "It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know."

Anybody remember where he went to college? (It's a trick question.)

Karen Stabiner's comic novel about college admissions, Getting In, will be published March 16. Visit www.karenstabiner.com, or write to kstabiner@gmail.com.

Next up: Admissions Freak-Out Countdown #13: Here come the state university acceptances - what's left of them, that is.

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