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Making Sense of the College Decision Roller Coaster from an Almost Empty-Nester

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If, like me, you're the parent of a high school senior, then checking the mailbox over the past few months has become a love-hate relationship. I toss aside bills, dental appointment reminders, and pizza discount coupons, searching for large college acceptance packages.

In case you're new to the college application process, it's not normally great news when you open the mailbox and staring at you from the depths of the metal casket is an envelope of the smaller size. These little mood-breakers normally have the words, unable to offer you admission at this time, somewhere around the beginning of the third sentence.

As a parent, this is my second time around the college application process. My first son applied to 13 colleges, and it was a toss-up whether to take out a second mortgage or be forced to sell my stuffed toy wombat collection to pay for the application fees. But son number two isn't looking for the liberal arts history major. His is a dream of a different kind. One in film, in Los Angeles, and this narrowed his choices significantly.

We've done the college visits, gazing at juniors as they walk backwards, announcing well-memorized narratives about the history of their college. Personally, I'm drawn like a menopausal woman to Zoloft to the artsy colleges and universities. I can't get enough of the thick-rimmed glasses, 2 percent body fat, and thrift store clothing. I love these young adults and their eclectic creativity.

Prior to visiting our first of the esteemed LA film schools, I pulled on my hip tie-dyed flared pants and purple Doc Martens, thinking that I'd blend in a little. One would have thought I were applying to college. I was way too excited. My son lingered quietly at the back of the crowd while I was up front, listening intently to our bohemian tour guide.

So here we are nearing May 1, decision-making day for most high school seniors. They've made it through the SATs, ACTs, APs, the Common App, FAFSA, rejections, wait lists, acceptances, and the rest of the insane college application process. My brain is still in a tizzy from filling out the many financial aid forms, and in retrospect it would have been easier just to sign over our house to the College Board, move into a trailer, wait patiently for four years until our baby graduates, and then head to South America where the cost of living is somewhat affordable.

Ah yes, university, that pièce de résistance of the American educational system. That silver lining that young Americans slog away so hard for. That time in parent's lives when we get to be even more in debt, and our kids will graduate with thousands of dollars in college loans before moving back in with us in our trailer. Oh what joy! I ponder the financial figures. Then ponder them again. I laugh because it's all so crazy.