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Life’s a Beach By Shelley Murphy

By Shelley Murphy

Last week, college admissions officials delighted and devastated countless hopeful students in the class of 2025 when they announced their final acceptances, rejections, and wait lists.

The next defining moment for college-bound kids is National College Decision Day on May 1. Students have until then to decide on the school they will attend and pay the enrollment deposit (the Ivy League deadline is May 3).

The May date marks the end of the stressful, painstaking odyssey for many high school seniors—and parents.

The Classes of 2021, and 2020, saw their already complicated college admissions process upended by COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, more than 600 four-year colleges abandoned standardized SAT and ACT scores for applicants. Eliminating the college entrance exam rite of passage led to an avalanche of applications to selective sought-after universities.

According to the New York Times, Harvard received more than 57,000 applications for its class of 2025, an increase of 42% from the previous year.

Fun fact: Forbes reports that this year, Harvard’s acceptance rate is 3.4%, and they admitted fewer than 2,000 undergraduate students. So, statistically, more than 95% of applicants won’t get the opportunity to sport crimson spirit wear on the Cambridge campus.

Granted, not every student’s dream school is Harvard University. Nonetheless, scores of students snarled in the college application queue learn the same difficult lesson of rejection.

Both my boys spent their summers between the junior and senior year of high school laboring over college applications, essays, and resumes.

Their paths to college differed, but they both rode the rollercoaster of highest highs and lowest lows.

My kids created categorical college application lists, including the obligatory safety, target and reach or dream schools.

For those spared this agonizing and anxiety-provoking process, I’ll explain: a safety school offers a reasonable certainty of admission; a target college presents a pretty good shot at entrance; and a reach or dream university is a longshot at enrollment.

My older son applied to many schools but clung to one college—his dream school. At the time, his application checked many of the college’s boxes, and he participated in a positive on-campus interview.

Back then, my son spent months in limbo hoping for a text, email, or letter from said college, and I developed an unhealthy love-hate relationship with my mailbox.

The excruciating wait came to an unceremonious end one afternoon, when my mail carrier delivered a thin envelope bearing the college’s return address.

My son’s story is shared by countless students. It’s a timeless tale, one beginning with hope and enthusiasm and ending with the words, “Your application was outstanding; however …”

The sharp sting of rejection hit my son hard. I remember trying to comfort him by reciting the list of billionaires, business leaders and best-selling authors rejected from their dream schools.

But questioning why a college takes one kid and not another, with seemingly the same qualifications, is inexplicable. It’s a phenomenon deserving of the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Today, I thank that college for its callous admission decision. I know my son could’ve triumphed at that school, but he wouldn’t be the man he is today had they not denied him.

He wouldn’t have his friends, his career, or his grit.

My son’s success in college came from what he did during his four years, not the university’s Princeton Review ranking. He participated in campus organizations, enjoyed an active Greek life, and forged forever friendships—just as he’d dreamed.

The path from college applications to acceptances is paved with blood, sweat, and tears.

A university might have the final word in enrollment, but its decision is not the end of the road.

Years ago, on a spring day, my son committed to a safety school that turned out to be the college of his dreams, and I can’t imagine it any other way.

For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.

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