Warrior Words: The five stages of the college process

Maddie Burke
Maddie Burke

As this column graces the pages of this edition of The Wilton Bulletin, it is Thursday, April 11. By now, I have heard back from all colleges listed on my Common Application. Today, I’m happy or I’m mildly disappointed or I’m over the moon with joy at said decisions, and because I know that I’ll have the opportunity to continue my education somewhere next year, I probably won’t be getting a jump-start on the assignment my teacher just posted on Google Classroom. When I think about how I’m feeling on this day in mid-April, I realize that I have reached the fifth and final stage of the college process: acceptance (and, yes, the pun is intended).
These stages, I’ve found, are eerily similar across the paths of most 16+-year-olds who decide to pursue higher education. And now, as only a survivor of the journey can do, I offer the younger Warriors out there, the ones I see working tirelessly in study rooms at the library, a glimpse into the composition of their own psyches as they begin to navigate this arduous yet rewarding process.
Stage One: Excitement. Oh, the fun of the college tour! Escaping the humdrum Wilton lifestyle on weekends to go on long walks through the perfectly manicured grounds and into the historic yet state-of-the-art facilities of campuses near and far feels exhilarating, especially when the prospect of a new sweatshirt lurks at the end of the 60-minute tour. At this point, every school will claim to have the best food across all American universities, but I’ve learned the quality of the salad bar is a telltale sign of a good dining hall. During this time, enjoy the moment, look around, ask questions, and watch how the students behave during the rush to class. Above all, hold tight to the gut feeling that occurs for everyone at the right place for them. It won’t steer you wrong.
Stage Two: Frustration. How is it possible that tuition is $50,000 per year? Are these scattergrams truly accurate? How many times is too many times to take the SAT? This next phase is undoubtedly the most taxing. Balancing schoolwork, extracurriculars, and plethora of supplemental essays (each with a different word limit or deadline, I might add) will feel like the equivalent of two full-time jobs. Put your head down and persevere through Nov. 1, and then just hang in there until Christmas break.
Stage Three: Purgatory. Unfortunately, this period between January and March will feel like the longest and most nerve-wracking time you have ever spent in a waiting room. Minus the lucky few early decision admits who found the shortcut to the fifth stage, everyone is in the same boat. Yes, you will still need to complete your homework, but no, midterm test grades won’t be sent to colleges. A teacher of mine put it this way: imagine it’s a present you are just waiting to unwrap for a little while. In a few weeks, lots of gifts will be coming your way.
Stage Four: Panic. “Update to your application status” will drop into your email just minutes after 5 p.m. It doesn’t matter where among your options the school may rank, your reaction will be the same: sweaty, shaky hands, a thumping heartbeat, and the feeling in your stomach that you get right before the big drop on a roller coaster. I hope a lot of virtual confetti is in store.
Stage Five: Acceptance. They always tell you that everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be. So whatever happens, quite literally, happens. Choosing to attend a school you never imagined yourself attending could lead to a dream job, a soulmate, or an undiscovered passion. Now, it’s your turn to do the accepting. So make that Facebook post, relish the congratulatory Instagram wishes, and buy that T-shirt for school on May 2. You’ve made it.
Maddie Burke is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.