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Students in a cliffhanger

Early admissions hopefuls endure a 'season of anxiety.'

December 14, 2007|Jason Song | Times Staff Writer

Add one more club to the seven that college hopeful Nicolette Song belongs to -- the Early Admissions Hopefuls.

The members don't have regular meetings, but at Cleveland High School in Reseda they all seem to know one another. They huddle in hallways and in classrooms, handicapping their chances to get into Yale or Stanford. They bake cookies to keep their minds occupied, and spend way, way too much time checking college websites, seeing if their top choice has decided to announce early admissions.

The club ends today about 2 p.m. when many colleges and universities -- including Nicolette's dream school, the University of Pennsylvania -- are expected to announce their decisions.

But the countdown is almost too much for her to bear.

"This whole week has been torture. I want to know, but I don't want to know. I try not to think about it, then I think about it," said Nicolette, a senior from Porter Ranch.

Even though about 25 out of the nearly 700 Cleveland seniors applied early, the club almost never got started.

"I tried not to talk about it," said Maya Yizhaky, a senior who applied to Yale. She also tried to keep her early admissions teacher-recommendation forms hidden, but, like in all high schools, gossip spreads quickly. "Someone saw," she said with a shrug.

Now students talk about their choices freely, especially during fifth period Senior Board, a class that's supposed to develop leadership but, in reality, is more of a social event now that winter break is approaching. "Hey, did somebody order pizza?" a student asked after answering the class phone.

"No, that was like, three days ago," Maya said from the back of the class, where she was gathered with Nicolette and Sam Lee.

The group was shaken by the news of a student who failed to win early admission at Columbia University. Instead, he was deferred to the regular applicant pool.

According to campus lore, the student scored a 2390 out of 2400 on his SAT's and had legacy. Not only did his parents attended Columbia, his grandparents went there too.

In light of the news, the other students began recalibrating their own chances.

Nicolette fell in love with Penn during a summer visit because she liked the school's Philadelphia location. She thought an urban setting would help her achieve her goals of becoming a lawyer, or, maybe if she gets bored with the legal world, running for office.

"I'm a city girl," she said.

But in light of the news of the student who got deferred by Columbia, Nicolette's now lowered her expectations. "I'd be so happy if I got deferred," she said, crossing her fingers.

Sam Lee applied to Stanford but also doesn't allow himself too much hope. "It's kind of a relief. I've accepted there's a chance that I could get rejected," he said, pointing out that he earned five lowly B's during his high school career.

Maya shook her head and gave half her tangerine to Sam. "You know who deserves to get in and who doesn't. You know who does clubs and things for college and who does them because they're passionate. You deserve it," she said.

As if the conversation was too much, Nicolette let out a squeal. Earlier in the week, she received a thin envelope from Penn's admissions office and said she nearly died, thinking that she'd been rejected. It turned out just to be a notice reminding her that she could check her application online.

"You have my cellphone, right?" she said to Maya. "Can you call me tomorrow, just to check?"

Other students deal with their stress in different ways. Senior Jennifer Rubiello, who also applied to Yale, bakes. "It would be 11, 12 o'clock at night and she'd been in the kitchen, making her green tea muffins," said her mother, Penny Milliken, who would often come home to discover pumpkin muffins, cookies or cake.

Jennifer admitted that she checks her e-mail and the Yale website every day. Students are generally assigned an identification and password to check their application status. Allegedly, admitted students will see a bulldog, the university's mascot.

The stress drove Jennifer to the kitchen, where she would sometimes bake three days in a row. "It was a bit much," she said.

Her mother said she liked the green tea muffins best.

The pressure is the same at other schools. At Arcadia High School, one student told everyone, including his parents, that he'd been accepted at Penn. His father began calling the highly rated school when enrollment materials failed to arrive in the mail. University admissions officers eventually called the high school to say the student hadn't been accepted, said Kathy Rapkin, a counselor at Arcadia High School.

The chances of any of the students being admitted early are fairly low, and the field is even more crowded after Harvard and Princeton universities stopped offering early admission. For example, almost 5,000 students applied for early-action to Yale, a nearly 40% jump from the year before. Of those, fewer than one in five will be accepted.

Which means, as stressed as students are now, they'll probably be worse when regular college admissions letters start rolling out in a few months.

"It's a season of anxiety for them that doesn't let up until spring," Rapkin said.

jason.song@latimes.com

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