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Guest column | Bill Riddle

April 1 has a serious side

April Fool's Day is coming soon. Traditionally, the day has been associated with pranks, but it also has a special meaning: That's when many colleges notify thousands of anxious teens about whether they've been accepted to the school of their dreams.

My daughter Julie is one of them. Columbia's alumni representative couldn't have been nicer when he interviewed her. In the half hour they shared, he inquired about her passions and interests. What led her to set up a junior volunteer program at a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary? What was the hardest thing about being captain of the swim team? Why did she want to attend Columbia? When the time was up, he said, "It makes me feel good the world has someone like you to guide the future." Yet, whether Columbia will be a part of that future is still uncertain.

As much as students strive to gain admittance to the top schools, the academic powerhouses also compete to attract the best and brightest for their freshman classes. Columbia sent my daughter a thick envelope filled with information about the school. They followed it with a letter that said not to worry about paying for Columbia. They'd been given a $350 million gift by John Kluge, of Metromedia fame, to ensure that finances wouldn't prevent a kid from attending their school. Cultivating as many applicants as possible helps schools improve their selectivity. A representative from Brown said, "75 percent of the students that apply here can do the work." According to U.S. News & World Report's 2011 college ranking guide, only 11 percent were accepted in 2009.

Julie's test scores place her in the 97th percentile. She maintains a 3.7 GPA in a rigorous International Baccalaureate program, is on the Honor Council, has tons of community service hours and an array of academic honors. With all this, a good interview and legacy connections to Columbia, what are her odds of being accepted? Slim.

As a Harvard graduate, Julie's grandfather has interviewed more than 50 candidates for his alma mater. Of the many he has given glowing recommendations to, only one was accepted. She had perfect SAT scores, was class valedictorian, a nationally ranked swimmer and had started a business with the proceeds to benefit a local homeless shelter.

One that didn't make the cut was a kid with 1540 on his SAT who was class president, a published author and had spent a summer in New Orleans helping rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina. Others left out were equally impressive.

Today, the hurdles are the highest they've ever been to gain admission to the elite schools. The U.S. News guide says Harvard's acceptance rate was just 7 percent in 2009. In the same year, Yale and Stanford took 8 percent while Princeton and Columbia admitted 10 percent.

As the parent of a gifted child who has far outpaced my own high school resume, I fear her excellence may not be enough. She has already been accepted to the University of Florida. While Florida is a great school, Julie has dreams of cold weather and ivy-covered walls. When the time comes, we're hoping for good news by e-mail. How ironic it is to have something so meaningful occurring on April Fool's Day.

Bill Riddle is a writer and Realtor living in Odessa. He can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

April 1 has a serious side 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 4:30am]
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