April is the Cruelest Month

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Nanette Tarbouni, the woman responsible for the fates of thousands of high-school seniors. - Washington University
Washington University
Nanette Tarbouni, the woman responsible for the fates of thousands of high-school seniors.
That high-pitched wailing you hear across our nation? Is the sound of hundreds of thousands of high-school seniors bemoaning the cruel fate that did not let them in to their first-choice college.

You can read all about it on the The New York Times' new blog, The Choice.

(Though, quite honestly, it is mostly devoid of wailing from its student bloggers, except for one young man who must choose between Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Reed College and a full ride to North Carolina. But maybe that's all just perception, generated by my own lingering bitterness over being wait-listed and subsequently rejected from my own first-choice college fifteen years ago. Yeah, that's you, Wellesley College, you bitches.)

But what the Times doesn't mention is that some of that wailing comes from college-admissions officers, too. Fortunately for you, dear readers, Nanette Tarbouni, director of undergraduate admissions at Washington University, took some time out yesterday, the traditional Day of Decision (though actually Wash. U. sent out its letters two weeks ago), to share her pain.

This year, Wash. U. had 23,000 applicants for the class of 2013. It accepted 20 percent, or about 4,600. Of those, the university expects 1,400 to show up in August.

From now until May 1, Wash. U. will be battling for those 1,400 against other colleges and universities (including my own alma mater, Northwestern, aka the Wash. U. of Chicago). It will try to entice them with financial aid packages and seduce them with the beauty of its campus.  ("Visitors are always the fun part," says Tarbouni.)

This year, of course, is even more of a crapshoot because of the economy. "Some families are thinking they can afford tuition today, but three months from now, it could be very different," Tarbouni says. "Our goal is to continue to work with families to make things possible. Typically, over half our undergraduates are getting need-based financial aid."

So far, the parents of rejected and wait-listed students haven't been particularly vindictive, at least not in their calls to the admissions office.

"It's crazy," Tarbouni says. "There are so many wonderful, wonderful applicants. I wish we could admit them all. In May, there are so many happy and disappointed people in colleges. We get attached to the applicants. We're happy when they join us and sad when they go to other schools."

Incidentally, this is Tarbouni's last season on the college side of admissions. As of July, she'll be the college counselor at John Burroughs School, so all bribes sent her way will be useless.

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