Mail call

The month of April can send college grads down an intense memory lane – one that looks like wherever they lived their senior year in high school, but is lined with empty mailboxes.

The month closely associated with college-admissions decisions also, of course, offers the hopeful message that college grads share common ground with teens. We recall trying to comfort friends – or not feel jealous. We know – for a change – exactly what this crowd is going through. (Story, page 13.)

Maybe. Sometimes, what it takes to get in to many good – not even top – colleges seems increasingly shrouded in mystery. Virtually perfect SATs, 4.5 grade averages, and 24/7 community involvement are everywhere. So what's left?

Many students are, in fact, better prepared for college now. But recently, I was talking to a star student-athlete at a star university. We mused on how much this or that activity mattered on the college application. I began to realize that the way he talked about what it took to get into college was the way we used to talk in college about what it took to get, say, a Rhodes or Truman scholarship – after graduation.

So this may be one area where previous generations don't think their successors have it easier than they did. Competition is tough: The University of Michigan anticipated 15 percent more applications for 2002-03. Harvard just announced another record-breaker: 10 applicants for each seat. And more public schools are raising standards to get out of the remediation business.

For those with yellowing sheepskins, it can seem daunting, even if we thought we ran a tough gantlet. We know that for most students, it'll end up well, even if rejection forces a redirect. Still, in April, it's hard not to hold our breath alongside those watching the mailbox.

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