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Anxious High School Seniors Await Word on College Admissions

By Aidan Gardiner | March 18, 2013 7:09am | Updated on March 19, 2013 11:43am

NEW YORK CITY — Jack Brodsky, a student at Leman Manhattan Preparatory School, obsessively checked his emails, looking for any whisper of what his prospective colleges thought of him.

The senior had just submitted his first round of college applications and was anxiously awaiting word.

“I’d say, ‘I’m going to check my email. Maybe they got back to me,’" said Brodsky, 19. "Or I’d go out to my mailbox."

For the past several months, Brodsky has been distracting himself with art projects and schoolwork. Now his jitters have returned full force as he expects decisions from Parsons, Sarah Lawrence, Hofstra and the other schools where he applied.

High school seniors across the city are hoping for hard-earned triumph, but bracing for disappointment over the next couple of weeks as colleges send out admissions letters.

Students will hear from Brown on March 28, Stanford and Parsons on April 1, and Cornell and Harvard in “early April.” Other schools are expected to send out their decisions at the same time.

One Stuyvesant High School senior, who asked not to be named, likened the wait to a crude form of physical torture. He laughed, but said he was only half joking.

Especially at the city's high-achieving high schools, word spreads quickly about students' successes and failures, which adds pressure, experts said. Parents, who are also stressed, often pass their anxiety on to their children.

Even the doldrums after clicking "submit" can be nerve-racking, said a college counselor.

“This is the first time that they’re no longer in control of the process,”said Hillary Hewins, director of college counseling at Leman, a private high school in the Financial District.

Mikayla Barnett, a Leman senior and president of her class, applied early to University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, eager to pursue a career in economics or politics. Seeing the green triangle signaling her application was submitted “felt like Christmas Day,” she said.

“I guess two weeks after, there’s nothing really to update them on because you don’t want to seem like some crazed lunatic,” Barnett, 17, said.

“But at the same time, you’re still wondering, ‘What are they thinking? Are they looking at my application? Are they not? Where am I on the application list?’”

Wharton ultimately placed her on a waitlist, a decision she’s tried to take in stride.

“I try not to think about it," she said.

"If they accept me it's really good, but just to be on the waitlist is really good too. It’s just a waiting game, literally.”

Tony Tao, a Stuyvesant senior, applied early to Johns Hopkins looking to study bio-chemical engineering. He got the bad news mid-December.

“I read it on my phone and stopped smiling. I put my head down and I think I made some pun,” said Tao, 17. “I got kind of depressed.”

But Hopkins was a “dream school” that he only half expected to get into. He has yet to hear back from his other top choices including Tufts, Cornell and University of Chicago.

“Those are what’re keeping me alive,” he said.

Adding to students' stress is the national drop in university acceptance rates, from 69.6 percent in 2002 to 63.8 percent in 2012, according to The National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Last year, Harvard, the perceived cream of the crop of the Ivy League, accepted only 5.9 percent of applicants, the school reported.

Cornell, for its part, accepted 16.2 percent of the 37,812 students who applied, the school's lowest acceptance rate ever, according to CNN.

But these numbers are a little misleading because students have been applying to more schools, partly because college attendance has grown more common. It’s much easier to apply online too, experts said.

The admissions rate drop itself has also spurred more applications, said Bev Taylor, founder of Ivy Coach, a Manhattan-based college consulting firm.

“Talk about pressure. Kids started hearing horror stories of other kids not getting in anywhere,” Taylor said. “After that, they started applying to 12, even 15 schools.”

One Stuyvesant senior, Alex Zadrozny, is waiting to hear from 10 schools and knows other classmates who applied to as many as 20.

“I spend enough time listening to my friends worry to bother wasting any time worrying about myself,” said Zadrozny, 17. “The pressure is mounting a bit, but I’m just trying to relax.”

Stressed seniors should refocus on immediate tasks that are within their control, said Shari Vilchez-Blatt, who runs Karma Kids Yoga, a Manhattan-based youth yoga studio.

“You sent in your application and did what you can do,” Vilchez-Blatt said. “There are some things that are out of our control. Sure, that’s a big issue, but so is the test that’s coming up. Be in the moment.”

Seniors who haven’t heard back can only wait in the meantime. Tao said he tries to stay lively, but he knows that’ll soon change as decision day approaches.

“I’m inching toward my ‘Serious Tony’ phase,” Tao said. “I’m chilling right now until about eight hours before the decisions come in. Then, I’ll start jittering in my bones.”