Local Students in the Admissions Pressure Cooker

Wisconsin State Journal
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Madison West High School senior Eliza Zimmerer is a teaching assistant in a bio- technology class.
She mentors younger students and leads freshmen through orientation. She’s involved in student government. Captain of the varsity tennis team. Honor roll. French honor society.
Her resume goes on and on, but she still wonders if it’s enough to get her into some of her preferred schools. And she’s not alone.
“It’s really apparent here, as it is in almost any high school,” said Becky Bebber-Wells, a guidance counselor at West. “Now, more and more kids are trying to apply to these select colleges. They feel if they don’t get in, that’s the end.
“They’re taking a full load of courses, doing a sport or two, they might be working a part- time job,” she said. “And of course, homework. They’re also going to bed really late and getting up really early.”
Bebber-Wells recalls a recent day in her office when a sophomore came in crying because she couldn’t get into one class for a “perfect schedule.”
“She about had a nervous breakdown,” she said.
The agonizing and hand- wringing over getting into a top-tier college isn’t just something that happens with students aiming for the Ivy League.
Zimmerer, who’s looking at Rice University, Carleton College, UW-Madison and a handful of other schools, said she chooses her activities based on what she values, rather than what will look good on a college resume. But she admits the nonstop schedule is demanding.
“It’s pretty exhausting,” she said. “The classes I’m taking really require a lot of work. On top of that pressure, not only do I have to write an essay for English class, I also have to write a personal statement for Madison.”
To ease the waiting-game grief, UW-Madison uses a rolling admissions process, letting students know whether they’ve been accepted within four to six weeks of application rather than waiting until April•1.
“Who do you think has a better senior year, someone applying to Harvard or Wisconsin?” UW-Madison Dean of Admissions Robert Seltzer asked rhetorically.
On a recent evening at Memorial High School, parents of seniors sat in the auditorium to learn about what their children need to do to prepare for college.
“It’s so different these days,” Tina Moses, whose daughter Lisa is a senior, said after the session. Both she and her husband went to UW-Madison, one of the schools Lisa is considering.
“It’s much more competitive. I never questioned I’d be accepted at Madison,” she said. “Now you’re lucky if you get in.”
Moses said she looks at the personal-statement section on college applications and thinks, “You know they are saying the exact same thing as everyone else.”
She recalled seeing a newspaper article about a high- school-age girl who spent her summer break volunteering in Africa.
“I feel like, oh God, does my child have to go to Africa to stand out?”
Copyright © 2006 Wisconsin State Journal