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Itís that time of year again. I donít mean time for rakes or enormous brown bags of leaves that look like someone has been busy packing lunches for Paul Bunyan. I donít mean time to dig out the sweaters and warmer clothing either -- although I have to admit Iíve been freezing for the past few days. In our house, for the second year in a row, it is time for college applications.
This is my fourth time through the process. While I can say that Iíve become pretty familiar with it all, I canít say that it gets any easier. Why? The answer is simple. No matter how great your high school seniorís record is, he or she undertakes the challenge of applying to college from a position of ignorance, feeling overwhelmed, and raw fear. They all experience a crisis of confidence. They all worry about accumulating a stack of rejection letters. They all are more than just a little afraid to grow up. Hopefully, their parents keep a lid on their own fears.
Thirty years ago, people wondered why I bothered to apply to five colleges. Three was considered enough: one stretch target, one solid, and one ďsafety.Ē It was easy to limit your choices because if you hadnít actually heard of a particular school, chances were you never would. Mostly, you just had to decide if you were staying close to home or not. Now, you can Google a particular major, rank, size, or location and just surf you way into more than youíd ever want to know about the most specialized and obscure institutions of higher education in the country.
Kids apply to 10 colleges now because everyone else is doing the same. The benefit is the ability to compare not only academics, but whatever financial packages are offered. The drawback is managing the monumental to-do lists and unrelenting deadlines. Early Action, Early Decision, it all has the feel of a child putting out for bids. Of course, in the end, no matter how many acceptances one receives, a student can attend only one college. Options canít be ďkept openĒ forever. Decisions must be made.
The competition is stiffer than it used to be too. While they all deny it, admissions officers seem to evaluate applicants on what they have accomplished by the time theyíre 17. Perhaps thatís why so many teens feel so much pressure, and why so many try to finesse everything theyíve even thought of doing into something they can call an achievement. Letís be honest. Few, if any high school seniors have much of a real resume. Why would they? Why should they, after all? Theyíre kids, standing at the threshold of their whole lives.
Trying to live the Christian life can feel a lot like applying to college. Looking at all that must be done, should be done, could be done, many of us just end up wanting to run away and hide. Following Jesus can seem like too much to undertake in earnest. As a result, many of us decide to just stay where we are. The next step, whatever that is for each of us, can often look a lot like walking off a cliff. And so, a lot of us put it off for another day, and another, and another, until the deadline is upon us.
God wants us to know that we donít have to earn a seat in His Kingdom. There is already a place prepared for each one of us, as well as a pathway to get there. We donít have to worry about how weíre going to afford to live the spiritual life. All that we need to do so has already been provided. We just have to trust that our Father is exactly that, our father.
Katerina has a good idea of what she wants to do, but none of us knows exactly how sheíll get there, or where sheíll be a year from now. Sheís used her abilities well. Now all she has to do is wade through the process. That is, she needs to do what we all need to do every day of our lives. Live well what each day sets before us -- not less, but not more either. So Iíll keep reminding Katerina that there really is a college for everyone, and there really is a God who loves us enough to be an active participant in our lives. That same Lord has a plan for each one of us: a plan for a future full of hope just on the other side of that essay.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.