The XX Factor

The Tyranny of School Applications

It’s that time again. Early September means one thing only to parents and kids of a certain age and stage: It’s application season.

Last night I watched Nursery University , the documentary about the frenzy of getting preschoolers into a nursery program in New York City. I shivered with relief that I don’t have to jump through any of those hoops this year. Our family can take a pass from the tours, the essays, the interviews, and the testing for a while now. But I know that many of you out there face several months of the agony of what the New York Times calls without irony, “The Choice.”

Whether you are going through a first time preschool application, looking at kindergartens, changing middle or high schools, doing the college tour, or finding a grad school, this is a season of exquisite uncertainty for you. Believe me when I say I feel your pain. Nothing is quite as tortuous as feeling that you might have to beg an institution to take your money, not to mention you or your child.

All of us who have been through the process-and I think that’s just about all of us-will remember a thing or two from our experience. The disconcerting phone call, the disastrous playdate/interview, the inadequate test score, the kid who was a friend but is now a threat, the disappointing dream school, the mean admissions director, or the hyperfriendly admissions director who sends the rejection letter. The rejection! Or-heavens be praised-the acceptance!

Not all of it’s bad. Sometimes we can fall in love with a place and find that it has fallen in love with us, too. And then we all live happily ever after until the next application season.

What stands out for you? Are you a mother who is going through this on behalf of your kids? Are you a senior about to write thousands of poetic words selling yourself to buy a future? Are you a sibling trying to follow (or avoid) the footsteps of a brother or sister? Do you have your heart set on an institution that you know you’ll never be able to afford?

Let’s show everyone about to embark on this tortuous journey our support by sharing our memories. Send me your anecdotes to . Keep them short and write “applications” in the subject line. I’ll run them periodically through the season.

Photograph by George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images.