It’s April, and that means there’s one subject that’s off-limits in every household with an indecisive high school senior.
"What college did you pick?"
The clock is ticking. May 1 is National Signing Day, when most colleges require admittees to give them a final answer about whether they will enroll next fall.
Urbana University High School senior Maggie Tewksbury has encountered "the question" from just about everybody she runs into these days, even relatives on Facebook.
"She gets very tired of it," said her mom, Risa Tewksbury. "I kind of equate it to ‘Has the baby come yet?’"
Most students have known for months whether they were admitted to the college of their dreams or an acceptable backup.
But a third have yet to decide, at least at the University of Illinois.
Numbers provided by UI Admissions Director Andrew Borst show that more than half of admitted freshmen last year didn’t make a decision until after April 1, 33 percent were still undecided in mid-April and 8 percent waited until April 29.
Still, the indecision lingers.
None of this is a surprise to Risa Tewksbury, who works in college recruiting and has been down this road before. Her son Neil is a sophomore at the University of Southern California.
"My son decided at 5 p.m. on May 1, and my daughter will probably decide at 11:59 p.m.," Tewksbury said.
Neil had narrowed it down to USC or the University of California-Berkeley, and "we really didn’t know what it was going to be until that afternoon," she said. "He hit the button on the screen at 5 p.m."
You’re tempting fate and the technology gods, of course, by waiting until the last minute.
Last fall, the website for the Common Application, which allows students to apply to multiple schools at once, crashed on the night of Nov. 1, the early application deadline for many colleges and universities, she said.
"Everybody’s sitting there looking at their screens with the spinning wheel of death and nothing is actually happening," Tewksbury said.
Luckily, participating schools gave students a few extra hours to complete the applications.
A few years ago Tewksbury’s niece waited until May 1 to select her college. Her parents were out of town but had left her a blank check to mail in so it could be postmarked that day.
She was looking over her two choices, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, and noticed that one required the check to be received by May 1. So she chose the other school.
"That’s how she made her decision," Tewksbury said. "It turned out to be perfect."
Maggie Tewksbury has narrowed her choice to two schools, one out west and one out east — "as different as they could be," her mother said. After a recent visit, she told her mom that school was exactly what she wanted when she was applying to college — but she had changed her mind about what she wanted.
"I always tease my daughter about not being a great decision maker," Risa Tewksbury said. "I could never take her to Smoothie King because there were too many choices.
"You’ve got over 3,000 colleges to choose from. The fact that she’s narrowed it down to two, I should be happy."
There are so many factors for kids to consider. Public or private? Big or small? Liberal arts or tech school? Close to home, or as far away as possible? And the big one: cost.
Some of Maggie’s friends locked in last fall, Tewksbury said. Those who apply for the "early decision" option at schools like Northwestern or Washington University must withdraw their applications to other schools if they’re accepted.
"As soon as they got the decision in December they knew where they were going," Tewksbury said.
But others are still undecided, visiting colleges this week or even next week.
Borst said the decision timeline seems to move closer and closer to Signing Day, but in fact, a review of the numbers over the past five years showed a similar pattern.
A friend of Tewksbury’s recently suggested some kind of support group for parents fretting in the wings.
Risa Tewksbury isn’t worried — though she may be if she gets to April 30 and there’s still no decision.
"Right now I feel like I should just as a parent back off and let her simmer on it a little bit and see how she’s feeling," she said.
My nephew has narrowed it down to two schools, both a few hours from his home in Washington, D.C. His mom told me he’s worried that he’ll regret his choice if he makes it too early.
We agreed it’s like buying a house. You overanalyze and worry, but when you finally make a decision, you don’t look back. It’s home.
Fingers crossed. Now when does that support group meet?