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Deferred gratification

Last week, the admissions office received around 520 “Optional Update Forms” from those they had both blessed and cursed in a single email. Indeed, one of my good friends from high school was deferred, and I remember trying to console her and congratulate her at the same time. The only other situation to which I could liken this one was the time I tried using an Icy-Hot pack after seeing that compelling ad starring Shaquille O’Neal. In fact, I repeated this analogy to my glum high school friend, but it ended up making her feel even worse. Needless to say I bungled the job, but there’s no denying that being deferred is one of the most complex, confusing, and frustrating situations to be in.

I would know. You may not believe that someone with my intelligence and wit could have possibly gotten deferred, but deferred I was. All party planning was halted: the music ceased; the waiters were sent packing; the flowers were thrown out, and the jazz quartet made for the hills. In other words, I sat at my computer chair, re-reading that terrible email with a combined sense of severe disappointment and relief.

This is not to say that I’m not (in hindsight) incredibly thankful for the second chance Stanford gave me. However, I must say that sending a deferral is almost worse than simply rejecting the kid and letting him or her get on with their applications to Brown and Yale and wherever else, not to mention their second semester of senior year – a semester of low GPAs and high BACs.

Instead, a deferral presents seniors with another semester of high stress and continued participation in school activities that no one cared about to begin with. I remember sitting resentfully in my Speech and Debate tournaments, flipping through The Economist for my upcoming extemporaneous speech and executing it with so much anger and impatience that the judge offered me a handkerchief and requested that I stop spitting when I talked because his shirt was getting soggy.

It was both infuriating and amazing that my most stellar high school semester was my last. I somehow got straight A’s, started a new organization on campus (which was unanimously voted into extinction the year after I graduated – turns out no one truly cares about saving the Bengal tigers), organized a bone marrow drive, auditioned for the lead in the Spring musical, and taught soccer to kids from low-income families (they ended up playing soccer while I did their math homework). This was in addition to keeping in step with the obligations I had as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, member of the ASB, and (for some reason), chief financial officer for the Persian club. If I may say so, it was a job well done.

At least, that’s what I thought when I eventually got in. I truly believed that my acceptance was derivative of the hard work I had put into the last couple of months, just so I could fill that darn Optional Update Form to the exact word limit. And perhaps it was. However, I’ll never forget the day during Admit Weekend when I met the admissions officer who was responsible for my acceptance. When I met him, he recited one of his favorite lines from my Common App essay. And then he asked me why I never turned in an Optional Update Form.

It must have been a mistake in processing. Somehow, the Admissions Office hadn’t received the form that I had given up any semblance of human decency and dignity I had left to fill out. Turns out that my case just needed a little more arguing. Regardless, I was shocked.

Severe disappointment is a strong motivator. Mix it in with a tiny speck of hope, and you get a neurotic teenager with the will and capability to do pretty amazing things. When I was deferred, I was personally offended that the school of my dreams had put me so unceremoniously on hold. Part of me wished Stanford had rejected me, just so I wouldn’t have to go through the same cycle of hard work, anticipation, and disappointment twice. I was a weary high school senior who just wanted to pledge allegiance to Cal out of spite and get some C’s on the next couple of exams. Every senior deserves that.

Watching my friend go through the same process makes me both nostalgic and a little angry. If you asked me last year whether I thought deferrals were a good idea, I would’ve said yes, absolutely. Today, I’m not so sure. The college application process is a nasty one, and it makes students do good things for the worst reasons. Most of those things will never be acknowledged outside of a short Stanford Daily column, years after the fact. And the natural feeling of inferiority is hard to ignore when you confront the inescapable early or regular admit during the first couple weeks of freshman year. It wears off, but leaves a light scar.

So I wish the best of luck to those who were deferred this year. If you look at the numbers, it’s harder to get deferred than it is to get accepted. Thus, I give you my hearty congratulations for beating the odds, along with a healthy dose of my condolences for the parties and the C’s and the unexcused absences you missed out on for the sake of that terrible Optional Update Form. I assure you that if things don’t work out this April, yellow and blue tend to look good on everyone. But if they do, this harrowing and exhausting senior year might just have been worth the trouble.

Uttara will accept, not defer, your emails at [email protected]

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