IMAGE CREDIT: YUTA ONODA
RIGHT NOW, IN admissions offices in Cambridge and New Haven and Palo Alto, the teenage children of some of America’s most thoughtful and devoted mothers are coming in for exceptionally close scrutiny—as is, so these women feel, the parenting they have offered their youngsters for the past 18 years. This is the tail end of reading season, when our august universities must turn to what their relentless high-school visiting and U.S. News & World Report boosterism have wrought: a staggering number of requests for an absurdly small number of spots at their schools. Harvard recently announced that this year it is considering an astronomical 35,000 applications for only about 1,640 spaces in the freshman class. The great hope of today’s professional-class parents—whose offspring still make up the majority at elite colleges, no matter how much progress the institutions have made in widening the socioeconomic range of their student bodies—was that the ebbing of the so-called echo boom would save their children from the heartless winnowing. The late 1990s and the 2000s saw an uptick in the number of teenagers in America, and there was a belief, in many quarters, that the increasingly competitive nature of elite-college admissions was a by-product of that demographic fluke. But now, although the number of teens has receded, the percentage of those kids who nurture the dream of attending a selective college continues to skyrocket. And so, for this year’s most accomplished and talented high-school seniors, the reckoning is at hand.