by Con Chapman
EVANSTON, Illinois. After Caitlin Erthwein finished her early admission application to Oberlin College with a 4.2 weighted GPA and SAT scores that placed her in the 99th percentile of high school students nationwide, all she could do was pop the top on a Diet Coke, sit back and wait for her future to play out before her.
“Beth Impke is applying to Oberlin too,” Caitlin says of her high school classmate. “She’s a cello-playing water polo goalie who was president of the French Club.” As she ends this simple statement of fact, this reporter detects an overtone of resignation left hanging in the air.
Caitlin needs a loss by Beth, or a win by a third classmate, Claire Updegrove, to get into Oberlin, her first choice. “If Claire gets into Georgetown, Beth gets into Case Western,” she notes with the precision of a Las Vegas bookmaker figuring the odds on a Super Bowl game. “I’m basically a wild card applicant, because I didn’t finish number one in my class.”
Since the American Association of University Women moved to a playoff format in 1996, competition for slots at top schools has evolved into a complicated system based on head-to-head scores, relative division standing in common extracurricular activities, and aggregate wardrobe expenditures, not including pantyhose. “I don’t know how much further we can go in an effort to be fair,” says AAUW Commissioner Eloise Furtado.
Today Caitlin gets the good news; a last-second “Hail Mary” by her father, who happened to be sitting next to an Oberlin trustee in the sauna at a private men’s club, “sealed the deal” for the young woman who hopes to major in biology en route to medical school. “He left everything he had on the wooden bench in that hot little room,” she says with a touch of pride. “He may sport an embarrassing comb-over, but he’s still got some moves.”