Hang around at Lodi or Tokay high schools this week and you'll see some seniors with big smiles on their faces. Others will look crestfallen. Last week, many Ivy League universities along with several campuses in the University of California system released their admissions decisions.
Seth Yund, 17, spent Thursday afternoon in anxiety. He was waiting to hear from UC Berkeley and Claremont McKenna College. But the mail had come and gone. It would be late in the evening before he got the news.
College admissions officials say the way they communicate with students is changing. Instead of waiting by the mailbox to see if they will receive a promising large envelop or a disappointing small one, students turn to their computers.
Marissa Smith, who works in the admissions office at California State University, Sacramento, said students prefer finding out online through their school account. They do receive and admissions letter, but it's weeks after the fact.
A similar system is in place at CSU Chico.
"When we hit 'admit,' they know," said Allan Bee, director of admissions.
Do students still have that moment of accomplishment when they open the email instead of an envelope? Bee said it depends.
"If we send them an email right out and they are still waiting to hear from Berkeley, probably not. But a lot of families like to have something in their hands they can touch and see. It's a badge of pride," he said.
Students all seem to follow a different path on the road to college admission.
Hannah Boger, 18, originally counted on going straight to a four-year university. But she was scouted by Delta's women's soccer team.
"Soccer is my priority. I didn't want to close any doors," she said. Boger will study pre-nursing for two years at Delta before transferring to CSU Stanislaus.
One major factor in selecting a college is figuring out how to pay for it.
Victoria Pritchard, 18, will attend Fresno Pacific University, a private university. A text message from an admissions counselor alerted her she had gotten in.
"Seeing all the chaos of public schools, I don't want to get lost in the crowd," she said.
Once Pritchard tallies up the funds from her Cal Grant, a Pell Grant and scholarships from the college, she won't have to pay a penny out of her own pocket.
Ethan Sprague, 18, had a precise method to his application process. He applied to his dream schools, along with a few that just sounded interesting and offered mechanical engineering programs. But he tried not to set his heart on any.
"I didn't want to resign myself to a particular school until I had gotten into it. All the schools are on the table until I get my last letter," he said. In a few weeks, Sprague will break out the diagrams and start flipping coins to choose between University of California, Los Angeles, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, Colorado School of Mines, and Case Western Reserve.
He advises future students to apply early. You might get into the school, but the program you've got your eye on could have filled up.
Some students have the fortunate problem of getting in to every school they applied to.
"It's a really big privilege," said Morgan Pelot. "Now I have to choose from six schools."
She is leaning toward CSU Monterey Bay to major in human biology and forensic pathology.
Some students are determined to get the education they've been dreaming of, despite the current worries over costs of tuition.
"I want to go where I want to go. I don't want to pay tuition to a state school just to settle," said Kylie Faszer, 17. She'll attend California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo to study agricultural business with a minor in equine studies. In the future she hopes to run a rehabilitation center for horses.
But what happens when your dream school says, "No, thanks"?
Kinsey Green, 18, is currently facing that questions. UCLA was at the top of his list to further his plans of becoming an actor, before he received his rejection notice.
Green remembers the moment specifically.
"It was March 23. I was walking to the store to pick up lemons for my dad, and I checked my iPhone, and I didn't get in," he said. Now his game plan is to attend another UC while working with UCLA to find out the best way to apply as a transfer student.
The short list of his remaining options includes UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington.
As for Yund, his concern doesn't lie with where he'll get in. He wants the best financial package he can find as he looks to the future.
"I wanted to play the financial option, so I can use it as a bargaining chip with other schools," he said. "I want to be financially independent as soon as possible."
Becky Jauregui, college and scholarship adviser at Lodi High School, says the best way to deal with the tension and possible rejection is to focus on the next step.
"You are not alone. There are plenty of other students in your same situation. It's a question of shifting attitude," she said.