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    Information Overload

    What happened when one guy refused to organize his mountain of college information packets.

    by Ruth Senter

    Once there was a high school junior who had to give up his bedroom. He turned it over—floor, bed, bookshelves and closet—to, of all things, his mail!

    How this high school junior lost his room is really quite a remarkable story. It all began the day he finished his sophomore year. Colleges and universities around the country got wind of the fact he was now a junior. And, they began to write him letters—nice, friendly, inviting letters. College Information Packets of all sizes and shapes began finding their way into his mailbox. Some days, the brass box beside his front door could hardly hold all the packets he was receiving.

    unorganized in collegeThe junior knew the College Information Packets could actually save his sanity. After all, when you have to choose one college out of the thousands around the country, you need all the help you can get. He knew it would pay to be informed.

    So the junior gave notice to all his family: "Do not throw away any (and I said any) of my College Information Packets." His mom and dad and older sister kindly obliged. They did not touch his collection, except, of course, to transfer it from the mailbox to the dining room table.

    Now his mother saw from the piles growing on her dining room table that she was going to have to lay down some ground rules of her own. So one day, when she could no longer see the dining room table below all the College Information Packets, she made this ruling:

    "College Information Packets that are not removed to the upstairs, southeast corner bedroom within a 24-hour period will self-destruct (with a little help from a friend)," she told the junior one day, as he stood staring at the ever-growing collection.

    The high school junior didn't understand the seriousness of her ultimatum at first. But when one day's collection landed in the trashcan, he decided his mom meant business. From then on, every night before he went to bed, he transported his piles up the stairs and into his bedroom.

    Here is where his real troubles began.

    At first, the piles were harmless. Just a neat little pile here and there, on his desk or his dresser. But the piles began to grow at an alarming rate. Soon they also covered his chair, his shelves, even the top of his stereo.

    Finally, the junior thought to himself, I really should do something about these College Information Packets before they take over my room. However, things are usually much easier thought about than actually done. So, like minnows in a pond, the College Information Packets continued to multiply. Soon, they even took over his floor.

    Now and then his mother got a fleeting glimpse into his shrinking bedroom. But, good mother that she was, she said nothing. Except: "I do hope you have room to sleep at night."

    She was not exactly joking. In fact, there came a night (the College Information Packet Collection was in about its eighth month) when everything came to a screeching halt.

    The junior came home from a long, hard day of school, tired and ready to crash. And he wanted the peace and quiet of his own room. But unfortunately, yesterday's pile of College Information Packets had gotten to his bed before he did. (He had thrown them there in his early morning dash out the door to school—remembering his mother's warning just in time.)

    Now, with every muscle in his body aching for rest, he felt as though his own room had turned against him. It offered him no place to lay his weary bones. Not even an inch for a short catnap.

    The junior slept in the basement that night. But in the morning he woke with determination: One way or another, he would get his room back.

    He started by casually asking his mom for advice. She was ready. She'd thought this through in advance—just in case such a moment arrived. "Why not run down to the office supply store and buy one of those cardboard storage boxes—they only cost 12 bucks," she said in her most un-bossy voice. "Oh yes, you might want to get some manila file folders, too," she called after him.

    His mother had one final suggestion when he got back from the store:

    "If I were you, I'd go through all your College Information Packets. Make two piles: a keep pile and a throwaway pile. Once you've whittled down your collection, label your folders with the name of the colleges.

    "If you really want to do it right," she said with just a trace of hopefulness in her voice, "create sub-files. For example: a main file would read, 'Westmont College,' and sub-files behind it would read, 'General Information, Viewbook, Profile Application, Financial Aid Forms'—all stuff contained in your College Information Packets, in case you haven't looked."

    Three hours, three large garbage bags and a neat, organized cardboard file box later, he could see his room again. He could sit on his chair. (And he did.) He could run his hand across his dresser top. (And he did.) Yes, he could actually stretch out on his bed without knocking off a College Information Packet. (And he did.) He lay on his bed for a short while, looking up at the ceiling.

    "College Information Packets are a good thing," he said thoughtfully to himself, "as long as they don't take over your room. And I should know."

    Just then his mom called him for dinner.

    "Coming," he answered and went down to join his family, happily seated around a dining room table that had no College Information Packets piled on it.