MomentWhatever happened, Gabriella Latini knew she was heading south in the fall.

She had put down a $500 deposit at The University of Tampa and applied for housing on its downtown campus with a classmate from Westbrook High School.

But exactly where she’d spend the next four years wasn’t entirely resolved. She still had one college left to hear from – her top choice and biggest reach.

“I’ve kind of put it in my mind that I won’t get into Vanderbilt,” she said, weeks before she expected the notification from the private university in Nashville. That decision, however, would determine the destination on her plane ticket in the fall.

Since hearing from Tampa in early March, Latini had been sporting the red sweatshirt she bought during a visit to the campus in February, perusing the websites of restaurants in the Florida city, even checking out apartments online to see what her options would be as an upperclassman.

“We’re planners,” said her mother, Christine Latini, who started taking her daughter on college tours when she was in sixth grade.


A member of an all-national choir with an aversion to standardized tests, Gabriella Latini applied to seven colleges last fall. Between mid-December and early March, she heard back from six and got into them all.

“It’s great,” her mother said with muted enthusiasm. “A couple saying no would have been a little bit easier.”

There was Ithaca College in upstate New York, where she has a friend who’s a junior, and the University of Vermont, which has a Holocaust studies program she liked. Bryant University in Rhode Island offered her a $20,000 break on tuition and half off graduate school, if she ever wanted to go.

To help make a decision, she devised a point system that took into account the cost, housing, distance from home, the weather and whether she could bring her car. In the end, it was the feeling she had walking the campus that made The University of Tampa rise to the top.

For the most part, the process ended there. Her decision was made.

But, she said, “there is part of me in the back of my mind that says, there’s a chance.”


Vanderbilt was by far the most selective school she applied to, with an acceptance rate of 13 percent – one of several statistics that Latini had laid out in a chart she made in the fall to compare all the colleges she was considering.

Motivated but mellow, the petite blond honors student said it’s her habit of being “insanely organized” that’s gotten her elected class president the past four years.

“I just like to get things done,” she said.

It’s a quality she shares with her mother, who decided to stay home to raise her and her husband’s only child, but ended up taking on a full-time workload as a volunteer at school and on city committees.

She’s most committed to her role as an advocate for her daughter’s education, helping her get approved for an independent study when she wanted to take Italian, a language that wasn’t offered at her school. When the Common Application became available on Aug.1, Christine Latini spent the day filling one out with her own information from high school just to see what it was like. Lately, she’s been shopping for decorations and setting up appointments with vendors for the Hollywood-themed senior prom.

Because of their family’s visibility at school and in Westbrook, where both of Latini’s parents grew up and her father has an eponymous electrical business, she wanted more anonymity in college – a big campus where she would blend in with the crowd. She refused to apply anywhere in Maine.


She assumed she’d major in music, the academic subject and extracurricular activity that took up more than half of her time in high school. But after having a bad professor at a summer program at the University of Miami, she decided she’d make singing a hobby and study a field with more promise of a steady paycheck. She landed on public relations, figuring it would fit the same skills that helped her excel at organizing fundraisers and proms. The change of heart became the subject of her application essay.

As winter came around, she decided she was done with the weather, too, and wanted to go somewhere warm. She’s not worried about being so far from home, though it helps that her grandparents have a house on the coast of Florida.

“It’s the one chance I have to go somewhere,” she said.

After 18 years devoted to parenting, her mother has no qualms about being a plane ride away either: “She’s ready to fly.”

April 1 was the day Vanderbilt would notify applicants of whether they were admitted, the university had told her in an email when she submitted her application. If it was going to happen earlier, she was assured she’d hear.

Located in the music industry mecca, the college had the weather she wanted and the best education for the price – only about $5,000 a year, according to a need-based financial aid calculator on its website.


Unlike the six other colleges, Vanderbilt didn’t offer the option of early action, in which seniors can submit their applications and receive admission decisions before the typical deadlines, leaving the best for last.

Latini didn’t know if she’d receive an email saying the decision had been made or if her application status on the online portal would simply change.

Logging into the portals had become a habit anyway, and Latini couldn’t help herself from continuing to do it a couple times a week, even though she had no reason to expect anything to be different.

She kept her user names and passwords for the websites on a piece of paper slid between the back of her laptop and its see-through purple case. There was a checkmark written in black Sharpie next to all but one.

She wore her black and gold Vanderbilt sweatshirt to a prom committee meeting Sunday in the high school cafeteria, where she covered glass centerpieces in glitter, not knowing she had an unread message in the inbox of her school email account.

Back at home that afternoon, she was sitting on a couch in the living room, watching NASCAR with her dad, when she logged into the portal for no particular reason. A letter from the university immediately appeared on the screen. The first line was all she had to read.

She turned to her father and told him the news, then walked upstairs, put her Vanderbilt sweatshirt in the laundry basket, slipped into her red Tampa hoodie and went back to watching TV.

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