ALMOST-APRIL once signaled for me the time to consider such natural phenomena as the crocuses poking their heads out of the crusty earth, giggling at the cherry blossom-watchers as they seriously fretted whether the little blossoms would be frozen off and the nagging question of whether March would never end.

Those, unfortunately, were the good old days. Those were the springs before almost-April instead became the time of The Great Wait. The Great Wait takes on different households where there is a high school senior, but its common denominator is whether one's son or daughter will get into the college of his or her choice. And since most of the kids are in the cool teen-ager category that forbids letting parents know how worried they really are, except for an occasional fleeting second of pure panic, the only thing left is for the parents, in self-defense, to show the stress instead.

I called a friend the other day to discuss an urgent and important subject of no less than earth-shattering importance. But she was having none of it until she inquired about The Great Wait.

Her usually controlled voice was apprehensive: "Has your daughter heard yet?" I didn't have to ask what she was talking about. The tremor in her tone told all.

"No," I replied. "Has yours?"

"No, but the next two weeks are going to be very important."

Back when I was getting ready for college, reality forced me to choose the first college to offer a scholarship. Never mind that it was a women's college instead of my first choice of a co-educational shoool; never mind that it was at home instead of many miles away as was my preference.

Things are so different now. Our family worrying began in September when the recruitment brochures began arriving by the ton. It snapped into higher gear later in the fall when we went traveling to look at several schools that interested our teen-ager. Then came the process of applying at several, including first choices, second choices and sure bets. Now we're nearing the home stretch. The Great Wait involves waiting to see if the ones you want really want you. The kids are being weighed and hoping they don't come up short.

Colleges tell us they are now more inclusive than exclusive, but try telling that to the kids on the waiting lists. I frankly think there's a little cruelty in this process because it goes on so long that the tension intensifies.

Still the kids cope resourcefully. One senior already has his fallout position prepared. He's telling his mother that maybe he ought to just work and rest a year. Another who calculatingly joined all the right clubs and boards made sure he had early acceptances at a couple of colleges he did not really care about to ease the period of waiting for those he really wanted. There's even evidence some kids perversely enjoy the anxiety -- the shared pain of potential rejection or acceptance. One girl felt wonderful with her early acceptance from a Midwestern college until the The Great Wait. Then it developed she was the only one in her crowd who wasn't biting her nails at the end of March. "I felt so left out, it was terrible," she remembered.

Truth to tell, today's complex adventure of getting into college is often preceded by the less complex but equally stressful one of getting children into various independent prep schools. Not to sound elitist, but as increasing numbers of frustrated people give up on public education, what was once the province of the rich has become the preoccupation of increasing numbers of ordinary folks. A woman whose job is to place inner-city kids into Washington area private schools says this is an incredibly nervous period of waiting for her to hear about acceptances -- and rejections -- of her young charges at various private schools. Another working mother I know, whose 14-year-old son has just been accepted into a private school, wore a big smile of relief, saying candidly that she had not admitted to herself how much she had worried that he might be rejected. She knew she was hooking him into a network for life, so she subconsciously sublimated the overwhelming consequences of it all.

All this is enough to make you say, move over teacher burnout, make way for student burnout, closely followed by parent burnout.

But as my sister says, there's no rest for the weary.This is only our first Great Wait. We've got a couple more to go. This is, if we don't burn out first.