Depending on where you are in the college process, the holidays are either the most wonderful - or the most dreadful - time of the year. Maybe you’re an early decision student, visibly full of relief that all your applications are submitted, but internally still anxiously awaiting decisions from all of your schools. Maybe you heard back just before Thanksgiving that you didn’t get into your top college, and are having to rethink some of your options. Or maybe you have no idea what you’re going to do yet, or where you’re going, so you’re just praying to make it through dinner before Aunt Mary asks you the dreaded question as you pass her the mashed potatoes:
"So, do you know where you’re going to go next year for college?"
Woof. Whether you are a student or a parent, there’s got to be a better way to handle some of these topics, right? You may only see family a handful of times throughout the year, and blowing off the conversation may seem like the easiest thing to do. But in order to avoid some uncomfortable after dinner feelings, try thinking through some of these tips instead.
You’re probably really tired of preparing for everything else that will occur after your senior year, and you just want to be able to enjoy the stage of life you’re in right now. But knowing in advance that someone is going to ask you about college can help you frame some of your responses better. Even if your answer is "I don’t know" or "I’m not sure yet", remember that your family is asking because they care, and an honest, thought-out answer is likely to be more respected than one where you have to fumble through.
You may not have heard back yet, but you applied to your list of schools for a reason. Whether it was the academic program, or campus environment, or the fact that the largest dining hall you’ve ever seen is located right outside the freshman dorms (food: always a winning topic over Thanksgiving), don’t forget why you applied to your schools.
Family members always have opinions on which schools are better, and it’s ok to listen. But in the midst of the waiting, sometimes it’s hard to remember what you loved about each of your schools in the first place. Think about these things, and when you’re struggling to formulate your plans to family, add some context: "I’m hoping to go to South Carolina, I really love all the ways students can get involved and make a difference in the community", or "I made some great connections with the professors at John Carroll on my visit, and I’m excited about the potential chance to work on undergraduate research projects with them." No one can argue with your passions.
Parents: Be On GuaRD
For all the parents and adults out there, you are family members too. You probably ask your student multiple times a week (or day!) about the college process, so over the holidays, let your son or daughter have a little bit of a breather. Avoid waiting until a silent moment over the meal to ask them to stand up and tell everyone of their plans. If you hear your brother-in-law start honing in on a tough conversation when you know your child isn’t set yet on their plans, try to steer the conversation elsewhere. College doesn’t have to be a taboo subject, but use the time to have a positive conversation about what they are looking forward to (see Remember Why), rather than a pressuring conversation where you know your student feels out of control or out of answers.
If all else fails, choose to embrace your current state of unknowns. Respond that your actual plans involve heading to college to study zombies. Throw on a t-shirt that says: Don’t ask me about college. I’m just here for the turkey. Or kindly redirect college Q&A time to after your third slice of pumpkin pie.
Who knows, maybe Uncle Tom will fall asleep halfway through that football game (or Lifetime movie), or Cousin Ricky will bring up politics, or Aunt Mary will break someone’s china, and everyone will forget to ask you about college at all. At the end of the day, remember that this unknown is only temporary, and in a few weeks (or months or years), you will be bursting with excitement to share your plans with these same people all over again.