How to talk to seniors about college: A guide

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Sara.Nel via Flickr

Last week a casual dinner with my father turned nuclear. I hadn’t even finished my chicken when I was forced to slam my plate in the sink and stomp out of the kitchen, steam puffing from my ears.

The cause of this Tuesday evening meltdown? The C word, which, as of late, is my father’s favorite expletive. Sitting at the kitchen table, I was filled with rage, fear and shame as he sat opposite me, callously mentioning the odious term. My father laughed in response to my death stare.

 “What, you don’t want to talk about college?”

For seniors, the very word, along with its European cousin, “university,” conjure at once excitement and dread. “College” is synonymous with both heartening hope and stifling stress. Since it is intrinsically linked with these vague notions we have about our futures, college, for seniors, also means uncertainty.


So it goes without saying conversation on the subject should be approached with caution.

The college process is, for better or worse, the preeminent focus of senior year and the spectrum of emotions experienced by the students is visible in classrooms, on Commons, and especially at the Front Hall senior table. The atmosphere of expectancy creates a level of curiosity among those who are not applying.

Parents beware: there is a general consensus among GFS seniors that spontaneous interrogation of another’s child is a capital offense in the tense world of the 21st century college process.

“Other kids’ parents asking [about your college process] is not okay,” said Julia Shreiber ’14. “Often they like to ask if their kid is applying to bigger name places.”

Even if you are merely curious, try to avoid anything more than an imprecise inquiry followed by good wishes. Sadly, the competitive nature of applying to selective colleges already weighs heavy on friendships and does not need to be furthered by unwarranted parental snooping.

For inquisitive underclassmen looking to determine whether an innocent “So where are you applying?” will be met with a sincere response or violent eye-rolling and exasperated head-shaking–it depends.

“When younger people ask me, I presuppose a certain naiveté,” said Duncan Gallagher ’14, in explaining why he is not bothered by underclassmen asking.

Contrarily, Cece Dye ’14 views the practice as “annoying and I don’t want to talk about it ever.”

Though refraining from talking about college ever is maybe a little unrealistic, certainly eliminating any unnecessary banter would be helpful in making the whole experience as painless as possible.

This is the time of the year when college is the mot du jour–early applicants are starting to hear back and the January deadlines are quickly approaching. However, now is also the perfect time to strike up a conversation with a senior that is not related to where he or she will be next year, or what he or she wants to major in.

Isabel Ballester ’14 said that “people only ask me about college if they have nothing else to ask me.”

So while the seniors devise new ways to present themselves in front of increasingly scrupulous admissions boards, I cordially invite those not applying to devise different themes of discussion. It would alleviate some of the applicants’ anxiety and, who knows, we might all gain some new understanding in the process.