How to Navigate Questions About College During the Holidays

college during holidaysThe holiday season is upon us! With family and friends gathering to celebrate, it’s a time of merriment and cheer. However, for many high school students, this season can also be uncomfortable or even outright stressful, as well-meaning family and friends pose questions about their post-high school plans, make comparisons to other relatives or friends, and share unsolicited advice.  

From freshmen to seniors, students tell us they often encounter probing conversations around the college search and application process. Queries abound like, “Where are you applying?,” “Which school is your top choice?,” and “What are you writing your essay about?” Whether they’re just beginning to consider their college options or they’re seniors who are anxiously awaiting admissions decisions, these questions can add to the feelings of being overwhelmed and worried. 

Well-intentioned friends and relatives may be genuinely interested; however, the truth is many seniors don’t know their next step, while freshmen through juniors are at varying stages of thinking about college and are still a year or more away from applying to college. To be fair, asking high school students about their future is a seemingly easy conversation starter — it’s relatable, relevant, important, and it seems that everyone has an opinion or idea to share. 

Here are a few tips to help navigate these moments in a way that helps to keep the holly jolly. 

Make a game plan. Students, decide ahead of time whether (and how much) you want to share. Talk to your parents to let them know how you’re feeling and whether you’re comfortable with them running interference for you. Parents, be on the lookout for times to intervene, redirect the conversation, and protect your child from the inevitable barrage of questions and opinions.

Prepare a brief response. Seniors, if someone asks specific questions you’d rather not answer, remember that a brief response can protect your serenity. Examples include, “I’m not sharing that right now.” “I’ve got several options in the works. I’m excited to see how things work out.” “I’m waiting to hear back from the colleges I’ve applied to.” If you’re not a senior, you can politely let them know that you’re exploring your options to get ready for senior year when you will submit college applications.

Redirect by asking the curious person about their college experience. Where did they apply? What was their essay about? How did they decide which college to attend?

Be honest. If you’d rather not discuss college at all, be honest and say, “I’m taking a break from talking about college today (this weekend, etc.)!”

Be confident in your decision. If someone is unfamiliar with a college you’re considering, be confident in the research you’ve done to determine the college is a good fit for you. “We really enjoyed our visit and feel like it’s a great option for me!”

It’s okay to not know. If you don’t know what your major will be, that’s totally normal! As a matter of fact, studies suggest that more than 50% of college students change their major at least once. 

You are now prepared to gracefully handle the questions and advice that come your way this holiday season, responding respectfully while still protecting your privacy and enjoying your holiday festivities in peace! 

About the Author

Julie Carter is Director of College Counseling at Episcopal School of Jacksonville, where she manages the college counseling team and programming to support more than 600 9th-12th grade students. Prior to Episcopal, she was the Associate Director of College Counseling at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida.


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