The College Admissions Process Can be a Sensitive Subject Over the Holidays – Here’s How to Approach It
The holidays can bring together friends and family members that may not be able to see each other frequently, and that can result in a lot of catching up over dinner conversation – especially when a student is applying to college. It’s not unusual for family members to default to the college conversation as soon as they see a high school senior, but sometimes this can unintentionally lead to additional stress or students just having the same discussion over and over again. Here’s how parents, students, and family members can approach the college conversation this Thanksgiving.
While applying to college is exciting, it can be stressful for students and is often on their mind 24/7. Just like adults may not want to talk about work over their holiday break, some students want to avoid thinking about college while they enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation. That doesn’t mean the topic should be avoided altogether, especially with younger students who might be excitedly starting their college prep journey, but parents and family members can be more mindful when talking about the college admissions process.
Be Curious, Not Demanding
Especially when speaking with younger students about their college hopes and dreams, ask curious questions. What interests you? What’s your favorite extracurricular activity? What type of school, large or small, excites you? Avoid demanding questions, especially for seniors in the thick of the admissions process. Questions like “Can I see your college list?” or “Let me read your application essay” can put unneeded pressure on students. Be curious and let them talk about the things they’re passionate about that may relate to their college goals instead of focusing entirely on the destination.
Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice
We can’t stress this enough. College-bound students are already receiving a plethora of advice from a number of sources. Their college counselors, teachers, parents, friends, the internet – you name it and they’re heard it. Instead of telling them what you think they should write about, where they should apply, or what it was like when you applied to college, let them lead the conversation. If they ask for your feedback, then it’s okay to give your personal advice. But if they don’t ask for it – don’t give it!
Parents: It’s Okay to Check In
Don’t be afraid to casually check in with your student and see how they are doing before the major holiday festivities begin. Again, be curious! For younger students, this is the perfect time to really kick off the college conversation, so ask questions about their interests, favorite classes and clubs, how they felt about their latest college visit. Keep the conversation upbeat and casual – don’t immediately pivot to SAT and ACT scores and college lists. This is a time to get to know your student now that they’ve had time this semester to explore their interests, and you can revisit the harder college prep plan after the break.
If you’re a parent of a high school senior applying to college this fall, it’s important to check in without being demanding. Instead of asking to see where your student is with their Common App, ask if they need some quiet, alone time without family members around to get any work done. Offer to arrange a family outing where you take visiting guests somewhere so students have time to themselves to work, decompress, and mentally prepare for going back to school after the break. Be helpful and maintain involvement but keep a safe distance. After all, this is their journey, not yours!
Students: It’s Okay to Set Boundaries
Students: You may get a lot of questions about your college goals this holiday season. If it’s something you’re excited to talk about – then go for it! However, for some students it can be a sensitive topic and something they don’t wish to talk about with people other than close friends, parents, and college counselors. Maybe try to drop some hints to your parents to let them know you don’t want other family members to ask you about your college prep or applications. If a family member or friend asks you a question about college you don’t feel comfortable answering, don’t be afraid to say so. A simple reply like “I’m actually taking a break from thinking about college this week” or “I don’t know yet. Tell me what’s new with you?” can help change the conversation and (hopefully) drop the hint that this is something you’d rather not discuss.
The holidays are a time for students to relax, reflect, and spend time with friends and family. This is a great time for students to take a step back and see where they are with their college prep or applications, what they need to get done once they’re back from their break, and how to tackle it. Thanksgiving break doesn’t have to be college prep focused but learning how to navigate these conversations can help both parents and students learn more about their college journey and lay the groundwork to develop a more robust plan after the holiday.
At IvyWise, we work to eliminate the stress often associated with the college admissions process. Whether you’re a high school freshman or sophomore just starting to think about college, or a junior or senior in the thick of the college admissions process, we have services to help you prepare for the journey ahead. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services.