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College Application Anxiety: Don’t Ask High School Seniors Questions

The applications are finished, the transcripts are sent, and the “send” button has been pushed. Our third and last child has completed his college applications. We survived our third round of college visits, decisions, and applications in four years. The hard part is over, and now the waiting begins.

No More College Talk: College Apps are Just the Beginning

Actually, I take that back. The hard part is really just beginning. For the next six to eight months, every adult will ask your senior the following question: “So, where are you applying for college?” From the dentist, to their parents’ friends, to the random stranger in the checkout lane at their after-school job, each person will absolutely, one hundred percent ask.

My older kids used to wince because they could feel the question coming. It wasn’t just the sheer repetition of the question (although that was part of it). What I really noticed was that this question was sure to stress them out. Especially if they had somehow managed momentarily to forget the 6,000 pound elephant in the room.

Why? Because the whole process of sending in college applications is pretty darn stressful, probably the most anxiety-provoking thing they’ve experienced in their tender young lives. Will I be accepted to my dream school? Can I get in to ANY schools? Will I get enough financial aid or a scholarship for my dream school? And worst of all, will my parents be disappointed in me? Everyone is making plans and I don’t know what I want. Shouldn’t I know what I want if everyone else seems to?

“Where are you going to college?”

All of this is constantly swirling around in their heads. When they arrive at school each day, teachers warn them—“Remember, this is an important semester!” College counselors kindly remind them about important dates—“Remember, the December 1 deadline is almost here!” And parents gently mention when they come home—“Don’t let up, buddy. You need to keep up your grades this semester.” They’ve spent the past three years of high school busting their butts to get to this point: taking AP classes, making note cards, cramming for finals, studying for the SAT. And now there’s nothing left to do but wait and worry.

And adults—please. You know why you’re asking. Sometimes it’s just small talk. It might be motivated out of a genuine interest in a kid’s future. But often, this college talk is not so benign. When some parents ask your daughter where she is applying, they are only interested so they can see how your daughter stacks up next to theirs.

Competitive mothers who elbowed you out of the way at the science fair in fourth grade ask your son, “What was your PSAT score?” Sometimes it’s a financial barometer: “Hmm, applying to Stanford? I didn’t know they could afford that.”

Parents these days are very anxious for the kids and the stakes seem so high that everything becomes a competition. I know I’ve done it, too. We can’t help ourselves.

A modest proposal to parents—just don’t ask The Question. Let them tell you, if they want to talk about it. Better yet, wait until they’ve been admitted and are ready to announce their plans. Until then, ask what movies they’ve seen, how their job is going, or if they’re enjoying being a senior. Everyone is going to end up where they belong, and almost all will be happy. So let’s all just … chill.

Jane Parent

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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