From a Rising Senior to Her Teachers: Things to Never Say or Ask About...

Opinion | Student Voice

From a Rising Senior to Her Teachers: Things to Never Say or Ask About College

By Audrey Mullen     Jul 8, 2017

From a Rising Senior to Her Teachers: Things to Never Say or Ask About College

Since the dawn of time (or at least since college admissions became the beast it is today), high school seniors have been pestered with constant questions about their future, chief among them: “Where do you want to go to college?”

I have been asked this so many times that I respond from a script: “Oh, I don’t know, I’m thinking about going to the East Coast. I like Boston College- Northeastern- Dartmouth- Tufts- Amherst.” I end with a forced smile and pretend to take a phone call.

The truth is, I don’t know where I’m going to college. I know where I hope to go. But do they want me? Am I good enough? My entire life I have been told, “Oh do that, it will look good for college.” Now I wonder, will it?

We seniors tell ourselves it’s all a crapshoot. If you believe this article about the University of Pennsylvania, I’ll get four minutes of an admission officer’s time while he or she decides my future over morning coffee or evening wine. If it’s coffee, I wonder if I should be serious and inspirational. If I’m in that final evening batch, I debate going for clever and funny. And what do I write about anyway? How do I compete with the students shelling out thousands of dollars for advice? And what about the unfairness and inequity of that system and the randomness of a stranger deciding whether I’m worth a dormitory bed and, and,!

OK. Deep breaths. Namaste. It’s still summer. We seniors are not supposed to crack until late autumn.

The point is, the questions we get from adults do not help mitigate these concerns—and I’m not alone. In fact, I did an informal Instagram survey asking senior friends what adult questions they hated most about the college process. In minutes, I had more than 20 answers. Clearly I touched a nerve.

A small sampling of responses

For me, there were no surprises; adults all ask the same thing. But maybe you don’t realize all the grief you’re causing us. So here are the top four annoying questions we hear most—and what you should be asking instead this upcoming application season.

Dreaded Question #1: Where do you want to go to school?

If I say I want to attend Truckee Meadows Community College (which is quite a beautiful school in the Lake Tahoe area), you look at me one way. If I say the University of Notre Dame, you look at me another. Either way, I feel like I’m being judged and we’re both confused.

My advice? Just don’t ask us where we want to go to college. What seems like innocent small-talk to you unleashes a tidal wave of insecurities and stress for us. If you must broach the college question, try centering the conversation around broad questions (ie: East or West Coast? Big or small school? What kind of schools do you want?) rather than fishing for a name. This simple act lessens the pressure on students when admission results come out.

Dreaded Question #2: “What do you want to study?”

Most of us shrug and say, “I’m not sure yet” with a forced laugh. Even the students who seem to have their lives together really don’t. We spent the past four years forced to take classes for credits, not on learning but rather getting an A. How are we supposed to know what we truly like? Does an A in Chem mean we should go pre-med?

The truth is, few know what they want to study, just as few adults know what they’ll be doing five years down the road. By asking, you will just get an automatic answer that has been rehearsed hundred times. The better question to ask is: “What is your favorite subject in school?” This is a low-pressure question that students have been asked since kindergarden. It’s like asking our favorite color. There’s no wrong answer, no judgment, and not only does it put a student at ease, but it allows you to learn what he or she is truly interested in. Win-win.

Dreaded Question #3: “What did you get on the SAT/ACT?”

Wow, that’s a little personal, isn’t it? You’d be surprised how many times I have been asked this. Take this actual conversation I had recently:

“What did you get on the SAT, Audrey?”
“Oh, not bad for your first time. You will have to score a little higher if you want to get into Dartmouth.”
“Um, it was my third...”

I have a friend with a 4.6 cumulative GPA who got a 1200 on the SAT. How does someone so exceptionally successful in class get such an average SAT score? The answer is simple: standardized testing is not an accurate representation of college readiness and shouldn’t be such a major factor in the college application process. Most teachers already know this. So when it comes to SAT scores, don’t go there. Just assume we’re all perfect.

Dreaded Question #4: “What do you want to do after college?”

This is the killer. I mean, I don’t even know what I’m eating for dinner. Some seniors have secret dream careers, but even with those secret dream careers, we don’t really know the path to get there. We are 17, deciding our future, yet we aren’t even old enough to vote.

In reality, it is rare any senior person knows what they want to do with their future. So instead of probing, ask if we want to hear about your job. We are constantly wrapped up in our own troubles that we often forget that there’s a whole adult world out there. We’re listening. Are you?

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