It’s stressful when you ask about college

I woke up every morning for several months with very little clue what state I’m going to be living in next year. I would check my phone every day to find an inbox flooded with college emails, information, financial aid awards, and visit opportunities. I would go home late at night and log on to interviews, fill out scholarships, or crunch numbers and google rankings. On weekends, my parents would drill me with assignments and other obligations I should be fitting into my chaotic schedule to help make college affordable and pressure me to hurry up and make a decision. Not to mention I also have to figure out what I’m going to do with my life when I get there.

I’m dead, but everyone’s asking about it. It’s tough being a senior right now. Incessantly, everyone around you kindly asks where you’re going, what you’re going to do there, etc, and when you don’t know the answer, they kindly ask for your top schools and ideas, inducing the entire stressful process of thinking through why you like and dislike each school and can’t decide yet.

The college process is like a real life escape room that we all need to get out of by May 1st, but everyone else seems to have forgotten this fact and mistaken it for a very, very exciting time in our lives.

The reality is that we’re drowning, and everyone seems to want to hear about it. 

I should clarify that I appreciate how many people care about me and my life and how much they do so. However, sometimes people need to recognize when it becomes stressful. 

First of all, people need to understand WHY their questions can be so overwhelming. 

I know that when I look back when I’m older, everything will be okay. I’ll be in college, happy, and I’ll know that kids who are seniors in the future will end up being just fine too. Naturally, it’ll seem like the college process is stressful yet fun, as students get to choose their next place. 

What people forget, however, is that for many students it doesn’t seem like they’re headed to a place where they are happy. Students get rejected. Students can’t afford where they want to go. Students don’t know what they want to do. They don’t think they’re smart enough. They don’t think they’ll fit in. They don’t know anyone. 

For many of us, this is the biggest decision we’ve ever been faced with thus far in our lives. This is also the biggest, or perhaps only, real financial consideration we’ve had to put on anything we’ve had to decide. We also have to make perhaps an even huger decision – what we’re going to study – at the same time. 

Trying to answer questions we don’t know or like the answers to is extremely unsettling, especially because none of us have made a decision of this magnitude before. If people can recognize this, perhaps they can ask differently in a way that doesn’t unbox so much turmoil that we try not to open in social situations.

It is not rude to ask students about their lives, but instead of rapid-firing questions about the students plans and the reasons for them, it is nicer to have more of a conversation. If you’re older, try to make the conversation a little more two sided. Share about what you did. Give some advice. Tell them it’s not all that big a deal. Sometimes a better response is a positive reaction to a statement rather than a follow up question. If you’re younger, be encouraging. Acknowledge the stress and ask about the process rather than just what’s going on.

Trying to recognize if a student might be upset and steering the conversation based on that is typically a good way to go. If a student answers everything and adds a lot of details, they might be excited about college. That’s good. Keep it going. But if a student continues to say they don’t know or just answer the question directly without expanding, they probably aren’t trying to be rude and they probably really do care. They probably don’t know the answers and don’t want to continue to have to think about them.

Social situations are sometimes opportunities to take one’s mind off of college. I know that personally, college thoughts consume a large portion of my day. I recognize that for other age groups, it might be something special and exciting. But please try and remember that for us, it’s constant. We might need a break. 

Ask, and thank you for asking, but also remember to ask if I’m okay.

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