Where are you going to school?

I’m a senior in high school, so I should expect this question to be flung at me every waking moment with anyone that isn’t my age. I am of course on the “college path,” so the idea that I would know where I’m going makes sense, but what I always seem to take issue with is:

a) the insistence to which people ask, and

b) the fundamental misunderstanding that I already know where I’m going.

The idea that I don’t know where I’m going for school scares me. It really does, I have the rough idea that I’m going to go away for university, but in truth I don’t truly know where. This fear is something I’ve learned to live with; knowing that the ache in my stomach isn’t going to cease any time soon.

I guess it’s the fact that people older than myself cannot remember this pain in their stomach — or perhaps have merely adapted to it as it has transformed with each new adventure in life— when they were applying for schools that leads them to begin an interrogation when I reply that I’m applying to a number of schools to their question.

“What schools? Why apply to so many? Can you afford any of those? You know the university in town has a program for political science that you could take!”

These aren’t questions. To take them as such would only leave you disappointed as you learn that there is no convincing people of your plan, or the fact that a clearly defined one cannot exist at this time. Nonetheless, a quick set of answers can be created:

  1. I’m applying to seven different universities throughout the US, the vast majority of them being located on the East Coast, or at least east of here.
  2. Safety. I cannot be assured that my top choice will accept me — even if I am applying early decision in order to receive a higher choice of admission — and therefore I have opted to apply to several different universities with the hope that at least one will accept me.
  3. Short answer: no. I cannot afford any of the schools I am applying for. I do not have a steady source of steady income — nor even have a source of income. I fully expect to find myself in an enormous debt after I graduate school. That being said I’m hoping to have a job where debt forgiveness could play a role.
  4. Yes, I am aware that our local state university has a program for a degree different than the one I’m looking to peruse. I’m very familiar with the options close to home, however I have labeled the majority of those programs inadequate and most importantly, too close to you.

I know I shouldn’t take these questions/pieces of advice negatively, but I can’t help but resent them. I already am stressed enough by the admissions process, I really do not need any further input. I may not be able to tell you what school I’m going to, but that’s because we’ve yet to reach decision day, a day that’s in April.

If I can’t ask questions, how do I show support?

It’s kind of you to want to support me or some other high school-aged person in your life, but what’s necessary to remember is that your people working through these painful applications are likely very stressed. This is something to keep in mind when you are wanting to approach this person; you want to tread softly and understand that you shouldn’t press too hard. So here are a few suggestions:

1. So what do you have in mind for after you graduate?

So maybe this question isn’t as direct as you’d like to be; it doesn’t immediately give you the name of the institute of higher education the person in front of you intends to go to, but it also prevents you from making assumptions about what that person intends to do. They may not be planning to attend a university, there are many types of education after high school, and it’s necessary to remember that not every job requires the same level of higher education.

2. Have you been working on your applications?

Again, this can be a stressing question. Realize that your intonation can make or break this question. If you ask your question too harshly, it can come off as a guilt trip. Your future-graduate may not have even started on their applications, a likely source of stress. A positive point to asking this question is also that it implies you understand that applications are not, for the most part, due until December or January. If your future-graduate answers in the affirmative, a good follow-up question could be something such as:

3. Have you filled out any fun applications?

While most university applications tend to be composed of the same subset of questions asked in various ways, there are some universities that appear to show effort in their applications. Examples of this include Columbia University’s application which ask students what their favorite films are, what publications they regularly read, and what their favorite assigned reading over the last year has been. These applications tend to be a welcome change — that is unless you have a future-graduate that has read too deeply into the idea of what “the ideal applicant” looks like — and may facilitate a greater discussion of not only their interests but also what schools they plan to apply to.

Above all it’s important to remember this: their life is not your life. While you personal anecdotes can be helpful, you shouldn’t force their lessons upon anyone. The lessons which you have learned come with their own experiences, your lesson may mean one thing to you, but their interpretation may differ from your own — as is the story of all things in life.

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