What Not to Ask at Holiday Dinners: Quick Refresher for Relatives of High School Seniors

We’re kicking off the holiday season, and all those holiday dinners. You’ll likely be seeing some form of teenage relative to whom you’re related but not necessarily “close.” At some point during the gathering, maybe as you’re passing the stuffing or maybe after you’d indulged in too much pumpkin pie or pumpkin spiced adult beverages, you’ll feel the need to fill that awkward conversational silence with some generic question related to high school seniors. Be forewarned…”So, where are you going to school next year?” is to a high school senior as “When are you having kids” is to a newlywed couple. Just don’t.

It’s the timing that makes it especially awkward. The holidays fall right around the time of year when many seniors have just submitted their applications for admission but are still awaiting the decisions. They’re anxious. THEY DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY’RE GOING TO SCHOOL NEXT YEAR. And they don’t know where they’ll be living. They don’t know what they’ll be studying. Some might not know if they really want to go to college. They don’t even know who their friends will be. Think how you would feel if you literally did not have any idea where you would be this time next year and, to some extent, it wasn’t even in your control.

Great! If…

Complicating the situation is that a few of their friends might actually already know the answers to these questions. Many colleges now participate in programs where some (but not most) of the applicants DO receive their decisions early. Some colleges participate in what’s called “on-site” decision days, generally described as when a college in the local area will send its staff to the high school and actually review applications on-site that day and give kids their decisions instantly. Great … IF that was the college you’re interested in attending.

Some colleges partner with special groups that cater to underrepresented populations of students and they bring the entire group onto campus in the fall and give them their decisions while they’re visiting. Great … but only IF you’re part of the group.

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Some colleges – typically those that are less competitive for admission – have “rolling” notification meaning that you hear your decision a few weeks after you send in your application. Great … IF that was a college on your list.

For the vast majority of students, however, they’re in the waiting zone right now. The fact that they can’t answer your question is frustrating for them. It’s even more frustrating when some of their friends CAN answer the question or when a relative chimes in with, “I just heard Susie got into Dreamschool University -why haven’t you heard anything yet?” Ouch.

Talk the Here and Now During Holiday Dinners

Instead of asking about next year, stick to the current year. Comment on how quickly the years have gone by and how you can’t believe they’re seniors already. Most high school seniors will be happy to talk to you about what’s going on THIS year. They’re seniors!

Ask them if they’re playing any sports or involved in any clubs. Ask them if they’re enjoying driving or if they’re going to prom this year. Talk to them about what they’ve enjoyed studying most in high school. Ask them what they’ll miss most about high school next year. If they have already heard college decisions and are excited about them, they’ll let you know! But if they don’t offer up the information, chances are they’re anxiously awaiting decisions and trust me – you don’t want to add the already abundant amounts of anxiety this particular population is feeling this time of year.

Related: 20 Questions to Keep That Holiday Dinner Conversation Going

Yes, some kids will have been admitted through Early Decision by the end of December, but most will still be in the dark. Or, worse yet, have been denied admission to their dream school. So, again, just don’t be the one to ask, “Where are you going to school next year?” during those holiday dinners. Like the pregnant woman rule, don’t ever ask; let them share the news with you when they’re ready.



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