You may want to get some work done on your supplemental essays on Saturday after you’ve gotten your fill of turkey and shopping, but you’ve been working pretty hard on schoolwork and college applications and this is one holiday to really spend quality time with your family.
Of course, this also means that you may have extra relatives all gathered into a compact space, many of whom already went to college, and they very well may have unsolicited advice for you. You already may be feeling uneasy because you haven’t gotten responses from most of the colleges you’ve applied to and you are wondering if you will get in anywhere. You might be feeling uneasy because you haven’t completed all of your applications and they are looming over you. You might be feeling uneasy because you are beginning to second-guess yourself—should you be considering other colleges? Will you be accepted into any of the colleges you are applying to? And then you find yourself having to explain to relatives who went to college in another age and who haven’t heard of some of the colleges you’ve applied to.
What you need to keep in mind is that practically nothing about applying to college is the same as it was when even your older cousins were going through this, let alone your aunts and uncles or grandparents! Even as recently as when my own daughters were applying, colleges have become more competitive in every way. They have added technology and buildings and labs and climbing walls and freshman seminars. They have become more expensive. Students have become more competitive as well—prepping more for the ACT and SAT tests, becoming much more active in community service and extra-curriculars and leadership and taking more advanced courses. The result of all of this is that most parents I talk to acknowledge that they probably wouldn’t get into the college they attended if they were applying today. That also means that colleges that used to be “safety” schools can’t be counted on to be such any more. But that also means that colleges your older relatives wouldn’t have considered have grown in stature and value as they have added features to make them more attractive to better students.
What this all means for you is that no relative or family friend is going to know as much about applying to college as you do right now. But more importantly, no relative or family friend—or US News or college guidebook for that matter—can substitute for the most important factor in your college selection—HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT IT! You are the one going to college, it will be your home for the next four years, and you will make friendships—and connections—there that will shape the rest of your life. Your family cares about you, but this is YOUR life.
So here’s what you need to do: Smile and thank them for their interest and assure them that your goal is to find a college that is right for YOU. And that you won’t be making a decision until next May, but you’ll be sure to invite them to your graduation party and they can find out then what choice you have made. In fact, discuss this with your parents ahead of time, so they can intercede for you! Then get them talking about themselves, and they will relax and remember that you are very intelligent and will be likely to make a good decision.
When you think about it, this is the last Thanksgiving you will spend living full time at your parents’ home, so take a moment to step back to enjoy the day, even the extra relatives and all of their advice, because they really just care about you. And be appreciative of what all this means—which, after all, is what this holiday is all about.
Patricia Bostwick, MA,LPC
Director of College Counseling