You Got This: How To Reclaim The Holidays When Family Starts Asking Questions


As the high school senior embarking on a huge transition to college, you are likely to become the center of attention for at least one holiday gathering this season — whether it’s a family member asking you to plan out the next ten years of your life right now, or an uncle bombarding you with how the university with his favorite football team is the only one you should really be considering.

I recently participated in a Parent Education Circle at my kids’ school about “Creating peaceful holidays for yourself and your children.” And it got me thinking about how the tips I learned during this session can translate to the college acceptance anxiety that begins to ramp up around the holidays when early admission decision notifications are sent.

So, if you’re dreading heading to grandma’s in a few weeks because you don’t know what to say when the inevitable “what are your college plans” question comes up, here are some strategies for getting through the worst of it and enjoying the season. You got this.

Remember: It’s Your STORY.

You might be asking yourself how do I answer the questions of “where did you apply?” or “Why haven’t you heard yet?”.

First, where you apply and where you get accepted is your story. And because it's your story, you decide when to share this information and how to share it. One strategy could be to deflect the question by stating, “The last few months were really stressful with college application stuff, so I have made a commitment to myself this holiday season just to focus on the holidays. But you will definitely know where I’m headed when I figure it out.”

Or you may want to share the excitement of your application and acceptance process. Either way, it is your story to tell. And you might want to ensure that those closest to you know your game plan before stepping into the next party.

You don’t need to have it all figured out.

The “where did you apply?” and “where did you get accepted?” questions can easily transition to “what are you going to study?” during family discussions. Which can then quickly turn to life plans.

As a college admissions professional, I listen to people discuss such plans all of the time and I often hear “my son is going to graduate in three years”, or “my daughter is going to pursue this advanced degree at this university once she completes her undergrad degree”. It can be stressful for high school students to hear their future prescribed for them.

But, as an admissions professional, I also know that many many many first-year students change their major, some more than once.

Thus, my advice to you if you’re in this situation: encourage others and yourself to slow down. You do not need to have it all figured out.

You do not need to know what exact area you are going to major, where you will work, or where you will get that advanced degree! You haven’t even started college yet. And that first year in college is the time to explore.

What you do on campus is far more important than where you go.

I have repeated this statement year after year over my decade long career in admissions - What you do in college is far more important than where you will go. The real work starts once a student enrolls in college.

How one engages with their studies and college campus is a far better indicator of their potential for success.

This statement also closely aligns with a wonderful book by Frank Bruni titled “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admission Mania”. In the book Bruni profiles students who went to a variety of different colleges and came out with the same job and life results in the end.

Again, what you do in college is far more important than where you go. Try that line out this holiday season.

With a few strategies and game plans in place, you can reclaim the story of your college application journey and not let inquisitive family members derail your holiday fun.

From all of us at Ross, have a safe and happy holiday season!