Don’t ever ask a high school senior (or his mother) where he is applying to college.
I’ve been through three senior years, so far, which means that I’ve been asked this question at least a million times. Since I try hard to overcome my lower nature, I do not reply the way I want to when someone asks me this question. Generally, I smile and give as noncommittal an answer as possible, but what I really want to say is, “Why do you want to know?”
Because if you really think about it, there are only three reasons why anyone would ask such a personal question, and frankly, they aren’t very nice.
You are looking for validation of your own parenting choices
I blame the mommy wars. Since before our kids were born we have been besieged with others telling us, sometimes stridently, the right way or the best way to raise our kids. We’ve made emotional choices, and for every choice we made there was an opposite choice we didn’t make and people ready to undermine our confidence in our decisions. I don’t think any other generation of mothers has had this much pressure placed on them, and it has made raising our kids nerve wracking.
Now that they are old enough for college, we see an opportunity for validation of those choices we agonized over. It would be so easy to think that since Junior is going to X College that everything we did as a parent was correct. An acceptance to X College is public proof that we were the right ones about prenatal vitamins, natural childbirth, breastfeeding, daycare, phonics, private school, homeschool, summer camps, year round sports, and everything else we agonized over when they were growing up.
Are you asking that question in hopes of hearing that the decisions you’ve made so far as a parent were the right ones?
If so, just relax, and try to put college in its proper perspective. College is the place our kids go to spread their wings, learn, and grow into adults – that’s it.
It isn’t a validation of your choice to breastfeed for five years.
You are sizing up your own kid’s opportunities
Sometimes, a parent will ask where your child is applying to college because they are trying to calibrate their own kid’s chances for different colleges. The thought goes something like, if your kid can get into college x, then my kid should be a guarantee because my kid’s way better. Usually, this type of questioner will follow up with lots of questions about SAT prep courses, tutors, and service hours.
You are a know-it-all dream killer
The worst are people who ask because they want to be all knowing and all eye-rolling. They are the kind of person who enjoys saying things like, “good luck, no one gets in there” or they tell gloomy tales of awesome kids who didn’t get accepted to any of their top choices.
Are you that person? You don’t sound very fun to be around.
What should you say to a senior (or his loving mother)?
Good luck! You are a great kid, and whatever college you go to next year, they will be lucky to have you.
Which is most probably true.