Anna Schultz-Blue College Hat

It's Okay to Not Want to Talk About Your College Applications

We’re all familiar with the questions. Those well-intentioned, well-worn queries that never fail to surface at every family reunion, holiday party, or summer barbeque: Where are you applying? What’s your first choice? How many schools? Where did you get in? What were your SAT scores? The list goes on and on, and overzealous aunts are not the only guilty parties.  

In the increasingly competitive high school setting, even your best friends can become your worst enemies when it comes to talking about college admissions. The ordeal of applying to and choosing a college is stressful enough without the added pressure of explaining and justifying the process to everyone you know. If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself frequently hemming and hawing, looking for a way to tactfully evade the question. In my experience, there’s no perfect solution to the problem. 

Your family and friends love you, and are naturally curious about this momentous event in your life, but you’re also more than justified in wanting to preserve your privacy until you’re ready to share the big news. So with this in mind, here are four tried-and-true methods of avoiding the pesky “college questions.”

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1. The vague brush off

These are great for the more open-ended questions such as, “Where are you applying?” or “What’s your first choice?” When faced with these, I would frequently give vaguely non-committal answers, like, “Well I’m really looking at small liberal arts colleges, and I think I want to stay in New England,” or, “Definitely a school with an active theatre program (or parasailing club, field hockey team, etc.).” 

You’re still responding to the question, but without having to give away more information than you’re comfortable sharing. Consequently, these responses work well in all kinds of contexts, even with your dad’s friends from work who want to know everything.

2. The diversion

One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me was to offer a distraction. The setting: an IHOP, fall of my senior year. I was out with a bunch of friends, most of whom were seniors, and the conversation had naturally turned to college applications. One girl turned to me and asked almost challengingly where I had applied early, at which point my boyfriend, knowing how uncomfortable I was talking about applications, jumped to his feet and shouted “I LOVE this song!” in reference to Billy Joel’s “I’m Movin’ Out,” which had just come on the radio.  

The conversation then naturally transitioned into music, and the crisis was averted. I was beyond grateful. While this technique may not be appropriate for Sunday brunch with your aunts and uncles, it’s definitely a good one to use with your friends at school. If the conversation starts heading in that direction and you’re getting uncomfortable, divert! Bring up that great new song on the radio, that crazy thing you heard on the news, that cute new Instagram post from your crush, whatever works. And the odds are, other people will be grateful to change the subject, too.

3. The joke

For the comedians among us, another useful tactic is to joke your way out of the situation. When faced with a question you don’t want to answer, respond with, “What, college? Nah, I decided that’s too much work. I’m going to go live off the grid in a tent and pursue my passion of making D&D themed pottery,” or some such quip (please note: no disrespect to tents, pottery, or D&D – you do you).

You do want to be aware of your audience for this technique, because you don’t want to accidentally give grandma a heart attack, but if you're chatting with your friends or your cool older cousin, this can be a fun way to diffuse and divert the conversation.

4. The polite decline

If all else fails and you’re really in a corner, there's also nothing wrong with just telling someone politely that you’re not comfortable answering the question. “I remember once at a party, my dad asked the parent of one of my friends where they were looking for school,” recounts Caroline, a junior studying classics. “The dad just said, ‘We aren’t talking about that,’ and that was the end of the conversation. I remember thinking, wow, that’s cool, I wish I had that confidence.” And while many of us, like Caroline, may not be comfortable being quite so abrupt, a simple, “I’m sorry, I’m just not super ready to talk about it yet, but I’ll keep you posted!” is perfectly appropriate. And if the person really cares about you, they’ll respect your privacy. For the older generation especially, it’s easy to forget how stressful a time this is for you, and it doesn’t hurt to remind them that you don’t necessarily feel up to a deep chat about your pending future!

With the mounting pressure of test scores, grades, college visits and application deadlines, it’s easy for it to seem like the process is your whole world. But just as it is important to remember to take time to enjoy life outside of your applications, it’s equally important to set boundaries, even with friends and family. At the end of the day, no one is entitled to know any information about your college process that you aren’t ready to share. There is certainly enough pressure surrounding the issue already without your having to dissect your various choices, successes, failures, hopes and dreams. The college application process is deeply personal, and looks different for everyone, and in the same way, different people are going to have differing levels of comfort when it comes to talking about it. So, if you find yourself in a position where you're being asked a question you’re not comfortable answering, or feeling pressured to share information you’d rather keep private, just remember that it’s ok not to share. Trust me, everyone will be just as keen to talk about it later on when you’re ready to shout your choice from the rooftops!