It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the holidays! The joy will be spread amongst the world through holiday music, festive décor and (dreaded) family dinners, but there may be one thing dampening that joy: questions about college. Your family may take the awkward in-between dinner courses silence to focus on your upcoming life transition, even though there are so many other topics to cover.
It may seem awkward to have all the attention on you, and you may even get tripped up on how to answer everyone’s questions, but fear not! HC talked to Christine Logel, social psychologist and assistant professor of social development studies at the University of Waterloo, to give you all best responses to both answer or avoid all the questions thrown at you.
1. “Are all your applications in?”
This one can easily be a stress trigger just because of how stressful college apps are, but you have to remember your extended family doesn’t see you everyday so they don’t know your progress. At the same time, it’s okay to get a little frustrated but make sure you don’t come across as rude.
If you feel comfortable talking about college at this point, you can respond with something like, “Thanks for remembering I’m applying! It’s quite a process. In your senior year, did you know what you wanted to do after graduation?” This shows that you’re interested in your future, and also want your relatives’ perspective on life after high school.
If you don’t feel comfortable enough to answer, or are simply too overwhelmed to go into detail, you have no obligation to give a lengthy response. Try saying something along the lines of, “College applications are basically a school assignment in itself!” and steer the conversation to how good the food you’re eating is or how excited you are for winter break.
2. “What do you want to major in?”
Choosing your major is definitely an interesting subject to touch on. You may think you want to major in something, but throughout your first year or even your fourth year you may realize you want to pursue something else.
This is a topic in which your relatives could go on and answer for days. So if you want to talk about your intended major, by all means go ahead and tell them what it is and why you want to do it. But if you aren’t 100 percent sure, try asking your relatives for advice. Go for something along the lines of, "I need to try out some courses before deciding. How did you pick your major?" or "I'm haven't made up my mind. If you were about to start college next year, what would you major in?" Again, you can always answer with a simple “I don’t know” and go ahead and change the topic all together.
3. “Are you sure you want to move away from home?”
Moving away from home can be a stressful decision, but it’s solely your decision to make. Don’t let your relatives try and sway you either way or talk you out of your already made decision. “If [your relative] sounds like they are questioning your choices or trying to change your mind, you have no obligation to get dragged into a debate about a choice you have already made,” Logel advises. “Politely update them that the decision is made and you are happy with it.”
With this question especially, instead of dwelling on the subject, try turning the question into something funny or even into a learning experience. Without sounding too short or abrupt, you can approach this subject two ways. Ask your relatives for advice about living on your own, such as “Yes, and I’m happy with my decision. Any advice about learning to cook?” or make jokes about the hassles of living in a dorm with, “I’ll miss my family and friends here. But I’m excited to live in a dorm. I hear that it can be hard to study if other people are being loud. Do you think earplugs work? Or is it worth investing in noise-canceling headphones?” Both can help you steer clear of awkwardness!
4. “How well did you do on the SATs/APs?”
Standardized tests can be scary and by this point in your college apps, you probably won’t get a chance to redo them. Don’t focus on your specific scores, instead try to relate to your relative and ask them about their test experience. Even though the tests are over, you probably don’t want to relive the stresses. Your best bet to respond to these sorts of questions is answering them but slowly steering away from the SAT topic with something like, “I was satisfied with my score, thanks for asking. Did you ever get nervous before writing tests?”
5. “What are your safety schools?”
With this one you have to be careful with your answer because your safety school may turn out to be the school your relative ended up attending. If you feel like talking about the schools in particular, feel free to answer honestly. But Logel advises that if you are unsure if you want to chat about school to stay vague.
Instead of listing off every school you’ve applied to, feel free to answer with something such as, "I've tried to pick a wide variety. How did you decide on schools?" This way you’re getting advice on applying while not focusing solely on your decisions. You can also just avoid specific colleges all together by asking about the best colleges/cities to visit before you have to decide. Try, "There are a few that I'm pretty confident about. I'm thinking of taking a road trip to some campuses before I decide. What are some things should I check out on the tour?" Both responses will do the trick.
6. “Why don't you go to your parents' alma mater?”
This one can be a tough one simply because you don’t want to offend your parents, but at the same time, you want to maintain your independence instead of following in your parents’ footsteps.
An option to respond to this question could be, "I love hearing my parents' stories from College A. But College B is the right choice for me.” Finish off with a cool fact or trivia of the city or school to show how much you love the school. If you really don’t want to talk about it, just say "I know they want me to have a great experience like they did, maybe I’ll end up there. Who knows?” and leave it at that. Your relatives should get the hint that you don’t want to talk about it anymore.
7. “How are you going to pay for school?”
This can definitely be an awkward topic to cover just simply because money can be a sensitive topic to talk about. Since it’s around the holidays, you could always joke about using your Christmas money to pay for it, or depending on the relationship you have with your relative you could always joke around with something such as, “I was hoping my favorite aunt was going to sponsor me! Hint, hint. But seriously, what money-saving tips you have learned since you were my age?" This way, you can show you are willing to make the effort to help pay for college but are always up for a little help.
If you don’t feel comfortable enough to joke around, try "Thanks for asking. College is so expensive! Any thoughts on good part-time jobs for college students?” It still shows you are interested in saving up, but without chancing the awkward response from your relative.
If you aren’t in the middle of eating when these questions are asked, or are allowed to leave and go off on your own during the get together, there’s always a simple way to avoid all questions. “You have a built-in excuse,” Logel says. “’Thanks for asking! I’d love to chat about it but if I want to go to college next year, I’ve got to study this year. I’m off to hit the books.’”
Just remember, this is just the start of the everlasting questions about college from your relatives. Between college apps, freshman year and post-grad plans, you’ll soon be a master at answering any and all questions about your college life.