Stop Saying These Things To High Schoolers

First of all, I’d like to offer an apology to every high school kid I’ve interacted with until this point in my life. Here’s how a situation would typically unfold. Me, as an adult and not having a ton in common with a high school-aged teen, I would ask: 

“Where do you want to go to college?”

Teen answered awkwardly: “Umm well. A lot of places.”

I was just trying to make conversation and it was, honestly, a pretty lazy way to be curious about a person. It’s only now, that I have a high school-aged child, that I see how hard that question can be.

Non-Stop Pressure

First of all, not every kid wants to go to college. There are so many other amazing options after high school that are NOT college. I’m beyond proud of my nephew who plans to pursue EMT/Firefighter training after he graduates high school this June. There are famous entrepreneurs, leaders, and awesome people who didn’t get a four-year degree. College is not the only path. Many happy, successful people don’t pursue college. 

For kids who do want to attend college, any mention of the process, by even the most well-meaning person, can send them into a mental spiral. Here’s the thing: For these kids, they are getting college-prep pressure nonstop in school. They don’t need it from us.

When I was applying to school, it was reasonable to think you could simply apply, get accepted, and attend the college of our choice. Now, schools are receiving a record-setting amount of applications. A university in our area had more than 57,000 applications last year. 

So asking a kid where they want to go to school can be a trick question. Chances are, 57,000 kids want to go to this school … but only 5,600 ish will be accepted. 


Let’s Get Curious

Here’s something I strongly believe: If you want to go to college, I don’t really think it matters where you go. Honest to goodness, I can’t tell you where some of my very best friends went to school. Perhaps they told me at some point but it’s not the thing I love most about them so it’s not a part of my working memory. I think it matters what you do with an education, not where you get it. That being said, our daughter has a lofty list of possible universities where she hopes to apply. 

Every time a well-meaning adult asks, “Where do you want to go to college?” she answers with, “I’m looking at all the places everyone else is looking. I’ll be happy with any of them.” My mama heart knows she doesn’t want to set expectations, even to a person she will never see again, then let them down by naming a school where she may ultimately get rejected. 

If she does name the schools where she wants to apply it’s always met with a, “Gosh. Geez.. those are tough.” Of course, they are tough. She knows getting accepted at those places is harder than getting tickets to see Taylor Swift. She KNOWS this. No need to remind her, friends. 

Our teens are under enough pressure. Could we do a better job of getting curious about them as humans, and not just where they want to spend a few years of their lives? 

What To Say Instead

So what do we say to make small talk or connect meaningfully with high schoolers? Here are some ideas I had: 

Let’s stop asking:

Where do you want to go to college?

Instead, we could ask:

What are you curious about learning after high school? (This opens it up for those not planning on attending college and will provide a more interesting answer than the name of an institution.)

Let’s stop asking: 

Where are you applying?

Instead, we could ask:

What is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled? (or) Is there a place on your travel bucket list?

Let’s stop asking:

Do you know how hard it is to get into _____?

Instead, we could ask?

What advice would you give an incoming high school freshman? 

Let’s stop asking: 

How many AP Classes are you taking?

Instead, we could ask?

Did you see Taylor Swift’s Eras tour on Disney+?

Did you see the new micro shorts from Free People? 

How many points could Caitlin Clark score on you in a ten-minute one-on-one basketball game? 

(Or insert some sort of pop culture news of your choice)

Tell me if you have any good advice or questions for high school students! As always, thanks for reading. Xo, Kim