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Changing the Dialogue: How to Have Non-College Holiday Conversations

After a busy application season, students look forward to finally having a chance to relax with friends and family without having to think about their futures. But the fun of catching up with loved ones, eating home-cooked meals, and watching holiday movies is often overshadowed by the dreaded college talk.

What colleges are on your list?

Have you applied yet?

What are you going to study?

Are you going to play a sport in college?

What do you want to do for a career?

I’ve been working with teenagers for over twenty years, I even am guilty of initiating college talk. It makes sense that we’d instinctively ask the teenagers in our lives about college. We’re taught that it’s rude not to ask someone about their lives, especially when we haven’t seen them in a while. But there are ways to ask about young people’s lives without causing them stress on their break.

What we have to remember is that teenagers are bombarded with questions about their futures from every direction: from parents, extended family, neighbors, coaches, teachers, etc. When in doubt, you can assume every teenager has already been asked every imaginable question about their future, twice. You can also assume that they are tired of it.

From my extensive experience working alongside these kids, I can tell you that the pressure they are feeling right now is intense. This reminds me of the second post in my blog series 5 Ways to Stay Grounded During the College Admissions Process: Minimizing the pressure. Asking young people about their future, even if it comes from a place of genuine interest, adds to the overwhelming pressure they already face constantly. Still, there are ways you can express interest in their lives without stressing them out. So this holiday season, I invite you to join my challenge: let’s change the dialogue.

I’m suggesting a few alternative questions you can ask to get to know the young people in your life on a deeper level:

What is the best thing about your school year so far?

What’s your favorite class?

What do you do for fun these days?

What are you doing over the holiday break?

How’s your job/sports season/creative project/etc. going?

We have to remember these kids are only sixteen and seventeen years old. It’s okay that they may not know what they want to do for the rest of their lives; many of us end up changing our career paths after college anyway. We need to give them permission not to know but

instead encourage them to explore their options, find things that bring them joy, and enjoy their final months as high schoolers before they become a memory.

The challenge, once again: change the dialogue. Get to know the young people in your life by asking questions they are excited to answer. I promise they are eager to share.

Enjoy this holiday season, and join me in making it a stress-free time for teenagers preparing for college. I invite you to share these tips with your loved ones. I’m sure the young people in our life would love for us to spread the message.


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