Beyond the college (small) talk

Asking about future plans may make students feel judged and inadequate.

Elizabeth Posey, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Seniors, how many times have you been at a social or family gathering and been asked about college? Probably too many to count.

Adults light up at the opportunity to make small talk about one of your first major life decisions, relishing every detail of the application process as you sink further into the pressure of generating respectable answers.

Being a high school senior during the fall semester becomes a perfect storm for application and academic stress. To exacerbate these feelings, it can feel like the topic of every conversation centers around school.

Application fees alone are enough to incite turmoil within families. Just this year, the CSU system raised its application fee from $55 per campus to $70 per campus.

Paying tuition has also become more burdensome in recent decades. According to data from the College Board, the average price of four-year tuition jumped by $2,760 and $7,390 for public and private colleges respectively. Trying to finance and avoid debt puts potential strain on families. 

A recent article from the New York Times headlined “How paying for college is changing middle class life” suggests that family life has become increasingly framed with the focus of paying for college or paying off existing student loans — payments that follow students and their loved ones for years.

While the conversational aspect of college is one of the lighter concerns for students of application age, it still serves as a regular reminder of future financial struggles. 

Students face additional academic and social pressure to attend a four-year when junior college and trade school are both valid options for educational paths. 

Still, expectations from society continue to ingrain the notion that a four-year university is the best and optimal track towards a career. In reality, differences between unemployment for those with bachelor’s degrees and associate’s degrees are relatively similar, a difference of 0.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, people often place higher emphasis on attending elite or well-known universities, making students who choose not to apply feel a sense of inferiority. Worrying too much about the prestige of one’s higher education was one of the causes of the college admissions scandal occurring earlier this year, where individuals with wealth and influence used these powers to have their children children attend elite schools.

Although comments from friends and family about college are a known part of many students’ academic journeys, they can easily become one of the most dreaded aspects of this time. By no means is avoiding consideration of higher education a good idea; in fact, planning for the future and making concrete steps to achieve these goals is what family and friends support you to do. Nevertheless, some of these questions offer little support or substance but. rather prompt students to be judged for their choices, resulting in exceeding amounts of academic stress.

Even as students encounter a seemingly interminable list of college questions, it’s important to know that people are worth more than where they go to school and what they do. Of course, career and educational paths can hold value in people’s lives but this time of concentrated focus 

Even as the financial burdens and impactful decisions surrounding higher education awaken us to harsh realities, keep in mind that this single process is a short-term one. Nevertheless, these types of questions are just a sign of adulthood. Every future step made is another opportunity for conversations about one’s life goals.

Those adults might keep conversing with you about college, but just think, you’ll be old enough to do the same thing in a few years.