The College Question

The Root of an Interrogation Existing in Infamy and in Question


Cleo Belber

Visions of college campuses may be dancing in your head, but does Aunt Sue need to ask you about it?

Cleo Belber, Staff Writer

A byproduct of good intentions, the college question is something grandparents, family friends, and awkward neighbors know all too well. The question is predictably unpredictable, popping up often and at the most random of moments.

“My goodness, how the time flies,” a Floridian aunt might begin, “I remember when you were just this big [insert David Schwimmer-esque hand motion]… and you’re already applying to college! Whereabouts are you thinking?” A high school senior somewhere sighs. They’ve inevitably heard it before and will hear it again. This classic interrogative prompt is tricky; some students are eager to describe the process– perhaps they have been waiting all afternoon at this hypothetical family gathering for Aunt Sue to ask about the Vanderbilt application they are so proud of. However, for many others, this simple question can produce a nervous stutter, even a staged departure from the scene to avoid the answer. 

Ok, so this seems like an exaggeration–after all, whoever is asking the question likely has a genuine curiosity, however minute that might be, about the awaited response and the person responding. Human nature will tell us that those who question generally want to know the answer, and giving insight into one’s secondary education process is a small price to pay for connecting with Aunt Sue and hearing about her college experiences “back in the day.” 

The catch, and a tricky question always has a catch, is that the college question is prescribed. In the United States, college has been normalized to the point of expectancy of attendance. For many, college is not the end-all-be-all, or even a goal at all. When one asks about college, there is an undercurrent of expectation and bias that is the root of anxiety for countless teenagers, especially when they feel as if they may not be able to meet the expectations of others. On top of that, even the most diligent of students, athletes, artists, and go-getters feel immense pressure, and oftentimes that pressure can push them beyond their mental limits, to the point where even a simple question can produce a melodramatic reaction (tears are possible and have the potential to occur). 

Oh, poor imaginary Aunt Sue–she was only trying to bridge that generational and geographical gap with her favorite niece/nephew! Fortunately, there are other ways to understand a teenager’s life in a non-college-centric manner. For all the inquisitive relatives, empathetic classmates, curious friends of mom and dad, and neighbors with too much free time on their hands, this is just one senior’s (albeit a senior who likes to talk about herself) advice for going about creating a bond with a teenager who’s got a lot on their mind: ask them what they are interested in. Ask them what they could spend all day talking about. Ask them about the last time they heard a good story. Ask them to tell a good story. Ask them what they think about climate change or Among Us or history class or ghosts. Ask them to talk about what or who they love, and then reciprocate. 

Life is not one-dimensional or a perfect equation; ‘Senior year’ does not equal, ‘Ask about college.’ If a senior wants to talk about college, they will–believe a senior when she says that they will. However, what separates Poor Aunt Sue Who Made A Teenager Cry from Cool Aunt Sue Who Has A Great Relationship With Said Teenager is ultimately the questions she asks and the stories she is able to hear. 

Aunt Sue, we’re rooting for you–make us proud.