I walk into the family get -together, mingle with my relatives I haven't seen in a while and make the obligatory small talk with them. Inevitably, as soon as someone I don't know well realizes I'm a senior in high school, they will ask me:
"So, where are you going for college next year?"
By now, I've perfected my answer of uncertainty, so I don't even have to think before responding, "I'm waiting to hear back from most schools I've applied to, but my top choices are NYU and Northwestern."
Whoever I'm talking to will then invariably make a comment about how their friend's sister went to Northwestern or their aunt lives in New York City; the small talk will awkwardly continue, now that they've exhausted the one obvious conversation topic for anyone my age.
There are some people who are supposed to go through the college selection process with you: immediate family members, school counselors, teachers, close friends. It's healthy and natural for them to talk about college with you. However, there are some people who just have no good reason to ask about it. They include, but are not limited to, friends of friends, people who cut your hair, grocery store checkers and distant second cousins.
The question itself is easy enough to answer, even for a senior as uncertain as I am. What bothers me so much is the concept behind the question: that the future is much more important than what's going on right now. The amount of times I've been asked about my college plans far outnumbers the amount of times I've been asked about anything related to high school, and I don't think that's right.
It's the beginning of December, and I'd guess that the majority of high school seniors across the country don't yet know where they're going to college next year. I'm envious of the ones who do. Later this month when early decision and early action letters are sent out, more and more seniors will make their decision, but most universities won't send out regular decision letters until March or even April.
Personally, I'm nearly done sending in applications and have already received acceptances and scholarship offers from three schools. However, the remaining seven or so decision notifications won't come until March or "early April," as Northwestern University recently told me in an email. Once I do find out where I've been accepted, there will be other factors that impact my decision, the most important being financial aid offers. Especially as the costs of college continue to rise much more quickly than inflation, financial aid is an essential part of the college decision for many seniors.
Another thing to consider is that not every high school senior plans on going to college right after graduation, contrary to the assumption in my suburban high school.
According to a 2012 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66.2 percent of high school graduates across the nation attend college directly after high school. While this is the majority of students, this still means that more than a third have other plans after graduating. Asking a senior about their college plans when they're not planning on going to college could definitely lead to tension.
I'm not saying I'm angry with the entire curious adult population, because I know people really do mean well. College is a natural thing to ask a high school senior about, and I've found myself asking other seniors the very question that so exasperates me. It's just extremely frustrating when the thing you're asked about most often is something you can't control and won't be sure of for months.
So, what should you ask a high school senior like me instead of the overused questions about college? Ask how my senior year is going so far. Ask me about the activities I'm involved. Ask me about my friends, my job, my family or my classes. Ask me about my life right here and right now.
Just please don't ask me where I'm going to college next year, because I'm not sure yet. As soon as I know, I'll let you know.