How To Ask About College: A Tutorial

It’s May. College acceptances are out, and everyone is itching to know where their friends, acquaintances, and even people they have never met before, are going. But then the awkward moment comes: how to ask? The constant questioning can be a lot to graduating seniors, so they have suggested their own guidelines for curious onlookers.

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By Ori Mermelstein

It’s May. College decisions are out, and everyone is itching to know where their friends, classmates, and even students they have never met before, are going. But just as you are about to probe, an awkward moment arises: How should I ask? Can I even ask? Compiled on top of their own anxieties over college, the constant bombardment of questions can be overwhelming for graduating seniors. Here, seniors share their personal experiences around revealing college decisions and offer their own guidelines for curious inquisitors.

Senior Arshia Mazumder is opposed to asking students about their college decisions entirely. Mazumder said, “I don’t think [there is an appropriate way to ask]. It feels pushy to me to ask where people are going to college because it’s not much of their business.” She elaborated, “When I’m asked, it puts me in a really uncomfortable space and I feel obligated to answer.” Sometimes, these questions are not only invasive but also force a person to answer despite not feeling ready or willing.

However, senior Violetta (Via) Zani pointed out, “I don’t think anyone has bad intentions when they ask [about college].” She added, “People are usually the most curious around the time when applications are due and Ivy Day [when Ivy college acceptance results come out collectively]. I think this is why the questions often feel super pressuring. It isn’t really that people are being rude, but everyone is so stressed that we can’t help but feel pressured when we have to tell people about an already stressful situation.” Zani understands people’s probing to be an innocent expression of curiosity but acknowledges that it can contribute to a build-up of stress regardless of the intention.

Zani suggested a general rule: “Unless you’re close with someone, you really shouldn’t ask about where they’re going to college.” She continued, “Usually, people will just tell you if they’re willing to.” College applications can be a very personal and raw experience. Asking mere acquaintances, even with the best intentions, would likely be intruding on a sensitive subject.

Senior Madhavi Tiruchelvam generally agrees with Zani’s sentiments. She stated, “Generally, the most respectful thing is just to wait until someone tells you themselves.” However, Tiruchelvam has a different personal experience. She explained, “I, personally, don’t mind so much because you want the people in your life to know stuff about you, and part of that is where [you got] in.” Tiruchelvam sees college as a major milestone in one’s life and understands that friends naturally want to be involved in the process.

However, Tiruchelvam does see patterns that emerge when discussing college admissions. She explained, “People are more willing to share if it’s [a] prestigious [college], although with Ivies, people tend to be more reserved because there is so much pressure around Ivy applications and [there are] so many applicants.” When asked if the prestige of one’s college admissions affects one’s image, Tiruchelvam responded, “I think it depends on your level of closeness—some people will definitely judge you, but I feel like your really close connections just want you to be happy with your results.” Although the environment surrounding competitive admissions can be toxic, Tiruchelvam observes sensitivity on all sides when it comes to sharing results.

Meanwhile, asking about college decisions can easily venture into other questions regarding a student’s GPA and extracurriculars. Tiruchelvam said, “For me, it depends on the intention of the person. If I have underclassmen friends who want to know [...] [and] we [are] generally on par with one another, that, to me, doesn’t feel that bad.” She continued, “My concern is more when you’re talking to other seniors and they want to know: what are your stats? Because then it feels kind of like, what are your qualifications for getting in?” Tiruchelvam draws a distinction between curiosity and competition when it comes to sharing college stats. When fellow seniors point to a student’s qualifications for getting into college, it questions the hard work of a student and transforms a friendly inquiry into an undermining accusation. Toxicity can manifest itself in gossip among seniors, especially during result days, when competition is a given.

However, Mazumder sees why these conversations are so inescapable. She explained, “College is something that’s on all of the seniors’ minds, and asking about college is the equivalent of ‘When did you go to bed last night?’ The frenzy around college admissions is constant throughout the school year.” Mazumder recounted, “I remember ‘ED’ being the buzzword of the month in October, and Ivy Day was all over the place [the] day of.” As major events in the college process come and go, conversations center around common experiences and deadlines. Thus, Mazumder acknowledges the grip that college-related discussions have on students. However, she continued, “In my opinion, there [are] better things to talk about [...] we should be honest about not always wanting to focus on college all of the time, and it can’t be the only topic of interest for Stuy kids to relate to.”

Ultimately, college admissions will always be a tricky subject to approach. It is an intimate, raw process, where questions can easily become intrusive. The stress is so high that no matter one’s intentions, there is a chance a friendly inquiry will be taken the wrong way. When asking a friend about their results, look carefully at your own intentions—are you comparing yourself to them? Instigating needless competition? Or do you genuinely just want to congratulate them? By asking these questions to ourselves before asking others about their college results, we can mitigate the pressure placed on graduating seniors as they move on to another exciting chapter of their lives.