The Etiquette of College Acceptances

  • Kristin van Ogtrop

Well, the week of elation and torment has passed, and life has returned to normal—or a new normal, for all of my friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers I read about in the paper whose kids have been admitted into (or rejected by) colleges and universities across the country. I’m no M.D., but I suspect the national blood pressure has dropped by five points.

But now a different, less life-changing anxiety sets in: How/when do you ask people what their kids are doing?

Say Parent X is a friend, but not a very close friend. You run in to Parent X at school or a party or at a baseball game. Parent X has a senior in high school—we’ll call her Susie—who you know is going to college next year. Susie is a good student and probably applied to 10 or so institutions, from reach schools to major safeties.

The conundrum: If you don’t ask about Susie, it looks like you don’t care. If you do ask, it looks like you are nosy, morbidly curious (since getting into many schools is all but impossible, apparently), or—worst of all—competitive.

But face it—you really do want to know.

So what do you say? “Hey, where did Susie get in?” is out of the question. Too direct, too aggressive. “Has Susie made her plans for next year?” is less direct and probably ok. “Did you survive the whole college acceptance thing?”—said with a laugh—may just be too oblique to get any answer whatsoever. (Note: None of these questions apply when we’re talking about close friends. Then an “Oh, my God, so what happened!?!?!” is perfectly fine.)

I am now facing this dilemma and it will last well into the fall semester. Any advice from parents farther along the high school process would be greatly appreciated. My darling Eldest is only a sophomore in high school, but the time is coming when I will be on the other side of such conversations. And, chances are, only more confused.