The Perfect Gift for High School Seniors

I wrote this message a few years ago, but wanted to re-share it with our community since I feel strongly about the importance of giving high school seniors some well-deserved space during this emotionally charged time in their lives.

During the next few weeks you may find yourself in the company of high school seniors and may think that a logical topic of conversation is the college admissions process. Contrary to what many people think, this is not an ideal topic, especially at this time of year. Please try to resist the urge to ask a high school senior any of the following questions over the next few months: “Where do you want to go to college?”; “Where are you applying?”; “What score did you get on your SAT or ACT?”; or “What do you plan to major in?”

Most of these students have spent the last few months thinking about, talking about, and agonizing over college applications. Some have already heard from colleges, and others are spending their vacation completing final essays. These kids deserve a break. If and when they are ready to talk about college with you, let THEM be the ones to initiate this conversation.

If you find yourself in a conversation with a high school senior who is being bombarded with intrusive questions from other adults, help the student out by steering the discussion in a different direction. You can also support the child by asking less threatening questions that don’t focus on specific schools — “Are you interested in being on the East Coast or West Coast?”; “Do you envision yourself on a small or large campus?”; or “Would you like to be in an urban vs. rural setting?” And, if you’re a parent of a high school senior, feel free to warn well-meaning friends and family that this topic should be off limits; it’s okay to protect your child in this way.

Refraining from this type of college discussion is the best GIFT that you can give high school seniors this holiday.


Denise Pope, PhD

Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Co-Founder of Challenge Success and a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning.  She is the author of, “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity. She is a 3-time recipient of the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award and was honored with the 2012 Education Professor of the Year “Educators’ Voice Award” from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences.