Not Right Now; 20 Things Not To Say To A High School Senior

Do you know a high school senior, or have you been one recently? Perhaps you are a generation or so removed from “the most important year of your life” and look back unreasonably fond on that period of time (defend that hairstyle all you want!). If you have kids of your own, you are probably (most definitely) embellishing stories about your senior year or omitting details for their own good (mostly yours). I bet you you’re saying “When I was your age” way too often (sorry to tell you, once is too many times).

So if you are so fortunate to have a HS senior in your life — please be mindful, this time of year can be the most stressful, anxious, and exciting stretch of their lives.

Why? It’s college application season. The next few months will determine the rest of their lives! (But is it REALLY? Idea for next article; How’s that life plan you made at 18 working out?) Let me help you. Here is the thirty-thousand foot view of what’s happening now…millions of high school seniors (with more and more First-Gens!) across the country are feverishly researching colleges/universities, writing essays, tracking down recommendations, paying fees or requesting waivers, retaking the SAT/ACTs and lining the walls at our school counselors office. All to meet November through January admissions deadlines. They are applying through a number of application platforms or directly to an institution. All the while completing the Federal Application for Student Aid (be sure to do this!) and still have a full slate of classes. Classes they must still excel in or see their admission acceptance rescinded (Oh yeah that happens!). All this is assuming they have access — access to high quality information from trusted and knowledgeable sources. There are helpful online sources (like this one and this one) which can provide direction and support to navigate this incredibly challenging process. (Shout out to all the school counselors and college access programs out there!)

Which brings me to Not Right Now; 20 Things Not To Say To A High School Senior. These questions may seem genuinely supportive and innocent but to a High School senior it can be explosive. We have encouraged our children to be yourself, pursue your dreams, and don’t worry about what others say or do. Finish this classic line: so if your friends…(see, we are hopeless). The application process for many seniors is perceived to be a final evaluation of their life so far. Someone, a stranger — who don’t even know me — is going to base a decision on everything from their grades, involvement in and out of school, aspirations, hardships, triumphs, and the numerous other factors admission officers utilize to decide their fate. “It is terribly judgy!” as one senior shared with me. Note: Admission professionals are incredibly dedicated and caring people.

So here it is, think twice before you ask or say. Then don’t say it. HS seniors this is also for you. Be kind to your classmates.

1. I told you to take freshman year more seriously.


Freshman year is an important year, but demonstrating a positive upward trajectory in academics and involvement in other aspects of life are equally valuable.

2. What’s your GPA


This is up there with "Who did you vote for?" Grades only tell part of the story. Taking a rigorous course load based on one's strengths and what's available in one's school are important too.

3. What’s your SAT/ACT score?

ENTER ALT TEXT Free test prep is available. And there are plenty of schools where these exams are test - optional for admission.

4. You really applied to (insert big name school)?

ENTER ALT TEXT Go for it! By not applying, you've made the school's decision for them.

5. Your “reach school” is one of my safety schools.

ENTER ALT TEXT A reach school is where ones academic credentials falls below the schools average range. Admission can still be possible.

6. College is a waste of time. Just look at Bill, Steve, and Mark.

ENTER ALT TEXT Just stop it. A higher education has multiple benefits to one’s life beyond economic status.

7. You probably won’t get into your top choice college.


There are thousands of colleges and universities — simply expand the top choices! The odds
are in one's favor.

8. You should have your major picked out before you apply for college.


According to National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of college students change their major once (and on average, students change their major 3 times) over their undergraduate career. (Author's note: I changed mine 4 times, maybe 5, sorry again Pop.)

9. College is for smart people.

ENTER ALT TEXT Who says this type of thing anyway? I think we are more surprised to learn someone did go to college and still can rely on "alternative facts".

10. You could do the same thing for half the price at community college.

ENTER ALT TEXT Hey Boss (I work at Rutgers)! We actually have numerous programs to offset this cost from R-UN To The Top and Bridging the Gap . Most colleges do! College can be affordable if you make the right choice. Community college is and can be the right choice for many students.

Here are 11-20…

11. It’s not just enough to get good grades.

12. What schools have you applied to?

13. You are applying to there but never visited?

14. I went to (not a school on their list) and I turned out fine.

15. Why go there, everyone goes to that college?

16. My schools i.e., Fine Arts program is so much better than yours.

17. High SAT/ACT scores are the basically the only things that get you into college.

18. It’s ok if you miss the FAFSA priority deadline - almost everyone does.

19. Stay local, why go so far?

20. Where’d you get in?

“I know this is a stressful time. If you have any questions I’m here to help you.”


Now please share this. Why? Because I said so (oh how kids love that one).

Aramis Gutierrez is a lifelong educator committed to access and equity. Also looking to make you laugh a little and maybe learn a little. He serves as director of the Rutgers Future Scholars program, a unique college access and success program at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Special thank you to Dyana, Carolina, Jarell, Ali, Gabe, Manuel, Kiera, and especially Gloribel for your contributions!

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