Field Guide to College Decision Confrontations, I mean, Conversations

“What are your plans dear?” Aunt Virginia asks innocently. The answer is easy for the 10% of students who are really passionate about their path.

“I will be a doctor by the time I am 30 and cure every disease known to man.” Look into camera, smile, and wink. Jim couldn’t have done it better.

However, for those seniors who don’t have a 5 year plan (Yikes!) you know what is coming next. Judgment is what is coming next and you know what I mean.

It really doesn’t matter what you say, Aunt Virginia has an opinion she wants to express. I have begun recommending an elevator speech for this moment. Seriously, let’s practice.

Aunt Virginia: What are your future plans dear?
Student: I thought I would become a professional race car driver. (Fill in blank with any dangerous activity just for fun)
Aunt Virginia: That sounds dangerous and impractical!
Student: I know, but YOLO.

Yes, I know. Too snarky. A sense of humor helps, but really, what should you say when Aunt Virginia begins her inquisition? After all, she means well, mostly.

My observation is that these inquisitors (ahem, I mean loving friends, relatives, and random parental business acquaintances) come in a few different types, and your answer might depend on with whom you’re dealing. For the most part people are just curious. Your life is more interesting than their’s right now. They are also a little worried. But you shouldn’t worry, because Jesus says not to in Matthew 6:34; “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So to help you and others not worry, I give you this Field Guide to College Decision Conversations. You are welcome.

Stereotypes you might encounter in the field:

Nosy Nancy: No offense to those non-nosy-Nancys out there, but this Nancy is almost CIA-operative nosy. She is asking for information, secrets really, so she can know things. My typical recommendation in response to this question is “Nancy that is a great question. Tell me, what did you want to be when you were 17?” Nosy Nancys, while insatiably curious, can’t help but be flattered. Don’t be surprised when she circles back around however and says, “No really, what are your plans?” Then you can give the answer you have developed through the Fieldwork listed below. This answer also works for some Domineering Dans as well.

Domineering Dan: Dan cares about what you are doing, but also has advice for you concerning his industry, even if it is unrelated to what you are planning. With Dan, I recommend smiling authentically and asking, “What would be your recommendation, Dan?” Dan really wants to give you something. Unfortunately, it is not usually a scholarship, or job, only advice about a job. Doing your Fieldwork below will give you a concise statement that should ultimately satisfy him for now.

Networking Ned: He can’t help it. It’s what he does. His mind is whirring, frantically making connections for you. This is not necessarily bad. Ned usually has someone in his network that can help with a college application, a part-time job, and occasionally getting rid of evidence (just kidding). He will ask for your e-mail, and then every so often send you information about some person he knows at a start-up that would be a perfect fit for you. And sometimes it is. Ironically, or maybe, providentially, our lives are connected for just this reason. So Ned is a person to whom you want to give details, and ask, “What would you suggest?” The more he knows, the better he works for you. Forever.

Varsity Victor: Victor really just wants you at his alma mater. College was all about loyalty. It doesn’t matter that he went to Kentucky on a basketball scholarship and you are a 5’2” female. He wants you there! So, with Victor, I suggest a simple, “Tell me about your college experience.” You should be entertained by his response, and will have distracted him long enough to divert attention from your plans.

Loving Lily: She truly loves you and is asking for information about your life for no other reason than she really cares. Honestly, she WILL pray for you! The problem is she wants to soothe you too. She wants to help you think about what might be best for you, and help you to relax. The trouble is a little angst about what you are about to do is really natural, healthy, and exciting! Her worries about you stem from a desire to help you settle down and do something productive, or safe, or both. But what if you are not ready? What if your response, “I am going to Kenya for a year to work in an orphanage,” makes her hyperventilate? You would hate to be the cause of Lily’s demise during her visit, right? So here is your elevator speech for Lily, “I love the way you care for me Lily, and I want to serve others the way you serve our family. I am still researching opportunities to do that, any suggestions?”

All anyone really wants to know is an estimated plan. This means you can give yourself some breathing room by giving them the best of your knowledge about your plan so far. For graduation you should (seriously) work on having better answers, but that’s months from now!


Answer these two questions and you will have a great elevator speech for whoever comes along.

1. What are my favorite colleges right now, or my best guess at alternative plans?

2. What are my top interests right now, or reasons why I want to do something else?

Try to get it in one simple sentence. “I plan to go to Taylor or Southern Nazarene and study biology or history. I feel God might be calling me to one of those fields.” What can people say to that? I know…they can say a lot…but they do mean well.

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