Make Thanksgiving a College-Free Zone

Three college admission-related items converged in my Twitter feed last week:

1. A Chronicle of Higher Education article on the impact potential salaries have on college choice.
2. Advice on how to talk to kids about their education.
3. The merits of spatchcocking a turkey.

The Chronicle article, When Choosing a College, How Should Students Gauge the Payoff?, tackled the familiar (and wearisome) theme of whether someone who elects to major in, say, theater or history will be able to find a job after college. (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.) More specifically, it focused on how useful the Department of Education's new College Scorecard's average salary information is, particularly for students who do not have the support of counselors to help them make sense of the information.

The education advice came in the form of a photo of a conference presentation slide with the following quote from Jaime Casap, Google's Global Education Evangelist: "Don't ask kids what they want to be when they grow up but what problems do they want to solve. This changes the conversation from who do I want to work for, to what do I need to learn to be able to do that."

And then there's the turkey.

This week, as you gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, be mindful of the high school seniors seated at the table. Odds are they don't want to talk about their college applications any more than you want to talk about work.

Questions about college aren't inherently bad. In fact, most of the them come from a place of caring. What people really want to know is how the kids are doing, what's going on in their lives, how they are managing stress, what they are thinking about their future. The problem is that too often this curiosity manifests itself as, "So have you finished your college essay yet?"

That's why the Chronicle article and Casap advice are so relevant to holiday conversations. They offer framework for engaging with teens who are thinking about college but don't necessarily want to talk about it over mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. It's infinitely more supportive to ask them about the things they love to do and the challenges and ideas that intrigue them than it is to inquire about what they plan to major in, how they intend to make a career of it, and what that career will be. It also invites them to ask you the same kinds of questions, which creates a space for real conversation, not one-directional interrogation--or the perception of it.

So please do the high school seniors in your life a favor. Help make the Thanksgiving table a college-free zone. Redirect the conversation. Ask questions that show you are interested in them, not their applications. Share stories about your own path.

And have fun saying spatchcock.