When my husband and I were having our first child, we made a huge mistake. It wasn’t picking the wrong crib or holding a gender reveal party that started a forest fire. We made the mistake of telling our relatives the name we had chosen. We had poured over baby books for weeks, tasting how different names sounded with our last name and creating tiny identities for each potential name. Ultimately, we decided on a family name that still felt modern. It had a potential nickname that would be fun for a kid and a full version that could be used in its entirety in adulthood. When we made our decision, it just felt right.
And then we shared it with one of our relatives. The rude comments came right away. “You know his initials will be ‘BS,’ don’t you?” “Isn’t that the name of a TV show?” “Don’t you want to choose one of these names from our side of the family?”
Immediately, we regretted telling anyone. And we started to doubt ourselves. Should we choose another name? Are one of those other choices better?
What does this have to do with college? Everything!
When my oldest was looking primarily at art schools, we again got all kinds of rude comments from relatives (aside from the generally dismissive “What is he going to do with a film degree?”). Most centered on a concern about reputation: they claimed that “no one” had heard of the art schools even though they were some of the top ones in the film field and our relatives didn’t know the first thing about that industry. Turns out, he ultimately chose a college that had a great film school and a sports team they recognized: win/win.
When my daughter started to look at small liberal arts colleges last year with a nearly straight-A transcript, we had a slightly different kind of experience. Because she had done well in high school, most of our relatives assumed she would go to an Ivy League school. Anything less was considered unacceptable. One highly selective college she really liked was criticized as the school where “girls who were too stupid to get into junior college went.” Another would turn my daughter into a “mindless communist.” We have several family members who graduated from one Ivy in particular (with varying degrees of satisfaction, I might add) and they were stunned that she wasn’t considering it. “But we have a legacy there,” they said. “We know people on the Board.” The fact that she was looking for a totally different kind of college experience was irrelevant to them. They were all about the prestige. And that prestige was based on their understanding of colleges from 50 years ago. It had nothing to do with the reality of colleges today.
To her credit, my daughter did a great job handling them. She was polite but firm, informative and confident. She demonstrated all kinds of independence and maturity that I wouldn’t have had at her age. But it kind of stinks that she had to do that in the first place. I had made the baby name mistake and she was carrying the burden of it.
So my advice to you is this: don’t tell anyone about your colleges until you send in your deposit. Your college choices are yours, not your relatives. Your parents or guardians are probably ok to let in on the secret, but don’t feel obliged to share the entire process with your grandparents, aunts and uncles, or neighbors. Everyone will have an opinion, but the only one that matters is yours. You want to listen to your inner voice — that one that tells you that you really do want to keep playing the trumpet in college, that business isn’t the major you want just because everyone else thinks you do, that it matters if your college has an anime club or not. Does this mean that no one in your family has good college advice? Of course not. But the best advice to listen to is your own. The rest of the world may not have an open mind about your colleges, but you can.