• Eydie Balsam

Tip # 2 - Flip the Question Upside Down

One of the most dreaded questions of junior and senior year questions is, "Where do you want to go to college?" (cue in an eye roll, screaming, door slamming). When we ask our children, our nieces or nephews, grandchildren, students, neighbors, or whoever it may be, "Where do you want to go to college?" or "What do you want to study?" A couple of things may occur:

a) You may get the dreaded and very frustrating, "I don't know." to which a natural response might be - what do you mean, you don't know? - you have to know something - I am sure you have thought about this a little.

b) You may get no answer - just some blank stares to which you may start peppering them with lots more questions, flooding their brains with "noise" - which gives them less time to process the first question, but more so gives them an "out" to not answer - since you are filling this space with your voice.


c) You may get an answer you don't like to which you might respond in a way that... well, let's just say that there have been a few times in my life when I have walked away from my teenagers feeling guilty about how I responded, my tone, my words, my anger (which we know really stems from fear) and said to myself "well, perhaps I overreacted.

But if we flip our questions on their heads and ask, "Have you thought about where you DO NOT want to go to college? Or "Have you thought about what you DO NOT want study? You might get some strange looks, but believe me - I have had thousands of these conversations over the years - you might just get more answers - and FEWER tears.

I find that when I ask my students, and more so my children, questions about their wants and desires, they sometimes hold back, thinking that I may judge their answers, or they may simply answer what they think I want to hear.

If they think I want them to go to my alma mater (Go SU!), they may simply tell me they want to go there even though they hate the snow or the color orange. My middle daughter - the one going through the process right now - tells me she can't look at any school that has orange as one of their colors) - OY!, but I digress.

More so, if I do get an answer, and I follow up with the seconded dread word in the college admissions process "why," I can be met with "I don't know" or some superficial reasons (but remember they don't think they are superficial) - however, if you have eaten a "Schine Cookie" from the Schine Student Center at Syracuse - you would agree that is one reason to absolutely go to school there! But I digress again.

However, when I flip the question and ask, "Where DON'T you want to go to college?" I often get more answers. "Nothing too cold, too big, I heard there is no social life at ______ (fill in school), my friend went to ________ (fill in school) and hated it, my mom went there and nope - not going there! - or I can't go to a school where the mascot is a _______ (yup, you got it, my daughter has told me some schools are off-limits because of the school's mascot!) - Can I start drinking now? It is going to be a long process, but I will love every minute of it!

Flipping our questions can open up a conversation; "Too big?" Let's talk about size. "Too cold?" Let's talk about the weather in which you would like to spend the next four years. "No social life?" what sorts of things would you like to do (socially) when you are at school?

Flipping the question often helps me validate my students or children's concerns. "Too cold?" That makes sense, you always hated our snowy cold weather, or that makes sense, you are much happier when it's warm out. Or maybe (the least common words we say to our kids) you are right, I can see why that makes sense.

Perhaps on their list of schools they don't want to go to is your alma mater, or they reveal that they don't want to study ______ (your profession), or that they don't want to go to school close to home - so be prepared to hear their answers and be ready with an open mind to listen to their thoughts and to ask follow up questions. But remember to flip them upside down.

Hint: having a glass of wine when you have these conversations helps!

Eydie Balsam


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