Once upon a time, there was an expectant mother who had a dear aunt named Hilary. This dear aunt had been a significant influence in the mom-to-be's childhood and had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. After months of deliberation, the expectant mom and dad settled firmly on the name of their sweet, unborn daughter: Hilary.
In the spirit of the times, the mom excitedly announced the decision to her friends. Before she could explain why they chose the name Hilary, the friends reacted:
"What?! After Hillary Clinton?! But I thought you were a libertarian!"
"But your last name is Hill! Hilary Hill? Have you really thought this through?"
"Ugh. I knew a Hilary once. Totally horrible person."
These friends are coming from a place of "helpfulness." After all, the baby isn't born yet; it's not too late to change! They can share their infinite wisdom (which includes nothing from mom-to-be's extended family) and steer her in the right direction. In 5 minutes, they feel they can undo months of thoughtful consideration. The scary thing is that perhaps they can, depending on the mom's level of certitude...
Now, let's replace the expectant mom with the mom of a rising senior. The baby name for a list of a few schools the senior will apply to. You can anticipate the eerily similar responses:
"What?! No Ivies on the list?! But I thought your daughter was smart!"
"But those schools don't have fun football programs! Won't she miss out on school spirit? Have you really thought this through?"
"Ugh. My husband's boss's cousin's kid went to such-and-such college. The kid is a totally horrible person."
And the list could go on. These friends are coming from that helpful place with loads of expertise on all colleges and on standards of best fit for your daughter. There's still time before application deadlines; it's not too late to fix this list! Their personal experiences and feelings are certainly on par with your own intimate knowledge of your student and of your financial situation and with the years of training, research, and knowledge your student's college counselor brings to the table...
In an age of crowdsourcing and oversharing, I challenge parents of rising seniors (and students themselves!) to take a drastic stance: Be discreet about sharing a college application list. Yes, I used the D-word. You can do it.
Ideally, your student's college list will be well researched, thoughtful, informed by expert guidance, and uniquely personalized. It will be built not on hearsay but on facts and deep personal reflection. Like the decision of naming a child, the decision of where to apply for college should be made by those most closely involved in the process and with the necessary knowledge: in the baby story, the parents; in our college scenario, the student, parents, and college counselors.
The ramifications of sharing a college application list extend beyond that one initial moment of disclosure. The unavoidable did-your-kid-get-into-[insert college name here] questions must now be anticipated because it's no secret that the student applied there. Such conversations can be joyous or painful, but you've signed yourself up for them either way (or, if you're not directly asked, people will still try to find out, perhaps asking your child instead, who might have to share the bad news personally).
"But people are going to ask where my kid is applying!" you rightfully point out.
It's easy to be nice about this: "She has a great list of good match schools. We'll see what happens!" or "We've decided to keep his list private, but we'll definitely let you know where he ends up!"
And, remember, this is a two-way street. Not sharing your child's list means not asking your friends about their children's lists. Let's all just enjoy senior year and make the college application process a more private affair.
There are of course exceptions: that friend who is like a second mom to your student; that grandparent who is going to foot the bill for college. But keep the circle tight and think more deeply about sharing the list. And most certainly make sure your student is aware of who is in-the-know about his personal college list!
Remember that everything in your student's life is not everyone's business, and that just because you can share something doesn't mean you should.
Let's rewrite Hilary's story. Instead of telling the name early, mom and dad keep it a surprise for when she's born. "Proud to announce the arrival of Hilary Hill!" is posted to social media with photos of the little one. The googly heart eye emojis roll in and everyone exclaims how sweet she is. They keep their "Hilary" comments to themselves long enough to hear the reasoning behind the name. After a few months, no one can imagine this little girl having a name other than Hilary. It's a perfect fit.