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College Lessons from Christmas Creep

Let’s kick this off with stating, for the record, that I love the holiday season—I’m no curmudgeonly Grinch. But I’m adamantly against Christmas creep (sorry to the TVP Comms team members who are holly jolly creepers). I think this year may have set a record for earliest Christmas retail sighting, definitely before Halloween, and there seem to be no commercials that aren’t holiday themed.


I can go out of my way to avoid TV and stores, but I’ve been plagued at home, too, and it’s inescapable. I’ve been experiencing a deluge of holiday catalogues, mostly from companies I’ve never purchased from and many I’ve never heard of!

In my quest to combat Christmas (and consumer) creep, I actually started paying for an app that is supposed to help eliminate junk mail, but it feels like I’m battling a hydra.

This forces me to actually go through all of my mail, and recently, I’ve seen quite a few higher ed materials land in my mailbox, and not just donation envelopes and alumni magazines from alma maters—continuing ed classes, graduate programs, open houses and college tours, college savings workshops, all from somewhat local institutions or online programs. At this point, everyone in my house (including the cat) has been contacted by a college.

Nontraditional and older students are on the rise, so it makes sense that colleges are sending materials to the adults in my home. (I don’t think feline students are a thing, though.) And while yes, it’s a little bit ridiculous that my cat and toddler are getting invitations to visit campus, it does make me wonder: When should we introduce higher ed into our lives?

I’m not totally against this college creep. There are a lot of positives for an early-and-often approach to college. College awareness at a young age is important and can provide excellent motivation. Creating a college-going culture in schools and homes in elementary school can help make higher ed a goal and an option for the future.

Financially, it also makes sense to think about college early. Parents and students need to grapple with paying for college, and the sooner families set up a 529 college savings fund, the easier it’ll be to finance education.

And certainly, starting to think about college in senior year of high school is less than ideal. There are deadlines for tests, applications, fees, etc. And school research can be intensive—there are thousands of schools out there, and finding the best-fit institution takes time.

But, on the flipside, I know that applying to college has become an intense, competitive process, and it’s starting earlier than ever. As a college counselor, I was no stranger to sobbing students. Many were already stretched to their limit with school, work, extracurriculars, and family responsibilities—the added stress of college applications often pushed them over the edge.

Growing up, I talked about college a lot because my mom was IN college when I was in elementary and middle school. Sometimes we even did our homework together. College was expected, but it never drove my decisions about what activity I wanted to try or whether or not I should do a certain sport. I started visiting colleges early with Gear Up and Upward Bound at school, but I still had some wild ideas about where I would attend (Oxford and Hogwarts topped my list). I decided to take Latin because I loved words and language, not because I thought it would give me a leg up. By ninth grade, I was thinking more seriously about how my classes and activities related to college applications, but I was still doing them for enjoyment.

College crept into my life early and (has never left, really) but I also didn’t really feel the flood of higher ed until I was a sophomore in high school. And, as an adult, I’m fine with college creeping back at me—I’d love to go back to school!

But I’m not cool with how the competiveness is already targeting my kid. While I expect that she’ll go to college, she’s a long way off and this intensity is already visible. We get flyers and mailers for competitive dance teams and advanced private preschool programs and countless “enrichment activities” to help give our child an edge. And she just turned two.

I want my daughter to love learning and hopefully enjoy school, not see it as a means to a college and career end game. I’m not signing up her for lessons in conversational Mandarin or obscure instrument playing or synchronized swimming because it might look good on a college application. (If she wants to learn these things because she’s interested, sure, I’ll gladly sign her up.) I’m certainly not going to crush her dreams if she some day holds on to Hogwarts as her top-choice school.

Unlike battling Christmas creep (it comes AFTER Thanksgiving, people), there’s no clear timeframe that signals when to introduce the idea of higher education into our lives. It’s not good to bring in early pressure, but it also doesn’t make sense to wait until the last minute to start thinking about it. So perhaps a creep, a slow and subtle movement into our minds, is actually best.