So, the college applications, including financial aid, are done. And even though my daughter understood what it would entail, until you're actually in the midst of it, you don't appreciate it's a lot of hard work. And stress.

Now the difficult part … waiting. Wondering which of the schools will accept you. Hoping that you'll have options, including at least one on your "wish list". Well, before you know it, you'll hear back and will be faced with having to make a decision. One that may feel like the biggest decision of your life, so hopefully, these five steps will help …


  1. Yes, No, Or Maybe
    Obviously, the schools themselves may help you narrow down your options (keep in mind many colleges and universities reported record-high application numbers this year and record-low acceptance rates), but you might also find yourself on one or more waiting lists. But start to review your options as they come in so you don't feel overwhelmed at the end.

  1. Let's Talk Money
    This happened in our home … my daughter was accepted by her first-choice school, but once she was done celebrating, she needed to be realistic, which meant crunching the numbers. Some schools send their financial package with its letters of acceptance; others follow up separately. And, since every school presents its financial package differently (one of Black's pet peeves), you need to make sure you're evaluating the same things for every school, including room and board if you're considering an "away" school. IMPORTANT: Make sure to separate what's "free" money (scholarships and grants that don't have to be paid back) from loans. (Some schools may show you a total of "financial aid" that include both, which skews the numbers.)The key will be determining your "out-of-pocket" cost – which is the money you'll need to come up with – whether loans, work-study programs, family members, etc.

  1. Compare & Contrast
  2. There's no right or wrong way to do this. Some people, like Black, would probably create an elaborate Excel spreadsheet, some might create "T charts" with pros and cons, some might just jot down notes. The point isn't how it looks, it's what works for you – including what you're comparing. Yes, the out-of-pocket cost's important. But there are other things (whether or not they were part of the initial selection process) you need to consider, such as location, size of the school, academic standing, extracurricular opportunities, help entering the workforce after graduation, etc.
  1. Narrowed Down … But Not To One
    When we taught at KIPP, Black would often ask the seniors to narrow it down to the top two or three schools, and then ask if the out-of-pocket cost was the same, which they'd select and why. Then she'd have them compare the difference in cost and decide if they thought it was worth it. This exercise often helped them determine what was really important. Plus, depending on your situation, there's nothing that says you can't circle back to a school and explain that you want to commit, but financially you're not quite there. If appropriate, let them know about competitive offers, and ask if there's any other "free" money available. As our mom always said, if you don't ask, you don't get.

  1. PARENTS, PLEASE READ! "Good" vs. "Right" Decision?
    As a mom, I want what's best for my child, so I'm trying to guide (and hoping not overly influence) her college decision, especially since Black made me realize that the decision ultimately belongs to my daughter. She's the one going to college, and it's her first major "adult" decision. What I need to teach her isn't to obsess about making the "right" decision (and if she later decides the school isn't quite right for her for whatever reason, she can always transfer); instead, focus on making a "good" decision (what Black calls a "conscious" decision) where she's done her homework and has thought it through.

So, anything else? Well, yes, and perhaps the most important thing of all. And it's something that Black has told high school seniors for years, and now my daughter (her niece),

It does not matter if your college is a "bumper sticker" school or one that few people know. It does not matter where you start your college career as the diploma only has the name of the school from which you graduate. But what does matter is what you make of it. It is about more than academics – it is about experiences and taking advantage of opportunities. It is about remembering … College is not the objective – it is a step along the way – and there are lots of roads, and colleges, that can get you to your destination.
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Design by Sawyer Pennington

People have told us they're using our sisterly banter to start conversations with others (family, friends, and even in classrooms), so Black created "Conversation Starters". Stay tuned as we'll be introducing new topics on a regular basis!


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I have to tell you that when I first moved to Houston, I was not only totally clueless about how to deal with hurricanes, but was really scared of them. Years later, it's not like I welcome them, and after having to evacuate from Hurricane Harvey, I still can feel myself stressing out at the mere mention of a potentially serious hurricane coming our way. But, at least, I have my beloved lists, and year-round I have many things already in place (non-perishable food, plenty of water, candles, and extra batteries) plus last-minute items (keeping all my gizmos charged, gas in the car), the lists go on and on. But when last month's Texas winter storm was first forecast, it caught me off guard as I realized that a prolonged cold weather event has its own range of serious issues not typically experienced in Houston and the surrounding areas – like how to protect pipes and deal with loss of power when you have sub-zero temperatures for a long period of time. It's frustrating because although I'm a planner and love my lists, I felt totally unprepared.


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What happened in the Houston area, and Texas, during that storm is inexcusable and was avoidable. And embarrassing as it was such a massive "fail" of a major point of state pride: energy independence. For individuals, there is a limit to what you can do for a rare event such as a historic winter storm as our houses and apartments were never constructed for extreme cold.

I, too, was as prepared as possible but there comes a point where you have to recognize that somethings are totally out of your control. And, all you can control is how you deal with the situation. Within a few hours of my high-rise losing power (we frequently lose power), I booked a room in a hotel down the street that still had power as I would rather have a room that I did not need versus needing one and not be able to get it (the hotel was totally booked within hours). I know that I was extremely fortunate – for many reasons. Unfortunately, many people were left with minimal or no options. Hopefully, Texas will start taking action now in order to be better prepared for next time …

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • How much can you prepare for the unexpected without driving yourself (and others around you) crazy?
  • What potential weather-related events can cause disruptions to your life? Do you have an emergency plan in place? If not, why not? If so, do you review them on a regular basis?
  • Hindsight should be 20-20. Did you learn anything from this storm (or other weather events) that will help you be better prepared for future events? If so, what?
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Design by Sawyer Pennington

People have told us they're using our sisterly banter to start conversations with others (family, friends, and even in classrooms), so Black created "Conversation Starters". Stay tuned as we'll be introducing new topics on a regular basis!


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I know that we're living in stressful times, so I've been trying not to get worked up over things, especially as I know that it doesn't take much to "set me off" these days. We both know I'm a warm and fuzzy person, who prefers to avoid conflict, but it's becoming a struggle for me to be patient with people. I know I'm a "better" person when I can remain calm, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier to actually do. Plus, if I can't stay calm, cool, and collected with myself, there's no hope of treating others that way. As much as I want to.


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Recognizing the situation is a major first step. Sometimes, you have to find a way to step back so you can reset. If that does not work, then just pretend to be calm. Think of it as style over substance. When I was in the corporate world, there were always people who tended to over-react. They thought of themselves as inspiring and passionate when, in reality, they were exhausting. Plus, they often came across as being overly emotional, and even having knee-jerk reactions, versus being professional and knowledgeable.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • How would you react to someone who's calm and displaying decorum? How would you react to someone that's "screaming in your face" or agitated?
  • Our mother used to say, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." What do you think she meant by that? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • If you were being interviewed for a job, how would you answer the question, "How well do you work under pressure?" Why do you think they'd ask that question? How might it apply to your personal life?
Design by Sawyer Pennington

People have told us they're using our sisterly banter to start conversations with others (family, friends, and even in classrooms), so Black created "Conversation Starters". Stay tuned as we'll be introducing new topics on a regular basis!


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You'd think by now I'd have learned. I know that once upon a time, when my life was simpler, my "To Do" lists were easier to keep under control. Not to mention they were much "prettier". I had a basic system for keeping things organized, and although nothing when compared to your insanely organized lists, it used to fit my needs. After my "crisis" the lists seemed to multiple, especially as the girls got older and we got busier with Red & Black. And before you say anything, yes, you've definitely helped me a lot over the years, but my lists have gotten out-of-control and now I'm overwhelmed not only by the numbers of tasks but because everything seems to be high priority.


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Are you finished? First thing is to stop thinking you can have perfect "To Do" lists. Second, as I have told you countless times over the years, is you have the process backward … you are too focused on making lists versus deciding what you need to do and then creating lists. Imagine you are starting with a "clean slate" or blank piece of paper. Identify your overall goals or objectives, and then what tasks are required, listing the most important ones first. Make sure the tasks are specific and feasible. And, do not clutter the list with things that take only a few minutes or little effort. Do not overcomplicate this process. Especially as lists are supposed to help you – not overwhelm you.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Do "To Do" lists help you accomplish things or hurt your productivity?
  • Do you currently use "To Do" Lists? If not, why not?
  • If you use (or have used) "To Do" lists ... What has worked well? What has not worked well?