It’s been a year since my daughter went through the college selection process. Now, looking at the checklist below, I recognize how much each step helped her make the best choice for herself. (Ok, initially, I didn’t agree with her first choice, but that was because I was including my aspirations and wishes into the equation). The process also taught her how to evaluate and make other college-related decisions, something I watched her do again this year, and I know that she’ll continue to apply to other life decisions.
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 …
- 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.
- 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.
- Compare & Contrast 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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”.
Do you feel like January and New Year resolutions are a bit like the movie “Groundhog Day”? Many people are like Red, beginning the new year with old goals that always seem to end the same way … a year later, you feel like you didn’t make much, if any, progress. So, why even bother making resolutions? Well, Black looks at things differently (it’s a good thing that never changes), which might make all the difference …
|I love the holidays but definitely have mixed feelings about the start of a new year. On one hand, it's like a clean slate, a fresh beginning, where you can try to do things better – whether specific things like dieting, exercise, keeping the piles of paper from accumulating or "big picture" things like trying to spend more time with friends and family, and being smarter about money. But on the other hand, I hate feeling pressure to have a list of goals and resolutions, especially since I know it'll be an overly ambitious list and I'll soon "slide back" into old habits. And then I'll feel like a failure.|
|If it makes you feel any better, I suspect you are not alone in your approach. Many people have lists of New Year's resolutions that are too long and too ambitious. Which means you are setting yourself up for failure, not success. What would happen if you took your list and picked a few that you think are the most important, or would have the biggest impact on your life? Then set realistic year-end goals and work backward which will let you stay focused on where you are going. Then if you "slide back" it is a temporary situation not a total failure.|
- Try to think back to your most important goal pre-COVID. Why was this your #1 goal and is it still important to you?
- If you could only have two or three things on your New Year's resolution list, what would they be and why?
- Do you look at New Year's resolutions as what you want to start doing on January 1 or what you'd like to have accomplished by December 31?
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".
It’s that time of year. Yes, it’s fun and festive, and filled with traditions. Including Red lamenting that it’s full of stress and seemingly endless “to-do” lists. Black can’t help but point out that in addition to rereading her checklist on how to survive and thrive during the holidays, she should also reread this short “Conversation Starter” (and talk about it with her daughters) about how to put the “happy” in Happy Holidays!
|I can't believe how quickly the holidays are flying by. On one hand, all I want to do is enjoy them as I love this time of year. But I can't because there always seems so much to do. And I'm afraid that if I don't do everything on my holiday "to-do" list, I'll disappoint people, including me. You don't have this problem as you don't have kids and you live alone, plus others aren't looking to you to make the holidays festive and memorable.|
|You seem to start with your "to-do" list, whereas I think about the significance of the holiday and what will make it meaningful and memorable. Yes, it is a more pragmatic approach, but it makes the planning so much easier. You know that I dislike the over-commercialization of holidays, but it does provide a reminder that it is important to let others know how much you appreciate them.|
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
- What's most important to you during the holidays? Why?
- Describe your "perfect" (yet realistic) holiday celebration. What it would take to make it come true?
- If you celebrate with others, have you ever discussed what's important to them?
P.S. – Since this is being posted in the midst of
the December holiday season (what Red refers to as the "silly season"), you
might be interested in these recent posts:
Events in our lives (both personally and in the world around us) may change from year to year, but amidst the joy and festiveness of the holidays, there’s always a certain amount of stress and challenges to get everything done. This year’s no different, and I’m sure Black would suggest (sarcastically, of course) I might want to reread my tried-and-true holiday survival list …
It's official! The holiday "silly season" (as I call it) is now underway and before I know it, it will be New Year's Day and I'll be looking back and asking, "Where did December go?!" This year's holiday goals …
Avoid feeling exhausted, get everything important checked off my list, and have time to enjoy the spirit of the season.
I love my lists, but when it comes to the holidays you can truly go crazy! There's lots of detailed holiday checklists online, but I felt overwhelmed just reading them. So, I created the following checklist to help me stay focused on what's important, and hope it gives you some food-for-thought.
- Gifts – Gifts – Gifts
It's really easy to drive yourself crazy, so it's critical to write down not only the WHO and WHAT, but also WHEN to shop. Remember to consider things that can cause stress later – small things like you forgot to get gift wrapping supplies to the large like large January credit card statements, so make sure to have and follow a BUDGET.
- Wishing All Happy Holidays!
I started to call this a holiday card list but then realized that the only cards I give are to my daughters. Everyone else I either email, text, call, or FaceTime. To me, it's making sure I reach out to everyone on this list.
- It's All About The Food
I don't know about you, but it's not a holiday without our favorite foods. But those don't just magically appear. It has to be planned – starting with what to make from scratch and what can be bought already made. Add in shopping, prep time, and actual cooking, and you have a plan. The holidays are definitely a food marathon, but a little bit of planning and time management will go a long way.
- Making Your Home Festive
For me, that means at least one inflatable on my front lawn and decorations in the most used areas of the house. (Black would call them "high traffic" areas.) I'll admit that I have fewer decorations than I did when the girls were little, and I love it that way. The house looks festive but it doesn't take me days to set up and then put away.
- What Are We Doing Today?
It doesn't matter whether it's your kids asking this question or the adults in your life – everyone wants to "do something" during the holidays. Of course, I'm usually responsible for planning holiday activities, and with this year's corona-craziness it will mean a little more thought and creativity. But hopping in the car and looking at Christmas lights or just taking a road trip for the day may well be in my future!
- Remember Others
I don't need to tell you that the holidays are a tough time for so many, and this year it's going to be even more so. So, think about possibly doing something for others – whether making a donation, delivering food, giving some of your time, the possibilities are endless. And will put you in the holiday spirit!
- Don't Forget About You!
If you're the person "in charge" of making sure the holidays are special for everyone else, it can be stressful and all-consuming. In the past, I'd "escape" for a few hours to the movies but, unfortunately, that's not an option this year. (I admit it … I miss movie popcorn!) So remember to do something for you. For me, the best gift is time. Time to do whatever I want, even if it means doing nothing.
As always, I wondered what Black thought/would put on her list, if she even has one as she's definitely NOT a holiday person. Her response? "Well, my holidays are much simpler as I live alone and have a very short list of people and business associates who receive gifts and, with the exception of my nieces, most are edible treats I order online. For me, charitable giving is year-long. And, I stopped sending holiday cards years ago and no one seemed to miss them. But, I do have one holiday tradition on my checklist that is being modified this year."
- Black's Holiday "Blast From The Past"
Every year, I send about a dozen people a very short, personalized, and to-the-point email to let them know that I am thinking about them. Starting this year, I am going to add a few people to the list who I have not "spoken" with for some time, just to let them know they have not been forgotten.
If you have gotten this far, I have one last item …
HO-HO-HO Happy Holidays!