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 …

  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.

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".

red headred head

It's funny, given my love of history and being a straight-A student, I still feel that I know very little about the U.S. Constitution. Except for the obvious. That after we declared independence from England, the original “constitution” was the Articles of Confederation (don’t ask me why I remember this, although I probably memorized it for a test). But even though we called ourselves the United States of America, it gave the states too much power, and once it became obvious that it wasn’t working, was replaced by the Constitution.

And I know that it begins with what’s probably the most famous three words in this country’s history, “We the People,” and provides for a stronger federal government, with three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) specifically designed to have checks and balances, so that no single branch would have too much power. But until recently, with all the focus on abortion and gun rights, not to mention the controversy about the Supreme Court, I had never really thought about the Constitution. Especially not the bigger picture, and how things seem to have gotten out of hand with government officials focusing on politics and positioning and forgetting those three incredibly important words … We the People.

Black's HeadBlack

Yes, not “We the Democratic Party,” not “We The Republican Party,” … We the People.

And, for someone who self-proclaimed a lack of knowledge, you gave an excellent overview. However, I will admit I am more intrigued by constitutional law than the history of the Constitution, but you cannot separate those two things. Anyway, for the same reasons you mentioned, I did some research (“homework never ends”) and was surprised to learn that the original document was only four pages long. Of course, that was hundreds of years and 27 amendments ago. But, proves it was designed to be a living document, not just history.

Unfortunately, although conceived with checks and balances, and to represent the will of the people, the Constitution and its amendments seem to have become an assortment of political powerplays, “convenient” interpretations, and polarizing arguments. All with easy-to-quote sound bites. I cannot imagine our forefathers envisioned their words would be used to manipulate or “divide and conquer” when they said, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union …”


  • What do you know about the Constitution? Have you ever really thought about what it means in terms of the United States? Or how it impacts you personally? Explain your answers.
  • Take a current major issue (abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, etc.) that concerns you. Do you know what the Constitution has to say about it or, perhaps, more importantly, doesn’t say about it? How do we find consensus on the issue to clarify the situation?
  • Do you think a document originally created in the 1700s can still be relevant today? Explain your answer.
  • What does “We the People of the United States in Order to form a more perfect Union” mean to you? Why do you think it is the opening of the U.S. Constitution?

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".

red headred head

I keep thinking about global warming and weather events, especially as it seems they’re becoming more catastrophic with each passing year. And as a mom, I can’t help but think about what kind of world we want to leave our children, grandchildren, and hopefully generations beyond that. It makes environmental issues, such as the importance of recycling and the impact humans are having on endangered species, even more critical.

When it comes to “saving” the environment, I’d like to believe that we all want to do our part. But sometimes, I don’t know what to do since it’s such an overwhelming issue. Plus, and I almost hate to admit this, sometimes it’s difficult to “buy green” or environmentally friendly when you’re on a fixed or limited budget. Although, thanks to Black, I’ve learned about greenwashing and that just because a business says they’re environmentally “friendly”, that doesn’t mean they are.

Black's HeadBlack

When it comes to climate change and the environment, many blame the “older” generation, saying we allowed this to happen because, for decades, we did not do anything to prevent it. Increased use of cars and electricity. Burning an ever-increasing amount of fossil fuels. Not “going green”. Not even thinking about it. All of which led to where we are today.

Red often calls me a “debate queen”, so I want to point out that our generation drank water from the tap, used cloth diapers, returned glass milk bottles (also soda and beer bottles) for deposits so they could be reused, and saved/reused plastic grocery food containers. We even reused brown paper grocery bags by repurposing them into textbook covers. All before recycling was "a thing”. (FYI, there are 3-Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, and recycling is not necessarily the best option.)

I also want to point out that if you do not know you are causing a serious environmental problem, why would you change what you are doing? But, the more important question is who did know, and why were we not told?


  • What is “environmental literacy”? Before now, have you ever thought about it? Why is it important?
  • Why do environmental issues seem so daunting?
  • People often use the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” How does that apply to the environment? What actions have you taken? What actions can you take?
  • Do you believe human activities contribute to climate change? If so, what should we do about it? If not, what do you think causes climate change?

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”.

Given all the challenges of this year’s summer travel – gas prices, canceled flights, lost luggage (Delta sent an empty plane to retrieve luggage stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport) – we all need to think before traveling (and not just about packing lists, trip itineraries, and cost). Last year, when Red started talking with Black about summer escapes, she quickly realized that WHY you’re traveling is the first thing you should think about.

red headred head

It's great that instead of dreaming about vacations after the pandemic, we can start planning them again. Of course, even if we're vaccinated, we still need to be careful and take precautions. I know that vacations are supposed to be a way to escape stress, but there's always stress associated with planning them, getting ready to be away, and then, ultimately, having to pay for them. Years ago, I learned the value of staycations but would take it a step further and check into a local hotel since I knew I needed to get out of the house. But I've never really been one to go on vacations – unless you call traveling out-of-town to one of Sawyer's volleyball tournaments a vacation. In many ways, one of the last "real" vacations I had was when the girls were young, and we'd try to get away every August to the Hyatt Hill Country. Although it was only a few hours away, and we didn't escape the heat and humidity, we were able to have a change of scenery, relax, and spend quality time together without everyday life interrupting.

Black's HeadBlack

It sounds like you identified "why" you wanted a vacation, and what you wanted to accomplish. For me, I realized escaping to a great hotel with a first-class spa did not require getting on a plane, although there was a time when my vacations were based on golf courses I wanted to play, museums I wanted to see, or friends I wanted to visit. The key is knowing your objective. And, by the way, the same logic applies to business trips, now that Zoom (and other virtual meeting options) has proven that meetings, and even conferences, can be done remotely. Obviously, more efficiently than in-person, but with clear objectives can be as productive and maybe even more so. Interestingly, many people are planning "revenge travel" but I doubt that business travelwill be as quick to recover.


    • Before you travel, do you take time to think about the purpose or objective of the trip? Why or why not?
    • Are there different ways to achieve the same objectives? What are the pros and cons of each?
    • How has the pandemic changed your thoughts about traveling?