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.
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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".


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I know that everyone laughs at our “Assets and Liabilities” story and how I freaked out at the mere mention of personal finance, saying you were the MBA and I was the theater major. So, when you first said “financial statements,” I was intimidated. But when you said we’d start with “assets and liabilities,” I completely lost it. I calmed down when you simplified it to “what you own” vs. “what you owe” and knew I could do that, just not assets and liabilities. How was I supposed to know they were the same thing?!

Later on, I realized that it was the terminology, not the concepts, that was causing the problem. That I was creating mental roadblocks and becoming my own worst enemy. I’ll admit that understanding what previously had been intimidating words and phrases did boost my self-confidence. Although what makes it even funnier is that I had been a straight-A student and prided myself on my vocabulary.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

Your vocabulary is probably larger than mine, and you do like to use, and sometimes overuse, “50-cent words." (And, I was shocked to learn that you have never played Scrabble.) The words we use reflect our background, interests, and even what we like to read – you have always enjoyed historical and biographical books, whereas I gravitate toward business and car magazines, which may explain why I am more comfortable with terminology and technical information that you. Not to mention, when I first started working in the oil and gas industry and with legal contracts and agreements, I had to learn what felt like a foreign language.

Regardless, you are never too young or too old to increase your vocabulary. And, it is about more than just new words as it also develops your communication skills because it lets you express yourself more clearly and concisely (well, maybe not you), and improves your reading and listening comprehension. And, it even helps your critical thinking and problem-solving skills as it expands your ability to process information.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Have you ever felt like Red – frustrated and overwhelmed by terminology (vs. concepts)? If so, what was the situation, and how did you handle it?
  • What do you do if someone uses a word or term you do not understand? What are the advantages and disadvantages of (politely) asking them the meaning?
  • Do you think a large vocabulary is a sign of intelligence or education/experience? Explain your answer.
  • Why is it important to become familiar with terminology and vocabulary used in your area of interest? What is the best way to acquire that knowledge?

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 head red head assets.rebelmouse.io

It never ceases to amaze me how something awful can be both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. It may be a war or natural disaster, or a worldwide pandemic, leaving you feeling so helpless, yet at the same time so inspired. Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, you can’t help but be moved by the extraordinary stories, not only about “everyday” people’s acts of heroics but also their almost super-human strength, determination, and perseverance.

I know this may sound crazy, but sometimes it takes the worst situations to remind us of the best of humanity. I experienced it first-hand during Hurricane Harvey, although I also know the trauma has a lasting effect. So, when it happens to others, I wish I could feel a bit less hopeless and a whole lot more helpful.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

Some people “look away” because a dire situation feels too overwhelming and hopeless, but it is hope that keeps people invested (emotionally and financially). Hope in a better day. A better future. Hope is different from hype because the possibility is real, although the odds may not be good. And there are countless examples of when at the darkest hours, you see the most courage and strength.

You often cannot control a situation, but you can always control how you react to it. And when terrible things happen, people’s true colors show. We see the goodness of humanity, and we are inspired and want to help. Some people think in terms of “grand gestures”, but it can be as simple as making a small donation, sharing ways to help, or heartfelt prayers.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Why do you think we often feel overwhelmed and helpless when something awful happens?
  • Can you think of a time when things seemed hopeless but ultimately turned out better than expected? (It can be in history or your personal life.)
  • Name one thing you can do to contribute to being part of the “best of humanity”. Have you done it? If so, how did you feel? If not, why not?

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 head red head assets.rebelmouse.io

I never really thought about self-advocacy until Black brought it up in a conversation about “advocacy,” and, even then, I wasn’t sure what she meant. But after she explained it’s speaking up for yourself and your needs, my first thought was how that might be OK for others; for me, it totally goes against my nature. Black might be able to toot her own horn, but I’m definitely more reserved. (There’s an understatement!) Until I realized that I was creating roadblocks in my mind that didn’t need to be there. OK, maybe I’d need some practice, including how best to communicate my message, but even I could potentially become a self-advocate.

In fact, I realized my daughters were already self-advocates. For example, my older daughter, Natasha, has learning challenges (Black calls them “DIFF-abilities”, meaning she has different abilities) and in high school learned to self-advocate by asking for accommodations. While my younger daughter, Sawyer, was a good student so in high school was put on a college prep track; until she self-advocated to be allowed to take some CTE (career and technical education) classes. I was merely in attendance at these meetings yet saw the power of recognizing your strengths and/or weaknesses and respectfully stating what you need and why.


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Red’s other default setting is thinking she cannot do something until she tries it and realizes she can. It is similar to when she thought she could not “do” personal finance until she was forced to, and lo-and-behold, she could. As with any skill – with practice and preparation (think of it as building your case), it becomes easier.

I will admit that I never stopped to think about the importance and power of self-advocacy, as my entire life I have always been a self-advocate, although it was only recently that I learned there was a (nice) term to describe assertively speaking up for yourself. Since I have always focused on where I wanted to be in the future and worked backward, I would identify what I needed to get there. In the workplace, I kept a file where I accumulated examples of my skills and strengths and would look at any potential “shortcomings” as opportunities to learn something new. And, if I needed help from others, respectfully communicated that need to the appropriate people.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • What does self-advocacy mean to you? Do you think you could be a self-advocate? If so, for what? And why?
  • Why should you learn to advocate for yourself?
  • What are the potential benefits of advocating for yourself? What are the possible risks?
  • List three of your successes/accomplishments (in the workplace or your personal life). What strengths or skills do they demonstrate?