Well, my younger daughter, Sawyer, is a high school senior. And it's November. Which means that we're in the midst of the college application process. It's exciting. It's also very stressful. So, I thought I'd share a few tips that I've recently learned in the hope you'll find them useful. But first a disclaimer!

I'm definitely not a college admissions expert and it's been decades since I applied to college. (I used a typewriter to complete my applications!) And even though this list isn't definitive, I think these items alone could make a big difference.

  1. LEAVE AMPLE TIME – Even if you can write an award-winning essay the night before it's due, you can't expect others to do the same.
  2. BE STRATEGIC – This critical first step is often overlooked. Decide what you want to highlight (experience, skills, personal traits, etc.), write them down, and then identify people who can talk about that side of you.
  3. SELECT PEOPLE WHO KNOW YOU WELL –The wider the range of people, the better. You're looking for people who know you so well, they can talk about your qualities in a way that brings you and your personal story (we all have one) "to life."
  4. REVIEW THE REQUIREMENTS – Letters of recommendation usually fall into two categories – Teachers and Other. However, different schools have different parameters, so check the instructions carefully.
  5. MAKE THE "ASK" – Let them know why you picked them, why you value their insight, what you'd love for them to focus on (most people appreciate some guidance vs. staring at a blank sheet of paper) and last, but not least, make sure you properly thank them!
  6. TRACK AND, IF NECESSARY, FOLLOW UP (nicely, of course) – Ok, please tell me this is self-explanatory.
  7. YOU'RE ACCEPTED INTO COLLEGE! – Send a thank you to everyone who took the time to write a letter for you. It can be a short note, but let them know they were an important part of the admissions process. Trust me, it will only take you a few minutes but it will be remembered by them for a very long time.

I wondered what Black thought about Letters of Recommendation, so I asked her. As always, she had a different perspective and provided insight as the person either writing or reviewing recommendation letters. She then commented that her thoughts might help you create a better "ask."

  • It should be clear that the author of the letter knows the student and WHY they were selected to provide a recommendation.
  • Academic achievements and technical skills are important, but emphasis should also be placed on soft skills (things like communication skills, leadership, problem solving, teamwork).
  • Visually, the letter should be easy to skim and still identity key points.


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's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

When I first heard the term "digital literacy," I wasn't exactly sure what it meant, but I'll admit that I feel like a dinosaur when it comes to technology, and usually turn to my daughters for help. I don't know if it's just generational, but I'm intimidated by my computer, and although I can do the basics, any time things go "wrong" I default into panic mode, followed by feeling lost and frustrated. And the thought of buying a new computer? Well, it gives me a headache – not only the cost but especially learning how to use it. And if I lose internet service, I feel disconnected from the world. (I guess that can sometimes be a good thing.)

Then there's my cell phone, and I admit that smartphones often make me feel stupid. I remember when phones were landlines, and cordless was a big deal. Now I'm walking around with a small computer that also makes phone calls and takes photos. I've learned how to text, load some simple apps, and even how to set the alarm clock, but that's about it.

Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

I know us "older" people think younger people are technology-savvy, but many are merely technology-dependent, which is very different. Technology is much more than access and setup. Being able to use computers, smartphones, and the internet covers a wide range of "basics" (such as emails and other communication tools, web browsers, and search engines), and there are specific computer skills that improve our productivity (such as word processing and spreadsheets). Now, you often need web conferencing skills (like Zoom or other audio and video applications) just to interview for a job.

But, that is only the beginning. Since we live in a digital world, we need the skills to find and analyze information, and also make sure it is accurate and credible. (What is that old adage, "Garbage in – garbage out"?) However, it is not only finding the right information, it is then knowing what to do with it. Including what and how to share.


  • How would you describe digital literacy? What skills do you think are necessary to manage daily life? To be successful in the workplace?
  • Why does using technology correctly seem so daunting?
  • What do you think is the best way to learn about technology and become digitally literate?
  • How do you evaluate the reliability of internet websites and other resources? How do you locate appropriate and credible sources of information?

P.S. – You might be interested in this animated video on Research & Analytical Skills we did as part of a soft skills series for The Greater Houston Partnership's UpSkill Houston initiative.

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's Head assets.rebelmouse.io

When my husband got fired, I was scared. Not just for me, but for my family. Why? Not only the obvious reasons but having to deal with personal finance for the first time (during a crisis, no less) was overwhelming. Especially because I thought you needed a finance degree to figure it out. I knew that we were in a huge financial mess, not because of the specific details of our situation, but because neither my husband nor I knew where we stood. How could two highly educated people be so clueless about their finances?!

It may be human nature to fear the unknown, but feeling you have to face things alone makes it even worse. I knew my husband wasn't going to be much help, so I turned to my sister, the one with the M.B.A., hoping that she'd tell me what to do. Instead, she insisted that I had to learn to do it myself, not only for my own good but so that I could then "teach" my daughters. Luckily, she guided me step-by-step, although the last thing I ever expected was that she was keeping notes and would turn my crisis into a book! (She thought it would make a great sitcom!)

Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

What are big sisters for? Anyway, fast forward to the first time I remember hearing the term "financial literacy." It was when we were asked to "teach" it at KIPP Houston High School, and although they explained it as understanding money and personal finance in order to make smart financial decisions, I did not like the term. It immediately made me think that the opposite of being financially "literate" is being "illiterate," which has a negative connotation of being uneducated or ignorant when, in reality, it is a function of never having been exposed to the subject matter and/or recognizing its importance.

Red and I are perfect examples. She had been a straight-A student who went to a prestigious college yet managed to avoid learning about money and personal finance until she was almost 40. My situation was even more extreme. I have an undergraduate degree in Economics, and an M.B.A. in International Finance, yet did not apply what I learned about money (on a macro, or big picture, level) and corporate finance to my finances until I was almost bankrupt.


  • Have you or your family been personally affected by financial literacy issues or challenges? If so, how have they impacted your life?
  • Why do financial matters and topics seem so daunting?
  • How is it possible that Red and Black, both highly educated people, could be "so clueless" about their own finances?
  • Obviously, becoming financially literate has a profound effect on the individual. What are potential ripple effects?
P.S. – You might be interested in this animated video on Personal Finance we did as part of a soft skills series for The Greater Houston Partnership's UpSkill Houston initiative.

When we first talked about how to change other people's minds in To Change Minds … Change Your Approach?, Red was shocked to learn that Black, her highly pragmatic (albeit extremely sarcastic) sister, who often thinks of disagreements as sport, actually suggested using approaches that seemed more in keeping with Red's "style" as a warm and fuzzy mom, who goes out of her way to avoid conflict.

Of course, that led to us talking (initially, Black thought Red just wanted to bask in the light of being right, but quickly realized that the straight-A student wanted to better understand the approach), and we ultimately created the following list because we both love lists.

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