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.

True

Yes, I love lists. But I'm not "that person" who looks at a terrible situation determined to find the silver lining. Yet alone a list of items. Somehow that changed a few weeks ago when Black and I were working on a Book Bite about exercise. In the P.S. section, which explained why the excerpt's as relevant today as when it was written, we commented that the pandemic made me look at exercise as a way to help reduce my stress and that maybe we should write a separate post about positive changes we've made due to the pandemic. (Similar to the positive things that happened to me years ago when my husband got fired.) As often happens, I thought it was just another one of Black's countless ideas for posts that I'd file away – except it really did get me thinking. So, I decided to create this checklist, although I struggled to keep it to only five things:

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The new year has barely started but I feel like all the things I intended to "do better" last year really didn't change much, if at all, so don't know why I expect this year to be any different. This happens every year. Maybe I'm just expecting too much of myself.


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Maybe you are just being too critical of yourself. Sometimes our "inner critic" is louder than we should allow it to be. What if you looked at any given "issue" as if Natasha or Sawyer (or anyone you cared about) were experiencing it? How would you respond? I bet you would be encouraging and supportive rather than harsh and critical.
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
  • Why do you think we treat ourselves differently than we treat people we care about?
  • How you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you would typically respond to a loved one or close friend?
  • Since this isn't how most people typically think, what are ways you could remind yourself to look at yourself differently?
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 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.


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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.
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
  • 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?