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.

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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".

With Christmas and New Year’s just around the corner, there’s no getting around that we’re in the thick of what Red refers to as the “silly season”. And the funny thing is, although we wrote this Conversation Starter last year, we had an almost identical conversation again this year. Some things never change – like Red getting caught up in all the things on her “to do” list …


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


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.

Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


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:

    Every holiday season seems like Groundhog Day to me, so this year I was relieved to be able to re-read my post from last year as it reminded me that I face the same challenges every holiday season. I also couldn't help but laugh at myself, knowing that all I have to do is heed my own advice. And as is frequently the case … I can learn a lot when I talk to myself.

    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 …

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    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".


    red head red head assets.rebelmouse.io

    I'm really looking forward to Thanksgiving this year since it felt like Thanksgiving was canceled last year. OK, maybe not canceled, but streamlined since I couldn't invite anyone who didn't live with us. The dining room table seemed incomplete, especially as mom couldn't join us. It's funny because, over the years, I've always taken for granted that even as life changes, such as the girls growing up and going off to college, Thanksgiving would always bring us together. So, I'm not sure that I truly stopped and appreciated each Thanksgiving Day as I was so focused on everything I needed to get done. I might stop and think about something I was specifically thankful for, but I need to start appreciating the day itself. To try to "be present", so to speak, in the present.


    Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

    I know that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but what you just described is gratitude. Gratitude is "deeper" than thankfulness, and the best way I can describe it is … think about when you might write a thank you note – someone gives you something or does something for you. It is a fleeting event. Now think about if you were to write someone a note or letter of appreciation.

    You have repeatedly told me that mere mortals often need reminders, so what if this Thanksgiving you start a "gratitude habit"? Make a daily appointment with yourself to find a few quiet moments and write down at least one thing for which you are grateful. It can be as simple as sunlight on your face or the crunch of an apple. You are probably rolling your eyes right now, but it will only take a few minutes and can change your life. Or, at least, how you look at it.

    THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

    • Why do some people not appreciate and give thanks for the positive things in their life?
    • If you begin to appreciate the value of appreciation (pun intended), what might you want to be mindful of going forward?
    • Do you think a "gratitude habit" might be useful? Would you be willing to "test-drive" (Black's words) one for a month and see if your opinion changes? Explain your answers.