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

When I suggested to Black that we have a checklist or menu of items to amuse or, at least, occupy kids over the summer (something that almost every parent with kids home on summer break searches for every year), I thought my work was already done as I'd pull out the list I created years ago for my daughters. Except that I forgot it had been on a computer that no longer exists, and although a copy might be somewhere in a stack of filing, I'd have to start over. Which turned out to be a good thing …

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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.


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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 travel will be as quick to recover.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • 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?
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 have two confessions. First, until we wrote our book and you insisted on having it printed in the U.S.A. , I never thought about the importance of buying American-made products. I had always focused on price and quality, not where it's made. My second confession is even though I became more mindful of buying American, I still didn't do it. But when I heard President Biden, in his first address to Congress , say, "All the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products made in America that create American jobs" I realized that not only should I do more, but I wanted to. But how? Especially as I need to be cost-conscious and products that come from overseas are usually cheaper!


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Saying it is the first step to doing it. Then, get in the habit of always "checking labels" – whether it is a bigger purchase, like a car or major appliance, or smaller items, like clothing or household items. And, understanding your motivation might help. Is it a function of being patriotic, or about job creation? (FYI, buying American has a ripple effect as it helps the companies making the products and also companies that support them – from suppliers to energy providers to accounting firms.) Maybe it is related to climate change (shipping products across the world increases carbon footprints). How much "extra" are you willing to pay for environmental and safety reasons? (Many countries can produce products cheaper than we can due to less stringent (or non-existent) regulations regarding pollution, human rights, and consumer safety.) So, deciding "why" you want to "Buy American" will help make it an important part of your buying decisions.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Are you already buying American-made products? If not, why not?
  • Black likes to say, "Printed in the U.S.A. is the most expensive sentence of our book, as it more than doubled its cost." Why do you think she did it? What would you have done?
  • When the U.S. government says it's going to buy American, that can have a significant impact. Do you think that one person can make a difference? Explain your answer.