My youngest daughter's now a freshman at college, but it seems like only yesterday that she was in the midst of the college application process. So, when Black and I recently featured "Thank You For Sharing!!!" from a College & Career Readiness Counselor about my approach to letters of recommendation, I realized it was probably worth "rerunning" for those students and parents going through the challenges of college selection. (Trust me, you'll get through it … but remember to enjoy this time as once they start college you'll miss these days.)

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

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.


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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?

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 …

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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".


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.


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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?