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
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.


Over the last month or so, I have been contacted by various people and organizations wondering how I managed to "teach" my 40+ year-old-sister about personal finance. (Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, especially if you are an even older dog.) It seems everyone is looking for a step-by-step guide or even lesson plans, but I realize the key to making smart financial decisions is to learn to talk to yourself. And then, if appropriate, expand the conversation to your significant other and/or family.

Upfront disclaimer: I am not a financial expert or a self-help guru. My sister had a crisis, and I did the best I could to help her. (OK, so I also turned it into a book, but that was because I thought it would make a good sitcom.) Which meant, much to her dismay, instead of giving her "answers" … I gave her questions. Lots of questions.

Keep Reading ... Show less

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

As a mom, over the years, I've had to become familiar with various children's health issues and basic healthcare (and don't get me started on health insurance). But whenever it was something more than the common cold or flu, a stomach ache, or the usual scrapes and bruises, I felt like I was back in school. And between the terminology and trying to understand how the body works, I often felt like I needed a nursing degree. Not to mention, there's so much information on the internet, it can be overwhelming as well as confusing and sometimes scary.

Over the years, I've also had to deal with my aging parent's more serious health issues, and I've lost count of the pages of notes I've taken and questions I've asked. Or the conversations discussing risks vs. benefits that I've had with medical professionals and my sister. (I'm glad Black finds statistics "fun" and can look at them unemotionally because they give me a headache.)


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io

Until recently, I had never heard the term "health literacy," and when I first did, I initially thought about general literacy skills such as the ability to read and understand numbers. Skills that are essential if you are sick and need health information and services, but also impact health decisions that should be simple, like filling out forms, taking over-the-counter drugs (aspirin, cold and flu remedies, etc.), and learning about the things we should (or should not) do to live a healthier life and reduce the chances of serious illness.

But then, I thought about how anytime I had to deal with a health issue, especially ones that could potentially be serious, it was a tedious, complicated, and technical challenge. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I like to consider myself well-read, pragmatic, and comfortable with numbers and research documents. In other words, although it impacts some people more than others, the issue of "health literacy" affects us all. (And, that does not even address what it does to the cost of healthcare.)

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Before now, have you ever thought about "health literacy"? How would you describe it? What impact does it have on your life? How can it impact your ability to be successful in the workplace?
  • Why do health and healthcare topics seem so daunting?
  • Does health literacy only impact you when you are facing health issues? Explain your answer.
  • Have you ever had a medical situation or condition that required you to learn more about it? Where did you seek information? Did you have any problems learning about it? Explain your answers.
P.S. – You might be interested in our Conversation Starters for Financial Literacy and Digital Literacy.