Learning For Life

Any Recommendations For Letters Of Recommendation? A Year Later!

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.

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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".


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I’ll admit that I hate technology and prefer to keep my ostrich head in the sand. But although I’ve slowly gotten better and try not to immediately default into freakout mode, all this talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) not only confuses me but scares me. It reminds me of the 1968 movie “2001 A Space Odyssey,” the computer named HAL, and the potential of machines to harm vs. help us. (Yes, I’m being a bit dramatic, but then again, maybe not …)

Black and I have talked about how it can be used to help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems, like cancer, but wherever there’s opportunity for good, there can also be bad actors. And it’s all happening so incredibly fast as it seems like there’s some new development almost daily, and I don’t want to have to understand it, let alone learn how to use it.


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It is already impacting society, and although many people play with it like a toy, early adopters see its value as a powerful tool – for good and evil. It does not help that the “Godfather of AI”, as well as one of the creators of ChatGPT (a leading AI system where users can pose questions), are warning us of the potential dangers of the technology and the need to slow things down and have guardrails in place.

It is critical to remember that denial does not change reality.

AI will become increasingly important for businesses that want to stay competitive and will dramatically impact the labor market by automating some tasks. But, it will mean critical thinking skills will be more important than ever. And, as AI becomes more integrated into our personal lives, it will be essential for us to understand the basics – both what it can and cannot do.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? How does AI “learn” (get its information)?
  • Does AI scare or excite you? Why?
  • What are the benefits of AI? What are the challenges or risks associated with AI?
  • Do you think AI will impact you personally and/or professionally? If so, how do you plan to be prepared?

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".

Sometimes it takes a celebration to get us to stop and think about something. Hopefully, Celebrate Diversity Month will get all of us to think about diversity differently. Especially since too often people focus on differences and who’s “better” instead of realizing that different is … merely different.

Plus, as Black points out below, wouldn’t it be boring if there were only two flavors of ice cream?



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Growing up on Long Island in a Jewish home, I didn’t think twice about my best friend (who’s still a close friend) being Italian, although we did have different cultural and religious beliefs. And although we lived close to New York City, it wasn’t until I went to college in North Carolina that I met a Black person (and a Southerner, no less). She and I quickly became good friends and laughed at the fact we had the same last name, but that’s where the similarities ended. Yet, I had never really thought about diversity, or to be honest, even heard of the term, until you had us working on Career & Technology Education (CTE) curriculum, and we did a soft skills worksheet on it. That’s when I discovered that “diversity” was actually a “thing”, although lately, it seems to have become a political topic .

But once I was aware of it, I realized how much I learned from being friends with people who have different perspectives and experiences than I do. Of course, having a sister who at times seems more like a Vulcan, likes to push me outside my comfort zone, and makes me look at things from different viewpoints, has made me a better person – both in terms of newfound knowledge as well as a greater appreciation for how and why others may see things differently .


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Vulcan or otherwise, there were things to learn from Spock, which highlights the importance of diversity. In the broadest context, diversity introduces us to unique experiences and perspectives. In the workplace, it is often referred to as Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), but I will stick with diversity (for now), which includes not only race, sex, and age, but also gender and sexual orientation, disabilities, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic status, and I am guessing there are other differentiators. I think it is as simple as accepting that not everyone is alike. (How boring would that be? It would be like only having vanilla and chocolate ice cream.) And recognizing that differences are not right or wrong; they are differences.

From a business perspective, the more you look at things from different angles and perspectives, the more fully (and more creatively) you will see things, which in turn, helps you better understand and provide value to your target market.

I know I said I would not get into equity and inclusion, but I love this quote from Vema Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Define diversity. What does diversity mean to you? What are its challenges and benefits?
  • The concept of diversity in the workplace encompasses acceptance and respect. But that also applies to your personal life. How can your actions and behavior help or hinder the situation?
  • Are your friends and workplace associates a diverse group of people? If so, what have you learned from them? If not, why not? And would you be willing to proactively get to know people outside your "usual” circle?
  • Do you think “diversity” is seen differently by different generations? Why?

It’s been two years since my daughter went through the college selection process. Looking back at the checklist (below) that I created when she was making this life-changing decision (yes, comments like that make it even more stressful, but it’s true), I can see how each step helped her make the best choice for herself. I admit it was difficult for me to let her decide for herself, especially as I didn’t initially agree with her choice, but then I realized I was including my aspirations and wishes into the equation. (Parents, be aware of this tendency!) Since then, I’ve seen her use the process for other college-related decisions, and I’m confident she’ll apply it to other life decisions. My only regret? No one taught me this when I was her age ...

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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