So, here I am again offering up some college application tips from the perspective of a non-expert. Unless you count being the mom of a high school senior who's applying to many colleges and is a bit of a procrastinator. Now, to be fair to my daughter, she's very much like her aunt, Black, and does her best work at what others may perceive as the "last minute". But whether you're like me, who'd start planning for college essays a year in advance or more like my daughter, I think (and hope) the following tips may be useful:

  1. List The Essays Early

  2. There are many required items when applying to colleges, which grows quickly when applying to a bunch of schools, and the essays can easily get lost until the end when you start reviewing what still needs to be done. By then, you may have a very tight deadline for something that often takes the longest time to complete. So, make sure to carefully go through each school and its essay requirements early, especially as some schools have additional essay requirements on top of the essays required on the Common Application or other general application system you may be using.

  3. Essay Questions May Be Generic – Answers Should Not
    Each of us is a unique individual, with our own voice. We come from different backgrounds with different experiences and perspectives, so each essay is an opportunity for you to demonstrate who you are. Many students can write well, but look at the essays as a way to differentiate yourself from other applicants, to show a side of you that might not be obvious from the rest of your application. To put it another way, when my daughter shared with me several of her essay replies, to what I thought were pretty general essay questions, I told her, "I never knew that was how you felt, I never knew why that was so important to you". And I have a close relationship with my daughter!

  1. The Hardest Part Start Drafting

  2. I suspect it's the rare individual who loves starting at a blank piece of paper or a "white" computer screen. Drafting an essay requires thought and may include going down memory lane to identify things that can be applied to the essay topic. For me, starting is the hardest part of writing. For Black, I'd guess that she just starts with lots of bullet points. So, at the risk of a major "duh" moment, you just have to start, whether it's with narrative or bullet points to be fleshed out later. The good news is that there's no wrong way.

  3. An Easier Part Proofing
    Boring, probably. Tedious, definitely. Invaluable, yes! My daughter swears by Grammarly and I promise this isn't a "paid advertisement". But I do know that it doesn't take a brain surgeon to know that spelling and grammar is absolutely critical on a college application essay. I also know that Black and I often proofread each other's work, which leads to …

  1. Get Another Set Of Eyes
    Get someone who knows you (and, ideally, is a good writer) to review your essay for both content and, especially, to proof the essay. But this can get a little tricky as you need to let them know it's important that your voice stays authentic, and that you need their help to make sure your message is clear and well-written.

  1. Is It Plagiarism If You Steal From Yourself?
    Save essays! I can remember when I mentioned this to my daughter and she gave me that daughter "look" where she rolls her eyes, and then proceeded to tell me that she has a file folder on her laptop that had all the essay questions and her final essays. And that she often "borrowed" from herself as she worked on each school's essays because although the questions might not be identical, the content she had already written was often fairly easy for her to "repurpose" with a bit of editing here and there.

Of course, I was curious to find out how Black would approach this topic, although it had been a very long time since either one of us had applied to colleges. (Hint: we wrote essays on typewriters!) Black's reply?

First, I would use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything. In terms of essay content – qualitative information is very cut and dry, what differentiates people is the qualitative. When I was in the corporate world, I wanted to understand why potential employees wanted to work for us and why they thought they were a good fit. I would think colleges feel the same way.

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 headred head

It's funny, given my love of history and being a straight-A student, I still feel that I know very little about the U.S. Constitution. Except for the obvious. That after we declared independence from England, the original “constitution” was the Articles of Confederation (don’t ask me why I remember this, although I probably memorized it for a test). But even though we called ourselves the United States of America, it gave the states too much power, and once it became obvious that it wasn’t working, was replaced by the Constitution.

And I know that it begins with what’s probably the most famous three words in this country’s history, “We the People,” and provides for a stronger federal government, with three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) specifically designed to have checks and balances, so that no single branch would have too much power. But until recently, with all the focus on abortion and gun rights, not to mention the controversy about the Supreme Court, I had never really thought about the Constitution. Especially not the bigger picture, and how things seem to have gotten out of hand with government officials focusing on politics and positioning and forgetting those three incredibly important words … We the People.

Black's HeadBlack

Yes, not “We the Democratic Party,” not “We The Republican Party,” … We the People.

And, for someone who self-proclaimed a lack of knowledge, you gave an excellent overview. However, I will admit I am more intrigued by constitutional law than the history of the Constitution, but you cannot separate those two things. Anyway, for the same reasons you mentioned, I did some research (“homework never ends”) and was surprised to learn that the original document was only four pages long. Of course, that was hundreds of years and 27 amendments ago. But, proves it was designed to be a living document, not just history.

Unfortunately, although conceived with checks and balances, and to represent the will of the people, the Constitution and its amendments seem to have become an assortment of political powerplays, “convenient” interpretations, and polarizing arguments. All with easy-to-quote sound bites. I cannot imagine our forefathers envisioned their words would be used to manipulate or “divide and conquer” when they said, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union …”


  • What do you know about the Constitution? Have you ever really thought about what it means in terms of the United States? Or how it impacts you personally? Explain your answers.
  • Take a current major issue (abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, etc.) that concerns you. Do you know what the Constitution has to say about it or, perhaps, more importantly, doesn’t say about it? How do we find consensus on the issue to clarify the situation?
  • Do you think a document originally created in the 1700s can still be relevant today? Explain your answer.
  • What does “We the People of the United States in Order to form a more perfect Union” mean to you? Why do you think it is the opening of the U.S. Constitution?

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 headred head

I keep thinking about global warming and weather events, especially as it seems they’re becoming more catastrophic with each passing year. And as a mom, I can’t help but think about what kind of world we want to leave our children, grandchildren, and hopefully generations beyond that. It makes environmental issues, such as the importance of recycling and the impact humans are having on endangered species, even more critical.

When it comes to “saving” the environment, I’d like to believe that we all want to do our part. But sometimes, I don’t know what to do since it’s such an overwhelming issue. Plus, and I almost hate to admit this, sometimes it’s difficult to “buy green” or environmentally friendly when you’re on a fixed or limited budget. Although, thanks to Black, I’ve learned about greenwashing and that just because a business says they’re environmentally “friendly”, that doesn’t mean they are.

Black's HeadBlack

When it comes to climate change and the environment, many blame the “older” generation, saying we allowed this to happen because, for decades, we did not do anything to prevent it. Increased use of cars and electricity. Burning an ever-increasing amount of fossil fuels. Not “going green”. Not even thinking about it. All of which led to where we are today.

Red often calls me a “debate queen”, so I want to point out that our generation drank water from the tap, used cloth diapers, returned glass milk bottles (also soda and beer bottles) for deposits so they could be reused, and saved/reused plastic grocery food containers. We even reused brown paper grocery bags by repurposing them into textbook covers. All before recycling was "a thing”. (FYI, there are 3-Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, and recycling is not necessarily the best option.)

I also want to point out that if you do not know you are causing a serious environmental problem, why would you change what you are doing? But, the more important question is who did know, and why were we not told?


  • What is “environmental literacy”? Before now, have you ever thought about it? Why is it important?
  • Why do environmental issues seem so daunting?
  • People often use the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” How does that apply to the environment? What actions have you taken? What actions can you take?
  • Do you believe human activities contribute to climate change? If so, what should we do about it? If not, what do you think causes climate change?

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”.

Given all the challenges of this year’s summer travel – gas prices, canceled flights, lost luggage (Delta sent an empty plane to retrieve luggage stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport) – we all need to think before traveling (and not just about packing lists, trip itineraries, and cost). Last year, when Red started talking with Black about summer escapes, she quickly realized that WHY you’re traveling is the first thing you should think about.

red headred head

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.

Black's HeadBlack

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 travelwill be as quick to recover.


    • 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?