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.
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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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I have to tell you that when I first moved to Houston, I was not only totally clueless about how to deal with hurricanes, but was really scared of them. Years later, it's not like I welcome them, and after having to evacuate from Hurricane Harvey, I still can feel myself stressing out at the mere mention of a potentially serious hurricane coming our way. But, at least, I have my beloved lists, and year-round I have many things already in place (non-perishable food, plenty of water, candles, and extra batteries) plus last-minute items (keeping all my gizmos charged, gas in the car), the lists go on and on. But when last month's Texas winter storm was first forecast, it caught me off guard as I realized that a prolonged cold weather event has its own range of serious issues not typically experienced in Houston and the surrounding areas – like how to protect pipes and deal with loss of power when you have sub-zero temperatures for a long period of time. It's frustrating because although I'm a planner and love my lists, I felt totally unprepared.


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What happened in the Houston area, and Texas, during that storm is inexcusable and was avoidable. And embarrassing as it was such a massive "fail" of a major point of state pride: energy independence. For individuals, there is a limit to what you can do for a rare event such as a historic winter storm as our houses and apartments were never constructed for extreme cold.

I, too, was as prepared as possible but there comes a point where you have to recognize that somethings are totally out of your control. And, all you can control is how you deal with the situation. Within a few hours of my high-rise losing power (we frequently lose power), I booked a room in a hotel down the street that still had power as I would rather have a room that I did not need versus needing one and not be able to get it (the hotel was totally booked within hours). I know that I was extremely fortunate – for many reasons. Unfortunately, many people were left with minimal or no options. Hopefully, Texas will start taking action now in order to be better prepared for next time …

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • How much can you prepare for the unexpected without driving yourself (and others around you) crazy?
  • What potential weather-related events can cause disruptions to your life? Do you have an emergency plan in place? If not, why not? If so, do you review them on a regular basis?
  • Hindsight should be 20-20. Did you learn anything from this storm (or other weather events) that will help you be better prepared for future events? If so, what?
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 know that we're living in stressful times, so I've been trying not to get worked up over things, especially as I know that it doesn't take much to "set me off" these days. We both know I'm a warm and fuzzy person, who prefers to avoid conflict, but it's becoming a struggle for me to be patient with people. I know I'm a "better" person when I can remain calm, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier to actually do. Plus, if I can't stay calm, cool, and collected with myself, there's no hope of treating others that way. As much as I want to.


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Recognizing the situation is a major first step. Sometimes, you have to find a way to step back so you can reset. If that does not work, then just pretend to be calm. Think of it as style over substance. When I was in the corporate world, there were always people who tended to over-react. They thought of themselves as inspiring and passionate when, in reality, they were exhausting. Plus, they often came across as being overly emotional, and even having knee-jerk reactions, versus being professional and knowledgeable.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • How would you react to someone who's calm and displaying decorum? How would you react to someone that's "screaming in your face" or agitated?
  • Our mother used to say, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." What do you think she meant by that? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • If you were being interviewed for a job, how would you answer the question, "How well do you work under pressure?" Why do you think they'd ask that question? How might it apply to your personal life?