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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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!


Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io


I don't understand why there's this backlash against science and scientists. I never thought science was something that you believed in or didn't believe in. It was just, well, science. (And for the record, although I was a straight-A student, I found all my science classes difficult, and it seemed only the truly "nerdy" students really "got it".) But now it seems that so many people are questioning not only the "truth" of science but the scientists themselves.

It's one thing to talk about so-called "mad scientists" – either the ones who were genuinely brilliant or the weird ones in books and movies (my favorite being Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein) – but to question the ethics and motives of scientists who are proven experts in their field makes no sense. And going through thousands of personal emails looking for evidence of wrong-doing when they're trying their best to not only find the truth but explain the situation, even admitting when they don't know the answer, is unbelievable.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


And dangerous. And, lately, has become extremely political. Dan Rather recently did a great piecing "defending science" but the fact that it was even necessary is alarming. There is no denying that science has always been important, whether in everyday applications or eradicating diseases.

But, the bottom line is science is a process. And I trust the process. It includes not only a scientific method but, more importantly, scientific consensus. It is never just a single scientist's conclusion. The associated hypotheses and evidence are vetted by other scientists that are experts in that field, and if the findings are substantiated, are then published. But it does not end there. More experts continue to review the results, ask questions, and challenge the conclusions. (Think of it as a jury of geeks.) It is not a quick process – it is an evolution – which means things may change. But, this very process of inquiry is what makes science, science.

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • What does the word "science" mean to you? How has science impacted your life?
  • Can you trust something you might not understand?
  • How do you reconcile science with religious beliefs? With political beliefs?
  • Why do you think some people trust vaccines and others don't?
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!


Red's Head assets.rebelmouse.io


I always thought that literacy was simply the ability to read and write, and didn't think much about it. Until Natasha was in elementary school and was struggling, and then I found out the hard way how critical those skills are, not only for being successful in school but in life. Interestingly, I learned that there are just over 200 words that are critical to being able to read (the Dolch list). Fast forward years later, when we found ourselves "teaching" financial literacy at KIPP, and although the word "literacy" was being used to describe understanding money and personal finance, I still didn't think much about it. But recently, I was shocked to learn that millions of people in this country can't read. And now, I'm hearing about "functional literacy" and things like digital literacy and even health literacy. It's all very confusing. Or, is "literacy" just the new "buzzword"?


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


As a literacy expert recently told us, "Literacy … there's more to it." Functional Literacy takes the basic concept of being able to read and write, and expands it to having the skills necessary to manage daily living and employment tasks, and topics such as financial literacy, digital literacy, and health literacy.

I recently read a comprehensive, and inspiring, action plan, the Houston's Adult Literacy Blueprint, that was developed by the Mayor's Office for Adult Literacy (the only office of its kind in the nation) in partnership with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation to break the cycle of poverty by improving the literacy skills of adults. The detailed plan is based on significant research and input from key stakeholders, and there is also an executive summary. However, I know I am the data geek, not you, but think that you will appreciate this quote from the study, "When parents teach children how to read, ask questions, solve problems, and ultimately navigate the world, they are developing the building blocks for academic and life success."

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • How would you describe functional literacy? What skills do you think are necessary to manage daily life? To be successful in the workplace?
  • Have you or your family been personally affected by literacy issues or challenges? If so, how have they impacted your life?
  • Obviously, becoming functionally literate has a profound effect on the individual. What are potential ripple effects?
  • What can you and/or your company do to help reduce adult illiteracy?

When I suggested to Black that we have a checklist or menu of items to amuse or, at least, occupy kids over the summer (something that almost every parent with kids home on summer break searches for every year), I thought my work was already done as I'd pull out the list I created years ago for my daughters. Except that I forgot it had been on a computer that no longer exists, and although a copy might be somewhere in a stack of filing, I'd have to start over. Which turned out to be a good thing …

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