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.
True

Yes, I love lists. But I'm not "that person" who looks at a terrible situation determined to find the silver lining. Yet alone a list of items. Somehow that changed a few weeks ago when Black and I were working on a Book Bite about exercise. In the P.S. section, which explained why the excerpt's as relevant today as when it was written, we commented that the pandemic made me look at exercise as a way to help reduce my stress and that maybe we should write a separate post about positive changes we've made due to the pandemic. (Similar to the positive things that happened to me years ago when my husband got fired.) As often happens, I thought it was just another one of Black's countless ideas for posts that I'd file away – except it really did get me thinking. So, I decided to create this checklist, although I struggled to keep it to only five things:

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The new year has barely started but I feel like all the things I intended to "do better" last year really didn't change much, if at all, so don't know why I expect this year to be any different. This happens every year. Maybe I'm just expecting too much of myself.


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Maybe you are just being too critical of yourself. Sometimes our "inner critic" is louder than we should allow it to be. What if you looked at any given "issue" as if Natasha or Sawyer (or anyone you cared about) were experiencing it? How would you respond? I bet you would be encouraging and supportive rather than harsh and critical.
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
  • Why do you think we treat ourselves differently than we treat people we care about?
  • How you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you would typically respond to a loved one or close friend?
  • Since this isn't how most people typically think, what are ways you could remind yourself to look at yourself differently?
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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". Stay tuned as we'll be introducing new topics on a regular basis!


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I love the holidays but definitely have mixed feelings about the start of a new year. On one hand, it's like a clean slate, a fresh beginning, where you can try to do things better – whether specific things like dieting, exercise, keeping the piles of paper from accumulating or "big picture" things like trying to spend more time with friends and family, and being smarter about money. But on the other hand, I hate feeling pressure to have a list of goals and resolutions, especially since I know it'll be an overly ambitious list and I'll soon "slide back" into old habits. And then I'll feel like a failure.


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If it makes you feel any better, I suspect you are not alone in your approach. Many people have lists of New Year's resolutions that are too long and too ambitious. Which means you are setting yourself up for failure, not success. What would happen if you took your list and picked a few that you think are the most important, or would have the biggest impact on your life? Then set realistic year-end goals and work backward which will let you stay focused on where you are going. Then if you "slide back" it is a temporary situation not a total failure.
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
  • Try to think back to your most important goal pre-COVID. Why was this your #1 goal and is it still important to you?
  • If you could only have two or three things on your New Year's resolution list, what would they be and why?
  • Do you look at New Year's resolutions as what you want to start doing on January 1 or what you'd like to have accomplished by December 31?