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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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!

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Over the last month or so, I have been contacted by various people and organizations wondering how I managed to "teach" my 40+ year-old-sister about personal finance. (Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, especially if you are an even older dog.) It seems everyone is looking for a step-by-step guide or even lesson plans, but I realize the key to making smart financial decisions is to learn to talk to yourself. And then, if appropriate, expand the conversation to your significant other and/or family.

Upfront disclaimer: I am not a financial expert or a self-help guru. My sister had a crisis, and I did the best I could to help her. (OK, so I also turned it into a book, but that was because I thought it would make a good sitcom.) Which meant, much to her dismay, instead of giving her "answers" … I gave her questions. Lots of questions.

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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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As a mom, over the years, I've had to become familiar with various children's health issues and basic healthcare (and don't get me started on health insurance). But whenever it was something more than the common cold or flu, a stomach ache, or the usual scrapes and bruises, I felt like I was back in school. And between the terminology and trying to understand how the body works, I often felt like I needed a nursing degree. Not to mention, there's so much information on the internet, it can be overwhelming as well as confusing and sometimes scary.

Over the years, I've also had to deal with my aging parent's more serious health issues, and I've lost count of the pages of notes I've taken and questions I've asked. Or the conversations discussing risks vs. benefits that I've had with medical professionals and my sister. (I'm glad Black finds statistics "fun" and can look at them unemotionally because they give me a headache.)


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Until recently, I had never heard the term "health literacy," and when I first did, I initially thought about general literacy skills such as the ability to read and understand numbers. Skills that are essential if you are sick and need health information and services, but also impact health decisions that should be simple, like filling out forms, taking over-the-counter drugs (aspirin, cold and flu remedies, etc.), and learning about the things we should (or should not) do to live a healthier life and reduce the chances of serious illness.

But then, I thought about how anytime I had to deal with a health issue, especially ones that could potentially be serious, it was a tedious, complicated, and technical challenge. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I like to consider myself well-read, pragmatic, and comfortable with numbers and research documents. In other words, although it impacts some people more than others, the issue of "health literacy" affects us all. (And, that does not even address what it does to the cost of healthcare.)

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Before now, have you ever thought about "health literacy"? How would you describe it? What impact does it have on your life? How can it impact your ability to be successful in the workplace?
  • Why do health and healthcare topics seem so daunting?
  • Does health literacy only impact you when you are facing health issues? Explain your answer.
  • Have you ever had a medical situation or condition that required you to learn more about it? Where did you seek information? Did you have any problems learning about it? Explain your answers.
P.S. – You might be interested in our Conversation Starters for Financial Literacy and Digital Literacy.