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:
- List The Essays Early
- Essay Questions May Be Generic – Answers Should Not
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.
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
- The Hardest Part – Start Drafting
- An Easier Part – Proofing
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.
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 …
- Get Another Set Of Eyes
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.
- Is It Plagiarism If You Steal From Yourself?
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”.
Do you feel like January and New Year resolutions are a bit like the movie “Groundhog Day”? Many people are like Red, beginning the new year with old goals that always seem to end the same way … a year later, you feel like you didn’t make much, if any, progress. So, why even bother making resolutions? Well, Black looks at things differently (it’s a good thing that never changes), which might make all the difference …
|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.|
|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.|
- 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?
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".
It’s that time of year. Yes, it’s fun and festive, and filled with traditions. Including Red lamenting that it’s full of stress and seemingly endless “to-do” lists. Black can’t help but point out that in addition to rereading her checklist on how to survive and thrive during the holidays, she should also reread this short “Conversation Starter” (and talk about it with her daughters) about how to put the “happy” in Happy Holidays!
|I can't believe how quickly the holidays are flying by. On one hand, all I want to do is enjoy them as I love this time of year. But I can't because there always seems so much to do. And I'm afraid that if I don't do everything on my holiday "to-do" list, I'll disappoint people, including me. You don't have this problem as you don't have kids and you live alone, plus others aren't looking to you to make the holidays festive and memorable.|
|You seem to start with your "to-do" list, whereas I think about the significance of the holiday and what will make it meaningful and memorable. Yes, it is a more pragmatic approach, but it makes the planning so much easier. You know that I dislike the over-commercialization of holidays, but it does provide a reminder that it is important to let others know how much you appreciate them.|
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
- What's most important to you during the holidays? Why?
- Describe your "perfect" (yet realistic) holiday celebration. What it would take to make it come true?
- If you celebrate with others, have you ever discussed what's important to them?
P.S. – Since this is being posted in the midst of
the December holiday season (what Red refers to as the "silly season"), you
might be interested in these recent posts:
Events in our lives (both personally and in the world around us) may change from year to year, but amidst the joy and festiveness of the holidays, there’s always a certain amount of stress and challenges to get everything done. This year’s no different, and I’m sure Black would suggest (sarcastically, of course) I might want to reread my tried-and-true holiday survival list …
It's official! The holiday "silly season" (as I call it) is now underway and before I know it, it will be New Year's Day and I'll be looking back and asking, "Where did December go?!" This year's holiday goals …
Avoid feeling exhausted, get everything important checked off my list, and have time to enjoy the spirit of the season.
I love my lists, but when it comes to the holidays you can truly go crazy! There's lots of detailed holiday checklists online, but I felt overwhelmed just reading them. So, I created the following checklist to help me stay focused on what's important, and hope it gives you some food-for-thought.
- Gifts – Gifts – Gifts
It's really easy to drive yourself crazy, so it's critical to write down not only the WHO and WHAT, but also WHEN to shop. Remember to consider things that can cause stress later – small things like you forgot to get gift wrapping supplies to the large like large January credit card statements, so make sure to have and follow a BUDGET.
- Wishing All Happy Holidays!
I started to call this a holiday card list but then realized that the only cards I give are to my daughters. Everyone else I either email, text, call, or FaceTime. To me, it's making sure I reach out to everyone on this list.
- It's All About The Food
I don't know about you, but it's not a holiday without our favorite foods. But those don't just magically appear. It has to be planned – starting with what to make from scratch and what can be bought already made. Add in shopping, prep time, and actual cooking, and you have a plan. The holidays are definitely a food marathon, but a little bit of planning and time management will go a long way.
- Making Your Home Festive
For me, that means at least one inflatable on my front lawn and decorations in the most used areas of the house. (Black would call them "high traffic" areas.) I'll admit that I have fewer decorations than I did when the girls were little, and I love it that way. The house looks festive but it doesn't take me days to set up and then put away.
- What Are We Doing Today?
It doesn't matter whether it's your kids asking this question or the adults in your life – everyone wants to "do something" during the holidays. Of course, I'm usually responsible for planning holiday activities, and with this year's corona-craziness it will mean a little more thought and creativity. But hopping in the car and looking at Christmas lights or just taking a road trip for the day may well be in my future!
- Remember Others
I don't need to tell you that the holidays are a tough time for so many, and this year it's going to be even more so. So, think about possibly doing something for others – whether making a donation, delivering food, giving some of your time, the possibilities are endless. And will put you in the holiday spirit!
- Don't Forget About You!
If you're the person "in charge" of making sure the holidays are special for everyone else, it can be stressful and all-consuming. In the past, I'd "escape" for a few hours to the movies but, unfortunately, that's not an option this year. (I admit it … I miss movie popcorn!) So remember to do something for you. For me, the best gift is time. Time to do whatever I want, even if it means doing nothing.
As always, I wondered what Black thought/would put on her list, if she even has one as she's definitely NOT a holiday person. Her response? "Well, my holidays are much simpler as I live alone and have a very short list of people and business associates who receive gifts and, with the exception of my nieces, most are edible treats I order online. For me, charitable giving is year-long. And, I stopped sending holiday cards years ago and no one seemed to miss them. But, I do have one holiday tradition on my checklist that is being modified this year."
- Black's Holiday "Blast From The Past"
Every year, I send about a dozen people a very short, personalized, and to-the-point email to let them know that I am thinking about them. Starting this year, I am going to add a few people to the list who I have not "spoken" with for some time, just to let them know they have not been forgotten.
If you have gotten this far, I have one last item …
HO-HO-HO Happy Holidays!