Archive | October, 2017

Do you really need all that senior “stuff”?

25 Oct

   What’s the key to all things grad?

Around this time of year salesmen visit high schools selling various senior “wares,” including the following items: caps/gowns/tassels, commencement announcements, class rings, senior keys, “official” thank-you notes, senior class t-shirts and sweatshirts, and more.

The final pricetag can be hundreds of dollars. Here’s a breakdown of what you need….

The Essentials:

  • Cap, gown, and tassel: You need these so the senior can participate in commencement. However, your school might provide these for you, depending on where you live. School districts in the state of California are required to provide the cap, gown, and tassel–but you probably have to return at least the gown so the school can re-use it. The district may allow you to decorate the top of your cap and keep it, as well as the tassel. Check with your school’s guidance counselor or senior class advisor to make sure. If your state requires schools to provide these, you cannot assume you can KEEP them.
  • Thank-you notes: Every single graduation gift needs to be acknowledged with a thank-you note. My rule as a parent was that my children could NOT use the item or cash the check until the thank-you note was written. However, you need not purchase official thank-you notes–they’re much cheaper in discount stores.

The Optional Items: Folks, everything else is optional. Students can graduate without any of the other “stuff” the salesman might offer, and you should shop around, as these items can be purchased in many different places. Here are ideas for saving money:

  • Commencement announcements: Typically, these are NOT invitations, as your school may have a limit on the number of people any one senior can host at the ceremony. Check with your school first if you plan to send invitations, as opposed to announcements. However, seniors are often anxious to buy a host of these, in the hopes of garnering all kinds of money and other gifts. You should understand that an announcement (or invitation) is NOT a request for a gift. It is simply sent to share to share the joy and excitement of the event. The traditional embossed invitations with the school name on them are still available through Josten’s or other school supply companies, but you can also purchase your own photo or other cards to send to family and friends. PLEASE follow these social etiquette guidelines: (1) Don’t hand them to people–send them through the mail. (2) Don’t give them to teachers and other school staff members. They will probably already attend the ceremony, and you should not make them feel obligated to give you a gift. (3) Mail them out at least one month in advance. (4) If you’re using formal invitations, address the outer envelope with the full name (Mr. and Mrs. John Jones) and the inner envelope with how you address those people (Grandma and Grandpa).
  • Class rings and senior keys: These jewelry items can be purchased through several different venues now. I even saw a Groupon ad today for “Personalized Women’s Rings” selling for $59 with school-type designs that you can personalize. These can cost hundreds of dollars for something the student may only choose to wear through the end of this school year.
  • Senior class t-shirt/sweatshirt: These are available for purchase through school suppliers, but often a senior class will create its own t-shirt and/or sweatshirt for purchase. Check with the school first.
  • Souvenirs: Folks, everything else is just “stuff”–items that will probably get boxed up. Choose wisely as you consider those autograph dogs, other jewelry items, extra tassels, senior bag, water bottle, key chain, and photo frames.


I’m super-excited that my book, 50 Life Lessons for Grads, will be released in April 2018. Pre-orders for the book will be available soon. Look here or at your favorite book store or website for more information! 



Contests are money-makers

10 Oct

How long would it take you to earn $500? Sixty hours after deducting taxes and such?

High school students often overlook a great moneymaker — writing contests and other kinds of writing competitions. Counselors and teachers frequently get flyers and email notifications about essay contests, but it’s the rare student who enters them. With a little research and a focused essay, you can win $500 or $1,000 or more for the effort of an hour or so — nice pay for a relatively short investment of time.

Here are some tips about writing contest essays:

  • As you research contests choose topics about which you can write passionately, so that you are vested in your essay.
  • Read all the material provided by the organization. “Listen” to what the organization is telling you about how the essay will be judged.
  • Make sure you understand the actual topic.
  • Outline the question. Often there are several areas of focus the organization would like you to address. Make sure you — as the illustration above indicates — hit the mark of what the contest creators want.
  • Research the issue thoroughly, choosing reliable sources. Make sure you have the latest information, as often these are news driven. For example, if you are being asked to discuss solutions to solve a university system’s budget crisis, you need to know the current issues. Go to creditable sources, such as several news organizations that will give you varied perspectives about the issues.
  • Organize your essay appropriately, according to the essay type. For example, a reflective essay is organized differently than a persuasive essay.
  • Get feedback from a trusted adult, and revise your essay carefully.
  • Proofread meticulously — make sure there are no errors.
  • Follow all the specific directions for submission. It would be sad if your entry was thrown out simply because you didn’t, for example, put your contact information in the correct spot.

One current example is the annual John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Essay Contest. Each year the JFK Library challenges high school students to write a focused essay about an elected official who has risked his or her career to demonstrate political courage. The website offers many links to help students about the elements of a strong essay, guidelines for citations, and other information. This is a very prestigious contest — one that could provide you with $10,000, as well as an exciting trip to Boston.

At the time my oldest child was applying to colleges, affirmative action was an issue regarding college admission. Colleges had been admitting quotas of minority students, relaxing standards at times so as to achieve ethnic diversity on their campuses. One statewide organization sponsored an essay about this topic, and my daughter entered the contest. She worked hard to get the latest news information — which was breaking almost daily — and wrote a strong persuasive essay arguing against quotas.

She was one of a half dozen students who won a $400 award, which the organizers presented to her and the other winners at a stunning reception at the top of the Transamerica building in San Francisco. Winning that award was a huge confidence builder for her–it helped her believe that she would be able to compete with others at the college level.

Research contests (make sure they’re legit) and choose a couple that have topics that interest you. Pay particular attention to local ones, as the odds for winning are greater. Then give them a try. It’s nice pay for a short investment of time.


I’m super-excited that my book, 50 Life Lessons for Grads, will be released in April 2018. Pre-orders for the book will be available soon. Look here or at your favorite book store site for more information soon! 


It’s time to file your FAFSA

4 Oct

Starting Oct. 1 students and their parents have been able to file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the U.S. government vehicle for determining how much and the various kinds of financial aid that can be offered, based on financial need–mostly grants (free money), work study (work at a job, usually on campus–nontaxable), and student and parent loans (must be repaid).

The first step in this process is to obtain the Federal Student Aid (FSA) I.D. for both the student who will be attending college in Fall 2018 and the parent(s).The I.D. is needed for both the student and parent to sign the FAFSA electronically. This FSA I.D. is secure because students and their parents will provide a personalized username, password and FIVE security questions of their own design.

Because the process takes some time, financial aid officers at colleges are emphasizing the importance of getting the FSA I.D. for both student and parent(s) done in ADVANCE.

Go to to get the FSA I.D. taken care of and to do the FAFSA, for which you will need your 2016 income information as well as current info of assets.

NOTE: The California deadline for the FAFSA is March 2 for four-year college students (later for others–but keep the first-come-first-served idea in mind!). The FAFSA website indicates each state’s deadline for filing.

NOTE FOR ATHLETES: Colleges will want you to do the FAFSA, so that they see you are being proactive about accessing all kinds of financial aid–not just the sports scholarship.

Hey, reader! I’m super-excited that my book 50 Life Lessons for Grads will be available April 2018 from the good folks at Worthy Publishing. I would love it if you would keep it in mind as you shop for those grad presents for family and friends.