School started on August 15 for my daughter who is a high school senior in Santa Rosa, making summer vacation more a concept than a reality. Especially because during those few weeks between when school ended in May and started again in mid-August, Jennifer always had “homework” – the homework of her college applications.

As anyone who has gone through this process with their teenager knows, it’s overwhelming and tedious, plus there is a lot at stake because how well they represent themselves in the application can mean thousands of dollars in scholarships to a private four-year college. For Jennifer, that money represents her ticket out of a condo in Cotati. When she thinks about the alternative – i.e. living here for four more years with her senior citizen parents and going to the JC or Sonoma State – her expression looks like she just ate some bad seafood.

So in about mid-July, with some nagging from me, Jennifer pulled up the Common Application online to launch into it. But guess what? A new version of it was in the works and it wasn’t going to be available until August 1. Yippee! I was almost as happy as she was that for a few more weeks, she could procrastinate the many hours of work – with me sitting next to her – while she filled in the seemingly endless and highly detailed questionnaire. “Don’t forget to include the award you got in fifth grade for winning the pumpkin carving contest!”

But even though the question portion of the Common App couldn’t be started until August 1, the essay prompts were listed on the website. “Aha! You can still start on your essay during the summer!” I told Jennifer. No danger of me losing my reputation as a fun-sucker. To her credit, at midnight one night, Jennifer had a burst of creative energy – or maybe just a delayed caffeine rush from her job at Starbucks – and she cranked out a first draft.

But in addition to the completing the Common App and writing all the essays required by each college, Jennifer’s SAT scores will be a big factor in her acceptance and financial award package. She has taken the SAT once and is going to take it again in October. Based on her older sister’s experience, with some online SAT prep and a study guide, she could significantly raise her score.

We know that higher SATs will mean being accepted at more schools and again, more financial awards. In theory, she knows this too, but now that school has started, spending time studying for the SAT has a lower priority than her immediate and real homework load and her part-time job. So Jennifer floated the idea of incorporating some motivation into studying for the SAT. “How about a kitten if I get 2200 on the SAT?” This isn’t a plan I jumped at since we already have two cats. And once the kitten grows into a cat, she’ll be off at college and we’ll be left with another freeloading feline.

So this motivation/reward plan is still being negotiated between Jennifer, Steve and me. However, I have agreed that if she gets a perfect 2400 on the SAT she can have a kitten. Heck, if she gets a perfect score, she can have two kittens and a pony.