The College Search is Not the College “Search and Destroy Each Other”

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I feel the need to share a secret.

The College Search process is actually supposed to enjoyable.

No, really.

The College Search is a chance to visit new places, to explore new options and answer the Zen-like “whatdoyouwanttobewhenyougrowup” question.  It’s a chance to choose what courses you want to take and where you want to take them.

Most of my readers are from New Jersey.  And, historically, New Jersey has a reputation as an “exporter” in the college student industry.  But ignoring the options available in the Garden State is a big mistake.  New Jersey has over 50 great colleges –  35 offering bachelor’s degrees and 19 community colleges.  They come in all shapes, sizes, locations and styles.

Here are a few tips to help you make the process more satisfying and enjoyable and less nerve-wracking and argument inducing…

Treat the College Guides Like They Are Your Favorite Catalogs: It IS a shopping trip, you know.  Flip through the college guides, search through the online search services, read the colleges’ viewbooks, watch the videos (maybe pop some popcorn for the viewing), and check out the Colleges’ websites and Facebook pages.

Enjoy the Trip: You and your student are probably going to visit places you’ve never been to before.  Don’t forget to grab some ice cream, in Princeton, at Thomas Sweets or the Bent Spoon.  Travel through 3 college campuses (Drew, FDU and College of Saint Elizabeth) within a 1.6 mile stretch on Madison Avenue, in Morris County.  Visit Union, home of Kean University and the world’s largest watersphere.  Treat the trip like a great metaphor – enjoy the journey as well as the destination.  On that note…

The Bent Spoon's Bourbon Vanilla with Sea Salt Caramel

The Bent Spoon's Bourbon Vanilla with Sea Salt Caramel

Take Pictures: Be the tourist. Record your trip.  (Just don’t embarrass your kid too much.)  And it will help when you come back home and try to remember which school had the cool student center or residence halls (or horrendous parking lots or not-so-attractive surrounding neighborhood).  Maybe, while in Hackettstown, you’ll catch a picture of Tilly, Centenary College’s (in)famous ghost.

Raptor on CSE Campus

Take Notes: For most families I’ve talked to, the College trip (or trips) becomes a blurred memory.  Keep a journal to help you remember what you liked and didn’t like about certain schools and preserve your memory (and your sanity).

Read one of the “lighter” College Search Books: For every 400 page tome that lists thousands of colleges and millions of bits of data, there is a down-to-earth, light-hearted piece such as Risa Lewak’s “Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer”.  Grab one, read it and remember that this is not meant to feel like root canal.

Remember, that’s it the Student’s Choice, Too: Your teenager may have a reach school, but your teenager is also somebody’s “reach student”. Don’t forget that your family is the consumer in this process.

SO… Look at this as an exciting journey towards the future, not a dreaded confrontation with the evil world of Admissions Committees.  Research.  Apply.  Review.  But, most of all take a deep breath and…ENJOY!

As always, I welcome your comments, your ratings, your Facebook posts and your emails.  I can be reached at CCRMichael@gmail.com, on Facebook at “College Counseling for the Rest of Us”, on Twitter @MichaelCCR and by cell at 908-403-3819.

Photo of the hawk at the College of Saint Elizabeth is courtesy of yours truly as he rolled down the window of his Saturn and snapped the picture via cellphone, without crashing.

Photo from the Bent Spoon is courtesy of http://lilveggiepatch.com/2010/08/23/sundae-social/

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Pairings

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Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a Wine Tasting and Luncheon at the Wilshire Grand Hotel, in West Orange. The wines served were all from the Palmaz Vineyards, in Napa Valley. There was a presentation from the co-owner of the Winery, Amalia Palmaz and her son, Palmaz’ co-Director of Operations, Christian Palmaz.

The experience was amazing: the presentation was incredibly informative (yet understandable to a Budweiser and Ballantine drinker like yours truly) and the food and wine pairings were fantastic. I may have tasted the best Chardonnay AND the best Cabernet I’ve ever had in my life.

Swell, Michael, I’m really glad you had a good time, but what does this have to do with College Admissions, College Search, etc. etc. etc.?

I really think there are two very important analogies here.

As I washed the baby field greens and honey roasted walnuts with a dash of Chardonnay, and enjoyed the Cabernet interact with the hoisan glazed french cut chicken and orzo pilaf, I appreciated that the food and wine are meant to complement, not copy, each other.

Thanks, Mike.  I’m working here on a cup of soup, a bag of Doritos and a bottle of water.

And thanks to the Palmaz’ presentation (link here) I much more fully appreciated how much effort goes in to the wine-making process. Not every fruit is selected.  The process takes years. It’s not that there’s waste, but there are ingredients that become more important (and others that become less so) during the maturation process.

So, remember my lunch in West Orange as you journey through your college search.  I think it can benefit you at least two ways:

A) Pick a school and a program that complement you.  It will benefit you greatly in the long-term and give a warm feeling in your belly in the short-term.
B) And remember that you (and your future school) have much to offer each other.  College X or University Y may not take all of the fruits of your labor, but they can take your best offerings and create a legendary vintage.

Or something like that.

As always, I welcome your comments, your ratings, your Facebook posts and your emails.  I can be reached at CCRMichael@gmail.com, on Facebook at “College Counseling for the Rest of Us”, on Twitter @MichaelCCR and by cell at 908-403-3819.

Special thanks to Hilary Morris and Hilary Morris Public Relations and Lori Chiazzo, of The Hip Event, for arranging such a wonderful event!

Unexpected Friends on the Journey

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The College Search can be a fascinating journey.

And much of the experience is yours, and yours alone.  But, to assist you in your quest, you may find some unexpected friends.  These allies come in varied shapes and sizes.  I’m talking – of course – of blogs and tweets and books and websites.

BLOGS: Academics like to write.  And they like to think they are good at writing.  Luckily, they generally are.  There is a plethora (SAT word!) of interesting blogs that relate to college admissions, and college life, in general.  http://onlineuniversityrankings2010.com/2010/top-50-college-admission-administration-blogs/ lists just that – a fairly diverse list of college blogs, divided into four groups: Administration, Admissions, Advice, Scholarships and Financial Aid, and Grad School Admissions.

TWEETS: Twitter accounts can come and go, and Twitter is not for everyone.  But I find it often provides quick leads to important, timely information.  Some of the Twitter accounts that I follow regularly include: @USHigherEdu @Chronicle @mycollegeguide and @Talkingteenage.  But the most relevant info for you is probably going to come from the tweets coming from the schools you are interested in.  The hardest part, in some cases, is identifying which twitter account (or Facebook page, for that matter) is the “official” one for the College.  There are often multiple choices and it may be hard to ascertain which is the one you should follow.

BOOKS: Currently on my desk are three great books relating to the College Search – “The Fiske Guide to Colleges”, the Princeton Review’s “K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or ADHD” and “Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer”.  But there are College guides of all shapes and sizes – serious and lighthearted, books about admissions and books about financial aid, guides sorted by major and guides sorted by geography.

WEBSITES: There are certain links you will see over and over again on my Facebook page.  I tend to think of the two “anchors” to be the New York Times (www.nytimes.com) and the Chronicle of Higher Education (www.chronicle.com).  Both have daily education news and weekly articles and blogs about the admission process.  But I notice that a third site, http://www.insidehighered.com, gets a lot of play on my page – with good reason.  It’s another great source of education news and admission info.  But, much like the Twitter accounts, the most relevant websites for YOU will probably be the College websites for the schools you are looking at.

The blogs and tweets and websites are free.  The books are not, but are a small investment in the bigger picture.  And all of them – the blogs, the twitterers, the websites and the books – are all there to help guide you to your destiny.  I wish you safe passage.

As always, I welcome your comments, your ratings, your Facebook posts and your emails.  I can be reached at CCRMichael@gmail.com, on Facebook at “College Counseling for the Rest of Us”, on Twitter @MichaelCCR and by cell at 908-403-3819.

40 is the New 20: Who is the “typical” College Student?

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Quick quiz: Picture the typical college student.

Do you have the image in your mind? (Don’t close your eyes or you can’t read the rest of the blog!)

I’m guessing the person you’re looking at is about 20 years old, has 2-3 books in hand and is walking on a college quad with beautiful trees. In the background are brick buildings. He or she is probably smiling at the comment made by the person walking alongside.

Well, in the words of some of my college friends from back in the day, fuggedaboutit! That person still exists, but he or she is no more typical a college student in 2010 as…well, as me.  Here’s the skinny…

About half of all college students attend part-time. A similar percentage attend a community college. And about half are financially independent. 38% work full-time. 27% have a dependent of their own.  Only about 25% of college students fit the “traditional” mold. (Data is from the National Center for Educational Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov)

What does this mean for you, as the adult learner? It means that you are not alone.  It means that – particularly if you’re taking your classes at night, online or on weekends (or at your place of employment) – you are taking classes with other “non-traditional” learners.  It means your professors have a greater chance of understanding that you may miss class for a family wedding or a professional conference.  It means – to some extent – the administrative offices of the College (i.e. – Financial Aid, Bursar, Career Services) will have a better grasp of adult concerns, questions, rules and regulations.  (Note: This still varies greatly from school to school, however.)  In general, this is the best time in the history of higher education for a non-traditional student to go to school.

What does this mean for you, the parent of a traditional learner? It means that your child’s classmates could be sharing a range of knowledge and experience in the classroom that wasn’t generally available a generation ago.  But, it does also mean that there is a new group in town that is consuming resources, including financial aid and faculty time and energy.

Attached (I hope) are two wonderful videos regarding the typical student of today.  One is from the fantastic Take America to College video series http://www.takeamericatocollege.com/our-team/dennis-medina/ that tells the story of a Boston Police officer / Community College night student and the other is from the College of Saint Elizabeth that tells the story of a Wall Street professional transitioning to a career as a teacher.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvoJE_1ffns .

In some ways, higher education is in desperate shape. Costs are skyrocketing, government aid is often being frozen or cut, fund-raising is harder than ever and we are seeing more and more questions about “is college worth the price tag?”.  However, it is also a golden age for higher education. We have an incredibly diverse student population sharing an equally diverse set of experiences and knowledge.  We have educational tools available today that were inconceivable a few years ago.  We have more graduate programs and certifications than in the history of the world.

So, where are we?  At least in terms of college education – 40 is most definitely the new 20, the new “little black dress”, the new grey business suit that anchors the wardrobe.  But it is a wardrobe that is stuffed with multiple styles, shapes, colors and sizes.  It is probably best to simply start trying some things on and see what fits.