The “Fit, Not Reach” Tour

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It’s time to take the show on the road.  I strongly recommend playing this link as you read on…

On Thursday, January 2oth, the first leg of the College Counseling for the Rest of Us “Fit, Not Reach” tour will commence.

We’ll be able to talk face-to-face, discuss the importance of “Fit, Not Reach”, and share free food and beverages.  (Well, free for you, anyway).

Although I prefer the intimacy of small crowds, I am delighted that we are starting with a stadium show.  We’re opening at Hall Stadium, (874 Lehigh Avenue) in beautiful Union, NJ, home of the world’s largest watersphere, as well as Kean University.

Doors will open at 6 for informal conversation (actually, 5:30, but you’ll be helping me set up if you come that early).  The formal workshop will commence at 6:30 and we will be around, again, for informal conversation from about 7:30 to “whenever”.

I say “we” because I’m happy to report that I will be sharing the stage with David Sawicki, who is an incredible resource for the athletes among “the rest of us”.  David was an Union High All-Star, a pitcher for the renown Division I program at Seton Hall and a Coach and Director of Athletic Recruitment at Division II and III programs at NJIT and Centenary College.  He is currently managing member of GameTime Sports, in East Hanover.

So, David and I will be able to give you a tour of the College Search process from both the College and the student perspective, as well as for athletes and non-athletes.

To be up front, Hall is a little smaller than Madison Square, Wembley or Dodger Stadium. We will be in the clubhouse of a little league facility.  Seating is limited.  I encourage you to RSVP via Facebook or Linkedin. And you can always email me at info@cc4therestofus.com to reserve a space, as well. But we are not working with Ticketmaster on this one, or Stub Hub.

I hope to add more tour dates as the snow recedes, so stay tuned.  But, I look forward to meeting with many of you on January 20th!

As always, I welcome your comments, your ratings, your Facebook posts and your emails.  I can be reached at info@cc4therestofus.com, on Facebook at “College Counseling for the Rest of Us”, on Twitter @MichaelCCR and by cell at 908-403-3819.

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Presents Given and Received

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Thank you.  For everything.

2 months and 2 days. That’s all it’s been.  It was October 20, 2010 that I opened a blog account with WordPress and set up a Facebook “fan” page for College Counseling for the Rest of Us.  And started down an uncertain path, but one I knew I wanted to travel.

2 months and 2 days. Trying to preach three basic concepts:

a) The College Search should be enjoyable.

b) College search information and guidance should be available to EVERYONE.

c) It’s all about “fit, not reach”.  Pick the school that meets your needs, not the school with fanciest reputation, highest SAT scores, best football team or coolest website.

And since then, I’ve had over 2300 visits to my Facebook postings and over 600 visits to my blog site, which now has a cool web domain, http://www.cc4therestofus.com, that I purchased via GoDaddy. I’ve also gained a few clients (always a good thing), was asked to do a guest blog on a really cool local site (www.njmyway.com), participated in a great career fair (trying to explain, to middle schoolers, what an independent college counselor does), got myself invited to a major adult college fair and also to an amazing food and wine pairing event at a great hotel.

I’ve incorporated, opened a corporate checking account, printed business cards and met with potential advertisers.  I opened YouTube and BlogTalkRadio accounts (thenewmediadoesntbelieveinspaces) that will soon be filled with  more (hopefully) good CCR content.  I’ve been in conversation for locations for several College Search workshops – my “world” tour – and I hope to have some news on that front in the next week or so.  I’ve recalibrated my Twitter and Linkedin accounts to reflect CCR’s direction.

And it’s been a blast.  I love this.  I love working with the wonderful families I’ve met in 2010  I love the College of the Day and the responses from colleges and alums.  I love the feedback I get (generally privately – PLEASE feel free to post comments!!!) about how this is helping folks prepare for the college search.  I thank you, thank you, thank you.

I thank my clients from 2010 – the collector’s edition – the first few families who helped me shape what is to come.

I thank my Facebook fans (“likes”, I know) and my Twitter followers for helping me know that there is an audience for what I was saying.   And thank you to all of the folks (YOU!) who read this weekly blog and offer feedback.

I especially thank my wife, Stefanie, whose first name should be “long suffering”, for putting up with me and whose support of this project has given me great strength to move this forward to where it should go.  And thank you to my kids, for their support.

Get ready for CCR to rock in 2011 – there will be the “Fit, Not Reach” World Tour, the weekly YouTube show, possibly a weekly BlogTalkRadio program, a website (as opposed to a blog site with a bell and whistle or two).  College of the Day will continue as well as the Wednesday blogs.  And there will be an ever improving College Search service. And my twin boys will finish sophomore year of high school and start their junior year.  So, we’ll have real, live test cases to work with (inset best evil scientist laugh here).

The greatest gift I could have received this Holiday season was the support that you have all given me these past 62 days.  I thank you, and hope I can provide gifts of equal (or greater) value, in return, in 2011.  THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

May you have a cherished holiday season, whether your house be filled with the joy of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Chalica or any combination thereof.  And may you have a safe, healthy HAPPY NEW YEAR!

One Night In Plattsburgh Makes a Hard Man Humble

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As per my promise from last week’s blog post, the semi-witty “What’s In Your Wallet?”, this week’s blog post is about financial aid.

I started writing another semi-witty essay, with cool references to the 1980’s and Star Wars and the particular song referenced in the title.  But I came to realize that financial aid is confusing enough, most folks think it is even more confusing than it really is and most of what I need to tell you about financial aid, in general, can be summed up in a few bullet points.

Saying that – click here if the title has you humming a certain tune in your head.

So, here goes.  Financial Aid 101.

1) Fill out the FAFSA. Regardless of whether you think you’ll get any financial assistance, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and fill out the FAFSA form.

2) Try to do so as early as reasonably possible. The form goes “live” on Janaury 1, but the worksheet is already up there.

3) A big key to doing it early is knowing your tax information.  So, if 2010 was alot like 2009, you can probably estimate pretty well based on the 2009 info.  If 2010 was not the same (job loss, promotion, divorce, lottery winnings), then I would strongly suggest completing your 1040 pretty early this winter.

4) The form is FREE.  There is a ton of FREE good advice available online (I’ll list 5 key sites in item #5).  College financial aid counselors and high school counselors are FREE (well, in terms of giving financial aid advice, I mean).  Many states offer FREE counseling via a website, email or a phone center.  Don’t pay good money that you could use for a college education to find out how much money you can get, when you could have obtained the same information for FREE.  Did I mention FREE? And I will be glad to provide Financial Aid information, guidance, advice for – say it with me now – FREE.

5) There are 5 key websites I would suggest to you. www.fafsa.ed.gov is the federal website).  If you are in New Jersey, the state site is www.hesaa.org.  Two great private sites are www.finaid.org and www.fastweb.com.  The fifth site would be the financial aid section of your college’s website.

6) ASK QUESTIONS. Because it’s important.  And because the answers are – yes, sir – FREE.  And because, oftentimes, financial aid folks are very busy and you may have to ask twice to get results.

7) Understand that the FAFSA is NOT the 1040 form.  It does not come with possible schedules.  It is MUCH more cut-and-dried.  Anyone selling you the idea that they can find more money if they complete your FAFSA for you really means more money for them, not for you.

8) The FAFSA process is “equally unfair”.  I talk about that in a little more detail in the original version of the blog (see below), but basically the calculations make sense, but they assume you have spent like someone living in the 1960’s or 1970s.  So – the formula is fairly equal, but it assumes you all have saved much more than you probably have.

9) Most people think that their situation is “unique”.  While it, generally, is not, it IS personal.  My experience is that financial aid questions are rarely asked in public, but often asked in private. That’s fine by me.  My email is ccrmichael@gmail.com and I encourage you to reach out if you do have questions.  And I’ll answer them.  For – say it with me – FREE.

10) Student Loans are considered financial aid by the feds.  One of the reasons to fill out the FAFSA – without it, you can’t get a Stafford Loan.

11) Click on this link for a five minute video (produced by FASTWEB). It will provide you with a basic outline of what you need to do, but it is also pretty funny.

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.

And for those of you who want to know what direction I was originally going with this article, here’s the 1st half of the original piece – Star Wars references and all:

This is the story of a young admissions counselor who was doing such a great job recruiting students that someone decided he could be a Director of Financial Aid. This was a time (the mid-1990’s) when College Admissions and Financial Aid departments were being combined into these things known as “Enrollment Management” Departments.

To train this person in the ways of financial aid, they sent him off to Dagobah to learn from the wisest of financial aid professionals.

Well, not exactly Dagobah, but close.  Plattsburgh, NY consists of – or did, as of the mid 1990’s –  a closed military base, a college and…well, a closed military base and a college.  That was about it.  It was the perfect place to learn about Expected Family Contributions, professional judgment, independent status, cost of attendance and all of those really cool financial aid terms.  And eventually, I could lift star fighters out of swamps.  Or put together a financial aid package within the rules and regulations of the federal and state governments.  Whichever you find more believable.

When you calculate an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) manually – as I had the pleasure of doing those 3 days in Dagobah – it actually makes sense.  Yes, it assumes you live in the 1970’s and don’t own a 3rd flat screen TV and a 3rd car.  But the formula makes sense; it just assumes you have saved more than almost anybody in the U.S. really does.  It’s “equally unfair”, as it were.  But it is based on real numbers and real calculations.

Luke: What’s in there? Yoda: Only what you take with you.

Luke: I can’t believe itYoda: That is why you fail.

Help you with this, I can. Over the course of the next few months, I will post several blogs to “talk you through” the process.  And you have an open invitation to ask ANY financial aid questions you have through the Facebook page, email or by phone.

What’s In Your Wallet?

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Pay me $200,000 and I will provide you with a flimsy gown/garment thing and a piece of thick paper with writing in two languages. Oh yeah, and a cool hat. Like thing.

And it will the best investment you will ever make.

Seriously.

This week, a big deal – rightfully so – was made in some circles that the unemployment rate for folks with a bachelor’s degree is now at its HIGHEST POINT EVER. The jobless rate, in November, for Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree is now at 5.1%, the highest rates since records were first kept in 1970.

That’s not good news, but if anyone wants to draw the conclusion that it’s not worth getting a bachelor’s degree, how about these statistics:

The jobless rate for those with a high school diploma was 10%.

For those without a high school diploma, it’s 15.7%.  How about this tag line:

Want to cut your chances of unemployment in half?  Get a bachelor’s degree.

Okay, but what about making money?  I just gave you $200,000 for a flimsy gown and a piece of paper – how do I get that back – with interest?

Glad you asked.  According to U. S. census data, the lifetime earnings of the average individual with only a high school diploma is 1.2M.  For an individual with a bachelor’s degree, it’s 2.1M.  For an individual with a Masters, it’s 2.5M. 

That’s an average lifetime gain of $900,000 on a $200,000 investment. (And I’m using a relatively high investment number here – if you attend any public institution or most private institutions, or receive financial assistance, your financial investment will be much less.)

But here’s the kicker – While actual results may vary. they’ll probably be better.  As I said, that $200,000 figure is probably on the high side.  Also, that $900,000 figure is based on current (actually, already outdated) data.  It would be an incredibly sound economic assumption that the person graduating college in 2015 or 2017 will earn even more.

I started this article with the thought that I would discuss financial aid. But I think that will become next Wednesday’s theme.  Because I need to stress this first: Financial Aid is meant to be just that – an aid; assistance in making the college degree a reality.  But be careful about how much influence it plays in making the final decision as to which college to attend.  I understand that sometimes it has to play a bigger role than you would like.  But always remember that – in the long-term – choosing a school that meets your needs will pay far, far more dividends in the long run.

And flimsy hats can look kind of cool.

Flimsy Hats Can Look Cool

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.

Community Colleges Deserve an “A”

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Comments: A pleasure.  Exhibits talent and creativity.  Maintains a positive attitude.  Is responsible and hard-working.

Currently, over 40% of all college students are enrolled at a community college.  That’s nearly 6 MILLION people.  For reasons both new and old, Community Colleges have never been more important to American higher education, nor has their reputation been stronger than it is in 2010.

Comments: Overlooked or dismissed out of hand.

But, too often, community colleges are not on a prospective student’s “radar” when they would make a legitimate, affordable and appropriate option.  They are overlooked or dismissed out of hand.  And I think this is a mistake that unnecessarily limits many adult and traditional students’ options.

Let’s take a look at the grades.  From what I can see, it’s all “straight A’s”:

A – AMERICAN.  While universities were existence long before Columbus did, or did not, discover America, community colleges – while in existence elsewhere – are by and large an American creation of the 20th century.  They were built to serve the tired, the poor, the masses.  And they still do, with an independence and pride that reminds one of their roots.

A – ACCESS. Community Colleges were meant to provide education to people who would not otherwise go to college.  In an age when college has increasingly become a necessary “tool in the tool belt” for the individual seeking employment, community colleges, while still providing certificates and associate degrees have become even more important as a proper gateway to bachelor degrees.  In fact, there is now growth in the area of 2+2+2 programming – community college to Masters tracts.

A – AFFORDABLE. In the economy we currently live in, the low-cost option of community colleges is as relevant as it has ever been.

A – ADULTS – Although an important part of the community college enrollment growth of the 21st century has been traditional students, adult students – part of the reason community colleges developed in the first place – continue to be vital to the success of these schools.  Community Colleges have programs, services and schedules designed to meet the needs of adults.

A- ADAPTIVE – And Community Colleges are poised to continue to meet those needs.  With a commitment to serving the local community and serving students of all ages, they have the initiative and skills to adjust to changes in professional fields, implement new modes of academic delivery and provide resources for new learning styles, methods and concerns.

A – ACCEPTED – Maybe the “A” that they can be most proud of, Community Colleges are increasingly accepted for the value of what they do.  In New Jersey, it’s called “full faith in transfer’.  But most other colleges have a variation on the same theme.  If you finish an associate degree in New Jersey and move on to a 4-year college in New Jersey, your credits are accepted in “full faith”.  You come in as a junior.  This was not always the case.  But now, it is increasingly harder to argue why you don’t want to take a course for $300 at the community college that would cost $1000, $2000 or $3000 at a four-year institution.  For more information on transferring from a community college in New Jersey to a 4-year institution, check out http://www.njtransfer.org/

A – ALWAYS.  Today, more and more of us are becoming “lifetime learners”.  It might be a Masters or Doctoral degree.  But it might also be a professional certificate to gain a management position or to change careers.  It might be a set of business courses with a specific skill set.  It might be a course or two (credit or non-credit) in an area we always wanted to learn more about (ceramics, the 60’s, family nutrition).    And those are all areas where the community college can provide a convenient, affordable choice.

So, based on their last report card, I have to say that – whether you are 17, 47 or 97 – community colleges are a great option to further your education.

Below is a link to a great video promoting the benefits of community colleges, including Nassau Community College alumnus Billy Crystal and Jim Lehrer, Victoria College alum.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arne-duncan/community-colleges-the-ga_b_752982.html