ROI Rage: Let’s Go Crazy

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Dear Parents of Teenagers:

Think back to 1999{Click here for the Prince song.}

Who was in your household back then; How old were they?

Now – with that information – if I could get for you a brand new 1999 Porsche 911 {Click here for the Prince song about Corvettes; he didn’t do one about Porsches} or a 1999 Honda Odyssey, {not a Prince song}, which car would you get?

Most folks choose the vehicle with the 3rd row cup holders, not the one that could go 0-60 the fastest.

And yet, too often – when it comes to selecting a college – you are told that you have to buy the Academic equivalent of the Porsche.  It ranks higher in the magazine ratings.  It has prestige.  It’s sleek and cool and gets you to your destination faster.  You won’t be hired if you pull in with an Odyssey.  Hiring managers only hire Porsche owners.

And lately, this argument has taken a turn for the worst.  Since only the Porsche owners get jobs, and you have to pay good money to buy the Academic Odysseys, don’t buy anything at all.  It’s not worth it. Click for such an article; no music attached.

Let me focus on my breathing and take a moment to respond, because statements like this make me delirious. {Prince, with the Muppets}

First, beyond any monetary consideration (and this is part of the argument I sometimes forget to make), there is a value to the discourse, the knowledge of the professors, the intellectual, social, athletic and spiritual gains and challenges, to the friendships, the clubs and organizations and the responsibilities placed upon us.  College, in varying degrees but always in some degree – shapes who you are, who you know, what you know and what you value.  Like a great raspberry beret, there is no price that can be put on such things.

Second, the monetary value has been both well publicized and horribly understated.  You may have heard that the average person with a bachelor’s degree earns $2.1 million in their lifetime and a high school graduate earns $1.2 million. If I gave you 2 sets of stocks or 2 sets of ANY INVESTMENT with the same payoff, which one would you pick? As I stated, I think this data, is by definition, horribly understated.  Since the Census data deals with with current data, it doesn’t reflect inflation, salary increases, etc.  Although we currently live in a world where COLA salary increases cannot be assumed, it CAN be assumed that – over a 40 to 50 year career – salary data will only become more and more divergent.  In other words, it is a fairly sure bet that the average 2016 College graduate will earn much, much more than a million dollars more than someone who stops in 2012 with a high school diploma.

Of course, this data is all for folks that GRADUATE college.  And that brings me back to my Odyssey.

There are far too many academic “families of five”, too many students who should be driving the academic equivalent of an automatic transmission, who are buying “Porsche Colleges” because they will supposedly provide the best return on investment.  When the opposite – for those individuals – is far more likely.  They run a higher risk of not graduating.  They are far more likely to not get anywhere near the internships advertised at the “dealership” (i.e. – admissions office) and to feel disenfranchised by not following their own Odyssey.

Unfortunately, data for folks who have to trade in their Porsche Colleges after a semester or two is a little hard to find.   But, as a proud owner of a 2001 Saturn, I suggest to you to find the model that’s right for you and meets your needs.  In the meantime, let’s go crazy.

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

The FAFSA is For Everyone

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My guest post for the College Planning Group is now available at this link. Only slightly edited from my original submission, but I forgive them. It touches on why every family should complete the FAFSA.  Enjoy!

I expect to have the “regular” weekly blog up by midnight tonight – tentatively called “ROI Rage – College IS Worth It”.

Why Publish a College a Day?

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Most weekdays, I spend 60-90 minutes on my “College of the Day” feature – collecting data, preparing the post, providing links to the College’s website and social media accounts.

It’s a good chunk of time built into every business day as I try to get a new, emerging business off the ground.  And in many cases, that specific college is of little interest to my “usual customers”.  My Facebook fans (yeah, “likes”, I know), my Twitter followers, my clients and my Linkedin connections are mostly from the northeastern part of the United States, in general, and New Jersey, specifically.   Few of them will ever take a college course in Alaska or Oklahoma or Kentucky.

So why do it?

Off the bat, I can think of 4000 reasons why.  College of the Day is less than two months old. And yet, I’ve discovered the Ranger Rangers, from Ranger, TX and the Bailey Mountain Cloggers.  I’ve learned about the the “SnowTube” video channel and a school that offers courses on flash drive. I found out about Miami-Dade’s Emerging Technologies Center and the only school with an alumni chapter on the Moon.  I’ve learned there is a college in the U.S. that is 320 miles above the Arctic Circle. I’ve learned about a cheerleading dynasty in Kentucky, a Bowling dynasty in New Jersey and an incredible educational value in South Dakota.

And, yet,  I’ve written about LESS THAN 1% of the Colleges in this country – only 30 out of 4000!

Simply, this country offers an incredibly (and wonderfully) diverse menu of colleges and we know about far too few of them.

By posting information about a different college each day, I believe I become a better counselor for all of you.  And I share free information for all of you to access, so that you can become better consumers.  I provide links to college websites, athletics pages and social media accounts.  I meet new colleagues (and friends) who can provide me – and you- with insider information.  And I get a daily “B-12” shot, knowing what great schools – and great people – are out there, waiting to be discovered.

And I can do all of this without using up gas, paying tolls,  adding mileage to my old Saturn or waiting in an airport for a connecting flight. These vignettes certainly do not replace an actual campus tour, but they do allow access to the nation’s colleges without cost or travel time.

So, onward we go until (approximately) 2020. Who knows whether there will be Facebook or Twitter.  Who knows if the websites will be on Web 4.0.  But there are thousands of wonderful stories and worthy colleges whose tales shall be told. Let’s enjoy the ride together!

All Free Today

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If the title of this post sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at some point in your life.

But the topic today is not Benny Hill’s acting career or whether Toot Sweets would have made a great candy. We’re here to talk about how much access we have to FREE information during the College Search process.

And if the topic seems somewhat familiar, I’ve touched on the availability of free “stuff” both in my “Unexpected Friends” post on 11/10/10 and my “One Night in Plattsburgh” post on 12/15/10.  I think it’s a topic worth emphasizing.

You pay enough for college. It’s a fantastic investment, but it is rarely cheap.   Therefore, families look for any savings or deals they can find.  However, when it comes to the information and services needed during the search for College,  families often end up paying for things that they could have obtained for free.  Or they don’t obtain the information or receive the service at all because they think they can’t afford it.

Here a few of the items that are free – no charge – zilch – zero – gratis. I’ve come up with 8 categories of things that are ALL FREE TODAY:

1) Guidance Counselors and the Guidance Office – Ultimately, your taxes (if your child attends a public HS) or your tuition dollars (if he or she attends a private school) do pay for this, but in terms of direct costs, you have a paid staff professional staff member, support staff, paper and electronic access to thousands of books and other periodicals about colleges and the college search.  All at your disposal, with no admission price.  While many are overworked and some are better than others, in general, you have a committed, educated, caring person (or two or three) willing to help you achieve your goals.

2) College Admissions Counselors and Admission Offices – On the other side of the fence, you have an admission counselor who recruited you, is reviewing your file, has a responsible for recruiting cool people like you from their “territory” and went into the position because they like helping people like you.  And they are free (somebody else’s tuition is paying for them – at least for now).  He or she is specifically trained to answer your questions.  And the support staff, generally, are similarly well versed and also – almost always – quite friendly.  And the materials available through the Admissions office are informative, diverse and – yes – FREE.  (Some schools will charge for a PRINT catalog.)

3) The FAFSA – It is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid.  Free.  No Charge.  It does not cost you a dime to find out if you are eligible for federal grants, loans and scholarships.  If you pay anyone to fill out a FAFSA for you, you should pay only for the convenience of not spending 45-60 minutes filling out a form. Anything more expensive than that should be filled under wasted money (or, in some cases, fraud).  I would strongly suggest that you NEVER pay someone to complete a FAFSA for you.

4) College Fairs – At your high school, your community college, at convention centers – there are college fairs seemingly every day and night.  I can attest to that from years in the field.  And, while my College had to pay to attend some of the bigger fairs, these events are all free to you.  No charge to visit with hundreds of college representatives from around the country – colleges that WANT to talk to you and share their “sales pitch”.  And give out FREE pens and flash drives and rulers and markers and key chains and lanyards and…………………

5) The Library and – to some extent – Barnes and Noble – Some of the Colleges that you are looking at can be pretty far away.  And your guidance office might not have EVERY College Search book (although I bet their catalog matches the library and B&N).  But the hours, quiet, convenience, and – in the case of Barnes and Noble – beverages and pastries (those are not free) – allows you to do your college research in a relaxed environment without the distractions of a high school guidance office.  And, if you are a parent reading this (like, I suspect most of you are), then I assume you would definitely prefer doing research someone other than the high school guidance office.

6) The World Wide Web – From to, there are a plethora (trying to use that word in all my blogs now) of excellent online financial aid resources – all free.  In fact, that is the clearest indication that the site is worthwhile and legitimate.  If it costs something, run away.  But, also keep in mind that each college has a detailed website with courses, costs, admission policies and much, much more.  As well as – for most of them – Facebook pages and YouTube channels and Twitter accounts….

7) Viewbooks and Videos and Flash Drives and Catalogs and Search Pieces and Brochures – I’ve covered this a bit in the other bullet items above, but the Colleges (other than a few print catalogs) are not charging for their information.  They want you to have it.  Many trees die, as it were as millions of viewbooks and brochures are mailed out handed out to people like you.  All free.  And while they are generally glossy and filled with slogans, there is usually quite a bit of nutritional value beneath the candy coating – courses and mission statements, career paths and student service options, and much, much more.

8) Family and Friends – More so than at any other time in history, you know people who went to college – friends, family and neighbors.  And they are not being paid by a college.  And they are usually more than willing to “tell it like it is” (or was).  Just bear in mind that the information is from their unique viewpoint and may be outdated, if they went to school a few years ago.

So, only pay for what you should pay for.  And enjoy the ride.   I’m off with Caractacus (played by Dick Van Dyke) to find the Bulgarian castle where SATs are made (see below):

The Educational Testing Service's "Secret Lair"

The Educational Testing Service's "Secret Lair"

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

The Art of Candy Stripping and the Trumpet Player on the Moon

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The College Admission Essay (also known as the Personal Statement) is one of those “qualitative” opportunities provided to candidates to go “beyond the numbers”.

It is so easy to focus on grades and SATs, grades and SATs and – even – grades and SATs when talking about College Admissions.  “What kinda SAT do I need to get in to this school?” was definitely one of the most popular questions I received at high school College Fairs over the years.  But I can never stress this enough: COLLEGE ADMISSIONS FOLKS LOOK AT MORE THAN WHAT YOU DID ON ONE OR TWO SATURDAY MORNINGS!!!

Sorry for shouting, but one of the great ironies of the College Admission profession is that – at least in my humble opinion – parents are far more focused on SATs than College Admissions officers are.  While SATs (and grades, you can never forget grades) are key components of the Admission Decision Process, the courses taken are equally important.  I abhor the bias (2 common SAT words, free of charge) against admission counselors on this issue, when it is not deserved (in most cases)!

Unless we offer a strong basket weaving curriculum, I am far more interested in what College preparatory courses you took than how you did in the ubiquitous (SAT word!) Basket Weaving discipline.   It matters that you took an AP course, even if you struggled.  (Struggled, I said – bombing out is a different conversation for a different post)

And we DO read the Personal Statements, the Letters of Recommendation and review our Interview notes. We do look at what extra-curricular activities you list on the application and what offices you held.  We are trying to make an intelligent decision on whether you and the College will be a good match.  We are trying to determine if you are a student who will be assiduous, with a capacious desire to learn and a willingness to collaborate (3 for the price of 1!) with others.   We really are.  And to best do so, we review a plethora (sorry, had to) of information.

About that essay – listen carefully.  Even though our path may have been circuitous, we’re coming to the zenith of the post.  (At least, hopefully, not the nadir – or even worse – the nader...)  For what what I have to share may sound ambiguous to some, but you need to both write and review your essay with care, but not over analyze your work.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, as it were.

Your essay should be “real”.  It should be from your mind and soul.  Yes, it should be the version that is grammatically correct and it should be written in appropriate language.  And, yes, it should be edited and reviewed – and I don’t mean just checking the spelling by looking at where Bill Gates put the squiggly lines! But it should be YOU – that’s what I, as an admission counselor, am trying to learn more about.  You.

And that brings me to the art of candy stripping and the trumpet player on the moon.

One of the most honest, intelligent, interesting, humorous individuals in college admissions is a man named Bruce Poch.  I do not know Bruce, but I’ve read statements attributed to him in the past and have always found him to be “real”, which is a great, but sometime rare trait in my profession.  And an appropriate trait for today’s blog topic.   In today’s Chronicle, there is an interview with Bruce in which he shares a story about a College Essay.  The request was to identify a moment in history that had personal significance.  The applicant wrote about the day Louis Armstrong set foot on the moon. Well, the kid was admitted anyway, and he now has a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

It reminds me of an essay I read about 15 years ago, from a  Nursing candidate, that detailed her experience as a candy stripper. The essay, other than that spelling error, was well-written and honest.  And, yes, she was admitted.

So, my advice, simply, would be this:  Write honestly.  Edit your work (and allow other eyes to take a look).  But do not sweat it if you described a low point in your life as the “nader”, or referred to your volunteer work at a hospital in terms of ripping off Nestle Crunch wrappers.

As always, I welcome your comments, your ratings, your Facebook posts and your emails.  I can be reached at, on Facebook at “College Counseling for the Rest of Us”, on Twitter @MichaelCCR and by cell at 908-403-3819.  And I will be appearing on January 20th, at Hall Stadium, in Union, NJ for a “Fit, Not Reach” College Search Workshop – hope to see you there!