Uh…What Do You Do Again?

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I am an independent college counselor.

Counselor, like helping kids who are in trouble?  Uh, not exactly.

You help them get higher SAT scores?  Uh, no.

You help them study so they get higher grades?  Not really.

You make sure they get into their first choice school?  Only the student can actually do that, it’s one of the topics I stress…

Sorry to interrupt – what do you do, again?

I am a college search planner.

(Silence…)

I’ve had multiple conversations that sounded much like the scenario described above. And I realize that not everybody is familiar with my wonderful professional field.  So, let me explain what I do (and do NOT do).

I do not tell you where to go.  I do not “get you into”  a school. I teach you how to fish, rather than set a plate of tilapia in front of you.   Or, if you don’t like seafood, I am the driving instructor, not the chauffeur.

My goal is to ensure that you make informed decisions during the college search, including your final decision regarding enrollment in college, based on best available information.  I believe, as someone who worked on “the other side” for 23 years, I can provide a special perspective on the college admission and financial aid process.

College is a major investment. It is an investment of money, but also of time and effort.  The college you select generally has profound effects in terms of professional development, but also your personal development.  It dramatically influences your career (at least your initial one), but it also shapes values and friendships.

Like most major purchases, you receive lots of shiny product information and you receive some guidance from generally well-meaning sales professionals. College Education (at least not-for-profit, “traditional” education) is generally done as a softer sell by someone who often doesn’t think of themselves as a salesperson.  And there ARE real fundamental differences between an admission counselor and a typical retail salesperson.  However, you are still buying something from someone paid by the company that sells that product.

Guidance Counselors are generally wonderful people.  They are generally highly qualified individuals, are warm, caring, “people persons” and have excellent educational credentials.  Unfortunately they are often serving a caseload that grows each year, and a clientele with increasingly diverse personal, social and educational needs.  College counseling has become a smaller piece of their daily puzzle at the same point int time that it has become a more common, more nuanced, more complicated part of the typical high school student’s life.

Me?  My Board of Trustees, my Cabinet, my supervisors are…YOU.  Oh, I would love to make money from ads on this site and on my YouTube channel, and makes oodles of money speaking as conferences and workshops.  But my primary clients (and my only ones right now) are the families and adult students that I serve.  And I think that’s pretty cool – for both of us.

So, after all of that, what would be my “elevator speech”? How would I tell someone, in the time it takes to go up to the fourth floor, what I do for a living?

I am a College Counselor.  I provide information and insight to students and families as to how the college admission and financial aid process works and how to best navigate your college search.  I save you time, money and sanity.

How’s that?

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.

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Shades of Gray

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So many of the questions asked in the college search process are structured as “either/or” questions.  Should I go to a big school or a small school?  4 year college or a 2 year college?  Public or private?  Full-time or part-time?  On-campus or online? Technical training or liberal arts?

Too often, we lock ourselves into these either/or choices when the options are far more varied, and filled with more nuance than the question asked may suggest.

Online or on-campus? More and more, this is a “false” question these days.  Traditional colleges are offering online courses.  At some schools, most of the courses (and most of the students) are now online.  Meanwhile, for-profit schools have expanded “brick and mortar” offerings and locations.  And probably the fastest growing mode of delivery is the “blended” course, with a few physical meetings coupled with an online component.

For-Profit Schools or Not-for-Profit Schools? Here, too, the battle lines are faded.  The Apollo Group, which is the University of Phoenix’ parent company, has programs at “traditional” institutions (I worked for one such college).   There are for-profit entities that have purchased traditional colleges (along with their regional accreditations).  Here is an article from this morning’s news about the blurring of the line between the two worlds.

Community College or a Four-Year Institution? Here, too, we are not living in your father’s college landscape.   In New Jersey, there are multiple examples of community colleges providing baccalaureate and even Masters level courses, generally packaged so that you can complete the entire degree at the community college.  Here is a link to the Raritan Valley Community College “University Center”. Here is some more information regarding the NJ Coastal Communiversity that was spearheaded by a recent CCR College of the Day, Brookdale Community College.

Even “big or small” has taken on new meaning, as there are several traditional liberal arts colleges with an 0n-campus enrollment of less than 1000 that have online and off-site enrollments many times greater.  And large schools that built their reputation via online offerings now offering small brick and mortar classes.

I guess this is the point in the post where I am supposed to praise or condemn the blurring of these traditional categories.  But, I’ll be darned if I know.

I am generally in favor of this expansion of modes of delivery and in providing options for students.  But there is a piece of me that worries that you can’t be all things to all people, and colleges may be running the risk of not being great in one medium if they try to work in all.

Although I rarely turn to the Monkees for profound insight, I think they sum it up nicely in this song. Higher Education in the 21st century is evolving (Monkees/evolving – get it?) and we are wrestling with uncertainties in some categories that didn’t previously exist.  And I fall back on what brought me to the dance – what fits, what meets your needs, what will get you from point A to point B, what excites you?  Answer these questions and you should do fine in your journey.  Pedigree and labels are only relevant in that context and, ultimately, it’s still about “fit, not reach”.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.

Interviewing 101

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COLLEGE ADMISSION INTERVIEWING 101

Be Yourself.  (Okay, we’re done…shortest…blog…ever.)

For those who like their blogs more than 8 words long, read on, McGruff….

Yes, be your most polite, friendly self.  But, be yourself.

And, I know it’s easy for me to say, but…relax.

Just as the College Admission process is a chance for both the College AND the student to evaluate each other, so is the interview a chance for both the college admissions counselor and the student to get to know more about the other.

With an admission interview, the student becomes “real” to the admissions representative.  No longer is this just a file, with transcripts, standardized test scores and other paperwork, but this is now a real person associated with that file.

A few pointers to help ensure an enjoyable, successful admission interview:

  • Treat the interview as a chance to meet a potential new friend.  In most admission settings, the admission counselor wishes to be an advocate for you.
  • Be on time.
  • Be friendly, but not silly.  Be polite.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Avoid slang.  Use appropriate language.
  • Dress appropriately.  No t-shirts with inappropriate writing.
  • DON’T be distant, distracted, rude or condescending.
  • PARENTS: Let your child speak.  This is not your interview and you will hurt your student’s chances if you ‘hog’ the conversation.
  • AFTER: Say thank you at the end of the interview.  Follow up later with a thank-you note (email or snail mail).

Have a few questions prepared ahead of time.  A few to consider:

  • How is your (your academic program of interest) different from other programs?
  • How many students are from (your hometown)?
  • Where have your students gotten internships?
  • Where have alumni gotten jobs?
  • Can you explain the admission process for me?  How do you determine who is accepted and who is not?
  • When do admission letters go out?
  • If I have questions after today, what is the best way to reach you?

A few questions you may want to have answers at the ready:

  • Why do you want to go here?
  • Why are you interested in that major?
  • What other schools are you looking at?
  • What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
  • What do you consider your greatest strength?
  • What do you consider your greatest weakness?
  • How would College X benefit from your enrollment here?

But do not memorize answers – It is best to be conversational, not like you are reading a speech.

Make sure you know how to reach your interviewer with follow-up questions.  You should ask for the interviewer’s business card if he or she doesn’t offer it automatically.  (If the interviewer is NOT your counselor, make sure you also receive the business card for YOUR admission counselor.)

A little “cut and dried” this week – hope you don’t mind.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.

What If We Break Up?

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“A match be to made, not a prize to be won.”

Maybe the single most important quote ever attached to the college search process.

But, sometimes, even after cross-country road trips and long hours of internet research and conversations with admission counselors and athletic recruiters and comparisons of various financial aid offerings, the wonderful courtship doesn’t produce the perfect match.

That’s why you have divorce lawyers and transfer counselors.

So, what do you do?

  • Acknowledgment – Is this just freshman nerves and insecurity or real issues of incompatibility?  Sit down and write down: What is it that is causing this feeling? Look at what you wrote down.  Is it tangible?  If so, is it fixable?  Often times, it is better to stay put and work through the problems.  But, not always…
  • Acceptance –  The beautiful campus in the brochure has turned to the frozen tundra and the professor who seemed like the perfect mentor has left for another institution.   I thought I would love Nursing, but there’s – like- science involved.  I thought I’d like the country setting, but cows scare me.  It’s just not working out.  Most students who enter college do not graduate from that college.  You are not alone.
  • Plan, Don’t Panic Don’t stop going to classes.  Don’t withdraw if you’re halfway through the semester.  Make sure you know what your current institution’s policies are in terms of dropping classes.  What will it cost you – full tuition, or partial tuition?  Will you get a failing grade or an incomplete?

What school might meet the needs that this school didn’t meet?  How many credits (and which credits) will be accepted by your potential suitors?  What type of aid package, if any, can you expect?

While it won’t be the length and intensity of your 1st college courtship, this 2nd college search should still be a serious decision, maybe a decision made with more facts and less emotion, now that you’ve been through this before.  Or you may be making a 3rd or 4th trip down the Bursar’s aisle.

  • Talk – to faculty and administrators you may trust at your first institution.  To your parents.  To friends from high school and newly made friends from college.  To a transfer counselor at any school you may be considering for the future.  Heck, call or email me; I’ll be glad to help.
  • Don’t walk away – While I am a big believer in lifetime learning and college being just as viable at 40 as it is at 20, I would strongly discourage “walking away”.  You chose your first college for valid reasons and – unless those reasons have changed – you should continue your journey.  There is a big difference between saying that going to College X was a mistake and saying that going to College was a mistake. Make sure you know what statement you’re making because it is always harder to start something again once you stop.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.