The Social Network

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Long before Facebook had fan pages, there were other outlets for young people with mutual interests in s topic.

These outlets were sometimes called “clubs” or “organizations”.

They way we “liked” a topic was by showing up to a meeting at 2:45 or whenever our high school classes ended.

We would flip baseball cards, or play saxophone or plan a trip to a German restaurant.  We would write and edit and plan a literary magazine.  We would play baseball or softball or basketball or lacrosse or soccer. Along the way, we’d interact and learn from one another.  We’d have officers or team captains.  Some members would be more active and some members less so.

We were in school sponsored teenage social networks, long before such a term would come into vogue.

The thing of it is, these networks are more popular than ever.  And, now, it is your children who are participating.

Yes, we’re talking about one of the more “mysterious” pieces of the College Application puzzle –Extra-Curricular Activities. How do College Admission folks look at them?  Is it worth the car pooling and the hair pulling and the time spent away from home and homework?

Yeah, how DO they fit in?  Do colleges even look at Ashley’s list of activities?  Should Brad join a lot of things or be a leader in a few?  Will colleges verify that Caitlin actually was a member of the Watchung Hills HS Left-Handed Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien or Justin was on the David Brearley Curling Society?

The answers are: kinda like sprinkles or gummy bears, definitely “yes”, probably the latter ( but it depends), probably not and probably not.

I can’t tell you that you get 2 points for being 1st trombone or 5 points for your fundraiser for the United Way.  But I can tell you this.  These activities matter, in terms of College Admission AND Collegiate Success.  And not just will they help you “get in”, but they will help you “stay in”.

  • Colleges DO look at them, and here’s why.

1) Ability to work in a team – College assignments are often collaborative and involvement in extra-curricular activities provides evidence that you can work as a team.

2) Time Management – Although this aspect sometimes seems to be brought to the level of the sublime, the ability to juggle extra-curricular activities while still succeeding in the classroom indicates that you will be able to handle the looser, but more demanding time structure of college.

3) Interest in a Profession – A high school extra-curricular activity can build a resume, refine an interest in a field of study and/or long term career, and show a commitment to the major to which you are applying.

4) Leadership Skills – When an admissions counselor sees an organizational  title, it gives some indication of level of involvement, respect of peers and commitment to take on responsibility.  Of course, the size of the club does matter. (i.e. – SGA President great, President of the Dexy’s Midnight Runners Fan Club – not so much)

5) Provide Insight into the Applicant – Extra-curricular activities provide some insight as to who the applicant is.  It is that much harder to deny admission to someone you know than to a faceless applicant folder.  Extra-Curricular activities allow you to be “real” to the admission counselor, committee and/or Dean.

  • They can help in the admission process, in other ways:

6) Possible Letter of Recommendation sources – Club advisors are often more familiar with a student than a classroom teacher.  In such cases, they can write more insightful, more meaningful letters of recommendation.

7) Ability to complete tasks independently – The College Application process involves getting applications out on time, obtaining letters of recommendation, writing strong, relevant essays in a timely manner and more.  Active participation in extra-curricular activities can provide the type of skills needed to succeed in managing your College Application experience.

  • Extra-Curricular Activities can help you persist to college graduation, too.

8) Ability to appreciate the “whole experience”, inside and outside of the classroom. – Maybe the biggest change when you get to college is that most of the experience is NOT in the classroom.  Those students who were already active in HS extra-curricular activities have a leg up.

9) Social skills and team building skills.  (That’s why admission folks like those traits.  They translate directly to the college experience.) – So much of the college experience is dependent on group interaction, shared responsibility and communication skills.  The HS extra-curricular experience is great preparation for that.

  • As important as all of these, and maybe the best reason to join and participate in clubs and organizations:

10) Enjoyment. You get to be involved in something you love doing.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, 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.



Here are my 10 Tips to Parents Going Through the College Search…

1) Watch Baz Lurhman’s Sunscreen video. Here’s the link to it. (If you wish, feel free to click on it and then click back; I’ll wait.)  Try to get your kid to watch it, but don’t force it on them.

2) Read “Oh the Places You Will Go“. Leave it in their room. Don’t say anything.

3) Buy tissues. (Sorry, probably should have led with that)

4) Say the word “perspective” 3 times. There are no magic answers, magic financial aid packages or guarantees. But there is plenty of good information, good people, good money and good intentions out there.  Be wary of those who tell you the opposite.

5) Record your memories. Take pictures, videos and notes as you visit schools.  “What school was that, again?” is never a good statement.  Plus, you need something to put up on Facebook.

6) Trust your child. They probably are more worthy of that trust than you realize, but even if they’re not, it’s ultimately their life. (Your money, I know.)

7) Deal with that.  Your money.  Their life.  Understand where you stand on this.  Accept where your child stands.

8) Remember this one phrase. “A Match to Be Made, Not a Prize to Be Won.”  Period.  No, I said – period.  Unless you want them to move back in…

9) Sit your child down.  Look him or her straight in the eye.  Look really serious for a moment.  Then, crack a little smile and say, “Enjoy this.  Keep the brochures from the colleges that excite you.  Push the other 3,174 to the side.  Recycling goes out on Wednesday.”

10) Let the process play out. That expensive school may offer a dynamite financial aid package.  It might not.  The reach school (oh,how I hate that phrase) might come through with an offer of admission.  It might not.  Those 2nd SATS might go up by 100 points.  They might not.  But let the process play out.   For, believe it or not, your kid has brains in his head and feet in her shoes.  And this is their chance to steer in the direction they choose.

But trust me on the sunscreen.  (Link)

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, 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.

Yes, You May Borrow My Pen


Over the past few months, we’ve talked about several pieces of the college admission puzzle – admission interviews, SATs and personal statements being just three.

But the next topic is near and dear to my heart and is rarely discussed in online fora.  (Fora = plural of forum; always trying to help you with the SATs here)

I think the general consensus is that it isn’t that important.

I think the general consensus is – or, at least, can be – very wrong.

Meeting an admissions counselor or alumni volunteer at a College Fair can be an invaluable experience in your college search.  It can rewarding and it can be as “real” as any part of your college admission journey.

Admission counselors travel from hotel to hotel in their Ford Tauruses (Tauri?), living off fast food, PTA dinners and USA Today.  They do this because they love meeting people and love the concept of a College Education and are usually genuine about their enthusiasm about the College they are promoting.

They’ve generally already spent a full day working for the College and are excited about this opportunity to meet the students they have been sending all of that mail and all of those emails to. (To which they have been sending all of those….anyway…)

They want to talk to you. They don’t want you to just walk by and take a brochure (the same one they’ve mailed to you twice already).  They don’t want you to just “fill out a card” since you could have done that online without stopping at the table.  They want to talk to you, help you, guide you, make a friend, establish or strengthen a contact and – to put it in layman’s terms – possibly “make a sale”.

They probably will explain how their school can meet your needs, but they will also generally be fairly honest about where the fit may NOT be, how your background fits into the admission profile of the College and (if there is no match to be made) other schools that they are aware of that might fit your needs and wants.

So, go right up to that table. Talk to them about your academic, athletic and other relevant interests.  Have a conversation.  Ask them about the admission process and campus visitation policies.  You won’t regret it.  If they have a name tag, address them by their first name – it’ll make their day. You’ll find that you – to use a layman’s phrase – might just make a sale, as well.

Nice post, Mike, but what the heck is that title all about?

Oh, yeah, almost forgot – sorry.  I was at a College Fair once when I was working for a school that began with “College of”.  It was not in an area where we drew many (read “any”) students.  And, like most college fairs, the colleges were arranged alphabetically.  I found myself between Colgate and Cornell.  I expected a looooong night.  A funny thing happened.  I ended up in a few wonderful conversations with families waiting to talk to the representatives from those two better known institutions. And most of those conversations started with a glance from the student and a motion to the set of pens on my table.  And that’s when I got to utter the title phrase above, so that they could fill out the inquiry card for the colleges to either side of me.

But, ultimately, I gained a wonderful student that decided to come to my school (and did very well, by the way) and I enjoyed some great conversations.  All because I brought some extra pens.

So, go to your high school’s college fair, or a regional or national fair in your area.  For my New Jersey contingent, don’t miss the National Fair on April 6, at the Raritan Center.  Make a few friends, learn about a few schools and maybe even make an impression that makes the difference in terms of admission.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, 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.

Those Three Letters That Start With “S”


You know.

Those three letters that begin with “S” and drive teenagers (and their parents) crazy.

OK, now last week you had me freaking out about Facebook, I don’t think I can handle this….

Yes, I’ m here to talk to you about the SAT.

The SAT used to stand for something.  Literally.  It was first an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test.   In 1990, it became the Scholarship Assessment Test.  By 1993, however, it stood for nothing.  It was just the SAT.  Like LOL or OMG.  Or OMD, if you can remember the 1980’s.

It’s funny  (Part One). In a lot of ways, the SAT has come full circle.  It was originally designed to eliminate test bias among different socio-economic classes and level the playing field, as best as possible, for admission to college.  It is now often accused of emphasizing the very same problems it was originally designed to address.

The first SATs were administered in 1926. In 1930, Math and Verbal sub-sections were introduced, and remained as the only two members of the band until 2005, when the Essay section was added.  In 1994, calculators were allowed an in 1995, the infamous “re-centering” of the SATs occurred.

Okay, but why is it determining my child’s future?  Is this just an evil conspiracy by the folks who make #2 pencils?

Well, no.  (It’s funny, Part Two). It’s funny, but the SAT is generally, for almost all colleges, a lot less important than it is for the parents who are freaking out about how important it is.

Now,let me be clear – it IS an important piece of the overall admission puzzle.  But it is one piece, in conjunction with grades, curriculum, extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation, personal essay(s) and an interview.

As I said to literally thousands of applicants to the schools I served – we are going to look at 3 (or 3 1/2) years of work vs. one or two Saturday mornings. Admissions officers are looking for the SATs in context with all of the other information provided.  And hundreds of schools (thousands, if you include community colleges) do NOT require SAT scores to be submitted – schools as diverse as Wake Forest and Wagner, Bowdoin and Belmont Abbey, Drew and Rollins.  In fact, here’s a list of such schools.

Cut to the chase – will a bad SAT score kick him out of the school of his choice?

It might.  But “bad’ is subjective and varies from school to school (and Mom to Mom).  A “bad” score that – more or less – confirms bad grades and a weak curriculum will certainly hurt an applicant.  But a “bad” score that contradicts strong grades and a strong curriculum will cause an admission officer to generally dig deeper.

Okay, okay, but Brad is taking his first SAT next month.  And I – I mean he – is nervous.  What should we do?

Well, that could involve a whole separate blog post.  But here are the cliff notes:

  • Prepare.  Take a few sample tests to familiarize yourself with the SAT style and format.
  • Possibly use a test preparation service.  I’m of a mixed mind on this topic, but I would say – generally – if the issue is nerves, don’t use a test prep service.  But if the concern is how to take a test that is several hours in duration with multiple subjects, use a reputable firm or individual that you trust.
  • Take Latin.  Probably not a valid short-term option, but understanding the roots, prefixes and suffixes of words is a very valuable SAT skill.
  • A Good Night’s Sleep and a Good Breakfast.
  • Relax.  (Yes, I know it’s easy for me to say).

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, 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.

The Branding of Your Child


Dear Parents of Teenagers:

Let me just say it. Your child is a brand name.

Caitlin, or Brad, or Ashley, or Justin has a reputation, an image, a personaAnd more and more college admissions officers are checking it out.

College Admissions officers don’t really do this, do they? Well, let me share this.  A 2008 Kaplan survey found that 10% of college admissions offices did so, and it would be reasonable to think that that number – like every other statistic regarding social media – has increased dramatically.  And ask anyone who has hired someone in the last 12 months – I bet the majority would tell you that they used online resources to “vet” applicants.

Well, then, I’ll…uh…ban them from Facebook.  They can’t use the Twitter and I’ll raise the volume on the parental controls to 11.  There won’t be anything for those admissions folks to find and my (Ashley, Caitlin, Brad, Justin) can’t mess up their “brand”, as you call it.

Well, first off – it’s Twitter, not “the twitter”.  But, honestly, you can do all of those things and probably do more harm than good.  What you are doing is allowing the rest of the world to determine (Brad, Justin, Caitlin, Ashley)’s reputation.

But, how?

Remember that American Legion team Brad played for?  There’s a roster listing on a Legion web link.  That article in the local paper about Ashley’s Girl Scout project?  Check it out on page 1 of your Google search.  And that’s the good news.

The bad news is that Justin’s friend could have “tagged” a less than flattering photo of Justin.  Or Caitlin.  A former boyfriend or girlfriend could have started a Facebook page entitled “Brad X Stinks” or “Ashley Y is a @%%”.

So, what do I do?  Because I’m telling you – I know EXACTLY who would do that to Brad.

  • Sign up for “Google Alerts” in your name and your child’s name.  They come in as daily emails listing references to that name or phrase.  If your name is John Smith, it may be a bit laborious, but it’s worth it.
  • “Google” the names of your family members on a regular basis.  Google alerts doesn’t catch everything.  And you can do a google search at any time.
  • Allow your child at least one social media outlet to build his or her “brand”, but monitor it and make suggestions.
  • Make sure your child is aware that people are watching.

If this sounds a bit ominous, I don’t mean it to be.  I heard a speaker yesterday refer to internet security in terms of automobile safety.  I think that is most appropriate.  You can have air bags, seat belts, mirrors and brake lights.  But ultimately, you still have to drive in traffic.

When you finish reading this article, go to Google and type in your child’s name.   Or, if you are an adult considering going back to school for graduate or undergraduate study, type in your own name.  Don’t forget to go to Google images, too.  For good or for bad, you’re not the only one doing so.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, 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.