Miles to Go Before We Sleep

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If you could determine the key issues that we should work on, in higher education and college admissions, what would they be?

I started thinking about my answer to that question.

And these are the eight items I decided to put on my “Miles to Go Before We Sleep” list.  (I’d love to hear yours.)

  • The College Fair needs to be re-done.  Just saying.  Forget the booths and the paper products.  Welcome to the world of social networking.  Use modern technology to create meaningful face-to-face conversations.  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down the blue and white drapes…)  Flash Mob Admissions, Coffeehouses, Speed Networking-style College Fairs, Foursquare check-ins, TED and 140 style workshops – move the relationships of on-the-road admissions folks and the families they interact with into the 21st century.
  • We need to better prepare for the incredible growth of autistic college students that is about to occur.  In terms of guidance, in terms of ethical admissions, in terms of services, in terms of price structure for those services, in terms of making sure that we are able to offer a meaningful college experience and not simply some ‘separate but equal’ type of college-lite nonsense.  Just like any other ‘hot topic’ (see Physical Therapy majors, Latinos and Lacrosse players), we are talking about human beings, not cash cows.
  • Somebody needs to write a ‘definitive’ guide on the LGBT College Search – best schools, best questions, issues for retention, how to find resources for counseling, networking, etc.
  • We need to stop treating the ACT and SAT as either a) the end-all, most important, almighty piece of the admission puzzle or b) a piece of worthless trash.  It is neither.  It is c) a moderately relevant piece of a much larger picture – aka this actual living, breathing person who is applying to college.
  • To blame colleges for the decline in income of their graduates makes no sense.  You can’t blame production for the sales department’s mistakes.  However, to blame colleges when their graduates can’t differentiate between to, too and two, you’re and your or loose and lose (and their and there) – that’s a different conversation.
  • We still don’t comprehend that the majority of college students in this country are NOT 18-21 years of age, living in a dorm room and taking a full-time course load.  Until we get past that, we are misplacing time, energy and money.
  • I want to see an ‘admissions trends’ article next year that doesn’t begin with quotes from Harvard or Princeton.  Just one.  It’s like telling me that burger sales in the U.S. are up or down based on how much ground beef was used at WD-50, in Manhattan.  (Great place, by the way.)
  • I want to see a ranking of the college rankings.  But only if it’s a parody.

I’m sure you have your own “Miles to Go Before We Sleep” items, and I would love to hear them.  PLEASE add your 2 cents by posting a comment or emailing me or commenting on Linkedin or Facebook or Google+ or Twitter (#MTGBWS?).  What do YOU think our ‘#MTGBWS steps need to be?

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.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

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Scotch on the Rocks

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Ashley’s Mom: College costs are ridiculous.  They’re so out of line with reality.  I mean, $40,000 a year?  My parents paid $15,000 to send me to the same school. 

Me: And that was only about 7-8 years ago.

Of course. 

Well, okay, how much do you think they should be charging?

Well, I guess, with inflation over those “7 or 8” years, and with technology costs – I don’t know – maybe $25,000.  But 40?  That’s just insane.

They do.

They do what?

They charge $25,000.

The average college tuition discount for the freshman class of 2008 was 41.8%.  That means that the average tuition bill for a college with a $40,000 price tag was actually…$23,280.

A college education – in general – is not cheap.  And tuition continues to rise far too fast and far too high.  Saying that, colleges have still gone out of their way to make the situation seem even WORSE.  Colleges have managed to take a D and turn it into an F.  On purpose.

Why?

From my years on ‘the dark side’, I can pinpoint three reasons – they involve control, fear and a bottle of Scotch.

CONTROL: By creating artificially inflated prices and high discount rates, they have much greater control of the actual price for each customer.  They can attempt to mold their student enrollment by determining who pays $40,000, who pays $23,280 and who pays even less.

FEAR: If everyone else is doing it…

A BOTTLE OF SCOTCH: Colleges are HUGE fans of the Chivas Regal Effect.  For those of you not familiar, Chivas Regal was a relatively unknown brand of scotch whiskey until…it raised its price and positioned itself as a distinguished, classy adult beverage of choice.  The idea is that a college that is ‘too affordable’ will be perceived as ‘not good’.  Colleges have thirstily gulped down that philosophy.

So, what does this mean for Ashley and me?

  • Well, don’t rule a school out because of sticker price.  At least in the beginning.  Ashley might end up being in the Full Pay column, but she may be in the $23,280 group or an even more favorable group.  Maybe College X is down in New Jersey recruitment this year or they need more ‘good citizens’ from suburban homes in the northeast.
  • But, be prepared to make those decisions down the road, as financial aid packages and scholarship announcements and Leadership/Citizenship Grant letters come in.  Or don’t, as the case may be.  Don’t assume the best case scenario.
  • Review financial aid packages carefully, as well as scholarship and grant offers.  The new ‘Net Price Calculator’ that is now required of every school should/might/could help, but – regardless – be aware of actual costs and the total amount of ‘given money’ vs. work vs. loans.
  • Make sure you understand the bottom line.  What will you actually be paying?  To borrow from Sy and Marcy Syms, an educated consumer IS a college’s best customer.

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.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

College Rankings

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Mr. Szarek?  Yes, Justin.

Is CCR University ranked?  Ranked?

Ranked.  By whom?

Anybody.  I’m sure it is.

By whom?  I don’t know.

You don’t know?  I don’t care.

You don’t care?  No, I honestly don’t.

Why? 

There are 4000 colleges out there, Justin – give or take a few.  The vast majority – by my guess – 3971 – have qualified faculty and facilities.

But some have ‘more’ qualified faculty…

Who often don’t teach undergrads or are teaching larger classes and have less chance to interact individually.

And some have awesome football programs.

That you won’t be able to play for or will end playing for during that period of time they lost bowl eligibility.  Justin, you don’t rank things that are important.  And you especially don’t make a decision based on that ranking.

I don’t understand, Mr. Szarek.  Everything gets ranked.  Yelp, Google, and so.  We.  Rank.  Everything.

We don’t rank things that we truly value.  Mrs. Jones is the #4 Liberal Arts wife in Wisconsin this year.  Mr. Jones is the #7 Tier Two Husband in Ohio.  We don’t rank religions.  We don’t rank the things we truly value.

We shouldn’t rank colleges.

But how do I know whether CCR U., or any other school, is right for me?

Research.  Data.  Real, tangible information.  Do they have my major?  What type of facilities are offered in that major? How popular is that major at that school?  Do they meet my other criteria – such as distance from home, campus size, campus setting, religious affiliation, athletic programs, reasonable chance of accepting me?

And then – VISIT.  Online AND in person.  Check it out.  Use your own eyes and ears.  Process the information with your mind and your heart.  Can I live here, work here, study here, succeed here for the next four years?  Is this a place where I can thrive, grow, mature, build upon my dreams?  Do you think, Justin, that a ranking can tell you that?

Mr. Szarek, you’re getting a little loud…

Oh, sorry, about that, Justin.  Do you think your Mom picked your Dad from a magazine ranking?

Uh, I really doubt it.  I think it involved a mixer at a place called the Dublin Pub.

Justin, I just wanted to emphasize that rankings are not the end-all and be-all in choosing a college.  They exist, they will exist for a long time to come.  They may help you see possible options.  But – if you look at them at all – they should be pushed aside fairly early on in your college search.  You’ve got better tools available to you – your eyes, your ears, your own mind, and your own instinct.  Trust those.  I’m sure glad Mrs. Szarek did.

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.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

Letters of Recommendation

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I’ve read – by my count – over 10,000 letters of recommendation for college applicants.

I could be way off with my calculations, but – if I am – I’m probably under-counting.  I don’t bring this up to brag – I am, by no means, a record holder.  There are many in the college admissions profession who can claim double or triple that amount.

I share this bit of data to emphasize that my former colleagues are not overly impressed that Brad is “a nice young man”, and they are not convinced that the person writing the letter should be telling us that he “will do well at your institution”.   They are reading volumes of such statements and – by the middle of the application review process – are scanning, skimming and glancing at them.

So, why do admissions officers ask for letters of recommendation?  I spend days debating over whether to ask Mr. Jones, my science teacher who went to Yale, or Ms. Dawkins, my karate instructor who has known me since I was 7.

Good question, Ashley.  Who did you eventually ask?

Both.

Good answer.

Admissions officers DO value letters of recommendation.  They provide narrative (along with your essay, interview and extra-curricular resume) to the cold data provided by grades, course curriculum and standardized test results.  They either compliment, enhance or contradict the other information provided in the admission folder.  They matter.

But they should talk about you in specifics, not in general terms.  They should be from adults that know you, like you and respect you.

In many ways, letters of recommendation are the piece of the admission puzzle of which you have least control.  But there are steps you can take so that your letters of recommendation show your admissions officers who you are, and do so in the most positive light.

  • Play by the college’s rules.  If they want two references from teachers, don’t provide a reference from an employer.
  • Unless it is in addition to the two references from teachers.
  • When in doubt, choose the person who knows you best.  They are your best bet to explain why Brad is a nice young man and why he will be a benefit to my college.  Those are the questions we want answered.
  • Who can say something about you that isn’t “said” by your transcript?
  • Get to know your guidance counselor.  Many colleges require a guidance recommendation and many high schools have a standard policy that they include one.
  • Give your references sufficient time to write their letters.  Respect their time.  If you ask me for a reference that is due tomorrow, I will not be mentioning your excellent time-management skills in my letter!
  • Also provide your references with any specific criteria that the college requires in terms of the letters of recommendation.

And make sure the reference knows what college or colleges to which he is writing a recommendation.  Maybe twice a year, I would receive a recommendation that would tell me what a great addition Caitlin would be for University X.

Unfortunately, I worked at College Y.

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.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.