Shenanigans

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I call shenanigans.

I just saw an article that listed the ‘average cost of a wedding in New Jersey’.  It was broken out into separate categories such as transportation, catering hall, jewelry, honeymoon, etc. and each category was presented in a range.  When you added them all up, the total ranges were from $50,399 to $78,284.  So, the average is $64,342.

I searched for average undergraduate college costs in New Jersey.  I found the CNN Money site.  It listed individual schools.  So, I selected 6 that I thought represented a bit of a cross-section and weren’t too cheap.  Subjective, I know, but I wasn’t about to do all of the work that I thought CNN Money should have done for me.  Anyway, the average four year costs for Kean, Princeton, Rutgers, Seton Hall, William Paterson University and Monmouth University comes out to $98,250, after aid.

That comes out to $67 a day vs. $64,342 a day.

Let’s compare:

4 years vs. 1 night ( plus honeymoon).

50% completion rate for each.

Approximately 3000 meals vs. 1 big one (and a great buffet on the cruise)

4 years of usually stimulating conversation, research and professional development vs. a nervous speech from a buzzed best man

4 years of interacting with your best friends without parental involvement vs. 1 night of interacting with your best friends engulfed in parental involvement.

4 years of planning, preparing, developing your future vs. 1 night of celebrating your future.

$98,250 vs. $64,342.  Or, in other words…

$67 a day vs. $64,342 a day.

So, why does the $67 a day service have to keep defending its value?  Why is it that the fact that we have now invested more in higher education that amazon.com, Carnival Cruise lines and other credit purchases a scandalous fact?  It should be the other way around, no?

Now – just to be clear – I am comparing an undergraduate collegiate education to a wedding reception, NOT to a marriage.  A marriage is priceless, amazing, wonderful – to be treasured always and forever – and the greatest investment that one can make (is Stefanie still looking over my shoulder?)

We all have choices as to how to spend our money – cars, real estate, food, clothes, entertainment AND learning.  If you don’t think 4 years of higher education is worth it to you, within the limits of your budget, that is your decision.  You have every right to it.

But, when you tank up your SUV during the summer, remember that could have bought a day’s worth of higher education with that, with room and board and access to the fitness center.  Cash or credit.

Note 1: This is what you should expect to pay for a wedding in New Jersey, as per Real Simple magazine: http://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/weddings/budget/average-wedding-costs-in-new-jersey-00000000006634/index.html

Note 2: This is where I obtained my data for the area colleges.  CNN Money.

Note 3: This is South Park, calling shenanigans.

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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On College and Applying

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With apologies to the souls and estates of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, T.S. Eliot – and to Meatloaf.

““April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”  -T.S. Eliot

“March is the cruelest month, teasing hope out of the exhausted parent, mixing scholarships and insufficient funds, stirring dull rejection letters with glossy admission notifications.” – M.J. Szarek

With March 1 turning up next week, most admission decisions have gone out, many scholarship notifications have followed and the first financial aid packages, like crocuses of academe, have started to push through.

And, for many students, there comes the harsh reality that the school you fell in love with doesn’t love you back.  For many families comes the harsh reality that those crocuses might not be as pretty or bountiful as you imagined.

This can be a time when even the most grounded family can turn into the Simpsons.

Therefore, this might be a good time to step back and analyze what you are going through.

DENIAL – The Admissions Committee must have made a mistake; they must have not seen her senior grades. The FAFSA must be wrong or the College read it wrong.  This is somebody’s else’s EFC.  I know it ain’t what this family expects to contribute!

ANGER – How dare they crush my little Justin’s dreams.  Those @#$^#$.  It isn’t fair.  How can a middle class family send their kids to college?

BARGAINING – What if we send every certificate Caitlin has ever gotten since 2nd grade?  Let’s go back to those scholarships for Lithuanians – my great-grandmother once lived in Vilnius.

DEPRESSION – We failed.  If only we had planned better a few years ago.  If only we had pushed Brad to study a little harder in sophomore year.

ACCEPTANCE – Hey, you know this isn’t a bad school.  He had in his top group all along.  And, by balancing aid, loans, payment plans, his summer job earnings and Aunt Lucy’s generous birthday gift, this might just work out.

While my writing style tends towards humor and a light-hearted tone, these scenarios, experiences and feelings are real.  And there is nothing wrong with them.  The college search is not a simple, straightforward process and is filled with “I wish I knew then what I know now” moments.  It is normal to be confused, concerned and frustrated during the Spring of the College Admission process.

But this is the very moment you should take a deep breath and try not to lose perspective.  And try to make sure your child does not lose perspective.  This is probably the first time they’ve faced a decision with this level of importance.  So, they may actually seem to value your opinion once again – be ready for it.

Remember – for the vast majority of souls – it ends well.  A recent Pew Center report asks Is College Worth It?, and the answer from most graduates is a resounding “yes.” Of survey respondents, 86 percent of college graduates believe their education was a good personal investment. In addition, 88 percent of those with a four-year degree said their education was useful or somewhat useful in preparing for a career.  Think about how many other services, products or investments can claim similar results.

So, keep things in perspective.  Keep your options open.  Monitor your breathing.

And – don’t forget – when all is said and done – your son or daughter can paraphrase the great philosopher Meatloaf and tell 90% of the colleges, “I applied there.  Got accepted there.  But there ain’t no way I’m ever going to enroll there.  Now be sad (don’t be sad) ’cause two out of three ain’t bad…”

Just don’t be surprised if your son or daughter asks who the heck this Meatloaf person is…

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.

Tempus Fuggedaboutit

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Today’s HS juniors will retire in 2065.

That, of course, assumes they don’t work past age 70.

So, when an article comes out suggesting that these are the best majors in terms of employment and it bases its findings on data from 2011 (or earlier) – well – that’s pretty funny.

I chose a major in 1982.  Communications.  I wanted to be the next Marv Albert.

That was 30 years ago.  I chose the field of radio and TV in a world that had 10 channels, terrestrial radio, no YouTube and – if there wasn’t such a thing as facial hair –  we wouldn’t have been able to edit sound.  (**If you don’t get the reference, there’s an explanation at the end of this blog post)

But I knew that I liked media.  I liked communicating.

I did it ‘old school’ – 4 years, 1 major, 1 school.  I had a B+ average and graduated with Latin words attached.

I then started a career path that veered from door-to-door environmental canvasser on Long Island to Leukemia Society Program Coordinator (bunny hops and bowl-a-thons) to Social Services Examiner to a phone call on a pay phone at the bar that I lived above on Jericho Turnpike because the phone in my apartment was busted.  Yes, the phone call that changed everything.  I was invited to interview for the position of Admission Counselor at Wagner College.

12.5 plus room and board.

And I found my calling.  But – along the way – I’ve made turns into financial aid and twists into independent counseling and a detour to New Jersey.  And I’ve built a career that had both nothing to do with Communications and everything to do with Communications.

It had nothing to do with Moviolas or tripods or splicing tape or “How Real is Real?” and other communications theory.

But, it had everything to do with Communications because I knew how to write and speak and interact and work with a team.  And I knew deadlines and time management and reading from a script.  And I knew about College.

It’s easy to sit here and type (word process?) these words and recommend what you should do with your time and money.

Your role in this dialogue is much harder.  I understand the trepidation and concern.  Will Brad get a job?  Will Ashley be successful?  Is this the right decision for Caitlin?  Why on earth did Justin pick that career?

That’s why I picked Communications.  Didn’t think there would be any money in English…

But life has its own design.  And the best tools a college can give you are the ability to think, write, speak, play well with others and lead a team.  The two best tools of all may be the ability to adapt.  And the understanding that you will probably have to.

How you use those tools is up to you, regardless of the institution that you choose to attend.

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.

(Spoiler Alert: **Sound editing was done, at least then, by splicing tape via razor blades.)

First Generation Perspectives

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Something a little out of the ordinary blog posts:

I was asked to be the featured guest on the 2nd episode of #AdmissionsLive on the higheredlive.com network.  I had the pleasure of engaging in a great conversation about how College Admissions professionals can best serve 1st generation students and families.

After finally getting the courage – and time – to watch myself, I have to say that I think it represents my thoughts fairly accurately.  It is 44 minutes, but I think there’s some good dialogue in there.  So, thank you to higheredlive.com and Ashley Hennigan and (drum roll please):

Here is the direct link to “First Generation Perspectives”.  Enjoy!

Mythbusters 101: A Pop Quiz

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Time for a pop quiz.

“Aww, man.”  “Mr. Szarek, come on…”

Ashley, put away your Fiske Guide

Brad, place your copy of Colleges That Change Lives under your desk.

Caitlin, close your windows on your Zinch, Student Advisor and Cappex screens.

Justin, stop deleting those texts and emails sent by unsuspecting admissions personnel and their well-intended consultants.

Let’s see if you’ve been paying attention.  I call this quiz “Mythbusters 101”.  Take out your #1 and #3 pencils and let’s see what we’ve learned…

1) More American High School graduates in 2011 took this standardized exam than any other.

2) True or False.  Most American College Students are between the ages of 18 and 21.

3) (Within 5 percentage points) The percentage of undergraduate American college students attending 4-year private colleges is…

4) The Chivas Regal Question: (Within 3 Grand) The average student at a school that costs $40,000 is actually paying ___?

5) Is it easier to get accepted to college or to graduate from the college to which you were accepted?

6) Does Mr. Szarek believe that you should take out all of your Stafford Loan eligibility or none of it?

7) True or False.  Despite the pictures in most college websites and viewbooks, some college classes are actually held indoors AND not just in laboratories or performance studios.

8) The percentage of undergraduate college students in the United States that attend Ivy League schools is___%.

9) If an Admission Counselor quotes an ‘average SAT score” to you, is it generally out of 2400? or 1600? Or neither?

10) The right amount of colleges to apply to is___________________.

Extra Credit: Please describe how college is simply a means to an end, and college admissions is simply a means to a means.

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.

ANSWER KEY/ SPOILER ALERT:

1) ACT

2) False.  18-21 year olds make up about 40%-45% of the American collegiate population.

3) 12.7% (I will accept any answers between 7% and 18%)

4) $23,280.  (Acceptable answers for $20,000 to 27,000)

5) Easier to get accepted to college.

6) Neither.  Most students are best served by borrowing some of their Stafford Loan eligibility.  Each situation is different.

7) True.

8) Less than half of 1%.  I will accept either 0% or 1% (or anything in-between) as appropriate answers.

9) 1600.  Most colleges look at only the Reading and Math components of the SAT for admission purposes.  Be careful with this one in your conversations with admissions professionals!

10) different for each student.  But it should involve schools chosen only after careful research and – as possible – visitations.

As for the Extra Credit question, I would base any ‘best’ answer on the following quote: “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won”.  So, how did you do?  Feel free to post your results (or any disputes re: the answer key) on the comments board!

Auld Lang Syne 2011

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2011 was a very interesting year for college admissions and higher education.  Both how we look at colleges and how colleges look as us (and how the government looks at both) continued to change.

Below are some of what I think are the more noteworthy topics in 2011 for ‘the rest of us’.  Please feel free to comment on these and add your own.  Thank you!

  • TUITION GOING DOWN – Several school have already announced that they will LOWER their sticker price for 2011-2012.  Higher Education is a world in which colleges hate to be first, but love to follow the hot trend.  Hopefully, this is the start of the next ‘hot trend’.
  • NET PRICE CALCULATORS AND IRS DATA RETRIEVAL TOOL FOR FAFSA – The Feds have provided two tools that – in theory – will make the collegiate search and the financial aid process a little easier.  Kudos for recognizing the public’s concern.  Let’s hope these work, although it’s too early in the game to really know.
  • COMMUNITY COLLEGE ENROLLMENT STABILIZING – After years of incredibly rapid growth, community college enrollment in the United States actually went down slightly in 2011.  I really was surprised, and I am very curious to see what 2012 brings.  For the last several years, a poor economy and a greater acceptance of community colleges (and their credits) has produced unprecedented growth.  I did not expect this to the year that it stopped.  State budget cuts played a part in that, but that begs the question – did students closed out of community college courses go elsewhere?  Or did they just not go?
  • PENN STATE – A horrific story.  And the end of the reign of arguably one of the five greatest icons in collegiate sport.  Saying that, I really don’t expect there to be any long-term “higher ed” ramifications from the Jerry Sandusky case.  But, it was one of the major national news stories of 2011 and a cautionary tale in terms of power and in terms of the athletic code of silence.  And it isn’t over.
  • FOR-PROFITS EVOLVING – For-Profit enrollment has leveled off, many schools have changed their admission/recruitment policies due to lawsuits and federal policy changes.  At the same time, 2011 was the umpteenth straight year that the non-profit schools have continued to take marketing (and educational) ideas from their for-profit brethren.  Take a look at who’s developing the online programming for ‘traditional’ institutions.  And, if you’re here in New Jersey, it’s hard to find a bus or billboard that isn’t covered by an ad for by a non-profit institution of higher learning.  20 years ago, those very same institutions scoffed at the for-profits for doing the very same.  In many ways, 2011 might be remembered as the year For-Profit Colleges became ‘mainstream’.
  • MORE HS SENIORS TAKING THE ACT VS. THE SAT – In the 2010-2011 school year, more HS seniors took the ACT than took the SAT.  Fans of Pepsi, Burger King and the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s can celebrate.  Add to this the growing list of ‘test optional’ colleges, as well as the next bullet item, and it is clear that the world of standardized testing is in a state of flux – although where it is fluxing to is not quite clear.
  • LONG ISLAND SAT SCANDAL – A young ‘entrepreneur’ develops a ‘start-up’ that seems to meet a need for high school students.  Unfortunately, his ‘start-up’ is illegal as he is taking the SAT for other students.  As per my earlier blog post on the topic, it’s illegal, immoral and just stupid.  It is an unfortunately dramatic example of how misunderstood the role of the SAT and ACT are in college admissions and in collegiate success.  2 Saturday Mornings do NOT equal 4 years of classwork.  And (most) Colleges know this.
  • GAP YEARS – I continue to see more articles online regarding Gap Years, more families asking about them and more services available in relation to them.  I have to say that I’ve changed my stance on Gap Years over the past 15 months.  If used with foresight and a clear plan in place, they are a wonderful opportunity to be better prepared for college, to mature as a person and possibly gain some additional cash.  But, I still caution that taking a Gap Year “just because” is a recipe for disaster, a waste of time and probably a poor decision in terms of cost-effectiveness.
  • VALUE OF A BACHELOR’S DEGREE – In the past year,I have heard frequent and passionate arguments that the cost of higher education might just not be worth it.  I have never seen the value of college questioned to the extent it has been in 2011.  I can certainly argue that it’s still far better than the alternative and that some of what is perceived as higher ed’s shortcomings are really the ‘real world’s’ shortcomings (colleges can provide the tools, but the business community has to supply the jobs).  But I respect the concern, the anger and the frustration.  Colleges must continue to work on improving the applicability of their product without compromising the integrity of their educational offerings.  And try to slow the tide of collegiate inflation.  It’s not an easy task, but it is necessary.

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.

FAFSA La Vista, Baby

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22 points of light regarding the FAFSA.

1) It’s THE form required at all colleges that accept and award federal aid.  (Yes, there are a few that do not utilize federal funding – that’s a topic for another day.)

2) It’s the form that provides your college financial aid officers with the information they need to go ahead and create your financial aid package.

3) The initials stand for FREE Application for Federal Student Aid.

4) Hence, it’s FREE.

5) It’s available online at http://www.fafsa.ed.govNOT dot com, NOT dot org, NOT dot anything else. 

6) You can still get a paper version, if you really, really, really want to.  But you don’t.

7) It utilizes a July to June calendar.  In other words, we are in the middle of the 2011-2012 year and “New Year’s Day” is July 1, when we move to the 2012-2013 year.

8) The 2012-2013 form is available for processing on January 1, 2012.

9) It helps determine the awarding of over $150 billion in federal aid.

10) If you have your 1040 available, the form can be fairly straightforward.

11) Unless your situation is not.

12) Do not pay someone $1500 to fill the form out for you to “maximize your aid potential”.  Generally, the only one receiving more aid in that situation is the preparer.

13) It’s based on your current household and your current assets.

14) But last year’s income for that household.

15) If your parents are divorced or separated, it’s based on the parent you spent the most time with in the previous year.

16) And your step-parent, if there is one in that household.

17) Don’t send notes to the federal processor.  They’ll just shred ’em.  Your concerns and questions should be directed to the financial aid office of the school you attend or are planning to attend.

18) Your parents saying that they won’t pay for College does NOT grant you independent status.

19) Here’s a link to a useful webinar about the FAFSA. (Useful, but 60 minutes in length)

20) Here’s a link to my favorite FAFSA video. (Enjoyable, only 5 minutes in length)

21) Here’s a link to my Facebook page – feel free to post any $$/FA questions you have.

22) After all of that, here’s a link to the actual FAFSA.

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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