Oh The Humanities of It All

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I remember reading an article very early on in my career (late 1980’s or 1990) that argued that tuition increases couldn’t continue at the rate they were going.

If these increases kept going at this rate, we’d be paying $20,000 or $30,000 a year for tuition. And then (gasp) $40,000 or $50,000.  How ridiculous!  Of course, this could never happen.  Who could afford such rates?  Colleges would fold; access to college would only be available to the wealthy.

And yet, here we are in 2011, with the $50,000 barrier falling like an Educational Berlin Wall.

And there are more students in American Colleges than at any point in our nation’s history.  It’s not a perfect system, and costs are certainly too high, and I would argue the same point – this can’t continue.  Nobody’s going to pay $60,000 or $70,000 a year for tuition.  (Feel free to quote me/mock me when they do).  However…

Families have adjusted.

They’ve borrowed. And they’ve borrowed some more.  They’ve chosen public colleges over private institutions in ever-increasing numbers.  Students have gone to 5 and 6 year plans and dropped to part-time study so that they could earn sufficient money to pay tuition.  Or they’ve returned to school at 25 or 35 or 45 or 55.

Colleges have adjusted, as well.

They’ve offered financial aid in ever-increasing numbers to make the “actual” price a little more palatable than the sticker price.  They’ve offered greater technology, varied modes of delivery and greatly advanced student services programming.

I applaud those who look for ways to end the tuition madness.  However, I think this is all – the tuition increases and the reactions to them – a reality that is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.

Uh, so, Mike, why the hell are you writing this article?

Because one adjustment has been made by both colleges and students that I think is short-sighted, ill-advised and insufficiently commented upon.  Not to mention, it’s easily fixed.

At some point, the conventional wisdom became that – to make this investment worthwhile – it was necessary to major in a pre-professional program.  You need to learn a skill, a trade, a way to make a living.  Why else would someone invest $150,000 or so in a college education?

Colleges responded in two ways – to a) softly tout the intellectual benefits of the humanities and the liberal arts and b) put a hell of a lot of emphasis and marketing dollars in pre-professional programs.

In related news, we now have half the Humanities majors in 2011 that we had in the mid 1970’s.

In a market where careers change every few years, new industries are created with ever-increasing rapidity and business communication becomes ever more nuanced and varied, we decided that it would be a good idea to all study the same freaking major and narrow our knowledge base, not broaden it.

Make sense to you?

Let me throw this slogan out there –

Want to succeed in a job, impress your boss, get promotions and raises?  Major in the Humanities!

Employers want employees who can read, write, discuss, articulate.  They want staff who understand past events and context and know how to implement that information into successful strategy for the present and future.

Want to succeed in a job, impress your boss, get promotions and raises?  Major in the Humanities!

They can train you in their processes.  But they don’t have the time, energy or desire to teach you how to think, speak, write, influence, plan and implement.  They want to assume that you bring those traits to the table.  And a degree in the Humanities (or, dare I go crazy here, the Liberal Arts!) gives you plenty of experience working with those tools in the tool belt.

Some of the best Doctors in the U.S. majored in English and some great Businessmen majored in Sociology.

Colleges have become apologetic in their promotion of the Humanities and it needs to stop before there’s nothing left to apologize for.

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.

The Branding of Your Child

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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 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.

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.

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.

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 www.fafsa.ed.gov to www.finaid.org, 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 info@cc4therestofus.com, 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 info@cc4therestofus.com, 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!

What’s In Your Wallet?

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Pay me $200,000 and I will provide you with a flimsy gown/garment thing and a piece of thick paper with writing in two languages. Oh yeah, and a cool hat. Like thing.

And it will the best investment you will ever make.

Seriously.

This week, a big deal – rightfully so – was made in some circles that the unemployment rate for folks with a bachelor’s degree is now at its HIGHEST POINT EVER. The jobless rate, in November, for Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree is now at 5.1%, the highest rates since records were first kept in 1970.

That’s not good news, but if anyone wants to draw the conclusion that it’s not worth getting a bachelor’s degree, how about these statistics:

The jobless rate for those with a high school diploma was 10%.

For those without a high school diploma, it’s 15.7%.  How about this tag line:

Want to cut your chances of unemployment in half?  Get a bachelor’s degree.

Okay, but what about making money?  I just gave you $200,000 for a flimsy gown and a piece of paper – how do I get that back – with interest?

Glad you asked.  According to U. S. census data, the lifetime earnings of the average individual with only a high school diploma is 1.2M.  For an individual with a bachelor’s degree, it’s 2.1M.  For an individual with a Masters, it’s 2.5M. 

That’s an average lifetime gain of $900,000 on a $200,000 investment. (And I’m using a relatively high investment number here – if you attend any public institution or most private institutions, or receive financial assistance, your financial investment will be much less.)

But here’s the kicker – While actual results may vary. they’ll probably be better.  As I said, that $200,000 figure is probably on the high side.  Also, that $900,000 figure is based on current (actually, already outdated) data.  It would be an incredibly sound economic assumption that the person graduating college in 2015 or 2017 will earn even more.

I started this article with the thought that I would discuss financial aid. But I think that will become next Wednesday’s theme.  Because I need to stress this first: Financial Aid is meant to be just that – an aid; assistance in making the college degree a reality.  But be careful about how much influence it plays in making the final decision as to which college to attend.  I understand that sometimes it has to play a bigger role than you would like.  But always remember that – in the long-term – choosing a school that meets your needs will pay far, far more dividends in the long run.

And flimsy hats can look kind of cool.

Flimsy Hats Can Look Cool

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

Community Colleges Deserve an “A”

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Comments: A pleasure.  Exhibits talent and creativity.  Maintains a positive attitude.  Is responsible and hard-working.

Currently, over 40% of all college students are enrolled at a community college.  That’s nearly 6 MILLION people.  For reasons both new and old, Community Colleges have never been more important to American higher education, nor has their reputation been stronger than it is in 2010.

Comments: Overlooked or dismissed out of hand.

But, too often, community colleges are not on a prospective student’s “radar” when they would make a legitimate, affordable and appropriate option.  They are overlooked or dismissed out of hand.  And I think this is a mistake that unnecessarily limits many adult and traditional students’ options.

Let’s take a look at the grades.  From what I can see, it’s all “straight A’s”:

A – AMERICAN.  While universities were existence long before Columbus did, or did not, discover America, community colleges – while in existence elsewhere – are by and large an American creation of the 20th century.  They were built to serve the tired, the poor, the masses.  And they still do, with an independence and pride that reminds one of their roots.

A – ACCESS. Community Colleges were meant to provide education to people who would not otherwise go to college.  In an age when college has increasingly become a necessary “tool in the tool belt” for the individual seeking employment, community colleges, while still providing certificates and associate degrees have become even more important as a proper gateway to bachelor degrees.  In fact, there is now growth in the area of 2+2+2 programming – community college to Masters tracts.

A – AFFORDABLE. In the economy we currently live in, the low-cost option of community colleges is as relevant as it has ever been.

A – ADULTS – Although an important part of the community college enrollment growth of the 21st century has been traditional students, adult students – part of the reason community colleges developed in the first place – continue to be vital to the success of these schools.  Community Colleges have programs, services and schedules designed to meet the needs of adults.

A- ADAPTIVE – And Community Colleges are poised to continue to meet those needs.  With a commitment to serving the local community and serving students of all ages, they have the initiative and skills to adjust to changes in professional fields, implement new modes of academic delivery and provide resources for new learning styles, methods and concerns.

A – ACCEPTED – Maybe the “A” that they can be most proud of, Community Colleges are increasingly accepted for the value of what they do.  In New Jersey, it’s called “full faith in transfer’.  But most other colleges have a variation on the same theme.  If you finish an associate degree in New Jersey and move on to a 4-year college in New Jersey, your credits are accepted in “full faith”.  You come in as a junior.  This was not always the case.  But now, it is increasingly harder to argue why you don’t want to take a course for $300 at the community college that would cost $1000, $2000 or $3000 at a four-year institution.  For more information on transferring from a community college in New Jersey to a 4-year institution, check out http://www.njtransfer.org/

A – ALWAYS.  Today, more and more of us are becoming “lifetime learners”.  It might be a Masters or Doctoral degree.  But it might also be a professional certificate to gain a management position or to change careers.  It might be a set of business courses with a specific skill set.  It might be a course or two (credit or non-credit) in an area we always wanted to learn more about (ceramics, the 60’s, family nutrition).    And those are all areas where the community college can provide a convenient, affordable choice.

So, based on their last report card, I have to say that – whether you are 17, 47 or 97 – community colleges are a great option to further your education.

Below is a link to a great video promoting the benefits of community colleges, including Nassau Community College alumnus Billy Crystal and Jim Lehrer, Victoria College alum.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arne-duncan/community-colleges-the-ga_b_752982.html

The College Search is Not the College “Search and Destroy Each Other”

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I feel the need to share a secret.

The College Search process is actually supposed to enjoyable.

No, really.

The College Search is a chance to visit new places, to explore new options and answer the Zen-like “whatdoyouwanttobewhenyougrowup” question.  It’s a chance to choose what courses you want to take and where you want to take them.

Most of my readers are from New Jersey.  And, historically, New Jersey has a reputation as an “exporter” in the college student industry.  But ignoring the options available in the Garden State is a big mistake.  New Jersey has over 50 great colleges –  35 offering bachelor’s degrees and 19 community colleges.  They come in all shapes, sizes, locations and styles.

Here are a few tips to help you make the process more satisfying and enjoyable and less nerve-wracking and argument inducing…

Treat the College Guides Like They Are Your Favorite Catalogs: It IS a shopping trip, you know.  Flip through the college guides, search through the online search services, read the colleges’ viewbooks, watch the videos (maybe pop some popcorn for the viewing), and check out the Colleges’ websites and Facebook pages.

Enjoy the Trip: You and your student are probably going to visit places you’ve never been to before.  Don’t forget to grab some ice cream, in Princeton, at Thomas Sweets or the Bent Spoon.  Travel through 3 college campuses (Drew, FDU and College of Saint Elizabeth) within a 1.6 mile stretch on Madison Avenue, in Morris County.  Visit Union, home of Kean University and the world’s largest watersphere.  Treat the trip like a great metaphor – enjoy the journey as well as the destination.  On that note…

The Bent Spoon's Bourbon Vanilla with Sea Salt Caramel

The Bent Spoon's Bourbon Vanilla with Sea Salt Caramel

Take Pictures: Be the tourist. Record your trip.  (Just don’t embarrass your kid too much.)  And it will help when you come back home and try to remember which school had the cool student center or residence halls (or horrendous parking lots or not-so-attractive surrounding neighborhood).  Maybe, while in Hackettstown, you’ll catch a picture of Tilly, Centenary College’s (in)famous ghost.

Raptor on CSE Campus

Take Notes: For most families I’ve talked to, the College trip (or trips) becomes a blurred memory.  Keep a journal to help you remember what you liked and didn’t like about certain schools and preserve your memory (and your sanity).

Read one of the “lighter” College Search Books: For every 400 page tome that lists thousands of colleges and millions of bits of data, there is a down-to-earth, light-hearted piece such as Risa Lewak’s “Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer”.  Grab one, read it and remember that this is not meant to feel like root canal.

Remember, that’s it the Student’s Choice, Too: Your teenager may have a reach school, but your teenager is also somebody’s “reach student”. Don’t forget that your family is the consumer in this process.

SO… Look at this as an exciting journey towards the future, not a dreaded confrontation with the evil world of Admissions Committees.  Research.  Apply.  Review.  But, most of all take a deep breath and…ENJOY!

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

Photo of the hawk at the College of Saint Elizabeth is courtesy of yours truly as he rolled down the window of his Saturn and snapped the picture via cellphone, without crashing.

Photo from the Bent Spoon is courtesy of http://lilveggiepatch.com/2010/08/23/sundae-social/

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