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.

College Unplugged

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It’s coming.

4.29.2012. 

A College Fair unlike any other.

A College Fair where you’re just not trick-or-treating for brochures, viewbooks and pens, but talking.  Actually talking.  To people with answers – College Reps.  Counselors.  Professionals.

A College Fair that’s relevant, personal, meaningful and fun.

A College Fair that hides all the booths and barriers.

A College Fair that asks “is College worth it?” and “how do I pay for it?” and “how important are the SAT and the ACT?” and “is a Gap Year a good idea?” – AND then provides answers.

A College Fair that talks about not just getting in to College, but thriving, succeeding and graduating college.  And then thriving and succeeding afterwards.

A College Fair that includes not just colleges, but financial experts and some really cool service providers that help you with the college search.  And includes professional schools and community colleges and military services.

4.29.2012.

Meet some of the most experienced, passionate, talented concierges and tour guides for all stops on the College Search journey.  All in one place.  For free.

AND even walk out with a diploma – a one day certificate in college searchology.

Anyway, that’s the plan.

Stay tuned to this channel for more details.

College Unplugged.  4.29.2012. Save the date, tell a friend and start writing down your questions. 

  • If you want to learn more, or offer your thoughts on what you want to experience at College Unplugged, or be a participant or sponsor, PLEASE feel free to contact me.  THANK YOU!!      

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.

When Good Tests Go Bad

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Have you all seen the stories about the SAT cheating scandal?

Caitlin: ACT, too.  About 20 kids, at least, in Long Island.  And there are others that that they can’t prosecute because of the statute of limitations.

Who’s the victim?

Huh?

Who do you think suffers when something like this happens?

Justin: What do you mean?   I’m the victim – and Ashley, Caitlin and Brad.  All of us.  This kid gets a score he didn’t earn.  He might get into a school he doesn’t belong in.  And steal a space from someone – maybe MY SPOT!

Which means he might get into a school he’s not academically qualified for.  Which increases his chance of dropping out.  Or, at best, just having a miserable college experience.  And beyond.  But, we don’t even know that the score would be higher than what the student would have gotten.  And – if it is – we don’t know that it would change any admissions decisions.

And he PAID for this.  He paid for something that will either have no effect or place him in a school at which he’s more likely to fail.  Plus, he’s run the risk of a criminal record, ridicule and embarrassment.

Ashley: You’re making it sound like the kid who paid for this is the victim.

Absolutely I am.  Of course, he volunteered to be.  He paid for someone to impersonate him because he didn’t think he was good enough.  He paid for someone to be him because he didn’t respect himself enough to play his own role in life.

But he – and everyone else involved in this nonsense – also showed that they have absolutely NO IDEA how college admissions works.  By paying someone to increase his scores, he may have DECREASED his chance of admission.

Brad: Huh?

When I reviewed candidates and I saw an SAT or ACT score that seemed out-of-line with the grades and HS curriculum, it raised a red flag that otherwise wasn’t there.  It suggests someone not working to their potential.  It suggests trouble.  A “B” student with an average (non-honors) college prep curriculum and a 1050 Reading and Math score on the SAT or 23 on the ACT makes sense.  The same student with a 1400 on the SAT Reading+Math or 32 on the ACT can raise questions – what’s going on here, why hasn’t he performed up to his ability?

Caitlin: The SAT and ACT are just one part of a bigger picture.

Ashley: And they should help tell the story of who you are, not add a chapter that makes no sense.

Brad: Or you might end up at a school that isn’t right for you.

Justin: And your enrollment there might last as long there as a Kardashian marriage.

You’ve been waiting a long time to throw that line in, haven’t you, Justin?

Justin: Hey, I’m not the one writing this blog…

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.

The Gap Decade

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There has been quite a bit of talk recently about the “gap year” – when a high school graduate waits a year before starting college.  There are programs specifically designed for those utilizing a gap year, and opinions galore about who should utilize a gap year, how they should utilize it and how colleges view such experiences.

This blog has nothing to do with any of that.  (Well, almost nothing.)

I’m writing this to connect with those who did not go to college at 18.  Or started and then stopped.

I need to tell you something.

It’s time.

  • The ‘gap’ (pun intended) between the earnings and opportunities between college graduates and non-college grads has never been wider.  And it will grow.  Despite criticisms of the job and earnings opportunities for college grads, it’s better than the alternative.
  • The acceptance of adult students has never been greater.  You used to be the icing on the cake.  You are now the cake.  MOST students in this country are non-traditional.  Now, “non-traditional” includes some factors other than age (part-time student, parent of a child, full-time worker) but it still – mostly – represents the adult student market.  40 IS the new 20.
  • You will (probably) succeed.  There is some data that contradicts this, but I can tell you that while I often saw adults have to leave a program due to life’s twists and turns, I rarely saw an adult leave because of academic issues.  There is something to say about the quality of education provided by the School of Hard Knocks.
  • The resources and support have never been greater.  The expansion of Community College programming, the increase in Scholarships for Adults,  the increased acknowledgement of Life Experience in terms of College Credit, the increase in accepted transfer credit, the development of Colleges designed specifically for Adult Students (Thomas Edison State College would be one such example here in New Jersey) and the new GI Bill are just some of the resources that were either much smaller ‘back in the day’ or did not exist.  All of these things are there because of you – to help you succeed in obtaining a college degree.  It is time.

I said that this post had ‘almost’ nothing to do with the gap year.  I said ‘almost’ because I do think there are two important connections between the Gap Year and the Gap Decade (or Gap Score, as it were).  The first is that these gaps allow a person to mature – to ‘grow up’ as it were.

The second, related point is that these gaps allow a person to have a better sense of what academic program best suits their needs/wants/goals/strengths.  While the ‘What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?” question can prove elusive even when you are 48, 68 or 88, the added time allows for more meaningful thought being given to the question.

You may not know the destination, but at least you have a better sense of how you want to map out the journey.

So, while you may have been enjoying this Gap Decade (or two) that you have taken, it is time.  Welcome back and watch out for the Freshman 15!

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: The Ultimate Networking Group

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2031: Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin walk into a restaurant.  Picture Rt. 1 and your theme restaurant of choice.  Let’s listen in…

ASHLEY: “Hey, Justin, I still can’t believe you got lost in the parking lot on our way to LBI.”

JUSTIN: “Yeah, well, let’s discuss how your inability to cook popcorn ended up with three fire trucks coming to campus.”

BRAD: “I think Ashley did that just to meet the firemen.”

ASHLEY: “Shut up, Brad.”   BRAD: “Yes, Dear.”

CAITLIN: “Yeah, I can’t believe that you guys got married.  At least for a couple of years…”

ASHLEY: “Yeah, well…somehow our business kept going, even after the divorce.”

JUSTIN: “Caitlin, thanks for helping me out when I was looking for a new job last year.  I have to give her props.  We hadn’t spoken for 10 years.  I had been out of a job for over a year and I saw her name on Linkedin.  HR for a big company in my area of expertise.  Well, my major, anyway.  Call her up.  Boom.  45 minute conversation.  3 interviews later.  A contributing member of society again.”

BRAD: “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.”

ASHLEY: “Well, thank YOU, Justin, for introducing us to your friend who does web design.  Probably saved us a couple of thousand bucks and our new site looks fantastic!”

JUSTIN: “No problem.  I worked part-time for him while I was looking for a permanent job.  I used to take classes with him at HU.”

BRAD: “We have an intern from HU.  Working out really well.  And her Dad is a VP for a company we’ve been trying to get into for years.  So, maybe…”

CAITLIN: “I have a new hire from HU.  She’s great.  Actually took a class with Prof. Jones.”

BRAD: “He’s still there?  He must be, like, Mr. Szarek’s age…”

ASHLEY: Hey, I wonder what happened to Mr. Szarek?

JUSTIN: My bet is that he’s writing a blog about us.

MR. SZAREK: College.  It provides friends, partners and business connections for a lifetime.  It spans the globe.  Some of your fellow alumni will be with you for your entire life, others will pass through, some you will never meet but will help you strictly because of your common bond.  It provides direct access to other networking organizations, such as fraternal organizations – both social and professional.

The networking benefits of higher education are – curiously – maybe the only regard in which higher education is under-promoted and undervalued, but remember this – College is the greatest networking group you can join.

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.

Beetle Mania

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As a blogger, networker and social media fan, I am occasionally invited to things that I probably have no business going to.  In the past, I have been given a sneak preview of Turtle Back Zoo’s Aquarium and have been treated to an amazing wine tasting of Palmaz wine, at the Wilshire Grand, actually presented by members of the Palmaz family.  Please note that my knowledge of marine life and – particularly – my knowledge of wine – is extremely limited.

My knowledge of cars rivals my knowledge of wine.

But, if you’ve read this blog in the past, or watched my videos or seen my “Fit, Not Reach” workshops, you probably know that I often compare choosing a college to choosing an automobile.  I’ve mentioned my amazement that families who fully understand that they can’t fit a family of 7 into a Lamborghini have no problem pushing their child to choose a fancy name college that doesn’t fit their needs simply because it’s a fancy name.

So, when I had the opportunity to test drive the new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle earlier this month, I jumped at the chance.  Douglas Auto Group (Summit, NJ) has a new social media manager – Patrick Nash – and he offered me a chance to test drive any car I wanted.  I chose the 2012 VW Beetle – redesigned this year, for only the 2nd time in this legendary car’s long history.  I found the 2012 Beetle to offer a great ride, a cool look and more room that I expected.  And sufficient fodder to provide you with:

4  Ways Test Driving a 2012 Beetle is Like Choosing a College

  • TRADITION VS. RELEVANCY:  Are your colleges of choice selling the stimulation of a great liberal arts curriculum to assist you in your growth as a person and professional?  Or are they selling you how great they are as preparation for your career?  Or both?  Volkswagen has – IMHO – done a great job of holding tradition (and – to some extent – restoring it) while creating a car for 2012.  Are the colleges you are looking at providing you a strong, traditional curriculum and enhancing it with modern technology and career preparation tools?  Is the college you’re looking at the ‘new’ Beetle of 1998-2011 or the 2012 version of the Beetle?  (Or maybe they are still ‘the original’?)
  • GOING “CO-ED“: No more vases on the dash.  VW wants to get the word out that the Beetle has been remade and given a shot of testosterone while still maintaining its core “Beetle-ness”, as it were.  The ‘new’ Beetle had a customer base that was 60% female.  The test drives for 2012 are running 60% male.  The idea for VW is to grow their male customer base without losing their female audience.  What about your colleges of choice?  55% of college students are female.  At the same time, there are fewer and fewer Women’s Colleges each year as many become co-educational.  Are you looking at a school that has a male/female ratio that is 20/80 or 30/70 or even 70/30?  How are they responding to those percentages?  Are they?  Maybe they seen it as an opportunity to grow and diversify, or maybe they see it as part of what makes them special.
  • IT IS ‘YOURS’?: The 2012 Beetle has an option for you to choose a “second skin” to encase the car and make it yours.  They have custom nickname badges, accessory wheels, a unique key fob and more – all available to let you customize your car and make it ‘yours’.  Do your colleges of choice offer their own ‘second skin’? What choices do you have in terms of course selection, internships, residence halls, meal plans, payment plans, clubs and organizations?  And how much does that flexibility matter to you?  It could be a make or break option for you or it might be completely irrelevant.
  • CHECK THE TRUNK: The 2012 Beetle has what I will call an “open mouth” trunk.  In both appearance and in actuality, it has much more trunk space than its immediate predecessor.  It’s not a big deal, but it is.  If you are a college student – for instance – this Beetle provides much more potential to accommodate your ‘stuff’ than the prior version of the Beetle.  Check the trunk on your colleges of choice.  There are issues that may be very important to you (i.e. – handicapped parking, vegan meals, level of counseling services) that won’t be covered on pages 1-10 of the admissions viewbook.

Make sure you ‘check the trunk’ during your college search to see that there is sufficient room to accommodate all of your ‘stuff’.  Look at whether they are still selling you the ‘original’ model of their college, the ‘new’ version or the 2012 version.  And can you make it your own?  

Douglas VW can be found on Twitter at @DouglasVW.  If you happen to be near by their Summit location, do stop by, say ‘hi’ to Patrick and test drive a 2012 Beetle!

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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