May Day

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And, so it is written…

Postsecondary members agree that they will:

“permit first-year candidates for fall admission to choose among offers of admission, financial aid and scholarships until May 1 and will state this deadline explicitly in their offers of admission.” (from the Statement of Principles of Good Practice of the National Association for College Admission Counseling)

This Wednesday is the magical, mystical deposit deadline for students to choose their college.  And, so let me offer these last-minute suggestions to those entangled in this mystical, magical, @#$^@%^# time.

1) Run Through the Base.  You’ve gone through 2-3 years of planning, arguing, traveling, debating, analyzing, writing, submitting, asking, fretting, thinking, preparing.  Finish strong.  Submit your deposit on time.  For the right amount of $.  With the proper form.  To the proper college.  For the proper reasons.  Which leads us to bullet #2…

2) Don’t Forget Your Priorities.  Because you’ve gone through multiple years of planning, arguing, traveling, etc., you may need to step back and say, “What the heck were we doing this for, again?”  What was important to you, in the first place?  Is it still important?  Does that value fit the choice you are making?

3) Value vs. Cost.  What school will provide you with the best opportunity to graduate, grow, learn and move on to a meaningful, valuable life after college?  That may not be the school with the biggest financial aid package.  Be careful to not weigh the latter too heavily, or the former too lightly.  It is the former that will bring you back the greatest ROI – in terms of personal fulfillment AND financial satisfaction.

4) Hedging Your Bets #1 – The Double Deposit.  As one of those ‘postsecondary’ guys they talked about at the top, I detest double deposits.  The College Board lists the practice as ‘unethical’.  Page 1 of a Google Search on the topic will leave references to ‘wrong’, ‘risky’, ‘dirty’, ‘NO’.  But it has been an increasingly popular way for students and families to hedge their bets on May 1.  Remember that, besides considered a horrible, terrible thing by most in my profession (and every single student on a wait list) they are also non-refundable and are completely unnecessary if bullet point #5 is in play.

5) Hedging Your Bets #2 – The Extension.  Many colleges will offer an extension of the May 1 deadline.  But make sure.  Call and/or email your admission counselor.  State a reason for the indecision.  If it something they can address, let them know.  There is nothing more greatly appreciated on the admission side than communication.  They want to know if you are still interested.  Tell them.  Please note that there are many schools, also, that do not grant extensions or do so on a limited basis.  The policy on extensions is closely aligned with the selectivity of the institutions in question.

6) The Refund.  If you have changed your mind, do avoid the ‘accidental’ double deposit and officially withdraw your initial deposit by May 1.  First, because it’s the right thing to do.  Second, because most deposits are refundable before May 1 and not refundable after May 1.

7) There are still 3 more bases to run.  Never forget that getting in to college is FAR less important than staying in and successfully completing college.  This should be only the beginning of an amazing journey…

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.   And on YouTube at

Uh…What Do You Do Again?


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.


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, 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.

Interviewing 101



Be Yourself.  (Okay, we’re done…shortest…blog…ever.)

For those who like their blogs more than 8 words long, read on, McGruff….

Yes, be your most polite, friendly self.  But, be yourself.

And, I know it’s easy for me to say, but…relax.

Just as the College Admission process is a chance for both the College AND the student to evaluate each other, so is the interview a chance for both the college admissions counselor and the student to get to know more about the other.

With an admission interview, the student becomes “real” to the admissions representative.  No longer is this just a file, with transcripts, standardized test scores and other paperwork, but this is now a real person associated with that file.

A few pointers to help ensure an enjoyable, successful admission interview:

  • Treat the interview as a chance to meet a potential new friend.  In most admission settings, the admission counselor wishes to be an advocate for you.
  • Be on time.
  • Be friendly, but not silly.  Be polite.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Avoid slang.  Use appropriate language.
  • Dress appropriately.  No t-shirts with inappropriate writing.
  • DON’T be distant, distracted, rude or condescending.
  • PARENTS: Let your child speak.  This is not your interview and you will hurt your student’s chances if you ‘hog’ the conversation.
  • AFTER: Say thank you at the end of the interview.  Follow up later with a thank-you note (email or snail mail).

Have a few questions prepared ahead of time.  A few to consider:

  • How is your (your academic program of interest) different from other programs?
  • How many students are from (your hometown)?
  • Where have your students gotten internships?
  • Where have alumni gotten jobs?
  • Can you explain the admission process for me?  How do you determine who is accepted and who is not?
  • When do admission letters go out?
  • If I have questions after today, what is the best way to reach you?

A few questions you may want to have answers at the ready:

  • Why do you want to go here?
  • Why are you interested in that major?
  • What other schools are you looking at?
  • What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
  • What do you consider your greatest strength?
  • What do you consider your greatest weakness?
  • How would College X benefit from your enrollment here?

But do not memorize answers – It is best to be conversational, not like you are reading a speech.

Make sure you know how to reach your interviewer with follow-up questions.  You should ask for the interviewer’s business card if he or she doesn’t offer it automatically.  (If the interviewer is NOT your counselor, make sure you also receive the business card for YOUR admission counselor.)

A little “cut and dried” this week – hope you don’t mind.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, call me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.

The “Fit, Not Reach” Tour

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It’s time to take the show on the road.  I strongly recommend playing this link as you read on…

On Thursday, January 2oth, the first leg of the College Counseling for the Rest of Us “Fit, Not Reach” tour will commence.

We’ll be able to talk face-to-face, discuss the importance of “Fit, Not Reach”, and share free food and beverages.  (Well, free for you, anyway).

Although I prefer the intimacy of small crowds, I am delighted that we are starting with a stadium show.  We’re opening at Hall Stadium, (874 Lehigh Avenue) in beautiful Union, NJ, home of the world’s largest watersphere, as well as Kean University.

Doors will open at 6 for informal conversation (actually, 5:30, but you’ll be helping me set up if you come that early).  The formal workshop will commence at 6:30 and we will be around, again, for informal conversation from about 7:30 to “whenever”.

I say “we” because I’m happy to report that I will be sharing the stage with David Sawicki, who is an incredible resource for the athletes among “the rest of us”.  David was an Union High All-Star, a pitcher for the renown Division I program at Seton Hall and a Coach and Director of Athletic Recruitment at Division II and III programs at NJIT and Centenary College.  He is currently managing member of GameTime Sports, in East Hanover.

So, David and I will be able to give you a tour of the College Search process from both the College and the student perspective, as well as for athletes and non-athletes.

To be up front, Hall is a little smaller than Madison Square, Wembley or Dodger Stadium. We will be in the clubhouse of a little league facility.  Seating is limited.  I encourage you to RSVP via Facebook or Linkedin. And you can always email me at to reserve a space, as well. But we are not working with Ticketmaster on this one, or Stub Hub.

I hope to add more tour dates as the snow recedes, so stay tuned.  But, I look forward to meeting with many of you on January 20th!

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

Presents Given and Received


Thank you.  For everything.

2 months and 2 days. That’s all it’s been.  It was October 20, 2010 that I opened a blog account with WordPress and set up a Facebook “fan” page for College Counseling for the Rest of Us.  And started down an uncertain path, but one I knew I wanted to travel.

2 months and 2 days. Trying to preach three basic concepts:

a) The College Search should be enjoyable.

b) College search information and guidance should be available to EVERYONE.

c) It’s all about “fit, not reach”.  Pick the school that meets your needs, not the school with fanciest reputation, highest SAT scores, best football team or coolest website.

And since then, I’ve had over 2300 visits to my Facebook postings and over 600 visits to my blog site, which now has a cool web domain,, that I purchased via GoDaddy. I’ve also gained a few clients (always a good thing), was asked to do a guest blog on a really cool local site (, participated in a great career fair (trying to explain, to middle schoolers, what an independent college counselor does), got myself invited to a major adult college fair and also to an amazing food and wine pairing event at a great hotel.

I’ve incorporated, opened a corporate checking account, printed business cards and met with potential advertisers.  I opened YouTube and BlogTalkRadio accounts (thenewmediadoesntbelieveinspaces) that will soon be filled with  more (hopefully) good CCR content.  I’ve been in conversation for locations for several College Search workshops – my “world” tour – and I hope to have some news on that front in the next week or so.  I’ve recalibrated my Twitter and Linkedin accounts to reflect CCR’s direction.

And it’s been a blast.  I love this.  I love working with the wonderful families I’ve met in 2010  I love the College of the Day and the responses from colleges and alums.  I love the feedback I get (generally privately – PLEASE feel free to post comments!!!) about how this is helping folks prepare for the college search.  I thank you, thank you, thank you.

I thank my clients from 2010 – the collector’s edition – the first few families who helped me shape what is to come.

I thank my Facebook fans (“likes”, I know) and my Twitter followers for helping me know that there is an audience for what I was saying.   And thank you to all of the folks (YOU!) who read this weekly blog and offer feedback.

I especially thank my wife, Stefanie, whose first name should be “long suffering”, for putting up with me and whose support of this project has given me great strength to move this forward to where it should go.  And thank you to my kids, for their support.

Get ready for CCR to rock in 2011 – there will be the “Fit, Not Reach” World Tour, the weekly YouTube show, possibly a weekly BlogTalkRadio program, a website (as opposed to a blog site with a bell and whistle or two).  College of the Day will continue as well as the Wednesday blogs.  And there will be an ever improving College Search service. And my twin boys will finish sophomore year of high school and start their junior year.  So, we’ll have real, live test cases to work with (inset best evil scientist laugh here).

The greatest gift I could have received this Holiday season was the support that you have all given me these past 62 days.  I thank you, and hope I can provide gifts of equal (or greater) value, in return, in 2011.  THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

May you have a cherished holiday season, whether your house be filled with the joy of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Chalica or any combination thereof.  And may you have a safe, healthy HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Getting In Vs. Staying In


Have you ever heard of an independent retention counselor? I know I haven’t.

But guess which is of these two things is more likely to happen – a) getting an acceptance letter from a college or b) graduating from the college in which you enroll?

The answer is “a”.  More than two-thirds of applications to college are accepted.  But less than 56% of students beginning at a four-year college graduate within (not 4, not 5) 6 years.  If you add in data from 2 year colleges, the numbers are even more dramatic.

It is easier to get in than it is to stay. So, are we focusing too much on the wrong topic?  Are we making poor decisions?  Why is it that almost half of our college choices go astray?

I started in the college admission profession in 1988.  Since then, I’ve seen a dramatic growth in the amount and quality of materials designed and distributed by colleges, the amount of qualified independent college counselors and the amount of college visitations families make during the college search process.  I (and everyone else) have seen the internet make information readily available in ways never before imagined.

So, you’d think we’d be doing alright.  But the statistics say otherwise.

One of my pet peeves is the ever popular quest to get into a reach school.  My philosophy is that you should find the schools that best meet your criteria for success; which colleges are most qualified to get you where you want to go?  However, a common goal among College and Graduate school candidates seems to be to ensure that the students is admitted (and then, attends) the most competitive school to which they can, regardless of fit.

Remember, however, that the reach school is – statistically – the school in which you are the weakest candidate.  You can certainly argue that the statistics aren’t an accurate reflection in your particular situation.  But – in general – many of us are putting quite a bit of effort into being admitted to the school where we are most likely to fail.

In practice, I have seen countless talented students go from a high school experience in which they were in the top 10% or 25% of their senior class to a college experience in which they were in the bottom 25% or 10% of their freshman class.  And that’s when I met them, as they applied to my less-well-kn0wn institution, with a Freshman GPA of 1.9 or 1.4 or some such.

The entire philosophy reminds me of the grand wedding reception that costs a fortune but leaves the newlyweds with months of Ramen Soup dinners and major debt right from the get-go.

Often, we treat college as a very different type of “purchase” from others.  But, in many ways, I find it instructive to make comparisons to other choices in life.

Would you mortgage the house and go into five (or six) figure debt to own the fancy 2 seat sports car if you have a family of 5, with a toddler still in a car seat?

Would you buy the John Deere riding lawn mower with the most bells and whistles, if your property is 40X120?

There are literally 4,000 colleges in this country.  Some are family vans – reliable, comfortable, able to move large groups to their destination.  Some are sports cars – dangerously fast and challenging, but super cool (AND super expensive).  Some are more economical and some have more horse power.  But they all have a purpose and they all have qualities that make them a strong choice for a segment of the student consumer audience.

I would ask of you that you test drive the ones you find as possibilities, and think carefully about what type of educational vehicle will best serve you to reach your ultimate destination.

I welcome your comments – always – and please feel free to email me at, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Us” and join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.

NOTES: Admission data is courtesy of the National Association of College Admission Counseling’s “State of College Admission 2010” Report, available at (
Persistence Data is courtesy of the College Board’s College Completion Agenda 2010 Progress Report.

The Rest of Us


This is either the first blog in what will become a vastly successful college counseling business for “the rest of us” – the adults going back to school, the families who have never gone through the college admission process before, the parents whose child is not going to Harvard or Yale, the young professionals trying to pick a grad school – or if they should go to grad school, or…

Or it’s a brief footnote to an upstart that didn’t make it.

At this point, I don’t know which will prove true.  But I can tell you that if I don’t succeed, someone else will.

Listening to thousands of parents and adult students (with many wearing both hats), two things are obvious to me: a) people have more information about college available to them than ever before and b) they are getting less guidance on how to use that information.

This is not a knock on college counselors or guidance personnel, nor is it a comment on the families involved.  In the 23 years that I have worked in college admission, enrollment and financial aid, the amount of materials – both paper and electronic – that we produce has grown enormously.  “Many trees die”, you might say, in the quest to promote Colleges to potential students.  The tenor of these materials has also changed dramatically – the soft sell (dare we used that word – “sell” – 10-15 years ago!) of the 1980’s has given way to aggressive promotional techniques, often at the expense of providing meaningful information about the institutions we promote.  Paper catalogs were deemed too expensive, but pens, flash drives and Frisbees became commonplace.

As well, the entire process has become far more complex.  Standards for many public colleges have risen dramatically while the numbers for many private colleges have declined.  The College Visit has become its own pocket industry.  An economist should do a supply and demand study about College Admission in the past two decades (maybe one has and I’ve missed it; have to do some investigating).  It would be fascinating for its ebbs and flows, its contradictions, its own special pulse.

Well, anyway, I’m going to start my first blog under Joba rules, and keep this under 500 words.  I hope I can provide a valuable service in the years to come for the adults going back to school, the families who have never gone through the college admission process before, the parents whose child is not going to Harvard or Yale, the young professionals trying to pick a grad school – or if they should go to grad school.

I welcome your comments – always – and please feel free to email me at, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Us” and join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.

“See” you next week!