Made In America

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There is a product that is as American made as any.

The raw product is American.

The hands that mold into a finished product are American.

The sales force that promotes it is American. Even the telemarketing personnel are American.

The product is made on-site, in America.

People from other countries come here to the buy the product.

It is hand-crafted, made to order, with each individual unit a limited edition.

It is American Higher Education.  “Quality craftsmanship since 1636.”

Not cheap.  In any sense of the word.  Including price tag.

Are there ways to cut costs? Is there some level of mismanagement with some suppliers?

Sure, but I would venture a guess that it’s no worse, and – in fact – may be less than in most industries.

In other words, higher education is expensive.  It costs tens of thousands of dollars to provide one year of education – whether you pay for it, Uncle Sam, Uncle Christie or Capitol One pays for it.  Even if the College gives you a 40% discount off the sticker price (which is the norm, by the way).

Yeah, but some of that money is going to a new dorm or laptops for each student or a new fitness center that looks like Curves and Golds Gym all rolled into one.  And I heard one college is even giving out SmartPhones to each freshman. 

Absolutely.  And they could stop doing that and it would certainly lower tuition and room and board.  But – if they don’t build it, will we still come?  I’d hate to work for the college that hedges that bet.  The consumer demanded and the supplier responded.

Better management in higher education might also save a few dollars.  Figure a $50,000 school might become a $48.000 school.  But, it’s not the problem nor is it a magic solution.  It still would be $48000.

Reduce costs?  Sure, eliminate a career services staff member or an athletic team.  Don’t build that new dining facility.  Cut back on landscaping.  Let average class size grow from 15 to 30.  Let G.A.’s and adjuncts replace full-time faculty.

Are there salaries that are out-of-control?  Sure, a few athletic coaches and a few Presidents.  Not many others.  However, I think a comparison to areas of commerce would be quite revealing.  There aren’t too many Jamie Dimons in higher education.

But I can’t afford $48,000.  It’s not fair.

It’s not always fair.  Trust me, as a Met, Jet and Net fan, I’ve used that phrase quite a bit in my lifetime.

Thanks to 40% tuition discounts and Uncle Sam and Uncle Christie, most “$48,000” schools will actually be much less.  But even if the cost of College A is out of your reach, there’s still College B that will offer a do-able package and State U., which will offer a subsidized tuition rate and Community College, which will offer an even more subsidized rate.

All for a product that is American made, offered in limited editions and respected worldwide.

Folks like me can help you through the process, offer advice and maybe even save you a dime or two.  But there’s no magic here.

There. Is. No. Magic. Here.  Except in the finished product, when you become your very own collector’s edition.

Not every college and not every financial aid package is affordable.  Some roads may be closed.  Some roads may have a toll that is beyond your means (Kinda like the Verrazano Bridge).  But many – far more than you realize – will be welcoming, passable and affordable.  And worth traveling.

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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10 Random Thoughts About the College Search

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1) Dear Parents of HS Juniors…I wish you knew now what you will know a year from now.

2) IMPORTANT: When a College Admissions Representative refers to an SAT score, they are usually referring to your READING + MATH sub-score. NOT your Reading + Math + Writing score.   I’ve seen too many schools and families talking about two different things.  To the detriment of the student.

3) Every action taken in Junior Year (and in the summer) saves two actions in the Senior Year.  M.Szarek, 2012.

4) Adult students need and deserve as much guidance in the college search as traditional students.

5) Too often, students take ALL or NONE of their Direct loan eligibility.  Often, SOME would have been their best choice.

6) What IS the right price for a year’s worth of higher education?

7) If they don’t want you, you don’t want them.

8) Of the 4000 colleges in this country, there are 17.9 ‘perfect’ schools for your son or daughter.   Okay, I made that up.  But, I bet I’m right.

9) See it with your own eyes.  Visit. Visit.  Visit.  Visit.  Visit.  Visit.  Visit.  Visit.  Visit.  Visit. Visit.

10) If a picture paints a thousand words, how does that fit into the Common Application Essay requirement?

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.

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.

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!

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.