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!

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Mythbusters 101: A Pop Quiz

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Time for a pop quiz.

“Aww, man.”  “Mr. Szarek, come on…”

Ashley, put away your Fiske Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

ANSWER KEY/ SPOILER ALERT:

1) ACT

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

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

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

5) Easier to get accepted to college.

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

7) True.

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

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

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

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

Auld Lang Syne 2011

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

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

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

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

FAFSA La Vista, Baby

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22 points of light regarding the FAFSA.

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

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

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

4) Hence, it’s FREE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

11) Unless your situation is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

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.

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.

Happy Anniversary

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THANK YOU! 

As we approach the 1 year anniversary of College Counseling for the Rest of Us (October 20, for those of you keeping score at home), I thought it time to reflect and to celebrate.

Like the Statue of Liberty – just shorter, male and less metallic – I wanted the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning for additional financial aid to have access to information and guidance.

I wanted to bring college advice to the adults, the learning disabled, the 1st generation, the middle class, the working class, the huddled masses who didn’t have a 2400 SAT and 7-figure 529 plan.

I wanted people to know that community colleges are fine, affordable establishments.

I wanted people to know that college admission information is not top-secret; it’s just sometimes hard to find, contradictory and/or overwhelming.

I wanted people to know that not all college classes are outdoors.  During the month of October.  With red and golden leaves.  With 1.5 smiling females and 1.5 smiling males, all of various demographics.

I hope – in my own small way (with the help of some wonderful colleagues), I have been able to do that through these blogs, my counseling, my workshops and my social media efforts.

And, although I know there are still “miles to go before we sleep”, I wish to offer a toast to:

  • ALL of the counselors, colleagues, clients and friends (well you’re ALL friends) who have actually read my blog and offered wonderful support, guidance and criticism.  I’m forgetting a bunch of people, but here are just some of those names  – John (both of you), Ed, Megan, Barbara, Bridget, Hilary, Michelle, Robin, Steve, Carol, Barb, J B, Mike, Susie, Karen, Kimberly, Katie, Kara and (insert your name here because Michael forgot).  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!
  • All of the families and students who have trusted me to guide them and provided me with so much joy.
  • The folks at so many colleges that have supported Cafe College and the (currently on hiatus) College of the Day and this entire project.  Particularly, though, I wish to thank the folks at Truman State University and Delta State University for blowing the roof off my website views on the days they were each College of the Day and Felician College, Lasell College and St. Anselm College for volunteering to launch the Cafe College concept this month!  THANK YOU!
  • Everyone who has viewed my website (7300+), the YouTube channel (over 1200) and the Facebook page (over 250).   And to this blog’s 26 subscribers.  Thank you!  Your support and your input are both invaluable.
  • My sons, who are 16, took their PSATs for the 2nd time this weekend and provide me with ‘insider’ information as a parent to compliment my ‘insider’ information as an admission and financial aid professional.  I’m not just the President; I’m also a client.
  • My daughter, who – at 12 – has become my “go-to” camera person for my YouTube videos on the CC4theRestofUs channel.
  • My wife, who has been so patient and supportive as this project has gotten off the ground.  I love you and thank you, Stefanie!
  • Everyone else I should be thanking, including my future clients and my eventual book publisher who will guide me through that initial blockbuster best-seller about the adventures of Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin as they try to find the right college that “fits” their needs and goals.

I’m looking forward to year 2 and beyond.  May the “rest of us” always matter in higher education.

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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