College Counseling for the Rest of Us TV: The Pilot.

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Well, it may not be Spielberg.

But I give you our inaugural, initial, collector’s edition episode of College Counseling for the Rest of Us TV.

Please feel free to visit, view, like and comment.  Thanks!  Here’s the link to our first episode: CCR TV1

I look forward to finding what opportunities video provides us in terms of College Counseling for the Rest of Us, what information we can provide, what schools we can visit and what people we can meet.  As always, please know that I welcome and encourage your feedback.

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 Tao of U.

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“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

On that note, let’s see how our friends – Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin – are proceeding with their college search planning.  Shall we?

Ashley – “After taking the Backman/Dykstra test prep formula, and a summer course in Latin, I was able to increase my SAT reading score by 70 points.  I have re-calculated my chance for admission at each institution, as well as my expected scholarship and grant awards from each of my safety and target schools.  How about you, Justin?”

Justin – “I think most schools are probably alright.  That’s what I think.  But some are more right than others.”

Brad – “I think schools are too elite.  I don’t expect to get into any of my first choices.  Why do test scores matter so much?  It’s just not fair.”

Caitlin -“Did you know that the word ‘college’ comes from the Latin word for “one chosen to work with one another”?  The opportunities, Justin, for someone with your academic record might be somewhat limited.  But, I do believe there is opportunity to find others who would have similar…”

Brad – “I think you’re just setting Justin up for failure.  He and I should be realistic about our opportunities.”

Justin – “I’ve always had an interest in animals.  I would go to the zoo and draw pictures of them for hours.  And, as I got older, I started taking cell phone shots and posting them on my Facebook and MySpace pages.”

Ashley – “But, Justin, what are you going to do with that?  You don’t have the grades or test scores to go pre-vet.”

Caitlin – “The Veterinary field actually has suffered as a profession due to the economic downturn.”

Justin – “Oh…:

Brad – “I just don’t see how my parents can afford to send me to college.”

Justin – “I like the people I met at HAWCC.  And they have programs in art, photography and animal science.”

Ashley – “Hundred Acre…” (she said, aghast)

Caitlin – “Many fine leaders have come from HAWCC.  Such as…”

Brad – “I probably should fill out my application to HAWCC, too.”

And they debated the merits of HAWCC, Test prep and 529 plans,  from page 32, right through to page 51.

Ashley – “How many applications have you submitted, Justin?”

From his long pause and his averted eyes, she knew the answer.

Justin –  (Defensively) “”You know, one of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.  At least, I read that somewhere.”

Mr. Szarek?

Yes, Justin?

What do you think?

Justin, what I think is this. One day, you will no longer need College Counseling for the Rest of Us.  And, one day, you will graduate from Hundred Acre Wood Community College, and – from there – you may even go on to Heffalumps University.  But, there is something – through all of your adventures – that I hope you never forget.  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

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. 

“Lots of people talk to animals,” said Pooh.
“Not that many listen though.”
“That’s the problem.”

Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.
— Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne

NOTE: Winnie the Pooh and the Tao of Pooh are not mine, I don’t own them, and I used and paraphrased quotes and ideas from both the wonderful “Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff and from the original Winnie the Pooh books and films.  All credit belongs to A.A. Milne and Mr. Hoff, and all rights belong to Disney, Dutton, Penguin and whoever owns such rights.

The Average American College Student

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Pick an article about students looking at college.  Any article.

Pick an article about students enrolled in college.  Almost any article.

Look at the client list of almost every college counselor/planner/consultant in the nation.  Almost every counselor.

You must conclude that the average American College Student attends a 4 year institution, starts college at 18, finishes at 22, and probably lives on campus.

And if you read an article about college admissions, it would be fair to assume that most students attend the same 15 or so schools that are always quoted and mentioned in articles about admission trends – Harvard, USC, The George Washington University, Stanford, MIT, Princeton among a few others.

I certainly encourage you to keep reading.  But stop believing what you read.

The Average American College Student (as opposed to your “typical” American College Student – that creature does not exist) attends Harvard, but also attends the University of Phoenix, Truman State, Goldey-Beacom College, Delta State, Union County College and about 3994 other colleges.  He is far more likely to be attending a public institution (77%) than a private 4 year college (12.7%).  Even among the usual suspects (ages 15-23) the percentages are almost as dramatic (76% vs. 15.3%).

She is most likely to be a female (55%).

He is quite likely to not be within the “traditional” ages of 18-21.  8.2 million college students are, but over 11 million are not.  Over a quarter of all college students are part-time students and over 600,000 have a disability.

In fact, more than 1 million college students are older than me.

No way, Mr. Szarek!

Way, Brad.  Way.

The Average American College Student has a job.  In fact, about a quarter of all college students work full-time.

The Average American College Student will not graduate from the program he is currently enrolled in.  At least not within 6 years.

The Average American College Student is not who you think, doesn’t go to the school you are thinking of, is not taking the amount of courses you think she is taking and is not finishing when you think he is finishing.  If she is finishing at all.

The American college community is as diverse as the nation it represents.  The students are not “one size fits all” and neither are their academic programs, modes of delivery, methods of learning, financial situations or choices of college.

This is the greatest strength of the American College Community.  And its greatest challenge.   As you look at schools for your child or yourself, understand that there is a place for you in that community.  And don’t cheat off someone else’s paper – because the right college for that person may not be the right college for you.

Just saying…

NOTE: Data used for this blog post come almost entirely from two sources: 1) the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, October 2009.  Release Date: February 2011 and 2) The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, as presented by the Chronicle of Higher Education in their December 2010 article, “Who Are the Undergraduates?”

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. 

CC4TheRestofUs: The Series

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It’s time.

Since the very early days of College Counseling for the Rest of Us, I have wanted to do regular video blogs.  In fact, I even set up my YouTube channel many months ago and shot a video that was (very) briefly uploaded to the account.

But, that’s it.  Other than that, CC4theRestof Us Television has been nothing but a rumor.

I think it’s time to change that.  But I want your help.  I am very curious to know what you would want to watch.

Here is what I’m thinking:

  • 3-5 minutes.
  • I’m thinking “weekly” in terms of frequency.
  • Split between a quick overview of what’s happening in the world of College Counseling for the Rest of Us and the world of college admissions and planning, in general.
  • Emphasis on a particular blog topic (current or prior?)
  • Occasional episodes with guests and on-site at colleges and other relevant sites.
  • Promotional shouts and College Acceptance/HS Graduation shout-outs for a minimal cost.
  • Fast, light, loose.  Let the details play out on the blog, website, Facebook page, Twitter account, Linkedin Group, etc.
  • Leaning towards “Ready to Go” by Republica, for the opening.  (Just saying)

Would you watch?  What would you change from the above outline?  Let me know at info@cc4therestofus.com, on Facebook or by responding to this blog post.

How would CC4theRestofUs TV look to 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. 

EFC

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There are several three letter words, acronyms and former acronyms that play major parts in the College Search.  SAT, ACT, MOM and DAD are just a few that we’ve touched on in past blog posts.

I’ve got one more for you.  And, for many,  it can be as influential – and as mysterious – as the SAT or the ACT.  (And as the MOM and the DAD)

I’m talking about EFC, or Expected Family Contribution.

The EFC is a number that quietly sits on the top right of that Student Aid Report generated by all of the “stuff” that you provide on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known affectionately as the FAFSA.   But, as quietly as it might sit, it is the number that is used to directly determine a student’s Pell Grant award, his or her subsidized loan eligibility, many state grants and the limit of aid that can be provided from a college and third party sources.

So, what is this EFC?  Well, as I stated before, it is meant to represent a family’s “expected family contribution” to a student’s college education.

Expected by whom?

This expectation belongs to the feds, not you (who will probably expect to contribute much less) nor the colleges (who will probably expect you to contribute more).

I had the pleasure of manually calculating EFCs when I went through Financial Aid Training (see “One Night in Plattsburgh“).  When you calculate an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) manually, it actually makes sense.  For a second.

The EFC calculation formula is what I like to call “equally unfair”.  The logic is there, but it assumes you live in the 1970′s and don’t own a 2nd flat screen TV, 3 laptops or multiple cars.  It is based on real numbers and real calculations, but it assumes a rate of savings that no longer exists in America.

So, why not change it?

Well, it wouldn’t produce more money, it would just show – for most families at most colleges – how much more of a gap there is between your financial aid package and the cost of the college.  So, unless the feds find more money, the colleges find more money or you find more money, changing the formula wouldn’t really accomplish much.

Here are a few points to ponder regarding the EFC and the College Search.

  • The EFC is NOT what you have to pay.  It’s the amount of money a College has to play with if they give you a dime of need-based aid.  (Unsubsidized loans notwithstanding)
  • Home equity – for a primary residence – is NOT part of the equation in the EFC calculation.  Owning a million dollar home doesn’t hurt you and owing a two million dollar mortgage doesn’t help you.
  • EFCs run from 0 to 99.999.  In case you are wondering.  Or setting goals.
  • Federal Pell Grants are determined directly via the EFC.  The highest EFC, in 2010-2011, that was still eligible for Pell was 5273.
  • Student money (income and assets) and Parent money (income and assets) is not weighted equally.  A much higher percentage of student money is expected to be set aside for college.
  • There has been rapid growth recently in a pocket industry that I will label “EFC Prep”.  It is financial consulting designed to enable families to best arrange their assets for maximum benefit in the FAFSA/EFC process.  5 years ago, I would have told you to stay far, far away from such resources because – generally – the only ones making money in such a relationship were the financial folks.  I have since had the opportunity to speak to a few services that do it right.  I would still be EXTREMELY careful in ‘vetting’ such a service, but there are some good ones.  The problem, even with these services, is that the best time to meet with them is about 3-5 years before you decide to.  The later you try to effectively manage your money, the more likely your best options have passed you by.

So, Mr. Szarek, how does this all fit in to Brad’s College Search?

The EFC lays the framework for what aid colleges can provide to you.  So, its effect is obvious.  But it pushes its weight around fairly late in the College Planning Game.  The FAFSA is not completed until mid-year of senior year (for traditional students).  Your financial aid packages follow after that.

So, my advice is this – keep your options open as you go through your college search.  Do not rule out a school because of their ‘sticker price’ or because of what you think your EFC may be.  Like so much of the college search, let the process play out, take good notes and only cut bait when it is appropriate to do 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. 

It’s Complicated

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One of the more persistent themes I find myself having to impress upon families and adult students I work with, as well as colleagues involved in various components of the College Search is the idea that there are no magic answers.

What is the right school for Caitlin?

Should Brad take the SAT or ACT?

What about online courses?

Is it worth it to have him live on campus?

Should Ashley take  AP German or ‘just’ German 4?

Is a community college better for Justin or a four year institution?  What about trade school?

Is a Gap year the answer?

Should we apply to that expensive private school, when we know we can’t afford it unless a big financial aid package comes in or we finally hit Powerball?

The answer to these, and other, exciting questions is – it depends.  And the answer to most “BIG” questions during your college search will be  – it depends.

I don’t say this because I don’t know the answer.  I say this because I think I DO know the answer.  It depends.

In a previous post, I stated that there are no magic answers, but lots of good information, good people and good advice.  And be wary of those who sell you the reverse.   I think it’s hard to overstate that theme.

You may think that this is fairly obvious.  But in the heat of the moment, when your living room floor is covered with glossy college brochures and the phone is ringing and the emails are binging – it is VERY tempting to say, “Just tell me what @^^@$#$ school we should pick, already!”

I won’t, and neither should anybody providing you with advice.

Some answers are “less gray” than others.  But, ultimately it is not my life and not my college experience.  (And not my money.)  My responsibility is to provide you with the pros and cons of each choice.  One of my mantras for College Counseling for the Rest of Us has been to teach you how to fish rather than provide you with fish (or to teach you how to drive rather than chauffeur you through the college search journey, if you are not a fish person).  I hope I have done that, and continue to do that, throughout my role as college counselor.  For the Rest of Us.

Since today is my birthday, I’ll keep this week’s blog post short and sweet.  I wish you happy and safe travels in your college quest; please always feel free to reach out if you have questions or concerns!

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. 

A Test of Us for the Rest of Us

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What if there was a standardized test that also helped you figure out “what do I want to be when I grow up”?

What if there was a standardized test that was based on the content of the courses you actually had taken in school?

What if there was a standardized test designed specifically to meet the needs of all students who are looking at post-secondary schools?

If there was such a test, there are many who would raise their #2 pencil in the air and ask, “Is this Heaven?”

No, it’s Iowa.

Iowa City, to be exact – home  of the standardized exam taken by more high school students in this country.

But, Mr. Szarek, I thought the SAT was based out of  New York.

It is.  The College Board’s main offices are in New York, Washington, D.C. and Reston, VA.

But…  As of this year, the SAT is the Pepsi of standardized tests.

Uh, Mr. Szarek, I don’t even know what you’re talking about…

Pepsi.  Coke.  Oh, never mind.

In the past year, more test takers in the United States have taken the ACT than the SAT.

Yes, really.

That little test, designed by Everrett Franklin Lindquist, and first administered in 1959, with a goal of offering a way to measure all future college students, provide career guidance and to be based upon knowledge of curriculum rather than aptitude is now the #1 selling standardized exam in America.

Uh, but everyone here at Union HS takes the SAT and I only have a few friends who are even thinking about the ACT.

Here in New Jersey, the numbers are a little different.  Last year, 17% of graduating seniors took the ACT, while 76% took the SAT.  But the growth has been dramatic.  In 2006, 7823 graduates in New Jersey took the ACT.  In 2010, that number had grown to 19,177.  That’s a 169% increase over the past three years.

So, what should you know about this ACT?

Pronunciation.  It’s A – cee – tee, not act like in a performance.

It’s curriculum based.  So – for good or for bad – it’s an attempt to measure what you have learned in class.

Structure – Instead of the Reading/Math/Writing breakout of the SAT, the ACT has the following sub-tests: English, Math, Reading and Science.  And an optional writing component.

Scoring.  Instead of the SAT’s 800/800/800 scoring, the ACT has the equally mysterious 36/36/36/36 breakout.  Another difference is that the ACT Composite Score is an average, not a sum of those sub-groups.  So, the “perfect’ score on an ACT is 36, not 144. 

That Really Cool Wheel Thingy.  Your ACT report will contain a “World of Work” map.  This circle will suggest logical options for future career paths based on your Interest Inventory results.  It’s hard to explain, easier to show, so here’s a link: ACT World-at-Work Map.

How many colleges accept it?  Every.  Single.  One 

Really?  Yes, really.

How do Colleges Compare Results from Both Tests?  Colleges realize that these tests asses different criteria.  Some look at both scores individually.  Those more familiar with the SAT generally use a chart that “converts” an ACT score into an SAT equivalent.  And visa versa.  Your admissions counselor wants to report your top score to best represent you in the admission decision and the College wants to report their ‘best’ scores back to all of those wonderful rankings and listings.

Testing Sites.  There are currently 117 listed for the state of New Jersey.  Here’s the link.  New schools are added regularly.

Preparation.  Should I ship Brad and Caitlin off to ACT Test Prep classes?   You could.  But, since the test is based on curriculum – what you’ve already taken in the classroom – I would focus on getting comfortable with the format and learning how to pace yourself for one of the longer exams you’ll ever take.  Until you take your graduate admission tests, that is……  To access a free ACT sample test booklet, just click on this link.

Accommodations.  One comment that I have heard is that it is not a simple process to obtain accommodations for learning support, medical and other concerns.  But I have also heard that 92% of all requests are honored.  So, if you are in need of such accommodations, make sure you submit all necessary paperwork and maintain due diligence.

Price.  Currently, the cost to take the exam, without the Writing Test, is $33.  That’s 42% less than another standardized test you may know of.  

Although everybody is different, my general recommendation would be to take each of the two major standardized tests at least once.  Do understand that there are differences between the two, but both will provide your child’s prospective colleges with the testing information they need.  I wish your student success and minimal angst as they move through the world of standardized testing.

People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom.  – Terrence Mann,  Field of Dreams (1989).  Click here to hear the full speech.

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. 

Six Years of Degree Separation

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Trying to find a way to make college more affordable?  Looking for every angle, every left-handed scholarship for Lithuanians, every nickel under every cushion?  Is your spouse ready to channel William Shatner in a Priceline commercial when you meet your financial aid officer?

Well, I’ve added a little story as part of my recent college planning workshops that may be of interest to you.

It’s all about our dear friends – Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin.  They finally go off to college and – lo and behold – they attend the same college, receive identical financial aid packages, obtain the same job after graduation AND hold the same part-time job until they find professional employment.

Uh, so what’s so interesting about that?  How are you saving me any money?  Aren’t they all, then, paying the same amount of tuition and earning the same amount of money?

Ah- ha!  (I might shout, if I shouted such things…)

Here are the rules:

  • We are going to look at where Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin are after 6 years by subtracting tuition costs and adding salary.
  • They each receive the same financial aid package and are left with a $20,000 annual bill (Fall and Spring).
  • The College raises tuition by a standard 5% each year.
  • The local community college costs $100 per credit (with the same 5% rate of increase).
  • The wage at the local ice cream parlor is $10 an hour. (They all work there after graduation)
  • The entry level salary in their profession is $30,000, with an annual increase of 2%.
  • It takes 6 months, after graduation, to find a job within the profession.

ASHLEY: Takes the “standard” track.  4 years, 15 credits a semester.  Finds the professional job after 6 months and works there for the last 1 1/2 years of this study.  Tuition: -$86202.  Salary: $55,700.  NET: -$30,502

BRAD: Also full-time, but takes only 12 credits a semester.  5 years to graduate.  Only 1/2 year in a professional position.  Tuition: -$110512.  Salary: $25,4000.  NET: -$85,112.

CAITLIN: 1st year in school is a disaster.  Takes a year off to re-group and dish out ice cream.  Comes back the following year, but because of failures and a change in major needs 150 credits (and 5 full academic years) to graduate.  Therefore, does not start her professional job search until after the 6 year survey period.  Tuition: -$115487.  Salary: $20,800.  NET: -$94,237.

JUSTIN: Justin goes full time (15 credits per semester), but takes 1 extra credit each year.  He also takes 9 credits in the summer and “wintersession” at the local community college.  He finishes in 3 years, works at Do Me a Flavor for 6 months and is working in the profession for the last 2 1/2 years of the study.  Tuition: -$65,887.  Salary: $86,606.  NET: +$20,719. 

 Same tuition.  Same salary.  Same job opportunities.  And the difference – over 6 years – between Justin and Caitlin is well over $100,000. 

While my husband – Mr. Shatner over there – negotiates an extra $500 in our Citizenship Grant.

Right.  

Now, it may not surprise you that – when I finish telling this little story – parents tend to really, really, really want their kid to grow up to be Justin.  But I have to caution them – and you.  If your “Justin” isn’t able to handle the commitment of year round education, he could easily fall right past Ashley and directly into Caitlin’s territory.   There is no magic answer.  Not everyone is Justin, nor should they be.

I would, however, suggest 2 very powerful “takeaways” from this little exercise.  First, how you do in college – what courses you get and what grades you receive – matters in so many ways, but one of those ways is financial.  And it can matter in a BIG (i.e. – $100,000) way.  Second, there are multiple ways to reduce costs in college AND – maybe just as importantly – there are multiple ways to ADD costs rather easily.

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.

Summer Fun, Some are Not

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Dear High School Juniors:

What are you planning to do this summer?

If you ever wanted to strengthen your college applications by volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or doing a sandwich run for a shelter or volunteering at a position related to your career aspirations or visiting every Major League stadium in the country, do you realize how many summers you have left to do it?

One.  This one.

If you ever wanted to participate in American Legion ball and/or a Summer Travel team, become a lifeguard, learn CPR or shadow a CPA and, thereby, show your college suitors why you would make a great athlete, Allied Health major or Accounting student, do you know how many summers you have left before you start filling out college applications, gathering recommendation letters and preparing personal essays?

That’s right.  One.  This one.

And if you’ve already done one (or some) of these things, do you want to stop now and leave those same admissions counselors wondering, “How come Brad didn’t continue with that?  Why did Caitlin stop right before she became a black belt?  Maybe they aren’t good at completing tasks.  Hmmm.”

Some of you may be very familiar with utilizing your summers to advance your admissions credentials or further your professional interests.  Others may be more familiar with using summer to improve your results on Call of Duty or Beach Frisbee.  Whichever best describes you, this is your summer of admissions.

But Call of Duty and Beach Frisbee are my professional interests…

I have a feeling your Mom disagrees, Justin. 

But, Mr. Szarek, aren’t my grades and my High School curriculum more important to those admissions folks?

Ah, you listen well,  Ashley.

Courses taken and grades received certainly carry the heaviest load in the College Admissions process.  But, for the most part, July and August are an opportunity to influence other parts of the application process.  Here are some thoughts, tips and ideas for a future college applicant to make the most of his or her summer months:

1) Volunteer.  At least once.  You won’t regret it.

2) Work.  For the experience, for something to put on your resume and for the money.  You’ll need more of all of these things real soon.

3) Take a summer course at a local community college.  Saves $ and gives you a taste of college.

4) Take good notes when you travel.  Those may become the outline of a great personal statement.

5) Read a great book that you always wanted to read.  Personal Statement fodder and just a great thing to do.

6) Think about which adults really know you, like you AND respect you.  You are about to ask a couple of them to write about you.

7) Look at a “These Words Appear Most on the SATs or “Key Tips to SAT Success” article.  Once.  Maybe twice.

8) Ask yourself, what DO I want to be when I grow up?  Write the answer down and date it.  Don’t worry too much if the answer has plenty of commas or plenty of white space.

9) Look at your Senior year list of courses.  Are they the courses to best help you achieve your goals?  If not, what is the high school’s process to make changes during the summer or during the first week of classes?

10) Write down your top five schools.  (Six, four, eight or ten are also acceptable totals.  27 is NOT.)  Check off which ones you’ve visited and highlight the rest.

11) Don’t forget to enjoy the summer, at least part of the time.  It is a time to re-energize your academic batteries; make sure you do so.

And, now, for your listening pleasure, I give you a choice: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Summertime.  Or, if you prefer:  Kid Rock doing All Summer Long.  Enjoy.

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.

Sophomore, Soph o Less.

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I have a College Admissions laboratory at my house.

It’s called “having twins who are sophomores in high school and took the PSATs last Fall and one who filled out a NRCCUA Survey although he has no memory of it and swears it never happened”.

Since October, the lab has received hundreds of mailings addressed to each of these individuals.  I believe the statistics are such:

February 1995-October 2010: 197 pieces of mail – mostly birthday and Christmas cards.

October 2010-Present: 219 pieces of mail from various colleges across this fine nation (and 1 or 2 abroad).

And it’s (almost) all a complete waste. 

I don’t mean in the environmental sense; we can recycle the materials.  But, in the “they don’t even open them, assume Dad will take care of it, don’t even know why they’re getting them or what the people sending them want them to do about it” sense.

The boys also get emails, which they ignore with almost equal vigor.  I don’t believe they’ve had any contact via social media.  Yet.

We are seeing two trends that have emerged in the last decade come together in a gloriously imperfect storm.  First, colleges are trying to reach students earlier and earlier and (correctly) believe that students are, equally, looking at colleges earlier and earlier.  Second, we are at a point in time when communication is in flux.

As for the first issue, students are looking earlier.  But almost all of that looking is via online surfing.  And they are generally casual window shoppers.  They are unsure about the entire college process and a headline on a mailing piece will rarely change that.

As for the second issue, we are in a world that offers phone, email, text, Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, blog comments, Online Gaming Messaging and even snail mail as legitimate modes of communication.  Never have there been more options and less certainty on how to talk to someone.

I don’t really know what the “right” answer is.  However, I do have a few thoughts on how the process might work better.  I encourage other parents and counselors who read this to chime in with own advice and thoughts..

1) Have a Call to Action.  What do you want Ashley or Brad to DO about this mailing you sent them.  However…

2) Do not assume they are getting excited over receiving a free shirt if they enter a code into a website you are directing them to.  Too much work for something they really aren’t as excited about as you are.  I’m talking about Open Houses, presentations in or near their hometown, tickets to a sporting event, scholarship applications.

3) If you are going to reach out to sophomores, think about how to entice the parents.  They are more likely to opening the envelopes, anyway.

4) Compile much data.  Do much thinking.  You are spending a boatload of money to do this.  Is it worth it?  I don’t know.  One sophomore who locks in to a college and goes on to attend and graduate may contribute over $100,000 of income to an institution directly and much more, indirectly, if Justin or Caitlin really likes his or her experience.  So, you can afford a lot of strikeouts.   A LOT of strikeouts.  But, in today’s world, are you hitting ANY home runs with snail mail?  Again, IDK.

4) Email is not dead.  But be aware that it is often used more like texting than snail mail and act accordingly.

5) Use Social Media.  Sophomores can friend, fan, like, comment, connect and view in relative obscurity.  The better question is how to get them to your sites.  The even better question is who is going to be the first college to nail it just right – I don’t think we’ve seen the first truly viral college campaign.  Yet.

6) Don’t do any of this just because you have done it before.  As I said, my sons have received several hundred pieces of mail in the last 7 months.  They’ve opened about 5 envelopes.  Maybe it’s worth it, but I would think long and hard about why you’re doing this campaign and what mode of communication would best meet your goals.  If it is money that can be moved to scholarships or new academic facilities, or improvements to the Student Center, that wouldn’t be so bad for recruitment, now, would it?

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.

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