Crush It (To the HS Class of 2013)

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Dear HS Class of 2013:

You are not defined by your major, your SAT, your ACT, nor what schools accepted or did not accept you.

You are not defined by what school you chose.

You are defined by what you do when you get to college. And beyond.

Crush it.

-Michael, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, CCR

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 on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

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Mr. Szarek, Ashley has a friend who is also entering her senior year.    Would you mind speaking to her Mom about colleges?

Not at all.  Hello, Ashley’s friend’s Mom!

Hello, Mr. Szarek.  My basic question is this.  My daughter has a 2.7 GPA and a 1960 on the SAT.  Can you tell me what schools would be best for her?

No.

Do I need to pay first?

No.

Are you not taking new clients?

No.

Are you just an obnoxious jerk?

Don’t think so.  I think I’m generally pretty nice.  And that’s why I won’t tell you what schools would be best for your daughter.  Because I don’t know.

I thought – well, Ashley’s Mom said that you know about college admissions and such things.  Was she mistaken?

I hope not.  I’ve spent 25 years working in jobs related to college admissions.  I hope I’ve learned something over the years.  But a student’s SAT and GPA do not tell me what school she should go to.  Or more accurately – they don’t tell your daughter where she should go.

Okay, I’m listening…

What interests your daughter? What does she want to be when she grows up? Does she prefer fresh air or Times Square? What makes her tick?  Those are all more important than her GPA and SAT.

With three important caveats.

Mom, I hate those little fish egg things!

First, GPA and SAT play a big role in determining whether your daughter will be accepted to a particular college.  Unless the school is SAT optional, in which case the GPA will play a big role in whether your daughter will get accepted.  But, please remember that two-thirds of all admission letters are acceptance letters.  A student with a 2.7 GPA and a 1960 SAT meets the admission criteria of literally thousands of schools.  Second – and related – GPA and SAT will influence price tag via scholarship and – to a lesser extent – citizenship and leadership grants.  And, finally, students tend to succeed in college when they are interacting with intellectual peers.  GPA and SAT are not perfect indicators by any stretch of the imagination, but they do provide some guidance as to ‘fit’.  Some guidance.  Some.

What about safety, target and reach schools?

Your daughter should apply to schools that will make her healthy, wealthy and wise.  And happy.  She should make sure that there are, at least, a couple that would be considered likely to admit her.  But here’s the key point I wanted to make when I started writing this blog post…

What blog post, Mom?  What’s he talking about?

Your daughter’s college choices should be driven by her needs, NOT the needs of the colleges.  They are here to serve her, NOT the other way around.  She should be realistic, and be aware of admission criteria.  But admission criteria should not drive her choices.  Your daughter’s needs, goals, strengths, weaknesses and desires should drive her choices.

Her desire is the kid two houses down from us…

Shut up, Mom.  But, you know, I think he’s going to a really good school.  It’s on my list…

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.

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.

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!

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.

When Good Tests Go Bad

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

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

Who’s the victim?

Huh?

Who do you think suffers when something like this happens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brad: Huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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