College: The Ultimate Networking Group

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2031: Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin walk into a restaurant.  Picture Rt. 1 and your theme restaurant of choice.  Let’s listen in…

ASHLEY: “Hey, Justin, I still can’t believe you got lost in the parking lot on our way to LBI.”

JUSTIN: “Yeah, well, let’s discuss how your inability to cook popcorn ended up with three fire trucks coming to campus.”

BRAD: “I think Ashley did that just to meet the firemen.”

ASHLEY: “Shut up, Brad.”   BRAD: “Yes, Dear.”

CAITLIN: “Yeah, I can’t believe that you guys got married.  At least for a couple of years…”

ASHLEY: “Yeah, well…somehow our business kept going, even after the divorce.”

JUSTIN: “Caitlin, thanks for helping me out when I was looking for a new job last year.  I have to give her props.  We hadn’t spoken for 10 years.  I had been out of a job for over a year and I saw her name on Linkedin.  HR for a big company in my area of expertise.  Well, my major, anyway.  Call her up.  Boom.  45 minute conversation.  3 interviews later.  A contributing member of society again.”

BRAD: “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.”

ASHLEY: “Well, thank YOU, Justin, for introducing us to your friend who does web design.  Probably saved us a couple of thousand bucks and our new site looks fantastic!”

JUSTIN: “No problem.  I worked part-time for him while I was looking for a permanent job.  I used to take classes with him at HU.”

BRAD: “We have an intern from HU.  Working out really well.  And her Dad is a VP for a company we’ve been trying to get into for years.  So, maybe…”

CAITLIN: “I have a new hire from HU.  She’s great.  Actually took a class with Prof. Jones.”

BRAD: “He’s still there?  He must be, like, Mr. Szarek’s age…”

ASHLEY: Hey, I wonder what happened to Mr. Szarek?

JUSTIN: My bet is that he’s writing a blog about us.

MR. SZAREK: College.  It provides friends, partners and business connections for a lifetime.  It spans the globe.  Some of your fellow alumni will be with you for your entire life, others will pass through, some you will never meet but will help you strictly because of your common bond.  It provides direct access to other networking organizations, such as fraternal organizations – both social and professional.

The networking benefits of higher education are – curiously – maybe the only regard in which higher education is under-promoted and undervalued, but remember this – College is the greatest networking group you can join.

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.

Beetle Mania

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As a blogger, networker and social media fan, I am occasionally invited to things that I probably have no business going to.  In the past, I have been given a sneak preview of Turtle Back Zoo’s Aquarium and have been treated to an amazing wine tasting of Palmaz wine, at the Wilshire Grand, actually presented by members of the Palmaz family.  Please note that my knowledge of marine life and – particularly – my knowledge of wine – is extremely limited.

My knowledge of cars rivals my knowledge of wine.

But, if you’ve read this blog in the past, or watched my videos or seen my “Fit, Not Reach” workshops, you probably know that I often compare choosing a college to choosing an automobile.  I’ve mentioned my amazement that families who fully understand that they can’t fit a family of 7 into a Lamborghini have no problem pushing their child to choose a fancy name college that doesn’t fit their needs simply because it’s a fancy name.

So, when I had the opportunity to test drive the new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle earlier this month, I jumped at the chance.  Douglas Auto Group (Summit, NJ) has a new social media manager – Patrick Nash – and he offered me a chance to test drive any car I wanted.  I chose the 2012 VW Beetle – redesigned this year, for only the 2nd time in this legendary car’s long history.  I found the 2012 Beetle to offer a great ride, a cool look and more room that I expected.  And sufficient fodder to provide you with:

4  Ways Test Driving a 2012 Beetle is Like Choosing a College

  • TRADITION VS. RELEVANCY:  Are your colleges of choice selling the stimulation of a great liberal arts curriculum to assist you in your growth as a person and professional?  Or are they selling you how great they are as preparation for your career?  Or both?  Volkswagen has – IMHO – done a great job of holding tradition (and – to some extent – restoring it) while creating a car for 2012.  Are the colleges you are looking at providing you a strong, traditional curriculum and enhancing it with modern technology and career preparation tools?  Is the college you’re looking at the ‘new’ Beetle of 1998-2011 or the 2012 version of the Beetle?  (Or maybe they are still ‘the original’?)
  • GOING “CO-ED“: No more vases on the dash.  VW wants to get the word out that the Beetle has been remade and given a shot of testosterone while still maintaining its core “Beetle-ness”, as it were.  The ‘new’ Beetle had a customer base that was 60% female.  The test drives for 2012 are running 60% male.  The idea for VW is to grow their male customer base without losing their female audience.  What about your colleges of choice?  55% of college students are female.  At the same time, there are fewer and fewer Women’s Colleges each year as many become co-educational.  Are you looking at a school that has a male/female ratio that is 20/80 or 30/70 or even 70/30?  How are they responding to those percentages?  Are they?  Maybe they seen it as an opportunity to grow and diversify, or maybe they see it as part of what makes them special.
  • IT IS ‘YOURS’?: The 2012 Beetle has an option for you to choose a “second skin” to encase the car and make it yours.  They have custom nickname badges, accessory wheels, a unique key fob and more – all available to let you customize your car and make it ‘yours’.  Do your colleges of choice offer their own ‘second skin’? What choices do you have in terms of course selection, internships, residence halls, meal plans, payment plans, clubs and organizations?  And how much does that flexibility matter to you?  It could be a make or break option for you or it might be completely irrelevant.
  • CHECK THE TRUNK: The 2012 Beetle has what I will call an “open mouth” trunk.  In both appearance and in actuality, it has much more trunk space than its immediate predecessor.  It’s not a big deal, but it is.  If you are a college student – for instance – this Beetle provides much more potential to accommodate your ‘stuff’ than the prior version of the Beetle.  Check the trunk on your colleges of choice.  There are issues that may be very important to you (i.e. – handicapped parking, vegan meals, level of counseling services) that won’t be covered on pages 1-10 of the admissions viewbook.

Make sure you ‘check the trunk’ during your college search to see that there is sufficient room to accommodate all of your ‘stuff’.  Look at whether they are still selling you the ‘original’ model of their college, the ‘new’ version or the 2012 version.  And can you make it your own?  

Douglas VW can be found on Twitter at @DouglasVW.  If you happen to be near by their Summit location, do stop by, say ‘hi’ to Patrick and test drive a 2012 Beetle!

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.

Pendaflex City

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“Take me down to the Pendaflex City, where transfers are green and red goes to committee.  Oh, won’t you please take a loan…”

College Reps.   Admissions Counselors.  Assistant Directors.  Senior Assistant Directors.

These are those smiling, friendly people with travel bags, rental cars and viewbooks who travel the globe (or at least your county) to provide you with relevant information to help you make an informed college decision.  Or at least provide you with some glossy literature and a free pen.

There is another side to these folks, however.  When the rental cars have been returned, they transform.  As the days get shorter in late Fall, they begin to review the lives of millions of teenagers, captured in Pendaflex cages or -ever more increasingly – scanned into electronic holding cells.  They study your grades, your courses, your test scores and your other application materials.  They try to determine:

Will Brad succeed at my college?  Heck if I know, Mr. Szarek.

What happened to Justin in sophomore year?  Uh, yeah, well, about that…

Was Caitlin actually involved in those 15 clubs or just a ‘joiner’?  Don’t they understand words like Captain and Executive Correspondence Secretary?

Who is Ashley?  Hey, if they find out, I hope they let me know.  ‘Cause I’m still trying to figure that one out.

I offer you, in true blog fashion, these 6 tips for you to make sure that these cheerful gatekeepers remain cheerful – and open the gates – when they review your application for admission.

1) Treat them as a person. – These are human beings who like connecting with people.  It’s why they got into College Admissions in the first place.  Connect with them.  Take their business cards.  Remember their name.  Say hi when they return for your high school’s College Night or you see them again at an Open House.  Send a “thank you” email after your campus visit.  It’s a lot harder to deny admission to someone you know – and someone you like.  By the same token, it’s also a lot easier to recommend a leadership grant or scholarship to such an individual.

2) Submit materials in a timely manner. – Admissions folks are usually facing tight schedules and juggling different facets of their job.  Don’t make them wonder about your interest.  And don’t make them wait for your file to be complete after they’ve reviewed hundreds of other files – and after they’ve already turned their attention to coordinating a Campus Visit Day or a Spring Travel schedule.  Part and parcel with this is…

3) Play by their rules. – It makes their life easier.  It shows respect for them and their institution.  It means they don’t have to fight for an exception, for you, with their Dean.  It makes it easier for them to like you.

4) But do so with enthusiasm and creativity. – If all you do is follow their rules, but show no evidence of what makes you tick, what makes you exciting, what will make you a valuable member of their college community, then you’ve not done your job as an admission candidate.  Make your essay and interviews interesting (in a constructive way, not a goofy “this might end up on reality TV” kinda way).   Show spirit, show passion.  Show that you matter.

5) Tell a coherent story. – As you show passion and meet deadlines and follow their rules, and submit essays and supplemental documents, and letters of recommendation, and come in for an interview – make sure it all makes sense.  These documents, in addition to the transcript and test scores should all be pieces to a puzzle.  Take that analogy to heart.  Puzzle pieces FIT together.  If you did struggle sophomore year, your explanation in your essay should match your explanation in the interview.  If you have a passion for a certain field of study, you can’t – 45 minutes into the interview – then start talking about another field with equal passion.  Be real, be honest, be consistent.

6) Meet them, greet them, know them. – In many ways, this is echoing suggestion #1.  But, I place it here to emphasize that the best situation for you, as an admission candidate, is to utilize the Admission Counselor’s unique role as liaison.  No one you meet has a better awareness of both sides of the coin – the college and the candidate.

Meet them, greet them, know them.  The hands you shake will soon be holding a folder with your name on it or clicking on the electronic version thereof…

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.

How Many Schools Must One Student Apply?

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The answer, my friend, is that it depends.  The answer is that it depends.

Yes, I know I am, once again, playing the “it depends/it’s complicated/shades of gray” card.  But, once again, I don’t like the question.  Let me approach it this way:

What are we trying to accomplish here?

Caitlin: Find the school that “fits” – the college that brings me to where I need to go and provides me with the best opportunity to achieve my goals and to grow as a person.

Brad: Grow?  You mean, like the Freshman 15?

No, Brad, not like the Freshman 15.  Caitlin, it sounds like someone has been reading my blog posts.  Let your Mom know that she will be getting a price break on the retainer service.

So, if we’re trying to find the schools that best fits your needs and goals and best fits you, how many schools should you apply to?

Justin: When you ask it that way, I’m tempted to say “one” – the one that meets that criteria.

And I understand why.  But, I’ll give you two reasons why one is probably not the right answer.  First, there are multiple ‘fit’ schools for almost every student.  And you generally apply in the Fall, but decide in the Spring.  So, you hate to eliminate College X too early, when it is a comparable choice to University Y.  Let the process play out naturally.

The second reason is money.  For many, the financial aid package will affect the final decision.  I caution folks not to have the financial aid package play more of a role than it should, but I fully understand that it can be a very important part of the final decision.  Don’t rule out a school before you have that information in front of you.  By not applying, you don’t know what aid you could receive at College X.

So, how many schools should a student apply to?  I’ve seen recommendations range from “4 to 8” to “6 or 7” to “7 to 12” to “25 or 6 to 4″ to ‘but some apply to as many as 20 – or more – and there’s nothing wrong with that.”  I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of these, but here are some points I would suggest you consider:

  • Visits and other Research – This is a big part of why you visit schools, go to their website, check out College Confidential, Zinch, Cappex, Naviance, FastWeb, etc. etc. etc.  Do the research, find the schools that ‘fit’ and eliminate the schools that don’t.  That way, you have a less of an issue with the next item…
  • Application Fee Costs – Generally, College Application Fees are in the $50-$75 range.  So, narrowing the list down to an appropriate size can save hundreds – and, in some cases, $1000 or more – in application fees.
  • Fit, Not Reach vs. Reach/Match/Safety –  As you may know, one of my pet peeves is the reach/match/safety outline for picking colleges.  It frames the question in terms of the college’s policies, not your aspirations, preferences and needs.  In other words, it frames the question in terms of them, and not in terms of YOU.  To me, it’s all about “Fit, Not Reach”.  Of course, it does matter that you do get accepted to some of your choices, or the whole system kinda breaks down.  But, I think we’ve created a standard policy – with reach/match/safety – that is cart before the horse, tail wagging the dog, fill in your own analogy here.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the right amount of schools to apply to is a personal matter.  Actual results may vary.  And, if you find yourself on the Common App site or Naviance for more than 4 hours, consult a guidance counselor….

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.

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

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If you could determine the key issues that we should work on, in higher education and college admissions, what would they be?

I started thinking about my answer to that question.

And these are the eight items I decided to put on my “Miles to Go Before We Sleep” list.  (I’d love to hear yours.)

  • The College Fair needs to be re-done.  Just saying.  Forget the booths and the paper products.  Welcome to the world of social networking.  Use modern technology to create meaningful face-to-face conversations.  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down the blue and white drapes…)  Flash Mob Admissions, Coffeehouses, Speed Networking-style College Fairs, Foursquare check-ins, TED and 140 style workshops – move the relationships of on-the-road admissions folks and the families they interact with into the 21st century.
  • We need to better prepare for the incredible growth of autistic college students that is about to occur.  In terms of guidance, in terms of ethical admissions, in terms of services, in terms of price structure for those services, in terms of making sure that we are able to offer a meaningful college experience and not simply some ‘separate but equal’ type of college-lite nonsense.  Just like any other ‘hot topic’ (see Physical Therapy majors, Latinos and Lacrosse players), we are talking about human beings, not cash cows.
  • Somebody needs to write a ‘definitive’ guide on the LGBT College Search – best schools, best questions, issues for retention, how to find resources for counseling, networking, etc.
  • We need to stop treating the ACT and SAT as either a) the end-all, most important, almighty piece of the admission puzzle or b) a piece of worthless trash.  It is neither.  It is c) a moderately relevant piece of a much larger picture – aka this actual living, breathing person who is applying to college.
  • To blame colleges for the decline in income of their graduates makes no sense.  You can’t blame production for the sales department’s mistakes.  However, to blame colleges when their graduates can’t differentiate between to, too and two, you’re and your or loose and lose (and their and there) – that’s a different conversation.
  • We still don’t comprehend that the majority of college students in this country are NOT 18-21 years of age, living in a dorm room and taking a full-time course load.  Until we get past that, we are misplacing time, energy and money.
  • I want to see an ‘admissions trends’ article next year that doesn’t begin with quotes from Harvard or Princeton.  Just one.  It’s like telling me that burger sales in the U.S. are up or down based on how much ground beef was used at WD-50, in Manhattan.  (Great place, by the way.)
  • I want to see a ranking of the college rankings.  But only if it’s a parody.

I’m sure you have your own “Miles to Go Before We Sleep” items, and I would love to hear them.  PLEASE add your 2 cents by posting a comment or emailing me or commenting on Linkedin or Facebook or Google+ or Twitter (#MTGBWS?).  What do YOU think our ‘#MTGBWS steps need to be?

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.

Scotch on the Rocks

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Ashley’s Mom: College costs are ridiculous.  They’re so out of line with reality.  I mean, $40,000 a year?  My parents paid $15,000 to send me to the same school. 

Me: And that was only about 7-8 years ago.

Of course. 

Well, okay, how much do you think they should be charging?

Well, I guess, with inflation over those “7 or 8” years, and with technology costs – I don’t know – maybe $25,000.  But 40?  That’s just insane.

They do.

They do what?

They charge $25,000.

The average college tuition discount for the freshman class of 2008 was 41.8%.  That means that the average tuition bill for a college with a $40,000 price tag was actually…$23,280.

A college education – in general – is not cheap.  And tuition continues to rise far too fast and far too high.  Saying that, colleges have still gone out of their way to make the situation seem even WORSE.  Colleges have managed to take a D and turn it into an F.  On purpose.

Why?

From my years on ‘the dark side’, I can pinpoint three reasons – they involve control, fear and a bottle of Scotch.

CONTROL: By creating artificially inflated prices and high discount rates, they have much greater control of the actual price for each customer.  They can attempt to mold their student enrollment by determining who pays $40,000, who pays $23,280 and who pays even less.

FEAR: If everyone else is doing it…

A BOTTLE OF SCOTCH: Colleges are HUGE fans of the Chivas Regal Effect.  For those of you not familiar, Chivas Regal was a relatively unknown brand of scotch whiskey until…it raised its price and positioned itself as a distinguished, classy adult beverage of choice.  The idea is that a college that is ‘too affordable’ will be perceived as ‘not good’.  Colleges have thirstily gulped down that philosophy.

So, what does this mean for Ashley and me?

  • Well, don’t rule a school out because of sticker price.  At least in the beginning.  Ashley might end up being in the Full Pay column, but she may be in the $23,280 group or an even more favorable group.  Maybe College X is down in New Jersey recruitment this year or they need more ‘good citizens’ from suburban homes in the northeast.
  • But, be prepared to make those decisions down the road, as financial aid packages and scholarship announcements and Leadership/Citizenship Grant letters come in.  Or don’t, as the case may be.  Don’t assume the best case scenario.
  • Review financial aid packages carefully, as well as scholarship and grant offers.  The new ‘Net Price Calculator’ that is now required of every school should/might/could help, but – regardless – be aware of actual costs and the total amount of ‘given money’ vs. work vs. loans.
  • Make sure you understand the bottom line.  What will you actually be paying?  To borrow from Sy and Marcy Syms, an educated consumer IS a college’s best customer.

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 Rankings

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Mr. Szarek?  Yes, Justin.

Is CCR University ranked?  Ranked?

Ranked.  By whom?

Anybody.  I’m sure it is.

By whom?  I don’t know.

You don’t know?  I don’t care.

You don’t care?  No, I honestly don’t.

Why? 

There are 4000 colleges out there, Justin – give or take a few.  The vast majority – by my guess – 3971 – have qualified faculty and facilities.

But some have ‘more’ qualified faculty…

Who often don’t teach undergrads or are teaching larger classes and have less chance to interact individually.

And some have awesome football programs.

That you won’t be able to play for or will end playing for during that period of time they lost bowl eligibility.  Justin, you don’t rank things that are important.  And you especially don’t make a decision based on that ranking.

I don’t understand, Mr. Szarek.  Everything gets ranked.  Yelp, Google, and so.  We.  Rank.  Everything.

We don’t rank things that we truly value.  Mrs. Jones is the #4 Liberal Arts wife in Wisconsin this year.  Mr. Jones is the #7 Tier Two Husband in Ohio.  We don’t rank religions.  We don’t rank the things we truly value.

We shouldn’t rank colleges.

But how do I know whether CCR U., or any other school, is right for me?

Research.  Data.  Real, tangible information.  Do they have my major?  What type of facilities are offered in that major? How popular is that major at that school?  Do they meet my other criteria – such as distance from home, campus size, campus setting, religious affiliation, athletic programs, reasonable chance of accepting me?

And then – VISIT.  Online AND in person.  Check it out.  Use your own eyes and ears.  Process the information with your mind and your heart.  Can I live here, work here, study here, succeed here for the next four years?  Is this a place where I can thrive, grow, mature, build upon my dreams?  Do you think, Justin, that a ranking can tell you that?

Mr. Szarek, you’re getting a little loud…

Oh, sorry, about that, Justin.  Do you think your Mom picked your Dad from a magazine ranking?

Uh, I really doubt it.  I think it involved a mixer at a place called the Dublin Pub.

Justin, I just wanted to emphasize that rankings are not the end-all and be-all in choosing a college.  They exist, they will exist for a long time to come.  They may help you see possible options.  But – if you look at them at all – they should be pushed aside fairly early on in your college search.  You’ve got better tools available to you – your eyes, your ears, your own mind, and your own instinct.  Trust those.  I’m sure glad Mrs. Szarek did.

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.

Letters of Recommendation

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I’ve read – by my count – over 10,000 letters of recommendation for college applicants.

I could be way off with my calculations, but – if I am – I’m probably under-counting.  I don’t bring this up to brag – I am, by no means, a record holder.  There are many in the college admissions profession who can claim double or triple that amount.

I share this bit of data to emphasize that my former colleagues are not overly impressed that Brad is “a nice young man”, and they are not convinced that the person writing the letter should be telling us that he “will do well at your institution”.   They are reading volumes of such statements and – by the middle of the application review process – are scanning, skimming and glancing at them.

So, why do admissions officers ask for letters of recommendation?  I spend days debating over whether to ask Mr. Jones, my science teacher who went to Yale, or Ms. Dawkins, my karate instructor who has known me since I was 7.

Good question, Ashley.  Who did you eventually ask?

Both.

Good answer.

Admissions officers DO value letters of recommendation.  They provide narrative (along with your essay, interview and extra-curricular resume) to the cold data provided by grades, course curriculum and standardized test results.  They either compliment, enhance or contradict the other information provided in the admission folder.  They matter.

But they should talk about you in specifics, not in general terms.  They should be from adults that know you, like you and respect you.

In many ways, letters of recommendation are the piece of the admission puzzle of which you have least control.  But there are steps you can take so that your letters of recommendation show your admissions officers who you are, and do so in the most positive light.

  • Play by the college’s rules.  If they want two references from teachers, don’t provide a reference from an employer.
  • Unless it is in addition to the two references from teachers.
  • When in doubt, choose the person who knows you best.  They are your best bet to explain why Brad is a nice young man and why he will be a benefit to my college.  Those are the questions we want answered.
  • Who can say something about you that isn’t “said” by your transcript?
  • Get to know your guidance counselor.  Many colleges require a guidance recommendation and many high schools have a standard policy that they include one.
  • Give your references sufficient time to write their letters.  Respect their time.  If you ask me for a reference that is due tomorrow, I will not be mentioning your excellent time-management skills in my letter!
  • Also provide your references with any specific criteria that the college requires in terms of the letters of recommendation.

And make sure the reference knows what college or colleges to which he is writing a recommendation.  Maybe twice a year, I would receive a recommendation that would tell me what a great addition Caitlin would be for University X.

Unfortunately, I worked at College Y.

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.

Maureen Biology

9 Comments

Mr. Szarek?

Yes, Justin.

I wondered if you could talk to my friend, Maureen.

Sure.

Maureen has volunteered at an animal shelter for the past 2 years.  She worked at a local zoo this past summer.  She loves animals.  She makes these incredible sketches and takes great photographs of them.  She has a butterfly video on YouTube that is really cool – over 1000 views.

Wow, Maureen, that’s more views than any of my College Counseling for the Rest of Us videos.

Uh, that’s more than all of your videos put together, Mr. Szarek.

Thanks, Justin.  So, how can I help you, Maureen?

Well – since I love animals – I’m going to major in Biology, so that I can become a veterinarian.

OK.

But I hate biology, and I was wondering if you knew any schools that, well, didn’t have too much science for someone like me. 

Uh, Maureen, you love animals…

Yes.

You hate biology?

Yes.

What do you love about animals?

What they do, their colors, their shapes, their sizes – just how different they are.  I love taking care of them.  I love how they look and how I can show that, either through the camera lens or by drawing them.  But I don’t like scientific formulas and I don’t want to have to operate on them or give them shots.

So, uh…why are you majoring in biology?

Well, because that’s what people who like animals major in.

They can, but it’s not the law.

Uh, what else could I major in?

How about Wildlife Management, Bioresource Management, Photography, Entrepreneurship, Wildlife and Forestry Conservation, Animal Management, Animal Behavior, Equine Studies or Zoo Animal Technology?

For what it’s worth, if you want to continue your work in animal photography, here is a comment from National Geographic’s FAQs – “National Geographic photographers have college degrees in a variety of disciplines. Most did not major in photography, but all took photo courses. The most common majors have been journalism, anthropology, sociology or psychology, fine arts, and sciences.” (LINK)

I didn’t realize college offered so many choices.  But, I think my Mom wants me to go Pre-Vet, too, because it’s practical and something like “wildlife animal photography management” is way out there.

Being the worst veterinarian is a lot less practical than being the best wildlife animal photographer.

Yeah, I guess so.  So, no surgery, no shots?  

Only if your subject comes after 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.

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