Archive for the ‘college counseling’ Category

New College Blogs and Websites

August 19, 2009

A New Blog Designed to Assist College Students

Two brothers with more than 50 combined years of experience in higher education and counseling have just launched a new blog called College Success Tips.  Given the experience of the authors, we are confident that the blog will be worth frequent visits.

Two New Websites for Counselors and Educators and Parents

During our many years in education, we have been asked countless different questions about college admission.  The most often asked question, by far, has been which colleges an individual student might be admitted by.  In second place are questions about getting into individual colleges, such as “What will I need to do to get into Harvard?”.

Now there is a brand new website…so new that it is not fully completed…to help students, families, and counselors find answers to these questions.

On the College Admission  Profiles site, students can find profiles of incoming freshmen classes at hundreds of colleges and universities and see where they might fit.

Please note that the site is not yet complete so it only has a few hundred college profiles thus far, but many more are coming soon.

Another new site, Free College Info Search, offers students a chance to match themselves to online and traditional schools and colleges.

More College Admissions News and Advice

May 6, 2009

Guest Blog

Today’s Guest Blogger is Todd Johnson, the owner of College Admissions Partners, an organization which helps students and families through the complete college admissions and financial aid process. Todd regularly blogs on items of interest to students seeking to find the college best meeting their needs.  Todd offers a free 1/2 hour consultation to discuss student needs for college admissions counseling.  His contact information is available on his website.

College Rankings

Americans love to rank things. What’s the best car, the best doctor, the best hospital? But the real question is “best for whom”. Everyone has their own idea of what is best based on their own interests and judgment so finding the best of anything is going to be a matter of one person’s judgment.

This is true with colleges as well. We can identify which colleges have the highest SAT averages or the highest alumni giving rate but do those factors make those colleges best for everyone?  But people still ask what the best colleges are.

Although there are many groups who provide college rankings, and more rankings come out each year, the best known college ranking service is of course U.S. News. For many years the “Best College” issue of U.S News has been their best selling issue. And every year the order of the colleges ranked change with some colleges improving their rankings and others losing ground. However, in real life, the quality of a college rarely changes in a single year or even in a single decade.  The reason the rankings of the “Best Colleges” changes every year is because the magazine is constantly changing the criteria by which they determine the “best” college.

We can easily illustrate the problems with this type of constantly changing college ranking. In 1998 Caltech was ranked as the 9th best National University. In 1999, however, Caltech claimed the top spot as the best National University. Then in 2000, they dropped to 4th best. Did the quality of the education at Caltech change from 1998 to 1999 to 2000?  The only thing that changed was the methodology used by US News that made per student spending a more important element in the rankings in 1999. Because Caltech has a high level of per student spending it jumped in the ratings. In 2000, U.S. News decreased the importance of per student spending in their rankings and Caltech fell slightly.

Reed College is an even more extreme example of the problem with college rankings. Reed is a very strong college and consistently one of the highest producers of future PhD students on a per capita basis. When the U.S. News ranking first came out in 1983, Reed was among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the country. In 1995 Reed decided that it would no longer provide information to U.S. News for the ranking issue. U.S. News, in an attempt to punish Reed for not cooperating, assumed that all of the data that was not provided would be the worst possible and as a result, Reed was dropped in the rankings down to the 4th tier of colleges, the lowest tier available.

Now you’re thinking that I am telling you to never look at college rankings but that is not the case. The information provided by U.S. News and the other magazines which rank colleges can be helpful as a starting point in the college search process. It can tell you what percentage of students get accepted, the retention rate or number of students that return after their freshman year and other helpful statistics. Just don’t worry about the rankings because the best college for you may not be number one or even number 10.

Colleges Looking for Students

Every year at this time the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) invites colleges and universities still admitting students for fall to make that fact known.  For the list, visit  the NACAC website.  You may be surprised that several excellent colleges and universities have yet to fill their incoming classes.

Online Degree Programs

If you are interested in online courses or an online degree, please visit our recently updated online education website.

Waiting Lists; New Rules

This year, numerous colleges offered places to students on their waiting lists even before the date on which deposits were due.  This is another of many indications that some excellent colleges are less selective now than they were in brighter economic times.

New Financial Aid Tools Available Online

December 17, 2008

New Financial Aid Tools Available Online

Below is a message I received today about the new financial aid tools now available to students, parents, and counselors.

Dear friends in education
 
As you help students prepare to fill out the 2009-10 FAFSA on the Web, you might find these tools useful:
 
The FAFSA on the Web Worksheet is now online in PDF at www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov/worksheet – students may use it to jot down their answers before going online (on Jan. 1 or later) to fill in the online application.
 
The FAFSA on the Web demo site is also ready. The site helps you increase your own understanding of FAFSA on the Web and show it to students and parents before they apply.  At the site, you can complete a sample FAFSA, make corrections, or check the status of the application.  However, when you choose “submit,” the information is not actually submitted. The site is purely a learning tool.  To access the demo site, go to http://fafsademo.test.ed.gov.  The user name is eddemo, and the password is fafsatest.  The site displays both the English and Spanish versions of FAFSA on the Web.
 
Also, the final PDF of the 2009-10 Counselors and Mentors Handbook has been posted to our counselors web site at www.fsa4counselors.ed.gov (the link to the handbook is on the home page, under the heading “Counselor Resources”).
 
 
Hope these items will be helpful to you!
 
Cindy
Cindy Forbes Cameron
Awareness & Outreach
Federal Student Aid
U.S. Dept of Education

for counselors and mentors: www.fsa4counselors.ed.gov
for students: www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov
for everyone: 1-800-4-FED-AID

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The Big Brain:  A New Internet Directory

Check out and help build a new Internet directory.  The Big Brain wants to be “The Internet’s Smartest Directory”.

The Economy is in the Toilet; Is my College Education?

October 20, 2008

The Economy is in the Toilet; Is my College Education?

Financing College Costs in a Tough Economy

Virtually every family in America, regardless of its economic standing, is concerned about the current state of the U.S. economy.  In fact, the economy has displaced the war in Iraq as the single biggest issue in the current Presidential campaign.

Families with teenagers and children in their early 20’s are especially concerned about one economic issue; how to meet college costs.

Even families who began saving for college when their children were infants may come up short, particularly if their college savings are in stocks or real estate.  There seem to be two principal categories of families, those who had no college savings plan and those whose savings are worth at least 25% less than they were two months ago.

College and university endowments, because they are heavily invested in the stock market, are also down considerably.  That’s important because, for all but the very wealthiest colleges, a decline in endowment value may reduce the financial resources available for college-funded (institutional) scholarships.

These scholarships are a very important part of financial aid packages, especially at private colleges and universities, which tend to be more expensive than state colleges and universities .  In fact, currently, private colleges offer students enough institutional-based scholarships to offset approximately 35% of tuition costs.  As previously stated, the elite colleges have so much money that their ability to offer institutional aid will not be impacted seriously even if the economic downturn continues.

Other institutions will have no choice but to maintain or even increase their scholarship expenditures, even if it means deep cuts in other areas, in order to meet their enrollment goals.  Still others, however, may not be able to afford the level of institutional scholarships awarded in recent years.

It seems reasonable to guess that, until the national economy recovers, there will be changes in the way colleges recruit and select students, and in the ways in which students and families make their college choices.  Thus far, the economic downturn has brought a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty to families and colleges.

So, what should you do in the midst of so much economic uncertainty?  Here’s where you might start.

1. Do not panic.  Your ability to attend college may not be at all affected by our national economic woes. And, if you are affected, it will be a case of which college you attend, not if you can afford to go to college.

2. Meet with your high school counselor and admissions and financial aid counselors at the colleges you are considering to be sure you are aware of all of your financial aid options.  Remember, few students have to pay full tuition and fees.

3. See if your high school counseling office has a list of scholarships offered by organizations in or near your community. Remember, competition for these scholarships may be limited, which is good news for you.

4. Use Google or Yahoo to search for “college scholarships”.  You’ll find more than 60 free scholarship search sites.  Each will “match” you to appropriate scholarships.

5. Avoid at all costs any company which claims it can help you qualify for more scholarships or financial aid than you would otherwise receive.  Most such organizations, maybe all, are more interested in taking your money than in getting you money.

6. Look for educational bargains…lower priced colleges of high quality.  There more than you think, especially in the South.

7. Consider educational loans.  Remember that education is the best investment you can make in your future.  But, resist the temptation to borrow more than is absolutely necessary.

Remember the story of Chicken Little.  Although no responsible economist is minimizing the depth our current economic problems, there is no reason to believe that they will impact students’ ability to pursue higher education.  However, students and their families will be well served by careful college financial planning, increased emphasis on researching their options, and more frequent contact with high school and college counselors who have the expertise to guide them.

Integrating Financial Aid into the College Search

September 12, 2008

Integrating Financial Aid into the College Search

Our guest blogger today is Dr. Dean Skarlis, an independent college admissions counselor and college advisor.  As such, Dr. Skarlis assists students in identifying and assisting students in gaining admission to appropriate colleges and universities.

$53,000 per year.  That’s the current cost of attendance at George Washington University and the University of Chicago.  This includes tuition, room and board, fees, books and “personal expenses,” whatever that means.  It’s fair to say that the cost of higher education has grown at a ridiculously fast pace over the past 20 years.  In fact, college costs have increased at twice the rate of inflation during that time period.  And the pace of that growth will not slow down; it will only accelerate in years to come. 

This begs the question:  Why are colleges so expensive?  There are numerous reasons, not the least of which is a highly inefficient bureaucracy.  But another underlying explanation lies with students and parents, themselves.  You might say, how can you blame students and parents for the high cost of college?  I maintain that there are two valid reasons to indicate that college-going families must shoulder some of the responsibility. 

First, students and parents have become consumers, and rightly so.  With college costs increasing so dramatically, a vicious cycle has been promulgated.  It goes something like this:  Sticker prices increase along with our standard of living.  As a result, families have come to expect more amenities for the big price tag.  So colleges, not wanting to disappoint, have created pristinely gorgeous campuses, elaborate classroom facilities, trendy apartment style residence halls, coffee bars, and fitness centers.  The schools have thus engaged in an arms race of sorts by building and maintaining these high end facilities because students expect it..  This obviously adds to a college’s fixed costs, which are passed along to the end consumer. 

The second reason is a bit more indirect, but equally as important.  The dirty little secret of higher education is that almost half of all college students do not graduate in 5 years.  That means that about half of all undergraduates either fail to complete their degree at the college at which they began, or never get their degree at all.  It’s easy to blame the colleges for this statistic, and most of them deserve responsibility, but the primary cause is that families have not made the right choice during the college selection process.  This is because most families do not fully engage in the college search process.  In my practice, I sometimes meet families who have not researched or visited any colleges until the middle of the senior year.  This is far too late.  What parents do not fully realize is that a college education is an investment.  With the cost of a 4-year private degree eclipsing $200,000, it is imperative that families make systematic, well informed decisions with the ultimate goal of finding a college that’s the right fit, socially, academically, and financially.  If students and parents do not search for schools that will suit them in all three of these categories, then they are much more likely to drop out, potentially wasting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Aside from dropping out, one of the worst case scenarios is that a child picks a school to which his parents cannot afford to send him.  I see this far too often, and it can be devastating for both student and parent.  That’s why parents should be involved in the entire college search process.  They should assess their affordability early in the process – 10th grade is not too early.  They should ask:  Will we qualify for need based aid?  What about scholarships?  And because different schools use different financial aid formulas, parents should understand how each college assesses their ability to pay.  There are strategies that many educational consultants can employ that will help reduce a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This may help them qualify for need based aid.  At the very least, parents should work with a college financial advisor to understand how much they can afford, and where the money will come from so they find a college that’s the right fit financially, as well as socially and academically.

Don”t Let the Scholarship Scam Artists Get You

July 12, 2008

Used cars salesmen get much more bad press, but they’re a lot higher on the food chain than the scholarship scam artists who victimize tens of thousands of families a year.

Some in the higher education community believe these scammers put more than $100 million in their pockets every year.

Because the media bombard us with stories about escalating college costs, and because most of us know little about the availability of scholarships and financial aid, we’re often easy victims.

The con starts with a letter from a company named to sound like a benign organization whose mission is to assist students and their families.

The letter doesn’t look like the other junk mail you are deluged with every day. The company logo often looks like it might belong to Yale or Harvard, and the letterhead and paper look like they might come from the White House or a Fortune 500 company. Like the scammers themselves, the promotional materials they use look credible.

In nearly all the letters they send, the con men begin by reinforcing families’ fears about their ability to meet college costs. Not exactly a task requiring the intellect of a rocket scientist.

But, the letter says, we can help you. We can teach you how to get the financial aid you need. Your worries are over. In some instances the letters will mention “secrets colleges don’t want you to know”. Sometimes the letters will talk about millions of dollars in “unused” scholarships and financial aid; money just waiting to be found by and given to students who know the ropes (you!).

The letters are not always the same, but one element never varies. They invite you to come to a hotel function room or other reasonably large venue to learn more about financial aid and scholarships, at no cost. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

The meetings are run by well- practiced pitchmen who tell families that their organization has the special knowledge and experience required to shake the most money off of the financial aid and scholarship trees. Their job, and they do it all too well, is to sell you help which is readily available elsewhere (and at no cost).

After the group presentation, families are invited to meet individually with staff members sometimes called counselors. In the world of sales, these folks are called “one call closers”…folks trained to close the sale immediately. Their job is very well defined: to get families to sign a contract and write a check for up to $2,000 before returning to the scam-free zones that are their homes.

Don’t be the victim of financial aid con men (and women). There are lots of good websites offering free scholarship searches and financial aid advice. And, high school counselors and college financial aid counselors will gladly give you advice and answer your questions. There is no need to turn elsewhere.

Guest Blog: The All-Important Summer Before 12th Grade

July 2, 2008

The summer before 12th grade is a high school student’s “last” opportunity to do something to impress college admission officers before those college applications are due.

Why is this important? The student’s own high school resume can speak volumes louder than his/her college application. And when the summer before applying to college is a total wash-out in terms of college application points …

For example, it’s hard to convince a college admission officer that you’re passionate about being a social worker when you’ve spent the entire previous summer in Paris studying French or working at Starbucks – without doing any social work.

I understand you want to spend a summer in Paris or earning money for your car payments. And, yes, there is a way to demonstrate you are committed to your passion and still not give up your summer plans. As I talk about often at my education and careers website, what is required is some brainstorming and planning to create opportunities for yourself.

Here are examples to get you thinking about what you might do, even this summer if you’re about to enter 12th grade:

If you are spending the summer studying French in Paris

Your summer school course is eight weeks and you plan to stay in Paris another two weeks before coming home right before the school year starts. Instead, you realize Paris will always be there, and you change your plane ticket to come home immediately after summer school ends.

And you come home to an intensive two-week volunteer social work project that you have created by email and cell phone from Paris. This change in plans clearly demonstrates a passion for doing social work.

If you are spending the summer working at Starbucks

This is an easier situation because you will have some blocks of time during each week this summer to commit to social work activities. You will still have to create these opportunities for yourself in order to accommodate your work schedule. Be prepared when contacting potential volunteer places to emphasize that this is an unpaid opportunity for which you are looking.
Doing a good job

When you have obtained such an opportunity, make sure to do a good job because you will want to ask for a letter of recommendation BEFORE your social work volunteering is over. Once you have returned to school, it is easy for someone to forget about the good work you did. You want to have a person write a letter of recommendation when your good work is right in front of him/her.

If you plan accordingly, you can have your cake and eat it too in the summer before 12th grade.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller writes on college applications, internships, jobs and careers for teens and young people. Her website <http://www.flippingburgersandbeyond.com> offers valuable free information, including how to fill out a W-4, and a work sheet for developing a college application resume.

Big News on Legal Education

June 20, 2008

Northwestern University has become the third law school in the United States (after Southwestern and the University of Dayton) to offer a two-year law school degree. Although there was a fair amount of buzz, much of it critical, when Southwestern and Dayton adopted the two-year option, Northwestern’s high profile…it is generally considered a top ten law school…is generating seemingly unprecedented discussion about the future of legal education.

The first question in everyone’s mind; if one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools legitimizes a two- year law degree, can numerous other law schools be far behind?

But, there are many other questions as well.

Will the ABA weigh in on the validity of the new degree anytime soon? How will law firms, especially the high end firms which traditionally hire top Northwestern grads, respond to Northwestern’s new degree option? Will top students be willing to take the risk that the two-year degree option may limit their professional options?

Will students who elect a two year degree program be less likely to pass the bar exam?

There is wide disagreement on virtually all of these issues.

For years, students have described law school as follows:

First year; scare you to death, second year; work you to death, third year; bore you to death.

Have some legal educators come to agree with them?

Note: Remember, we offer you lots of information on colleges, online degree programs, scholarships, and related issues on our five websites.

Double Depositing; How low will you go?

May 9, 2008

OK, making a final college selection can be tough.  I’ll grant you that.  And, sometimes people will postpone difficult decisions…it’s classical avoidance behavior.

So, what can you do if you are faced with the decision of choosing between two or more colleges you really like?  The simple answer is, be the responsible adult you claim to be and make a decision.

Here’s what you don’t do…you don’t send enrollment deposits to more than one college.  It’s dishonest.  And, it’s not a victimless “crime”.   Here’s why. 

Every student who sends enrollment deposits to more than one college is reserving a place that is then not available to a student who may really want it, a student who may have to attend a college he/she does not like as much as a result.  

And, when a student sends in a deposit, many colleges “lock up” financial aid for him/her, aid which may not be freed up in time to be given to other students who need it. 

Then, there is the issue of housing.  A double deposited student often has a housing reservation, resulting in one fewer place in a residence hall for a student who needs it.

Any student who submits deposits to more than one college or university is hurting others.  There is no justification, and no other reasonable way to look at it.

College Still Admitting Students

May 1, 2008

If, for any reason, you are still looking for a college or university in which to enroll in the fall, you probably have more options than you think.  Beginning on May 6th,  you can go to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors website and find a list of colleges and universities with fall openings for freshmen and/or transfer students.   You can also find out which colleges and universities have space available in their residence halls, and which are still awarding financial aid.

Of course, not all colleges with openings will be listed on the NACAC site, so don’t assume that colleges not on the list are filled.  In fact, you have nothing to lose by contacting individual colleges to see if they might still consider your application.   Remember  that you can find college and university  telephone numbers  on the  Colleges, Scholarships, and  Online Degrees website.