I Finished My Freshman Year…Now What?

Congratulations! You just finished your freshman year in high school. It’s was an exciting but challenging year because many things were new as far as your schedule goes, you were the “low man on the totem pole” for a year and the transition academically from middle school to high school is not an easy one. Hopefully you finished well and have no regrets. If you do though, don’t stress, there is time to improve.

Now you will be a sophomore and although you may not be the “low man on the totem pole” anymore, it is a unique year because you are still underclassmen and the academic rigor gets a bit tougher as well. Below are some things you can be doing as sophomores to position yourself well for the college application process you will be going through in a couple years. Some of these things however, will also position yourself for current success as well as success in college and beyond.

  1. Continue to stay involved in your church and youth group

Continuing to grow in your relationship with God is your first and foremost priority. If your church has a youth group, this is a great way to grow in your faith with other students who may be from your school but they also may attend other schools. There are also opportunities to grow spiritually and socially with friends at youth group events that can be experiences you may never forget. Your church also may offer opportunities for you to lead and serve in ways that begin to show you what your unique gifts and abilities are. These may be helping to lead worship, volunteering in the children’s Sunday school programs or nursery, help lead in AWANA or at your church’s VBS program, assist in your church’s tech booth, etc.

2. Take Advantage of Opportunities to Serve or Work Over the Summer

Although there are a few places that could hire you at age 14 or 15, you may not be able to get a job yet over the summer because most jobs require you to be at least 16 years old or older. However, if there are opportunities to work (mowing lawns, babysitting, etc.) definitely take advantage of these opportunities. Earning your own money (that isn’t an allowance from your parents) allows you to begin being a steward of that money which is a great skill to learn early on. If you have the opportunity to go on a missions trip then take advantage of this experience as well. I remember doing a missions trip to Mexico through my church after my freshman year of high school and it was a life changing experience I still remember to this day. It led to opportunities for me to go to Venezuela the next summer and helped me grow spiritually in ways that impacted decisions I made down the road. What you do doesn’t have to take up your entire summer but you should do something that takes you out of your comfort zone because it’s more responsibility and may require you to lead in ways you haven’t before. Definitely enjoy your summer with family and take time to relax as well.

3. Take Classes That Continue to Challenge and Stretch You

This is the most important task that will prepare you for when you start applying to colleges in a couple of years. You should be a student first and continue to progress and be successful in the classroom. Sophomore year is an important year when students begin to understand that they are stronger in the Humanities (English, History, Bible) or STEM (Science and Math). This is great to understand because you should begin to challenge yourself more in the areas you are more gifted in. Freshman year you established a foundation academically. Whether this is a strong or weak foundation depends on how you performed academically. If you had a strong freshman year academically, continue that strong performance sophomore year. This will only allow you to have more options when it comes to colleges that you can apply to in a couple years and provide more opportunities to earn merit scholarship money from the colleges you eventually apply to. If your academic foundation freshman year was not as strong because you didn’t do as well as you hoped, sophomore year is a great year to bounce back and show colleges that your freshman year was not really who you are academically by showing a big improvement in your GPA from freshman to sophomore year.

4. Keep Reading!

We all should be reading because it improves our knowledge and understanding and encourages us to be continual learners. As freshman and sophomores it is always important to keep reading what we love to read because it builds comprehension and vocabulary to help you be better prepared for the SAT and ACT that you will take as a junior and senior in high school. If you enjoy reading science fiction, autobiographies, mystery, sports fiction or biographies, history, etc., keep reading what you love and it is going to help you raise your Evidence Based Reading and Writing and/or Reading, English and Writing scores on the SAT or ACT.

5. Visit Colleges With Family or Friends

If you have the opportunity to tour a college because you have an older sibling visiting a college, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT! I am bummed when I meet with juniors and they say that they didn’t visit colleges with their siblings. These are great chances to see what college life is like, get exposed to campus life and see what colleges may be a good fit for you down the road. Yes, it’s early and it’s always good to visit colleges as a junior or senior, but if all you need to do is tag a long with your sibling and parents or a friends family that asked you to come along on a college visit, please go and soak in the experience and get an understanding of what a college campus is like.

6. Stay Involved and Build That Resume

Continue to do what you love. You may have tried to play a few sports throughout middle school and freshman year you decided to continue to play one or two of those. You may have been playing an instrument throughout middle school and decided to play in 9th grade but aren’t sure whether you want to continue. You may have been in choir or band all they way through middle school and continued in 9th grade. By now, you should have identified a few extracurricular activities that align with your talents and interests. If you haven’t, you should be thinking about which activities on your plate best showcase and use your skills. You should be devoting yourself to a few as opposed to spreading yourself too thin across many. The quantity of what you are involved in isn’t as important to colleges than the quality of the experiences and the growth and leadership you take on doing the things you are talented in and love. You will be putting together a resume junior year so keep track of the extracurricular activities you participate in, awards you earn and the time you spend working and volunteering.

7. Look For Ways To Lead

Start looking for leadership opportunities. You might look into being an officer in a club, come up with a new club, or dedicate yourself to an independent activity. For instance, volunteering isn’t a “leadership position,” per se, but it shows independence and initiative, especially if you seek out and identify an opportunity on your own. These opportunities can be available in your community, at your church and here at school.

Debunking The Myths About the Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD)

There has been much discussion and angst expressed after College Board announced in the middle of May that it has been piloting a new tool with colleges called the Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD) and is going to make it available to more colleges in the future. After reading about the ECD over the last couple weeks and talking to fellow college counselors about it, below are some questions I wanted to answer to help debunk the myths about the ECD and hopefully provide you with more accurate and helpful information that gives you a correct perspective of the ECD.

How can this score measure the “adversity” my child goes through?

The College Board never labeled this tool an “adversity score”. The correct name for this tool is the Environmental Context Dashboard and that is what College Board has been calling it from the beginning. The “adversity score” label came from a Washington Post article. If you would like to know what factors are considered when formulating a score please click here.

Will this ECD score impact my child’s SAT score?

No, the ECD score is totally separate from a students SAT score. A student will earn a score on the SAT using the same scoring method that College Board has been using for years. The ECD will give colleges an idea of how a students score may compare to other student’s at their school but their SAT score itself is separate from the ECD score.

How will college admissions officers view this ECD score?

This is going to vary by college. I have heard some college admission officers say they won’t look at it at all due to the volume of applications they have. Other college admissions officers have said that this tool can be helpful to them if they do not know anything about the high school because it is in a very rural area where they have not received any or many applications from in the past. Other college admission officers are saying that they will take a close look at it along with the other factors they consider. Just to reiterate, this ECD score is not new. Colleges have been pulling information from a student’s application for years that helps them understand the student’s “Environmental Context”. Many questions on any college application is going to provide a college admission officer with the same information that the ECD score provides. The College Board is now just trying to package this information in an easier way for colleges to understand. I will be asking many college admission counselors this coming fall how they will be using the ECD score.

How will I know what my ECD score is?

You will not know. This score is not made available to students and parents. It is only provided to the college that the student applies to once they send their SAT scores to that school. If you do not want the colleges to receive your ECD score, you can take the ACT and only send your ACT scores to the colleges you apply to.

What can I do to help my score?

Nothing. This score should not be “gamed” or “manipulated”. If a college admission officer finds out that people are doing things to try and “control” what their ECD score is, it will most likely have a negative impact on their admission to that school.

To conclude, this ECD score is not something any senior needs to worry about when applying to colleges. There are going to be questions and I’m sure some confusion over this new ECD score by college admission counselors, parents and students, but ultimately, it’s out of students control so they need to complete everything when applying to a college that is in their control (application, essays, requesting letters of recommendation, resume and taking the SAT or ACT) to the best of their ability and give God control of the result when it comes to whether they will be accepted or not.

The Value of a High School Internship

High school students who have an opportunity to complete an internship will have a greater perspective on what they would like to, should and should not major in when they apply to college. That’s if the internship is completed before the end of the summer before their senior year. There’s nothing wrong however, with doing an internship after senior year. You just won’t have the benefit of that experience occurring before you complete college applications. I am excited to begin Career Week at DCCS next spring. This will be a week long internship that is mandatory for every junior at DCCS to complete. It will take place at the end of their junior year which I think is a perfect time for a high school student to do an internship. Below are a few very important reasons why I think internships are very important for high school juniors to complete.

  1. It gets them out of their comfort zone. More today than in the past, high school students do not learn the value of hard work and how to respond in situations that are difficult or unpredictable. I would encourage every parent to read this article by Alex Chediak. In the article Alex says, “Our wealth, technology, and digital economy have radically changed this pattern. We now emphasize the protection of our children rather than their productivity. While our kids may be safer, they’re also softer — more hooked on comforts like AC, their own bedroom, an Xbox, etc. They are unfamiliar with manual labor at a time when lifelong learning and flexibility are more important than ever in our disrupted economy.” I couldn’t say it any better. This isn’t true of every high school student but it is more common today than every before. This is why encouraging our teens to drive when they are able and encouraging but also making them get a job is critical for their overall emotional, mental and spiritual growth from a teen to an adult. In today’s society, because they live in more “comfort” than previous generations, they may not want to do these things, but it’s on the parent to push them. After working with 16-18 years olds for over 18 years now, I definitely see more maturity in the kids who drive when they are able and have a job.
  2. They will understand more what they want to major in and also what they do not want to major in. When I coordinated Career Week with juniors at the previous school I worked at, it was great to see the perspective that they had once the internship was over. Some students were encouraged to keep pursuing the career field their internship was in, others didn’t want to rule out continuing to pursue that career field, but were exposed to some things that surprised them or were more difficult than they thought. Then there were some students that completed their internship and realized that they didn’t want to pursue that career field anymore. To get these perspectives while in high school before you apply to college is invaluable. This will allow seniors to get more specific when entering a major to pursue in their college applications and also write with more confidence about why they want to pursue that major in essays they will write when completing their applications.
  3. They are beginning to establish connections and network. This is a very important aspect to career growth and having more future opportunities. If a high school student can begin networking then they are able to build on those connections earlier and have more connections when they are in college and beyond. I hope this internship may lead to working more with their supervisor in the summer. This is also helpful when they apply to college because now they can have their supervisor/boss write them a letter of recommendation to include with their application. We all know the phrase, “it’s not what you know but who you know”. While the “what” is still important, the “who” can be just as or more important depending on what major a student pursues and what opportunities they take advantage of to work for that “who” or who else that person knows while still in college. In Jeff Selingo’s book, There is Life After College, he calls these individuals “sprinters”. These people begin working while even still in college or get a job quickly right after college and their career earnings far exceed the two other individuals he talks about, the “stragglers” and the “wanderers”. I would encourage you to read his book.

I am looking forward to working with next year’s juniors as we prepare for the first Career Week at DCCS. I would encourage any high school student, however, to take advantage of an opportunity to intern, work, job shadow or any opportunity that get’s you to serve others and takes you outside your comfort zone. I understand we are more busy today than ever before but these are invaluable experiences that will give you new perspective, understanding and wisdom that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. God will use these experiences to grow you more and more into the person He wants you to be. I am providing links to two articles written by Alex Chediak that refer to vocation plans and choosing a major. I read through these articles with the juniors in my Career Stewardship class every year and they provide a great perspective on both of these topics.

Earning College Credit While In High School

I would like to address a topic that is getting more attention today than ever before because of the high cost of college. As a result of tuition prices continuing to rise, it will continue to be more and more important to take advantage of opportunities to earn college credit while in high school. First, before I get into dual credit opportunities, I want to emphasize that the best way to earn money for college is to do well in high school and achieve as high of a test score on the SAT or ACT as possible.

When it comes to earning credit for college while in high school, I am going to make you aware of what opportunities we have at DC, but also inform you of a few more ways that are available to you online or in our area that any high school student can take advantage of. If you can begin college with 15 or more credits you are already saving thousands of dollars on your college costs. Even just a few credits will save you money!

  1. AP Credit

Taking Advanced Placement classes in high school are a great way to earn college credit. If you are recommended to take an AP course in high school, my advice is to take the course and see how you do. Don’t shy away from taking an AP course because you think it will be too difficult or you will not have time for other things. I understand these can be valid concerns, however, as a junior and senior in high school, you need to challenge yourself a bit more to see what you are capable of. Taking AP courses is also what competitive admission colleges want to see you take in high school because they like to see that you are taking the most rigorous courses your high school offers. Not every college will accept certain scores for credit. It may depend on the college and what major you end up pursuing that will determine if they will accept the credit. To know which colleges accept which AP test scores for credit, go to AP Score Check. You may also want to check specific college’s websites for the most accurate information on whether they will accept a certain score on an AP exam to earn college credit at their school.

2. Cairn University Dual Credit

This option is available to DC students who take AP courses. At DC, we have an agreement with Cairn that if you take certain AP courses here at DC, you can pay a low fee and earn credit from Cairn if you receive a passing grade in the respective AP class. If you are enrolled in an AP class here at DC that does qualify for Cairn dual credit, you will receive information on how you can earn this dual credit in the first two weeks of the school year. If you have additional questions about this Cairn dual credit opportunity please e-mail me.

3. CLEP Tests

The College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) has been the most widely trusted credit-by-examination program for over 50 years, accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities and administered in more than 1,800 test centers. This rigorous program allows students from a wide range of ages and backgrounds to demonstrate their mastery of introductory college-level material and earn college credit. Students can earn credit for what they already know by getting qualifying scores on any of the 33 examinations.

While CLEP is sponsored by the College Board, only colleges may grant credit toward a degree. Not all colleges have the same CLEP policies—some colleges accept credit for a few exams, while others accept credit for all of them. A college often grants the same amount of credit to a student who earns satisfactory scores on a CLEP exam as it does for a student who successfully completes the related course. For more information about CLEP exams click here.

4. Community College Classes

Community College classes are offered continually at all campuses. You can go to the website for the Community College campus near you and look up the course directory for what will be offered in the fall, winter, spring and summer. I will say that these classes can be hit or miss as far as the experience you have. In my experience with students taking Community College classes, some enjoyed the experience and others thought the class was really easy and not challenging. Please make sure you do your research ahead of time to make sure the colleges you may or will be applying to accept the credit you are receiving after completing a class at a Community College.

5. Christian College Online Options

This is a great way to earn college credit either during the school year or during the summer even when you are away from home. I am providing a few links below to online college credit programs as Christian Colleges and Universities. Again, before you enroll in any online classes, make sure

6. Summer On-Site College Dual Credit Opportunities at Christian Colleges

7. Summer Pre-College/Summer Courses at Secular Universities

What Can We Learn From the “Varsity Blues” College Admissions Scandal?

There has been a lot of reporting and discussion around the recent “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal that the FBI brought to light on Tuesday, March 12th. Here is a link to the story if you would like to review what has been reported. I would like to share with you my response and why I think this happens. I say “happens” because I think the practice of parents paying colleges or personnel at colleges large sums of money to give their child an advantage in the admissions process happens more than we think and I am not surprised. First and foremost, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Nobody is immune to committing the crimes that we are talking about in the news. As Christians, I think it’s important to remember three things in light of these circumstances and hopefully learn how it correlates to our relationship with God.

  1. Pride

Because of The Fall we all will succumb to pride and selfishness. We live in a culture where we want what we want and we want it now. If we start thinking that life is about me and getting what I want, then you start making decisions that will attempt to keep us at the top and will benefit us the most. Having this perspective is not all bad. As Christians we should work hard, utilize the gifts and talents God has given us to glorify Him, but keeping Him first is the key. If the reason that we are getting to the top is so that we can be recognized, celebrated and affirmed, these results will be temporary and we will crave for more and more attention and recognition. Eventually, our moral and/or ethical judgement will get blurred and we will start making decisions that we would never have thought you would make. If we are giving God the glory, not pointing to ourselves but Him when we succeed and achieve great things, we will have a joy and contentment that will last because we understand as believers in Jesus Christ, He gave us the talents, abilities and gifts that allowed us to succeed and He is the one that blesses us in ways that we don’t deserve nor should expect. If we have this perspective we will continually have an outward and not an inward focus which is what Christ had while He was here on earth. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves.” Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”.

2. Identity

There is a question in the “College Essay Preparation Survey” I give juniors that asks, “how would your friends describe you?”. This is an interesting question that gets students to think about what their identity and reputation may be. If you are believer in Jesus Christ and believe that He died for your sins, you should be getting your identity in Him alone. If you are not a believer, you can only get your identity in something that would put you as the focus. There are very nice, kind, thoughtful and generous people who are not Christians. In the end, however, if your identity isn’t in Jesus Christ, you are going to make decisions that help boost your reputation, status and identity. There are also plenty of Christians who do this, don’t get me wrong. Who you associate with and the people you surround yourself with on a regular basis will definitely influence you as well. If you value what others think of you to such an extent that you will make decisions that make sure you stay well respected, popular and successful with those you associate with, you will make choices that are irrational and unethical at some point. This has to happen because it’s no longer truth that is driving your decision making anymore at this point, it’s human expectation and your own understanding. That’s what could have happened in this scandal. It was important enough for the parents to say that their kids went to a certain school to “keep up with” the others in their social circle, so they were willing to make a terrible decision to maintain this identity. The parents may also have put so much importance on where their children went to college because that reflects on their own reputation and status within their circle of influence. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character.”

3. Control

From my perspective, this is the main issue in this “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal. When one has affluence, high status and/or a “popular” reputation with outsiders, they typically have been able to control the circumstances in their life. If the opportunity is there to just pay a bit more money to get what they want or make something go away, they will do it. If they have the capability to do this, why not? This is dangerous however, because one thing that we give up in our lives if we ask Jesus Christ to become our Savior, is control. I have heard talk show hosts, news networks over the past week say, “Although I think what they did was wrong, I can understand why they did it”. Some can chalk up what these parents were doing as “loving” their kids so much they would do anything for them. Ultimately, they had the financial means and an opportunity to control the outcome so that’s what they did just like they may have done in other instances in the past. People say, “the kids we are talking about come from families that already had an advantage and the kids already were going to have opportunities in the future and not have to worry about money”. I completely agree, but when Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, he is saying that if our hearts are corrupted by selfish motives because we are letting worldly things like money and status drive our decisions, we will continue to make decisions to maintain control. If we cannot submit to God’s will and plan for our lives, then we haven’t given Him control of our lives. We can’t just make him a small compartment in our lives to pull out and use when we want. We need to give Him control of everything in our lives and that includes our future which is unknown and may not go the way we want it to go. Ephesians 1:11 (ESV) says, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

Two other articles written on this “Blues Varsity” scandal are below. These are two great perspectives as well.


Choosing a College Based on ROI (Return on Investment)

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think ROI (Return on Investment) is important when making decisions. Nobody buys a house for $300,000 and when they sell it hope they get $200,000 for it. No owner of baseball team pays an player $100,000 over 5 years and only hopes they hit for a .200 batting average. Nobody puts money into a 401(K) or a mutual fund and expects to lose money on it. Let me also say that this is a tough topic to nail down because there are many factors involved, but it is a good one to understand and think about before applying to colleges.

What is ROI?

Below is a quote by valuecolleges.com that I thought was a great description of ROI.

“There are a lot of factors to take into consideration. You invest a lot more than just money into a college education – you invest time, work, and stress. That makes college fundamentally different from many other investments.

ROI could be as simple as what income people make vs. what they paid for college and what they owe in student debt, but that is still too simple. Income isn’t necessarily a measure of success, and student loan debt could just mean you took out more loans than you needed to, not that the school was too expensive. While some short sighted people just want to know how much money they can make straight out of school, others want a certain level of long-term career satisfaction. Neither is wrong.

Plus, as Chris Maples, president of the Oregon Institute of Technology explains, there are a lot of different investors in an education, too – not just you, but your family, the foundations that provide grants and scholarships (who don’t want to see their money wasted), the government (which needs the taxes you’ll pay from the work you do with your degree), and the institutions themselves, who put a lot of thought into who they accept and who expect their graduates to prove their worth. You may be fulfilled tending bar with your Ivy League education, but they’re not putting you in the alumni newsletter.”

What are the biggest factors that impact ROI?

5. Major

Based on the major you end up pursuing in college, you can start looking at job prospects and career earnings. I do say what you “end up pursuing” because you typically have a year and a half to change majors and decide which major is best to earn your degree in. When you decide on a major, you can then begin to understand the earning potential in that career field. When you are applying to college, it’s important to not just apply to schools you think or see on lists that are “better” for that major because there are plenty of colleges in the United States that will prepare you for a career field in that major. A lot of times what we hear is not the entire picture and it is up to us to put in the time to research and find similar (and less expensive) opportunities that we were not even aware of before.

4. Location/Living Expenses

Please see my last post titled, “Sometimes in Pays to Go Away to College” for more information on why going a bit further away to college from home can earn you more merit based scholarship opportunities. It is important to understand what your living expenses in college will be and not have them be so exorbitant that it impacts the debt that you find yourself in after you graduate. Another impact on ROI when it comes to where you attend college is that it is less expensive to live in certain states. This could impact your cost of living while in college as well as after you graduate. Things like gas, food and housing are definitely less expensive in certain states. Where you attend college may have no bearing on where you will work after college but many college graduates tend to get their first job in the area they attended college. Companies are also a bit more familiar with graduates from colleges in the area they are located in. If you major in education, you are doing your substitute teaching and earning a teacher’s certificate in the state you attend college in. If you had any internships during your college years, they are typically with companies near the college you attend and then some students continue working with these companies after graduation. When applying to college, consider the area you may go to school in and understand what the living expenses are in that area.

3. Internship/Networking Opportunities

This is a big category for return on investment and one that is talked about in more wealthy and “competitive” areas. Some will say that if you spend more money to go to one of the most competitive admission colleges or universities, it is worth that “extra” amount of money you are spending compared to a less competitive school because by you attending that school, you now are in a better position to be more successful after you graduate. This is because of the networking opportunities and the “name brand” recognition that the more competitive college may provide. I understand that the most competitive admission colleges offer a unique experience. At the end of my post titled, “Want to Apply to a Competitive Admission College? Think “Outside” the Box”, I provide a link that says there is no correlation to future success if you earn an Ivy League degree in all majors except maybe Finance and Political Science. Earning a degree in these two fields at an Ivy League school can have its advantages. When it comes to other majors however, (Engineering, Nursing, Education, etc.), you can earn your degree at many other schools and find yourself earning the same or more amount of money. There are plenty of colleges that provide many internship and networking opportunities that are not in the top 50 of the US News and World Report and I would encourage you to really look closely at these schools because they will be the schools that award more merit scholarships. Here is a link to a US News and World Report list of 22 colleges that are best for internships or co-op programs and only two are high competitive admission colleges (Cornell and MIT). Two other colleges that are high on the list of providing internship opportunities are George Washington and American Universities in Washington, DC.

2. Tuition/Scholarships

If you going to get a great ROI, you most likely will be making sure that you are not paying more in tuition than you have to. Let me also say that getting a great ROI also means that you are not spending as much of your own money than you have to. What do I mean? Even if you saved up for college and realistically can pay for more of your child’s college expense, it is still smart to get that tuition and room and board cost down that you have to pay because you are spending less of your own money and you are letting the school or government pay for you to attend that school. It may be best to explain this point with an example. A dad and mom save $180,000 (which is a lot!) in their daughter’s college fund. She is accepted to a more prestigious university that would cost them $60,000 a year because they are a “meet need” school. This means that they do not offer scholarships. All of their money goes to meeting the financial need of students that attend their school. She was also accepted to a great flagship state university and received a scholarship that covered full-tuition and room and board. She would have had enough money to cover the first three years at the more prestigious university but she would have had to take out loans her senior year for $60,000. What she did, however, was go to the flagship state university that she had a full scholarship to and used that $180,000 for graduate school and to start her career eventually…THAT is a proper perspective of ROI. Merit scholarships are the best way to achieve ROI from colleges. If you have done well academically in high school, you have put yourself in great position to receive large merit scholarships from colleges. Find those colleges and see what opportunities they provide for you. Even if you have mostly B’s and some C’s…there are colleges out there that will give you good merit scholarships!

  1. Student Loan Debt

We are down to the #1 factor that impacts ROI and that is student loan debt. If you are going to have a great ROI from your college education, you will need to keep your student loan debt amount down. It would be great if everyone can avoid having to take out student loans to pay for their college education but for most, this is not realistic. Honestly, I tell parents who can pay for their child’s entire college education that I think it is good for their child to have to pay back some of their college education if they can’t earn the money during college to pay it off. Just to have them take out the subsidized portion of the Stafford Loan ($2,000-$3,000 a year) allows them to have some “skin in the game”. Then they know they are investing in their own education and if they slack off or get lazy, they know that it is costing them. What is a great rule of thumb for how much in student loans a student should take out to pay for college? You should keep your total amount of student loans over four years under the amount of your projected starting salary. For some professions, this means keeping it under $30-35,000, for others in professions that pay more, this could mean keeping it under $50-60,000. Nevertheless, if your total student loan debt over four years is more than your initial starting salary right out of college, it is going to be more strenuous and you will need to make some life decisions to be able to pay the debt off. However, this decision shouldn’t be considered while in college or after you graduate because if you applied to the appropriate colleges you knew going into the application process and then the decision process and were wise about total cost, merit scholarships, internship/networking opportunities, location and what major you will or may pursue, you already have made a very wise decision on ROI that will pay large emotional, physical and financial dividends for years to come!

Sometimes It Pays to Go Away to College!

As I continue to meet with high school juniors and their parents to counsel them through the college planning process, I am reminded of the different perspectives students and parents have about whether to go to college close to home or whether the student is willing to go to college further away from home. Sometimes this brings more anxiety on the parents because most parents would like to see their children more often so if they stay close to home, they know that opportunity is there. If they go to college further from home, they know they may only see their child during long breaks when they at least have a week off. Below is typically how often a student can expect to make it back home depending on how far their college is from home.

  1. 0-2 hours = Can come home on weekends
  2. 2-6 hours = Can come home on long weekends when you have at least Friday and Monday off
  3. 6-12 hours = Can come home on long breaks that are a week long and holidays
  4. 12+ hours = Can come home on holiday breaks or as often as they would like to fly home

First, I understand that staying close to home for college is important for some and I am not advocating for students to go further away to college if they do not think they would thrive academically, emotionally and spiritually. The feedback I do receive however when asking the question about how far away a student is willing to go to college is, “I need to stay close to home or commute because of finances”, or the student is willing to go far away but the parent is very hesitant to let them go away for personal reasons. If you as a student are willing and open to going further away from home to college, then please read the below reasons why this is a great thing to consider (parents, please consider this as well).

  1. By going someplace new on your own, you will inevitably gain more independence. It will be up to you to handle the small logistics you might be used to your parents managing on your behalf. For example, if you get a parking ticket or need to pick up a prescription, those responsibilities will fall squarely on your own shoulders.
  2. You’ll need to find your own way around a new region, locating the resources that you’ll need along the way, but as you do so you will grow in ways that you might not have otherwise. You will take on adult responsibilities and experience what may be your first real-world independence. You will make your own decisions and hold yourself accountable for them.
  3. Another benefit of going to college far from home is the opportunity to experience living in a new region. You might be exposed to new cultures and lifestyles. You might get to experience life in a big city or a rural town for the first time. You’ll get a chance to broaden your horizon. If you’ve always wanted to live in North or South Carolina, Texas, Southern California or the Rockies, this may be the time to make it happen.
  4. If you go to college far away, you will get a fresh start. Many students want the chance to reinvent themselves after high school, and when you go to college far away, you can create your new life from scratch. None of your high school mistakes or expectations will follow you. You can pursue new friendships, new activities, and a new lifestyle without the shadow of your high school self following along. For many students, this is a refreshing way to turn over a new leaf.
  5. Finally, and the reason for the title of this post, you could really benefit financially from going to a college further from home. Colleges always want to bring students to their campus from further away to diversify their campus with perspectives, cultures and backgrounds that they don’t have much of. They will give good money if a student has done well academically and is willing to travel from longer distances to come to their campus. A great example is a student of mine who was an upper-middle class caucasian, performed well academically, and received a diversity scholarship at a university in Georgia that payed for almost all of her cost to attend.

Want To Apply To a Competitive Admission College? Think “Outside the Box”

This is a joyful and stressful time of year for seniors who are applying to colleges. Those who applied under the EA (Early Action) or ED (Early Decision) deadlines are receiving their decisions. For those seniors who have been accepted it’s a very exciting time but for those who have been deferred or denied, it’s a frustrating, disappointing and stressful time.

I invite you to attend the next College Planning Night meeting on January 15th where a representative from Revolution Prep will be talking about the Growth Mindset in today’s youth and I will be talking about “When to Reach for a ‘Reach’ School”. As sort of a precursor to that meeting, I wanted to share with you in this post what I think is one of the more underrated aspects of applying to a competitive admission college (freshman admission rate under 20%). This aspect is to not think about the typical checklist of items (courses, grades, test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, and even extra-curricular activities) but to think “outside the box”. Let me say, however, that the above list of items is still very important and if you are average or even just above average in any of the above items, that will hurt your chances of admission to a competitive admission college. Nevertheless, “elite” colleges get thousands of applications where students are excellent in all of the above items and yet they need a way to distinguish which students stand out. Below are three points to explain what it means to “think outside the box”.

  1. What do YOU do to serve others?

Colleges want to see how you spend your time. Your time could be spent doing things that you benefit from or are about you (sports, test prep, clubs, drama, music, etc.) or you could spend your time doing things that benefit others (employment, volunteer work, community service, etc). Let me reiterate that the things you spend your time doing that are about you are still important. I am not saying that when you do them you are selfishly thinking about yourself because teamwork and collaboration are crucial to success. You are hopefully using the gifts, talents and abilities God has given you to glorify him and colleges still want you to participate and be involved in these areas, BUT, the students that the “elite” colleges are accepting, go beyond just participating in these things. They look to find ways to use their experience, leadership and platform to go beyond and invest their time into benefiting others and into those less fortunate. This is not easy for a 15-18 year old to understand or wrap their head around because up to this point in their life they just needed to get to the next “rung on the ladder.” They had to take the next course, check off that they will be in the same activity the next year, get to the next game, etc. They grow up with this “checklist” mentality but this is normal for teens to think this way. In my perspective though, the “elite” colleges are looking for the “extraordinary” student who thinks like a 22-23 year old when they are 18 (not saying all 22-23 year olds think this way but hopefully you know what I mean). The last thing I will mention about this is that the student needs to drive everything. Colleges will easily see through if Mom or Dad “set things up” or the student isn’t the one taking the initiative. These “elite” colleges are excellent at knowing which students are more mature, are proactive and lead naturally.

2. What did you do last summer?

This is a popular college interview question. The summer is an excellent time to get involved, serve and spend time doing things you cannot do during the school year because you no longer have school work which takes up the majority of your time from September-June. Colleges WILL want to know what you did in the summer and the summer is also an important time to take on more responsibility and participate and lead in ways you can’t during the school year. It’s natural to sleep more, spend time chatting with friends, work a part-time job, go to the beach and/or pool and just relax. The “elite” colleges though, are going to see if students NATURALLY gravitate towards community service spending time with those less fortunate to make their lives better. I am not referring to missions trips with your youth group or doing something with your family or attending a course at a college over the summer. These are all great things as well and you should do them if you want but they are not showing initiative by the student. This is where the “thinking outside the box” comes in because it’s not normal for most teens to do this…and that’s okay! Sometimes kids just want to be kids and there is nothing wrong with that. The “elite” colleges are not for the overwhelming majority of students out there; however, these are the types of students they are looking for. The things that these colleges like to see sometimes are the things that are really hard, cause you to face real adversity and are uncomfortable experiences because you work with difficult people (or young people): but these show grit, maturity, selflessness and determination to overcome true adversity. What is tough is that the most meaningful experiences are not planned but result from true intention to serve. So think of ways you can serve others, think of situations you can see yourself doing this and don’t be afraid for it to be difficult and uncomfortable at first.

3. It’s Not The “What” but the “Why” That Matters

Students (and parents) can get so good at answering the “what” question when preparing to apply to the “elite” colleges and universities. They got straight A’s, very high test scores, were a student government leader, played two sports, were in the choir, etc. These are all great things to do and you should do them. The problem sometimes lies with why they do them. A number of times in meetings I get the sense that students do the “what” thinking that it will look good on their resume or look good when they apply to colleges. However, this is not a good answer to the “why” question. Students should do what they enjoy and have a gift and talent for and not do things because they think they have to in order to look “good” when applying to college. The “elite” colleges and universities are excellent at looking past activities and extracurriculars to truly see “why” the student does what they do. My advice is to use 9th and 10th grade as a way to see what a student may enjoy (this can be done in 8th and 9th grade as well) and then they will know what they want to continue to do in 11th and 12th grade. If they want to stop doing something because they no longer enjoy it, that’s fine. Hopefully they will continue to pursue the things they do enjoy and that’s what colleges like to see. Parents cannot be concerned when their child chooses to stop an activity because they no longer enjoy it. They also may they think their child is doing too much but it’s what their child wants to do. Let them make the decision. When a student gets to 11th and 12th grade students should be encouraged to participate in what they enjoy. Obviously, they aren’t adults yet so we will encourage them and give advice & guidance. Nevertheless, the final decision needs to be up to them.

In conclusion, I want to point out that I work with great students who have great futures ahead of them. God is going to use them in amazing ways to bring glory to Him. If you know me, you may know that I always say that there are many great colleges in the United States and a student’s success in life after college is determined by the effort, taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them and networking with the number of people that have influence on them at whatever college they end up attending. I also say that going to a college that is going to pay you to go to their school and you not having to pay a lot from your own pocket is also very smart. Yes, going to a highly competitive college can have its advantages but recent studies have only supported this for certain majors (Finance and Political Science) and not others (Engineering). Another study says that for males going to an Ivy League school compared to a non-Ivy it has no bearing on their salary after they graduate and for females it could mean a 14% increase in salary but a 4% decrease in marriage.

If you do what you love and enjoy, God will bless you in ways you can’t imagine and provide for your needs. If you continue to trust in Him and use the talents, gifts and abilities He has given you, you do not need to be anxious about the college application process because He will bless you in ways you can’t imagine. There are definitely things in our control that we can do when it comes to preparing ourselves to apply to the most competitive admission colleges, but there are also things that are out of our control that always factor in to these colleges decisions. These can be things like family background, ethnicity, race, etc. but also how God uniquely created us to be may not be the best fit for these colleges and that’s okay! The goal is to apply to colleges that fit YOU the best.

What’s a “Good” Job?

I am currently working through the topic of majors and careers with juniors and also just finished another College Bus Tour with 41 juniors in which we visited 6 colleges in 3 days (Messiah, Penn State, Grove City, University of Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland). Something I hear often when discussing majors with students and also talking with alumni of Delaware County Christian School is that it is important to get a “good” job. However, nobody seems to ever understand or know what a “good” job means. Most people determine that a “good” job is one that you can make a lot of money. Others may say that a “good” job is one in which you are doing what you love to do. Both of these interpretations of a “good” job have some truth to them but I also think there are many misunderstandings when it comes to getting a “good” job. Let’s look at some myths when it comes to finding a “good” job and see if we can come to a bit more of an understanding of what a “good” job is.

Myth #1: A “good” job is one that makes me a lot of money. 

I tell students all of the time that you can make all the money in the world, but if you do not enjoy what you are doing and you are not using the gifts and passions that God has given you to glorify Him in your work, then you will ultimately be miserable. High school students assume that in order to be happy in life you need “a lot” of money. I don’t think they even know how much “a lot” is, but they get the idea in their heads that if I have enough to afford the things that I want to make me happy, I will end up living a happy life. This ultimately is a heart issue and understanding who we are in Christ. Are we storing up treasures on earth or in heaven? Which is going to make us happy (which happiness is here today and gone tomorrow) or joyful (which lasts) and being content?

Myth #2: I need to get a “good” job right out of college

There are individuals who do land a “good” job (well paying in a field they were studying) right out of college but this is also pretty rare. Most need to start “at the bottom” and work their way up, gaining experience and skills and knowledge necessary to move “up the ladder”. Most starting salaries are in the $30,000-40,000 a year range but some start lower and there are jobs in the science, medical and computer fields that pay more. Nevertheless, a lot of individuals get a job in something they are not really excited about but they can network, gain experience, get the knowledge and even training in areas they enjoy and then use that to transition to a position that does utilized their gifts, abilities and skills a bit more. I get discouraged when I hear individuals turn down job opportunities right out of college because it wasn’t exactly what they wanted to do. Then they are still not working because they are looking for that perfect fit. When you are 23-30 years old, there may not be a “perfect fit”, but God may provide opportunities that you should take advantage of in order to grow and learn. Take advantage of these opportunities even if it may not pay what you want to be the exact job description you want.

Myth #3: I need to get a job that is in the same field as my major in college.

There is obviously nothing wrong with this and a number of people do get jobs that are in line with their degree, however, it is okay to pursue opportunities that come along that may not be what your degree is in. I share with the juniors in my Career Stewardship class with them that there are 10-12 majors that students need to start taking courses to fulfill requirements to complete right away freshman year. These majors are ones that you need a degree in a specific area to get a job in that field after college. Some of these majors include Engineering, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Athletic Training, Physical Therapy, Education, Accounting, Architecture, Pharmacy, etc.

There are then a plethora of other majors that you can start fulfilling the requirements 2nd semester of sophomore year and still complete your degree to 4 years. These include English, Psychology, Business, Political Science, Math, Communications, Marketing, Pre tracks (Law, Med), etc. You can major in any of these more broad majors and get a job in a field that doesn’t have to do with your major. What is more important when applying for jobs with one of these majors is great communication and interview skills, willingness to learn, strong work ethic, working well with others. I am not saying that you do not need these skills to be successful in one of the “specific” majors mentioned above, but it is not as important.

Myth #4: A “good” job lets me live the way I want to live

I am going to piggyback a bit on the first myth. High school students tend to think that they need to get a job that supports the “way they want to live” which means making enough money in order to get the nice house and cars, be able travel, have kids and buy things they want. While all of this sounds nice, one really needs to re-evaluate their motives and selfish desires if this is the case. Let me also say that there is nothing wrong with any of these things. If God does provide because one is able to pursue a career in something they enjoy, love and are using the gifts and abilities God has given them, that is great. I know people that are able to afford more than others but they are also very generous, giving individuals whose heart is in the right place. It’s when we pursue these things with the intention that this is the only way to be (or seem) successful and we are concerned about our reputation more than joyfulness and being content in what God has provided.

I tell my students all the time that if you are pursuing a career utilizing the opportunities God has presented to you, and you are using the gifts, talents and abilities he has given you, you will make enough money to provide for you and your family. If we have the proper perspective of who we are in Christ and that we are stewards of everything he has provided for us, we are going to be “successful” and have joy in our lives.

Myth #5: There are only a handful a “good” jobs out there. 

I wanted to make sure that everyone knows that there are more majors to pursue in college than you think and there are so many types of jobs and careers in today’s workforce that we are not even aware of. There are many majors and careers that haven’t even been created yet. Please keep pursuing the opportunities that God provides for you today utilizing the gifts, talents and abilities He’s given you and He will eventually place you in the major and then career He has planned for you. For more information about today’s workforce and what occupations there are please visit https://cew.georgetown.edu/

Don’t Just “Settle” When Researching Colleges

When thinking about, talking about, researching and visiting colleges, sometimes it is easy to “settle” and go with the schools that you read about, hear about from relatives or others or read about in the media (sometimes going with one ranking list). The ultimate goal in the college planning process is to apply to colleges that you know will be a great fit for you. I recently talked to a parent that said, “when visiting a college with my child, I actually got angry because I just settled for the school I thought I was “supposed” to go to but if I knew some of these other schools were out there, I probably would have attended a different school”.

Now, the college planning and application process is much different than it was 20 years ago. There are more options, colleges are more expensive and because of the internet and social media, people are much more aware of hundreds of more schools that they were 20-25 years ago. Below are four reasons not to “settle” when researching colleges:

  1. College is very expensive– Your goal throughout the college planning process should be to find the best fit college for the least amount of money. This means you should expand your search to include schools that are a few or more states away. These are colleges that may throw more merit scholarship money your way because they want more students from the area you live in. Even if it is a private or public out-of-state university which typically costs more money, a lot of times these schools tend to be cheaper because you are able to qualify or apply for merit based scholarship money. This is not to say that some local colleges or universities can be less money as well. This is why you need to consider the local state university as well and don’t assume it’s not as good of an education and “settle” for the more expensive school.
  2. Rankings Don’t Tell the Whole Story– A lot of students and parents like to look at rankings to form their opinion about a college. The US News and World Report feeds off of this frenzy with their rankings every year. They know people look at their rankings as “truth” and they determine what colleges are the “best” colleges based on these rankings. First of all, rankings are “gamed” and colleges know what they need to do in order to stay at the top of the rankings. So it is a money driven and strategized process that US News and World Report doesn’t control, the colleges do. Secondly, there are so many different companies ranking these days (Money magazine, Forbes, LinkedIn, Princeton Review, etc.) that each is trying to build some different criteria into their rankings that they think is better and gives a more accurate indication of how “good” a school is. While rankings can be helpful in understanding what and how it does, it should never be the reason we think a school is better than another. We need to know what the most important factors are and do our own research to see if the colleges we are considering are a good fit. We also need to be willing to be open colleges we haven’t heard of.
  3. There are so many colleges out there– I have been a college counselor for 18 years now and every year I hear of and learn about colleges I never heard of before. One way to enjoy the college planning and research process is to continue to learn more of what is out there and trying to see if there is a similar school to the one(s) you are considering for less money. Use college search tools in websites like Naviance, College Board, College Data, College Scorecard, etc. to open your understanding of colleges that you never knew of before. Play around and have fun with these college search tools and see what you find out.
  4. Always Keep the Door Open– One piece of advice I always give is that no student should ever “shut the door” on their college planning and application process until they make that final decision on where to attend. When I meet with seniors sometimes I hear them not be open to advice about other schools because it overwhelms them to think there are more options out there. They would rather be close minded and not consider other options because the process stresses them out. I understand the process can be stressful, but you are going to be more stressed when you are at a school that you are not succeeding at or you are staring at college loan bills you have to pay back after college because you didn’t consider what other school you could attend.