Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The college decision: Some books that might help

I chose my college - or shall I say my first college - using a method I thought was perfect: Which school had a ski team I might have a shot at making. I had good grades and test scores to bring to the table, but this qualifier, which seemed all-important at the time, trumped all for my 17-year-old bad self.

After touring a bunch of New England Schools (Bowdoin, Syracuse, UVM, Colby, St. Lawrence, UNH) with my mom in the family station wagon, I ended up at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I admit, it was purely an emotional decision. I fell in love with the Rockies and the Flatirons, and that was that, even in the wake of a racing "career"-ending ACL/MCL/meniscus tear at the formidable Arapahoe Basin.

But, more than (ahem) 20 years later, I concede that there are far, far better (and financially sound) criteria for high schoolers and their folks to take into account when choosing a college. Below is an Associated Press roundup of a few choice new books on that topic.

Bookshelf - College Edition: Find the right school, and pay for it
The Associated Press

Which colleges to apply to, how to get in and how to finance the experience are the biggest questions in the college search. Not as many people pause to ask how to have a positive college experience, but it's worth taking the time to think about that, too.
Here's a look at a few titles aimed at helping the college-bound sort things out:

TITLE: The Happiest Kid on Campus: A Parent's Guide to the Very Best College Experience (for You and Your Child)
AUTHOR: Harlan Cohen
PRICE: $14.99 (paperback)
E-BOOK: Available for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader.
SUMMARY: Cohen, a syndicated advice columnist and frequent speaker on college campuses, tackled campus life from the perspective of students in his 2005 book "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College." Now, he's followed up with "Happiest Kid," with advice geared toward parents of college-bound teens. A couple examples: When a parent drops their child off at campus for the first time, make it a quick hug-and-kiss goodbye, and leave the student with dignity intact. And once the student settles in to college life, limit phone calls and text messages to twice a week. You don't want to be overbearing.
The book also offers tips on helping a child make good choices in college, and discusses what parents should know about campus safety.
Real-life stories about college experiences are told in the words of the parents and students themselves, woven together with Cohen's insights.
QUOTE: "When it comes to how the college experience is portrayed in the media, it's all about tragedy, sex, drinking, danger, debauchery, debt and drama ... I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the vast majority of students have amazing, wonderful, safe and healthy experiences."
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks
— Mark Jewell

TITLE: Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About It.
AUTHORS: Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus.
PRICE: $26.
E-BOOK: Available for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader.
SUMMARY: Here's a book for anyone who's incensed by skyrocketing college costs. The authors — who both teach at New York universities — give a behind-the-scenes look at why tuitions have soared even as schools have lost their focus on educating students.
In the first chapter, Hacker and Dreifus detail how tenured professors control university resources to fuel their own aspirations and interests. That often means taking on light class loads in favor of time spent on research work and department meetings and committees. Another chapter looks at the thickening glut of college administrators, such as "babysitting coordinator", "sustainability director" and "vice president of student success." The authors also discuss how state-of-the-art sports complexes, dining and dorm facilities are driving up costs.
To bring prices back down to Earth, they propose a number of solutions that likely won't find favor at universities anytime soon. These include abolishing tenure and sabbaticals for professors, capping salaries for presidents and moving away from the focus on faculty research.
Hacker and Dreifus also offer a list of their top 10 bargain schools. Not surprisingly, there are no Ivy League schools on the list.
QUOTE: "Students come and go every four years, administrators will move on, but the tenured stay on.accumulating power, controlling resources, reshaping the university according to their needs. Lost on the Professorial Campus is the primacy of students and, for reasons that sometimes seem mystifying, an appreciation of an activity as joyful and useful as teaching."
PUBLISHER: Times Books
—Candice Choi

TITLE: How to Make Colleges Want You
AUTHOR: Mike Moyer
PRICE: $12.95 (paperback)
E-BOOK: Available for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader
SUMMARY: Mike Moyer, the founder of the college admissions guide, uses his own story to illustrate that you don't need great grades and a long list of achievements to get into the right school. He maintains that because each college is looking to populate its campus with a diverse range of students, anyone with the right strategy can get accepted. The tactics he recommends revolve around making your application stand out so that you are recognized as someone who can add that diversity, even if you don't have a 4.0 GPA.
For Moyer, his teen-age hobby of raising homing pigeons was a hook — he even brought a pigeon to a college interview. The idea is to get noticed by emphasizing activities and interests that are off-the-beaten path for average high schoolers.
He also offers guidelines for how to assemble an application, obtain winning recommendations, and handle college interviews.
Much of the advice is more valuable for students who still have time before they begin the application process. But it can help even a last-minute applicant look at their own achievements in a different way, and present them so that they help increase the potential for acceptance letters.
QUOTE: "No college wants to admit a student who can't handle the work, but most colleges are willing to take a chance if they think you are a diamond in the rough."
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks
— Eileen AJ Connelly

TITLE: Paying for College Without Going Broke
AUTHORS: Kalman A. Chany, Geoff Martz
PRICE: $20 (paperback)
SUMMARY: The authors present five key sections, and start with an overview of how to pay for college. They then move into a section on "How to Take Control of the Process" that delves into financial aid, choosing colleges, and how students can improve their chances of acceptance. The third section focuses on filling out standard financial aid forms with line-by-line instructions.
Still there's more to understand one a financial aid award is made. So there's guidance on how to compare college offers, assess financial aid opportunities, and apply again the following year. A special topics chapter addresses a range of circumstances such as, divorced or separated parents, transfer students, graduate students, and financial aid for older students. There are also worksheets and forms to help students and parents learn hands-on about the paperwork they'll be dealing with.
QUOTE: "It is easy to get so paralyzed by the projection of the total cost of a four-year college education that you do nothing. The important thing is to begin saving something as early as possible as regularly as possible. It doesn't matter if you can't contribute large amounts. The earlier you start, the longer you give your investments to work for you."
PUBLISHER: Random House
— David Pitt

TITLE: Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College
AUTHORS: Edward B. Fiske and Bruce G. Hammond
PRICE: $16.99 (paperback)
E-BOOK: Available for Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader.
SUMMARY: If you're new to the college search process, this long-established admissions guide, updated in 2010, would make a fine choice as an all-purpose reference. It can help choose which of the nation's approximately 2,200 four-year schools are for you or your student, advise how to get in and provide tips on how to play "the new financial aid game" in order to help pay for it all.
A fun "one-hour finder" gives summaries of not only the elite schools but the rising stars, best bargains, best-kept secrets, most innovative and small-college gems. And here's a gem of a financial tip worth heeding: Students should think twice about borrowing more than about five thousand dollars per year.
QUOTE: "There is no such thing as the perfect college, but there are dozens — probably hundreds — of schools where you will fit in and get a good education. After a few weeks at your new alma mater, you'll probably forget that you ever applied anywhere else."
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks
— Dave Carpenter

TITLE: Community College Companion: Everything You Wanted to Know About Succeeding in a Two-Year School
AUTHOR: Mark C. Rowh
PRICE: $14.95 (paperback)
E-BOOK: Available for Kindle.
SUMMARY: The nation's nearly 1,200 community colleges still carry a stigma with many students and their families for what they are not: pricey but elite schools whose brand names will automatically open doors. But their appeal is growing in a high-cost era for secondary schooling, and so is their quality. The author, a long-time community college educator, states their case strongly and provides a how-to for using these two-year schools to accomplish what you want, be it moving on to a four-year school, learning career skills or simply exploring options without breaking the bank.
Rowh walks readers through the community college basics, from finding scholarships to choosing classes to strengthening academic survival skills. Among the most valuable sections are those dealing with the ins and outs of transferring after one or two years, and a look at online courses. Tips from community college insiders and students are sprinkled throughout the book.
QUOTE: "In recent years, community colleges have become an increasingly important part of the higher education scene. ... Many students rave about the personal attention and outstanding teaching they find in two-year colleges."
— Dave Carpenter

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