29 January 2006

Stuff I Wish I Knew Back Then

Last month, Scott Elliott of the Dayton Daily News wrote about the five things he wishes he knew about in high school. While Scott's list is good, and should be shared with high school students, it misses some of the things that I would include on my list. Of course, the one thing I know from working with high school students all the time, is that most of them would never heed any type of list like this....they already know everything! :)

  1. The people who sit at the "cool" table at lunch are no more or less likely to be successful than anyone else. Eliminate, just for a second, the need for 100+ definitions of success, and reflect on what you think/thought success is/was at the time. I know that I always thought that all the "cool" kids (no, I don't include myself in that crowd) would become doctors, lawyers, CEOs, etc. Without making examples of anyone I know specifically, let's just say that it ain't true. While being "cool" in high school is no sure fire path to a successful future, the skills that are developed at a young age can be applied to later challenges. Developing a good social skill set early can be helpful in creating positive relationships, good job skills, and a network of associates that may be able to help you in your career.
  2. Your friends in high school are not likely to be in your circle of friends in five years. I can count on one hand the number of people I have spoken with from my high school graduation class in the last 10 years. I moved away right after high school, so maybe that was the impetus, but I know of too many people who live local to their former high school and tell me the same thing. The friends who generally remain with you for life are the ones that you make in college. What's worse -- the people who haven't had too much happening since high school will only have those high school memories to talk about when they do see you.
  3. The person you are dating at graduation is not the person you are going to marry. Heck, it probably won't even be the person you are dating by the end of freshman year. OK...I realize that this is a percentage play here, but I am going with it. I can't tell you how many times I have seen people make their college choice based on where their high school boyfriend or girlfriend would be attending school. Invariably, boy goes to college with girl; girl realizes that college has LOTS of boys; girl dumps boy long before the "Freshman Fifteen" set in. The same thing happens in reverse. I found this blog entry while researching something else. Just read the first sentence and you will see that even sounds ridiculous to follow someone else off to school -- or stay home/close to home to be near your younger SO's senior year.
  4. Your senior year of high school may be the most wasted year in all your education. Between the prom, senior trip, the college application process, the short class schedule, "senior privileges," the job to help pay for your car insurance, and the general case of "senioritis" that inevitably sets in, what exactly do you learn in class? Further, many students don't want to risk hurting their GPA during their senior year, so they opt for an easier class load. One thing that I learned is that taking a year off (mentally or physically) from being a student is usually not the most prudent approach to successful college endeavours. Fortunately, that feeling is catching on.
  5. The New York State "Regents Diploma" means nothing outside of New York. In New York, the Regents diploma is pitched to students as an academic achievement. Some high schools actually "weight" the grades from Regents level courses, as though they are on par with honors or Advanced Placement courses. The reality is that it is no better, and in a lot of cases, worse than what other states have as a standard "college preparatory" curriculum. You can graduate with a Regents diploma without ever having taken courses in Precalculus, a language other than English or Physics. Of course, to get this Regents diploma, you do need two credits of Physical Education -- but, no Physics or Spanish. You can earn your Regents diploma by earning scores on the Regents exams no higher than a 65. You don't NEED a Regents diploma to graduate high school, either. You can take a lesser track, or score grades of 55 on the Regents exams and still graduate high school.
I am sure that there are more things that I wished I had learned in high school, but this will make for a decent Top 5 list for now. If you can think of others, please add them in the comments section.

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Don't they have bigger problems?

The Tampa Tribune reports that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays plan to change their nickname in time for the 2007 baseball season.

The team's president, Matt Silverman, told a group of Tampa business leaders Thursday that there will be "some sort of a change" in the Devil Rays name.

The club is looking at either dropping "Devil" from the name and calling the team the "Rays" or creating a completely new name, Silverman said.
Focus groups told team officials that there was a "negative association" with the terms "Devil Rays" and "devil."

Of course, the real problem is that there is just a "negative association" with an awful baseball team. Of the four most recent expansion teams (Florida, Colorado, Tampa Bay, and Arizona), they have had the least amount of success, both on the field and at the box office. The mismanagement of the team, consistently finishing last in their division, and infighting amongst the ownership group has led to the franchise's poor team image.

"When [new owner] Stu Sternberg came in, he said there was a need for dramatic change. One way for dramatic change is to change the name," Silverman said.
Apparently, Mr. Sternberg hasn't considered WINNING a dramatic enough change to enact.

Of course, we could just use this opportunity to submit possible new names for the team. But, maybe "Tampa Bay Bottom Feeders" isn't what the new ownership has in mind to shake a "negative association."

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Stuff You Oughta Know About Filing the FAFSA

This is actually Part II of a previous post. I know it was promised "tomorrow." I don't suppose you are willing to believe that today is yesterday's tomorrow?

I was talking about things you can do (legally and ethically) to reduce your EFC and increase your chances of getting a favorable aid award from colleges. What follows is a list (by no means complete) of some suggestions to help you do this. If you have any ideas of your own, please post them in the comments section. The advice included is that which should be considered for filing the FAFSA, and assumes their Federal Methodology. Some universities consider additional information not submitted on the FAFSA -- the more people game the system, the more colleges have to figure out a way to get the accurate picture they need to dole out their resources.

There are some key things to keep in mind. Analyzing this type of information is not something that most colleges are fond of. An argument can be made that these actions are designed to make wealthy people, who can theoretically afford to pay for college, appear "poor" to get something for nothing. I have yet to meet too many folks who can simply write a check to pay for college, and until those folks become the rule rather than the exception, I think it is a good idea to share some tips. Also, remember that these ideas are those of some guy you are reading on the Internet -- a guy who does have some experience dealing with these situations, but a random "guy" nonetheless. This advice should not replace talking with financial aid professionals at the schools you are deciding between (all schools' Financial Aid offices operate differently), your tax consultant, or a certified financial planner. If you want to know, keep reading...

Plan BEFORE You File
Filing the FAFSA is pretty much the same thing as taking a photograph of financial picture at that one specific date. Your income, assets, marital status, and all other circumstances are all static at that time. If you plan on following ANY of these suggestions, you will receive the most benefits by doing so BEFORE you file.

Reduce Your AGI
This doesn't sound like a good plan yet, does it? You might be thinking, "the best way for me to pay for college is to make LESS money?" Well, no. If you just want to "PAY" for college, then just make MORE money, and write the college a nice, fat check. Since that isn't likely to happen, maybe my idea has some merit. First, we are talking about "Adjusted Gross Income." There are ways to do this:

  • Increase contributions to your IRA to the maximum allowed. This is something that you can still do for the 2005 tax year. 2005 IRA contributions can be made up until April 15, 2006. If you are planning ahead, have your employer withhold a greater amount of your income for your 401k/403b contribution.

  • Minimize your capital gains. In most cases, capital gains are treated like ordinary income for the purpose of determining EFC. Try to schedule selling stocks for which you will have a large capital gain either before your child's junior year of high school (before the tax year for which you will be filing your first FAFSA) or late into your child's junior year of college (after the tax year for which you will be filing your child's last FAFSA). For tax purposes, you can use capital losses to offset regular income, but for FAFSA filing, this is generally not the case. You can, generally, use capital losses to offset capital gains, but you would do best to check with the college's Financial Aid Office to check first.

  • Postpone your annual bonus. Some companies will allow you to defer your annual bonus, some will not. It doesn't hurt to check. Since your child is likely to be in college for more than one year, this is really only delaying the inevitable. But, in the course of one year, you may be entitled to more aid, and you now have one more year of time to plan for next year.

  • Take an upaid leave of absence. OK...this one seems a little drastic, but if you were considering it anyway. Included in this suggestion is to reduce salary taken from your own business (works if you are a C Corporation). There will be an increase in the value of the business (an asset), but that usually has less negaive reprecussions than income or savings.

  • Reduce Your Savings
    Now that I've got you making less money, you should also spend frivously that which you have saved until now. Ummm...no. But, the two things that are considered above almost all else in determining eligibility for financial aid are the parents' income and assets. The first asset that is called upon in determining EFC is cash on hand -- money in your savings. Making that number lower is one way to increase eligibility for aid. How to do this:

  • Increase contributions to your IRA to the maximum allowed. Remember, this is something that you can still do for the 2005 tax year. 2005 IRA contributions can be made up until April 15, 2006. Is this starting to sound like deja vu? It should. Maxing out your retirement contributions reduces your income and reduces your cash on hand. Retirement savings are considered excluded assets when calculating EFC. Even better, funds held in a Roth IRA can be used for higher education expenses. Are you with me? Making the $4,000 annual maximum contribution to your Roth IRA reduces your savings account by $4,000 for calculation purposes, but if you choose to use the money to pay for education, there is no penalty for early withdrawl. Also, as was discussed above, increasing your 401k/403b contribution for next year will shelter more money that would otherwise be savings.

  • Reduce your consumer debt as much as possible. In addition to saving a considerable amount on high interest credit card debt, paying off your credit card balances will reduce the amount of cash you have on hand. Most outstanding consumer debt is not considered when determining financial aid. In addition to credit cards, this also applies to car loans -- so, paying off the SUV will reduce your savings, save you money in interest payments to the bank, and allow you the flexibility of an additional +/-$400 per month.

  • Pay down the mortgage on your primary residence. Equity in your family's primary residence is not considered at all in determining financial aid. Also, the mortgage on a second home can be used to offset assets -- debt which is secured by property is considered in the need analysis.

  • Don't transfer money to your soon-to-be college student. This goes against what your tax planner has been telling you for years, no? Yes, you can reduce your TAX obligation by gifting money to your children. However, getting aid to pay for college has nothing to do with your tax obligation. First of all, any money that you give to your children becomes their assets -- and that has a number of ramifications. They may choose to use the money for college, or not. It's their money. If they do choose to use the money for college, chances are they will eliminate all or most of their chances to receive aid. Students' assets are calculated differently in the Federal Methodology -- they are expected to contribute a much greater percentage of their earnings and their assets to their education.

  • Don't wait to make impending purchses. There are a number of items that are excluded from the Federal Methodology of determining EFC. Cars, computers, school supplies, clothing, and believe it or not, boats are excluded assets when determining EFC. I am not suggesting that you go out and blow all of your money, but acquiring excluded assets with cash will increase your chances of receiving financial aid. If you were planning on purchasing a new car anyway, then you should do that BEFORE you file the FAFSA. Keep in mind, though, that student assets are treated much differently than parent assets. So, buying your little angel a $35,000 BMW for their high school graduation gift seems like a good idea (does it, really?), student assets are counted differently and should be factored into that decision.

  • There are a few more topics to be discussed, including 529 Plans, Grandparents, the students' actual financial situation, and "special circumstances." I will try to get that post done and up in the next day or two, but I am done making promises.

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    19 January 2006

    Take Me Out to the Ballgame

    Bear with me. A friend asked me for some information on our baseball trip last year, which included Phoenix and southern California. Even though baseball season seems a little far off, I found out today that I have two tickets to the World Baseball Classic games being played in Orlando. Our pool includes the teams from Italy, Australia, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.

    Since I am a little psyched about baseball season coming, and posting pictures here is just as easy as creating one of those Yahoo photo albums, I figure I would just do this. Indulge someone one post pretty much just for one person. I won't bore the rest of you, and will place the bulk of this post under the fold.

    Our trip was Orlando to Phoenix for an overnight and then from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Complicating matters was the fact that we flew on American Airlines on miles. I am pretty sure when Aadvantage members die, they have to connect through DFW to get to hell -- wait, DFW IS hell. So, our flight was actually MCO-DFW-PHX//PHX-DFW-LAX. Fortunately, I kicked in the extra miles, so we flew first class.

    We stayed at the Spring Hill Suites Phoenix Downtown (under $60/night for a weekend rate out of season, with full Marriott Rewards points and privileges). The hotel offered a shuttle from the airport, and was within walking distance to the ballpark. It was August, so when I inquired about the walking to the game, the lady at the front desk made a point to remind me of the Arizona heat. When I told her that I lived in central Florida -- where days of 90 degree heat with 90% humidity were commonplace, she told me that we would be OK. She said that she gets concerned when people come from more temperate climates and expect to walk around in 115 degree heat.

    This was the view as we approached the stadium:

    The "classic" stadium view:

    We had pretty good seats -- actually, we got the tickets from the hotel for half face value. I would have never paid $60 for these seats, as there surely seemed to be plenty of cheapies around, but we got such a good deal on the hotel (no car, free HSIA, free breakfast), it seemed like a good splurge:

    There weren't too many cool things about this stadium, and (except for rare exception) I am no fan of stadium food. I didn't eat any of this, but I thought it was a great concept for a menu -- regional specialities defined by the teams:

    The next morning meant another flight. Unfortunately, we weren't even in Phoenix long enough for a foodie stop this time around. I don't know that I would consciously make the decision to eat airline food over ANYTHING out of town, but sometimes, convenience takes over. So, a breakfast at the hotel followed by PHX-DFW-LAX, and food served on plastic trays would suffice for now.

    We arrived in LA around 4 pm and spent the next two hours waiting in line at the rental counter for the car. This has to be the poorest run Thrifty I have ever seen. If it were me, I would do without them in your travel plans. I would have given my right leg to have used Hertz and my #1 Club Gold.

    We finally got the rental car, a Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible, and were on our way. For all this Thrifty was awful, I will say that they did come through on the car. If you are going to do LA, it should probably be in a convertible. Off to the hotel for a brief check-in and then to dinner with our chef friend. This hotel was on points, but seems to be available on Priceline periodically.

    Our dinner was at one of those places in LA, where it is more about the flash and being "seen" than anything about food. It took way too long for the food to arrive at the table, and I was underwhelmed. But, supposedly, they have filmed some scenes for HBO's "Entourage" there:

    Stick to Killer Shrimp for a good meal! I wish I had gotten some good pictures there, but I didn't. The other place that I couldn't think of the other night when we chatted -- the Armenian chicken place, is called Zankou. Despite the strong recommendation from the Sterns, I would skip Cassell's Hamburgers. I thought the place was weak - they killed the burger by draining all the juice out of it with the spatula.

    On our first full day in Los Angeles, we drove out to Anaheim for a day game at Angel Stadium. Let me say this about that -- get tickets in advance. I hardly ever do -- I am a big fan of getting tickets at the stadium and am rarely disappointed. You have the option of hitting the scalpers (usually good on rainy days or if a crappy visiting team is in town) or heading down to the box office, as games are rarely sellouts (Wrigley, Fenway, the Yankees as a road team, or a regional rivalry are notable exceptions). Well, we showed up for a game against the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays to find that Anaheim was in the midst of a 10-game home sellout streak. We lucked into a pair of decent tickets at/near face value, but if this is your only chance to get the ballpark, and you don't want to be shut out, I would try to snag these tickets in advance.

    This is one of those stadiums just off the interstate. Here is the walk-up view:

    The classic view:

    The stadium and grounds are beautifully landscaped:

    Unllike a lot of the newer ballparks that have an outer concourse that you can walk around and see the whole park without missing the game, Angel Stadium has a path that cuts around behind the outfield wall. It has a very fan-friendly family section back there, as well as some activities along the way. This is a shot of a wall mural featuring modern-day pics of current players with a copy of a baseball card from their youth. It also includes personal information that would appeal to families (favorite foods and such):

    One just for artistic sake:

    Los Angeles is not a great walking city, but there is a pretty good walking tour in the AAA Guide Book. I am used to the concrete jungle that is New York as my point of reference for what a big city should be. But, LA is different. It is green and lush. There are some roof-top parks scattered throughout the city that are really cool. They seem like an especially good place to grab a bite to eat and camp out and eat and people watch for a little while:

    We also discovered the Grand Central Market on the walking tour:

    Try...oh, try to make it to Phillippe the Original:

    I was really looking forward to Dodger Stadium, and it was a little bit of a letdown. It IS a classic ballpark. All the things that I don't like about the cookie-cutter new ballparks are not there at Dodgertown. But, it is a late arriving crowd, that is not all that into watching the game. Also, we got seats (not at all cheap ones) that were out in the outfield in a not-so fan friendly section of the park. It is not very easy to move around the stadium -- especially one level to the next. Once you are on your ticketed level, you are pretty much destined to remain there. Again, you might choose to get better seats, in advance. The classic shot:

    You would expect something like the "Hollywood" sign, wouldn't you. If you want a view of this, get seats more towards the home plate area:

    I told you about the LA Coroner's Office gift shop, "Skeletons in the Closet":

    Nothing says "tacky" like LA -- and nothing says tacky in LA like the La Brea Tar Pits (make sure you rrrrrroll your rrrrrr's when you say that, too!):

    OK...almost nothing:

    My favorite park during the whole trip was the last one, PETCO. We were seeing the Padres play my beloved Mets on my birthday -- so, I kind of figured this would be a highlight. The Mets won 9-0 (Kris Benson pitched a gem) the night before Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron plowed into each other, ending Cameron's season. This was another sold out game, and tickets were tough to come by outside the stadium. We luckily ran across a guy attending the game with his family who just happened to have two extra tickets. We ended up with field box seats for about $20/each -- not bad at all.

    We stayed next door at the San Diego Gaslamp Marriott. We knew someone who worked there, so we got a very favorable Friends and Family rate of around $60. Parking was a hammer, but if we had stayed somewhere else and drove to the game, we would have spent almost that much to park anyway.

    The hotel has a rooftop bar that overlooks the stadium. The drinks are way overpriced, but it is a great view. I didn't get a picture, but the view on the other side of the stadium is the water. Who would want to look at scenery when there is a ballpark? I would never know:

    There are some very cool things at this park -- like the "Park at the Park":

    The stadium is built into the wall of an old warehouse. I think that is where they house their luxury boxes:

    Without paying any admission fee, you can spread out a blanket and watch the game on a giant television right outside the stadium:

    And, of course, the classic view from PETCO:

    Those were about all the worthy pictures. The only notable eating that we did in San Diego was Hob Nob Hill, as reviewed by the Sterns. We ate their once for dinner and stopped by on our way out of town for some breakfast pastries. Not quite walking distance to the Gaslamp Quarter, but close.

    All in all, not a bad week in SoCal. It was about all I could handle. The last night there, I got my requisite In-N-Out fix, and I was good to go home! A double-double and more fries than I could eat. I passed on the shake, but I wanted one. Either way, it was better than what we had coming on the flight home -- first class just ain't what it used to be.

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    17 January 2006

    Stuff Parents of College Bound Seniors Should Know

    ...in theory, before filing the FAFSA. This will be the first in a series of FAFSA-related posts. I will try to do one post per night until I am done, but I make no promises!

    Your kid is headed off to college next fall, has applied to a dozen different schools, her younger brother is bringing you design plans from a local contractor to turn his sister's bedroom into something more his own...and you now realize that you will need to pay for this. Ugh. I wouldn't want to be you. As if the college admission process isn't daunting enough, the financial aid process is probably worse. The stakes are higher -- kids are trying to "game" the system to get into the same 25 colleges, so the colleges change what makes a candidate attractive, or at least their evaluation methods. The same is true with financial aid. More and more people are chasing after fewer and fewer education dollars -- and desparately trying to game the system to get their fair share. Well, what's fair is (a) debatable, (b) subjective, and (c) not at all a static metric.

    There are some simple (and some more complicated) ways to help good, honest, hard-working people get as much benefit as they can from filing the FAFSA. Understanding what the FAFSA determines and what methodology is used is crucial in maximizing your potential to reap any benefits from filing.

    The acronym stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form is free to file. In other words, there really is no excuse to not file. I have heard folks say that they don't want to file because they know that they won't get anything. Well, you surely won't get anything if you don't file. I have heard others say that they don't want to file because they don't want "them" to know how much money they make. Umm...the federal government is the processor for the FAFSA. They already know how much money you make. If they don't -- you have bigger problems.

    FAFSA determines Expected Family Contribution (EFC). EFC is basically how much the government thinks you should be spending to send your kids to college. This may be a shock, but sometimes you and the government may not see eye to eye. You will receive a copy of your EFC, as will all of the schools to which you wish to submit this information. The colleges then use EFC to determine your eligibility for need-based aid at their institution and communicate that information to you. Offers of financial aid should be received from all schools to which your child has been accepted and you sent FAFSA information. The first key to getting the most aid is to follow all of the school's instructions and deadlines. Our school has a "priority deadline" for financial aid of March 15. That basically means that all students who file the FAFSA with the federal processor by March 15 will get the same equal access to available aid. That does not mean that students who do not file until after March will not get any aid, but the available pool of funds is usually greatest at the beginning. Find out the dates of all financial aid deadlines for the schools you are interested and make sure that you are done by the earliest of those dates.

    Some folks claim that they cannot file the FAFSA early because they have not prepared their taxes for the previous year yet -- and do not want to because they owe money and don't want to pay until it is due on April 15. That claim is bogus. You do not need to have your taxes filed to prepare the FAFSA. You can file using estimated data, and as long as your family's financial situation did not change drastically, then your data from last year is a good starting point for estimating.

    We need to operate under some presumptions. One is that people are honest in their dealings. Honesty is something that I would like to just take for granted, but the reality is that I have seen too many people trying to game the system resort to illegal/unethical/immoral means. The advice I have to offer is to those who wish to operate within generally accepted ethical and moral guidelines. If you don't think that you can discuss your FAFSA filing strategy with your clergyman (or your mom), then it is possible that you may be doing something that is not right. In other words, if your strategy involves maxing out your 401k contributions to reduce your AGI, you are probably OK. If you are planning on submitting falsified documents, then maybe not so much.

    Part II tomorrow.

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    CTU...or CONTROL?

    Two posts in a row about television. I need to get out more....

    Since I am not out more, I am thrilled that '24' is back on. I am not one of those people who measures the real feasibility of the show -- I just like it for what it is -- the fastest hour on television. The show is consistently well-written and aims for the target audience that watches its fair share of Bond movies. Guilty.

    There are a few things that I do have to wonder about (while doing my best to suspend reality):

  • I always figured that Chloe just needed to get a little action and maybe she would lighten up. Now it was revealed that she is hooking up with a co-worker (a subordiante, no less, which HAS to be against some kind of CTU protocol), and yet is still just as bitchy as she was before. My own positive relationship notwithstanding, I have to wonder who would want to sleep with that pouty woman?

  • It sure seems like there is another mole in CTU. Maxwell Smart didn't have to deal with this many double agents. Does anyone do any background checks at this place, or is it this easy to get a job with the government in high security areas?My bet for the mole this year? Bernie Kopell.

  • The President can't really be THAT big an idiot. Well, maybe that is just art imitating life.

  • Apparently, taking some time off from her busy schedule blogging for nhl.com, Elisha Cuthbert will be back in a four-episode arc mid-season reprising her role as Jack's daughter, Kim. Perhaps my wish can come true afterall -- she's come back because Chase's baby contracted the virus?

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    16 January 2006

    I have a dream -- you atheistic, commie pinko!

    From the Land of Irony comes this little tidbit:

    TV Land ran an "All in the Family" marathon this past weekend -- the weekend preceding the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.

    I loved "All in the Family" and it is disturbing to me that political correctness has gotten to the point where that show could NEVER be made today. I don't think I could possibly remember all of the racial epithets -- but "coon", "spook", "kike", "chink", "frog", "gook", "shvartzer", "negro", "yid" -- and, of course, "polack." Talk about the "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television."

    While it could have never been made today, "All in the Family" managed to father five spin-off shows from the "Family" tree. AITF begat "The Jeffersons", "Maude", "Archie Bunker's Place" (Edith actually dies at the beginning of this series' Season 2 -- most people mistakenly think that Edith died at/near the end of "AITF", and the God-awful "Gloria". Anyone who THINKS that "Joey" is the worst spin-off of a good television show really should be forced to watch one episode of "Gloria".

    TV Land did a "10 Best" of "All in the Family," and their number one episode is definitely the same as mine. Sammy Davis, Jr., who was reportedly a big fan of the show, guest starred in what had to be the most knee-slappingly funny half-hour of television. It was in Season 2, which I believe is also available on DVD through Amazon.com. For that matter, if you are interested,
    there is a deal where you can get $20 off the purchase of 2 DVD sets, which pretty much makes it a 2-for-1 deal.

    Anyway, watching All in the Family this weekend prompted me to re-read Dr. King's entire "Dream" speech. I know that I have seen the "I have a dream..." clip hundreds of times on television, but the message in that speech runs a lot deeper than that one clip. That speech was delivered in 1963, but the sentiments expressed are eternal.

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    11 January 2006

    Admit package envy?

    To say that this is something you don't see every day would be a little bit of an understatement. MIT admitted approximately 1,500 students last year -- about 15% of their applicant pool. In theory, fewer than 2,000 students this year will open their mailbox and get "the tube."

    Marketing has always been a fascination of mine. I love the Super Bowl -- I love the Super Bowl ads equally. I know why our school has to work so hard on marketing -- the number one reason is that we're NOT MIT. Our biggest challenge is not that we have a bad reputation, but it is that we have no reputation. Even that is a stretch -- we have a very good reputation with companies that hire our students, in specific industries where we excel. But, until we get a Division I football team playing on ESPN every Saturday, we are going to have some challenges with noteriety. I know other similar colleges have that same problem (I know plenty of students who have no idea what Harvey Mudd College is -- or what makes it different from Bob Jones University).

    Anyway, our admit package looks nothing like this. We send a congratulatory letter -- and some somewhat technical college enrollment information. Hmmm...

    The poster is one idea -- and one that I think MIT got from Olin. Hey -- they all can't be 100% original, right? I like the branding that comes across there. MIT is a destination college, and this helps connect the student applicant to the university immediately. MIT gets a very good yield already, so you don't really know if they get a good yield because they have good marketing or if they get a good yield because they are MIT.

    Either way, I think that there are some things that we could learn from their packet. I really like the Cerificate of Admission that they send. Gaining admission to MIT is something beyond special, and it is nice for that to be recognized in some small way. I am going to see if we can add that to our admission packet for next year.

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    The best laid plans...

    I had big plans this past weekend to post on some education-related topics. Clearly, that never came to fruition. I was feeling a little sickly, and subsequently spent a lot of time sleeping. I can't think of the last time I got that much sleep. It's been awhile...and i guess the body needed it.

    Anyway, my plans are to publish on the following topics in the next week or two:

    *Filing the FAFSA: Minimizing EFC legally!
    *Safety Schools
    *I got in -- now what?

    Now, we'll see how long it takes me to get these words done.

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    Meet my two new friends...

    ...Ben AND Jerry! My coupon arrived for my free pint today. If you haven't jumped in on this, you should send away post haste.

    Of course, on my way home from work, I stopped at Publix and grabbed a quart of Starbuck's Coffee Almond Fudge (my current favorite!), so I don't really need more ice cream right now...but, the coupon won't exactly go bad over night. This will give me more time to decide on what flavor to get. Right now, I am leaning towards "Half Baked."

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    03 January 2006

    Protect yourself

    Word is out that computers running any of Microsoft's operating systems purchased since 1990 are vulnerable to a new kind of malicious attack.

    The flaw, which allows hackers to infect computers using programs maliciously inserted into seemingly innocuous image files, was first discovered last week. But the potential for damaging attacks increased dramatically at the weekend after a group of computer hackers published the source code they used to exploit it. Unlike most attacks, which require victims to download or execute a suspect file, the new vulnerability makes it possible for users to infect their computers with spyware or a virus simply by viewing a web page, e-mail or instant message that contains a contaminated image.

    It is believed that this could be the worst attack that Microsoft has ever faced. They have posted a security advisory on their web site, but claim that they will not have a patch ready to go until January 10 -- one WEEK from now!

    Until they release their patch, I would encourage you to switch to Firefox for your web browsing. If you are not familiar with them, get familiar with them right now. Since I have switched to Firefox, my enjoyment of life on the web has increased significantly. No annoying pop-ups, tabbed browsing, and all of the spyware and mal code is generally written for Microsoft based products.

    This will not solve all of your problems or security issues, but it will lessen them noticeably. You should still diligently inspect all incoming attachments, now to include picture files. Instant messaging programs, which are immensely popular with the younger generation of computer users are also at risk -- so, now what your kids are downloading (which you should be doing anyway, I suppose).

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    I really wish I thought of this...


    I saw this web site about a year ago. The guy was asking for donations (ransom?) to "save his bunny." Apparently, Paypal didn't see the humor in it, and killed his account. But, all the attention he received triggered the publishing of a book, which, of course, can be purchased at Amazon!

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    Stuff College-Bound High School Students Should Know

    This is the first in what is planned to be a series of entries over the next few months that will deal with the college search process. If you have any ideas for topics that you would like addressed, please email me.

    I found this article on college visit tips. Before I get to the article, let me say that I hate when writings like this have no date attached to them. I would like to say that it is a recent article, but I am not really sure that it is because it refers to families "beginning the spring/summer college tour circuit." Well, it is neither spring nor summer, so I can only assume that this "new" article is only one that is refurbished from last year.

    College visits are especially important to me. Part of my job responsibilities include training our campus tour guides and coordinating our campus visit program. I sift through the kudos and the complaints that come in the form of our visit evaluation form. In general, we know that we give a pretty good campus tour and have a solid visit program because we have a pretty nice conversion rate of people who come to visit campus who eventually choose to enroll.

    The author of the above article discusses how many people do not get the full value from their college visits. It can be debated if the cause of this is because colleges are not providing the correct information or if prospective students and their parents are not asking the right questions. The reality is -- it is probably a little bit of both.

    Tomorrow, I am sure that my work email inbox will include a number of disappointed folks who wanted to visit campus over the last week and change during the holiday break. These will be the people who came down, did not schedule an appointment in advance, and discovered that the school was closed from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day. This is in addition to the number of disappointed people who tried to schedule appointments during this time and were told in advance that we would be closed. Apparently, our closing for the holidays is inconvenient. Given that we (collectively, who work in college admissions) do not make much money, one of the lures to the job is our coveted time off. In the past, we have tried to find volunteers from the office who were not traveling over the holidays to come in and give an admission presentation and brief tour of campus to families who "insisted" on coming during the time we were closed. The reality is that those visits are a waste of time for the folks visiting and a waste of time for us -- because these are the same people who are visiting the other schools on their list while they are open for business. We think that we are offering an additional service and doing our prospective students a favor by coming in to work on an off day and they would appreciate this. Instead, the visit evaluations show that they wanted to see a professor or sit in on a class and were disappointed that they couldn't do that! So, they visit another school for their Open House or such, and visit us when we are closed -- they do get to look at some impressive empty buildings! -- and then try to make a valid comparison? That is silly. If this topic interests you, click below for more.

    The contra argument is that these are the times when it is convenient to come and visit; parents are off from work , students are out of school, it's warm here at Christmas time, etc. Trying to squeeze in a college visit in between Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's house, a trip to EPCOT, or sunning yourself on the Florida beach SEEMS like a really good idea. But, you have to take into account what you are going to see if we are not able to accommodate a full campus visit. All the reasons you would want to see us in the first place -- the academic facilities, access to faculty, interaction with current students, etc. -- are not available when we are not open for business.

    Some tips, in addition to the ones listed in the article, include:

  • Before making your travel arrangements, call the school or check their web site to see what days/dates are best for your visit.

  • Call and schedule an appointment. There may be special opportunities available to students that can only be planned in advance. Try to give the school at least one week's notice of your visit.

  • Allow at least one full day to visit each school. If schools are VERY close together -- think Drexel and University of Pennsylvania -- then you may be able to schedule more than one, but call the school and ASK if it is feasible.

  • Talk with your guidance counselor or trusted teacher. S/He may be able to offer some additional suggestions of nearby schools to visit or call a contact in the admission office to alert them of your interest.

  • Come prepared. Check the school's web site before you leave home to get a feel for what you might expect to see; have a GOOD list of questions to ask; manage your expectations; and be ready for anything unexpected that might come up.

  • Your visit may include an interview, an information session, an overnight visit, and other school-specific opportunities. Keep in mind that while you are evaluating the school, the school is also evaluating you. Even if you have already been offered admission, your behavior during your visit can still adversely affect you, and admission can be withdrawn. This is particularly important for overnight visits. Don't do anything that you wouldn't do in front of your parents.

  • Eat a meal on campus. Trust me, we didn't make anything special for you. If you are coming to our school, you will likely have to live and eat on campus your first year. One easy thing to check out that is not on the regular tour is the dining service.

  • While dining, don't sit by yourself! Plunk yourself down next to some current students and talk with them about campus life. The people that you meet as tour guides are usually the campus superstars -- the people that you meet in the dining hall could be anyone.

  • It doesn't matter if you secure admission to the school and then visit, or visit before applying. The school doesn't really care, though some more selective institutions do require an interview as part of their admission process. Many schools, however, do include "demonstrated interest" in the admission decision -- and a campus visit would certainly help indicate demonstrated interest.

  • Another good resource can be found here. The author states:
    Since every college visitor isn't looking for the same thing, the same questions won't work for everyone. The important thing is to ask the questions that deal with your particular needs.

    College is a very large financial commitment. Most folks wouldn't buy so much as a television or stereo without doing significant comparison shopping. Yet, the college decision sometimes gets short changed in favor of more pressing commitments. If you make an effort to get the most out of your college visits, you will have a better chance to get the most of your college experience.

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    01 January 2006

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