Prep Talk Blog > March 2009

Astoundingly, applications to music programs are on the rise, even as the economy is in decline, reports The Chicago Tribune. Considering the cost of lessons and instruments, studying music doesn't come cheap and recouping expenses seems tough, if not impossible, given the state of unemployment. However, today's budding virtuoso has more post-graduate options than ever before, and there are some surprisingly practical skills you can pick up with a seemingly impractical degree.

Though traditional orchestra jobs are becoming more competitive, Michael Manderen, director of conservatory admission at Oberlin, says that "students are hip about the professional realities." Music students have many transferable skills, such as discipline and collaboration, which are valuable assets when entering graduate school or the professional world.  Thus, rather than eliminating other career options, studying music can actually be some of the best preparation you can get for business, law, or medical school.

While previous generations of music learners were limited to careers in teaching or performing, the digital age has opened up innumerable opportunities that were formerly unavailable. Students today are majoring in things like ethnomusicology and music administration and getting jobs in the video game or entertainment industries. Because many music programs are a part of a larger university, students have access to the vast and varied curricula of the greater institution. Music majors at Northwestern, DePaul, and Indiana Universities study alongside more traditional majors. Oberlin students can learn about entrepreneurship and tax law. Even Julliard, the most competitive performing arts school in the nation, offers classes on starting non-profits or creating digital scores.

Art schools, on the other hand, have experienced declining enrollment, likely a result of students' desires to enter fields with more stable employment. However, Minneapolis College of Art and Design admissions director William Mullen says that many students transfer into art schools after initially attending traditional universities and majoring in practical subjects. This suggests that students ultimately prioritize genuine interests, even at the cost of a surefire career path. That being said, art degrees shouldn't be underestimated. As one MCAD junior puts it, her pursuit of art not only satisfies her creative passions, but also "is preparing her for a new economic reality in which creative thinkers will be the ones who get ahead."

Journalism programs, too, are seeing a rise in applications, which seems counterintuitive since print publications have been folding and downsizing over the past year as a result of declining advertising revenue. How those graduates will fare in the new digital age is anyone's guess, but even in a tough job market, it seems that passion remains the trump card.

Image by Angels Gate and used under a Creative Commons license.

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Don't believe recent headlines that insinuate you will earn less money if you graduate from a community college than if you enroll and complete your degree at a four-year college. These sensationalist articles are oversimplified claims drawn from a much larger, in-depth study by Natalia Kolesnikova, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis . Though publications like USA Today are claiming that this proves a "community college penalty", it is important for students and parents to see the bigger picture in this discussion.

The study cited by reporters is actually not slamming community college education at all. Rather, the research suggests that community colleges are vehicles of upward economic mobility. A careful reading of the report shows that there are fundamental differences between the community college population and the four-year college population, and these differences -- not community college enrollment -- account for the later income disparity.

In truth, the study shows that there are many factors determining future income that go beyond where you begin your college education. These include:


     Your Level of College Preparation


Why this factor matters: If you have a strong academic profile with good grades, challenging courses, and great test scores, you are more likely to succeed no matter what type of college you enroll in. "Open enrollment” policies at community colleges mean that the admissions standards are pretty lenient and your level of college preparation does not have to be competitive. However, if you are a strong student who chooses a community college transfer path (even though you were accepted to colleges with competitive admissions), then this community college “penalty”, may not apply to you!


Family Support for College Education

Why this factor matters: If you and your family believe in the value of a college education and are committed to the completion of your degree, then you are more likely to succeed in any college environment. Sometimes, community college students are going where no one else in their family has gone before: college. It is understandable that first generation students are pioneers who have a lot of uncharted territory to cover. One thing is for certain, students who attend college earn more money over their lifetimes than students who stop at high school graduation.


The College Major that you Choose

Why this factor matters:  If you choose a college major that will prepare you for a more lucrative career, you will end up earning more income. Statistically, community college transfer students tend to choose college majors that lead to careers with lower earning potential. This is a matter of choice: you have a ton of options when it comes to choosing a college major that will prepare you for your future career. Choose a major based upon your strengths and interests.

Where You are in Life

Why this factor matters: If you enroll in college straight out of high school, you are more likely to be able to focus on your education and career planning without the added responsibilities of children and a demanding full-time job. Community colleges attract students of all ages in a variety of family and career circumstances. All of these factors affect post-graduate opportunities and career mobility.

Truth: The assertion that community college transfer students earn less than start-to-finish four-year college graduates may be true overall, but it can't be applied to everyone who chooses this route since future income is influenced by multiple variables. Depending on how you and your family approach your college education, this statement might be a myth when applied to you as an individual.

The most important thing to remember is that you have many college options that will serve you well in your future life and career. If you find that starting at a community college is the best option for you and your family, don’t be discouraged by these media distortions.  Go to college and apply yourself, and you will have every opportunity to become successful!
Don't believe recent headlines that insinuate you will earn less money if you graduate from a community college than if you enroll and complete your degree at a four-year college. These sensationalist articles are oversimplified claims drawn from a much larger, in-depth study by Natalia Kolesnikova, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis . Though publications like USA Today are claiming that this proves a "community college penalty", it is important for students and parents to see the bigger picture in this discussion.

The study cited by reporters is actually not slamming community college education at all. Rather, the research suggests that community colleges are vehicles of upward economic mobility. A careful reading of the report shows that there are fundamental differences between the community college population and the four-year college population, and these differences -- not community college enrollment -- account for the later income disparity.

In truth, the study shows that there are many factors determining future income that go beyond where you begin your college education. These include:

Your Level of College Preparation

Why this factor matters: If you have a strong academic profile with good grades, challenging courses, and great test scores, you are more likely to succeed no matter what type of college you enroll in. "Open enrollment” policies at community colleges mean that the admissions standards are pretty lenient and your level of college preparation does not have to be competitive. However, if you are a strong student who chooses a community college transfer path (even though you were accepted to colleges with competitive admissions), then this community college “penalty”, may not apply to you!

Family Support for College Education

Why this factor matters: If you and your family believe in the value of a college education and are committed to the completion of your degree, then you are more likely to succeed in any college environment. Sometimes, community college students are going where no one else in their family has gone before: college. It is understandable that first generation students are pioneers who have a lot of uncharted territory to cover. One thing is for certain, students who attend college earn more money over their lifetimes than students who stop at high school graduation.

The College Major that you Choose

Why this factor matters:  If you choose a college major that will prepare you for a more lucrative career, you will end up earning more income. Statistically, community college transfer students tend to choose college majors that lead to careers with lower earning potential. This is a matter of choice: you have a ton of options when it comes to choosing a college major that will prepare you for your future career. Choose a major based upon your strengths and interests.

Where You are in Life

Why this factor matters: If you enroll in college straight out of high school, you are more likely to be able to focus on your education and career planning without the added responsibilities of children and a demanding full-time job. Community colleges attract students of all ages in a variety of family and career circumstances. All of these factors affect post-graduate opportunities and career mobility.

Truth: The assertion that community college transfer students earn less than start-to-finish four-year college graduates may be true overall, but it can't be applied to everyone who chooses this route since future income is influenced by multiple variables. Depending on how you and your family approach your college education, this statement might be a myth when applied to you as an individual.

The most important thing to remember is that you have many college options that will serve you well in your future life and career. If you find that starting at a community college is the best option for you and your family, don’t be discouraged by these media distortions.  Go to college and apply yourself, and you will have every opportunity to become successful!

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Everyone says that college admissions is super competitive, but so is enrollment apparently. The tables have turned and the colleges are ready to turn on the charm to roll your acceptance letter into a real enrollment at their institution.  Just like you worried about your chances of getting in, your future college is worried about getting you to enroll after they accept you. The percentage of students who matriculate out of all of those accepted is a concept called “yield”, which factors into how colleges are scored in rankings.  (Institutions with higher yield are considered more desirable and therefore, are ranked higher.) Now it’s your turn to see which college, vying for your enrollment is the right fit for you.

According to a U.S. News and World Report article by Kim Clark, college acceptances are getting “glitzier” than ever this year. Why? Well, simply put, the colleges want to make an impression and stand out as you are making your big decision. Some colleges are notifying students of acceptances (and rejections) via text messages, others are sending texts, t-shirts, congratulatory videos and party packets complete with confetti.  
Take a moment to celebrate, you earned it! Then, start the evaluation process. When you applied to these colleges, they took the time to carefully review your application and decide whether or not you would be a good fit for their institutional goals. Fortunately, they decided that you are right for their future. Now it’s time for you to decide which college is going to be right for your future.

 
Here are five great tips to help you review your acceptance offers:

1. Take your time. In most cases, you will have at least a month to think about where you will actually go to college. 

2.  Research and revisit your college options. Pay serious attention to the academic and social climate of the campus, as well as the dining and housing options, and other things that  you will have to deal with daily if you enroll there. Talk candidly with current students and with alumni about their experiences as students at the institution. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable in the environment and if you can handle being there for four years or more.  

3. Check out the financial aid offers carefully. Which colleges are more likely to require more student loans? Think about the true costs of your college options like the cost of on- and off-campus rent, transportation, meals and activities.   

4. Trust your instincts! College is a big investment of time and money and how you feel about it counts a great deal. If you have two or more choices, it may be wise to go with the one that just feels right for you.

5. Talk frankly with your parents and your counselor about your feelings and your reasons for wanting to go to each college on your list of acceptances. Ask them for input and listen carefully to their opinions to get different perspectives on the possibilities.  

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If you just found out that you've been accepted to your top college choice, congratulations!If you just found out that you've NOT been accepted to your top college choice, congratulations!Whether you're accepted, denied or in waitlist limbo, your journey has just begun. For those who are feeling down about denied admission, think about your next best options. Chances are that you have backup schools on your list that are excited about the prospect of you enrolling at their colleges. Don’t beat yourself up or second guess every detail in your application. Avoid sentences that start with “I could’ve”, “I should’ve” and/or “I would’ve." These are dead-end thoughts that need to be driven out of your head and replaced with “I can” and “I will” plans for the future.  Here are a few great tips to get you out of pessimistic mode and get you ready to proactively pursue your future:

Revisit your safety schools: Schedule campus visits where you have been accepted. You may find that you have found a new best match.

Gear up so you can transfer to your top college selection after a couple years. You should commit yourself to academic excellence at your initial school to make yourself the best candidate for future college and grad school admissions.

Take a carefully-planned ‘gap year’: Ramp up your activities and accomplishments to successfully gain admission when you apply again. The gap year option can be risky and set you back a few years in the college timeline. Be sure to think very hard about how this year can equip you for your college education. Ask yourself what you are going to achieve that will make you a great candidate for admission the next time around. 

Look for colleges with "Open Admission” that will accept and enroll students clear up to the day that classes begin. Your local community college might be just the place to prepare for transfer!


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If you haven't submitted your FAFSA application yet, do it now! I recently read a great article by Todd Johnson, College Admissions Counselor, that includes a few additional tips that can help you and your family choose the right forms for your income level and assets.

According to Johnson:

Filing a FAFSA is required for federal student aid but some scholarships also rely on the FAFSA to determine who qualifies. In other words, if you don’t file a FAFSA you might lose out on scholarships from some colleges.

If your family's income is close to, or below $50,000, you should consider filing a 1040A or 1040EZ. Why? Families with income below $50,000, who file a 1040A or 1040 EZ, will not generally have their assets included for purposes of calculating their Expected Family Contributtion (EFC).

If your family income is below $30,000 and you file a 1040A or 1040EZ, you qualify for an automatic $0 EFC.

Your assets are determined as of the date of your filing of the FAFSA. So if you have been saving up for that new car, buy the car before filing your FAFSA.

The FAFSA will consider 20 percent of student assets available for college but only a maximum of 5.6 percent of parent assets.  Going to buy a computer for college? Buy it before filling out your FAFSA.  (Source: FAFSA Tips; Feb. 24, 2009; Todd Johnson).

Paying for college (and most other things) is getting more difficult by the day, but don’t give up! Be encouraged and step up your game.  In life, there are factors which we can control like how we spend our time, what we learn, and how we achieve our goals. However, there are also factors such as family income and assets that are pretty much controlled by external circumstances. You owe it to yourself to apply for financial aid using the FAFSA, even if your family income is above what you think is going to qualify.

Worst case scenario: You don’t qualify for aid or the EFC is too high for your folks to cover. If either of these things happens, then you have already geared up to apply for scholarships. In applying for scholarships, you are back in control. Before, during and after you submit the FAFSA, have a scholarship plan. If you end up getting free grant money, then your scholarship money can help with all of the little hidden costs in the daily life of a college student. If not, then your scholarship winnings could spare you years of student loan debt or even missed educational opportunities.

Take action now: File your FAFSA using the additional tips above AND go to
Fastweb.com and start your scholarship search.

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