Friday, November 11, 2016


You have an image, an online persona. In marketing parlance, you are a brand with positive attributes. Lucas Cruikshank and Tavi Gevinson Dude Perfect carefully design their Web worlds into branding icons on the Internet. Your web presence should be cultivated so use social media wisely in your junior and senior high-school years.

Positivity promote your personal brand. Twitter. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Flickr. Google+. Think about who you are as a representative of your high school. Consider a few positive words that define you, the well-rounded future college scholar, not the underage Instagram poster with beer bottles in the picture background. Use these appropriate words as a filter before you post anything publicly to Facebook or other social media—if you think what you are about to post doesn’t measure up to your brand, DON'T.

Inventory your social media accounts, your blog posts and YouTube videos. Potentially offensive comments? Risque photos? Inappropriate gestures or clothing? Profanity? Serious negativity? Drinking? Bigotry? Threats?

So let's state the obvious: If Grandma might not approve, delete it.  And remember, it’s all about upkeep. Junior year is a great time to Google yourself and review every social media account with a fine-toothed comb. Tighten your privacy and security settings; cruise through your Activity Log and Archive. Delete posts and images that may be deemed detrimental by a university scanner. Again, if you don’t think you could show it to your parents, don’t let the world see it.

But your job is not finished.

Next, we all use spelling shorthand but if you see series of poorly spelled verbiage, erase it. Everyone accepts AMA and TMI; C3R741N P30PL3 is definitely clever; but wierd is wrong. Trim down your Likes, Groups and Apps. Do you want a college social media reviewer know that you seem more focused on Farmville or Candy Crush than homework, sports and clubs?

Adjust Facebook privacy settings to review all tags; this gives you ways to minimize a questionable tag and better control of the brand you are showing the world. Similarly, un-Tag anything embarrassing. This is genuinely important for getting that part-time summer or college job.

Lastly, remember that LinkedIn profile you had created a year ago? Make sure that it is up-to-date in relation to your resume. Different dates and other information may be caught by potential employers. Show growth on your LinkedIn employment history; don't just parrot the words on your resume. Build your Skills & Endorsements. Expand your membership in Groups that match your academic and work interests. And find Influencers to follow who make you appear more advanced than others in your age group.

Colleges have many ways to disqualify 9 out of 10 candidates for admission. Don't let a visible beer can or bit of profanity make you that No. 9.
--Mike Ryan

Sunday, October 2, 2016

FAFSA For The Rest Of Us

One of the biggest nightmares dreaded by parents and students is the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. As many as 55% of households do not fill out the elaborate form, some because of family wealth, but many because it is, well, really, really hard to round up all the pieces.

The new submission date, Oct. 1, replaces the old Jan. 1 date, which in the past forced, and frustrated, parents to collect financial information before their entire situation was readily available. Thus, the 2017-18 FAFSA requires households' 2015 tax reports. How cool is that? We all have that material from our 2016 tax filing.

But wait, this gets even better for all you harried parents. There is now something called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to import automatically your tax information into your FAFSA.

Never lose sight of the fact that FAFSA is a powerful predictor of school financial offers, as well as a factor in Pell Grants and federally supported loans.

So here's the bottom line: With all the information at hand three months earlier, you, the parents and child, get more time to meet most deadlines and crucially now have a way to explore and understand your financial aid options like never before.

It is the dawn of a new day in paying for a college education. And an even better time to contact your college consultant for help navigating the thousands of other issues between you and your child's best college choice.
--Mike Ryan

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Whole New Alphabet Soup of Testing

Did you feel that sudden shift beneath your feet recently? Did the ground shake in your Illinois household?

The state's move to begin offering high school juniors the SAT college entrance exam after many years of ACT control has added an extra layer of uncertainty for high schools.

Expect some degree of chaos in your school district as the learning curve develops. Thousands of Illinois teachers comfortable in guiding students to better ACT scores now find themselves in virgin territory.

One tutor notes, "The ACT tests reading, math, English and science. The SAT is more of an aptitude test. What are you capable of learning?"

Parents, don't believe for a minute that your child will achieve comparable percentile ranks. Just as there are "left-brain" people and "right-brain" thinkers, there are high performing ACT scorers who can stumble through the SAT--and vice-versa. 

Parents should consider having their student take both the standardized ACT and SAT tests so a comparison can be made on the best representative score results. If scores don't reflect your student's best realistic outcome, strongly consider working with a test-prep tutor who can strengthen weak areas. The goal is for a better score in a repeat test.

The winning College Board, which operates the SAT operation, said, "More Illinois students will benefit ... from an assessment that provides more information than ever before about a student's readiness."

A research company pegged the spending in the American test prep industry around $4.3 billion in 2015. Is your student prepared for her/his all-important SAT?

- Mike Ryan

Friday, July 1, 2016

Make A Roadmap To Build Your College Search

You have this high school thing down. You have decided college is right for you.
Good for you.
But where do you begin?
Ask your high school counselor.
College fairs.
There are rankings such as those from "U.S. News and World Report”  (hint, the numbers are rigged.)
There are massive books such as Princeton Review or Fiske Guide.
Or you can discuss with family, friends and alumni.
And then there are websites. Lots! College Navigator, Unigo and even Facebook since universities maintain an active Facebook presence. There is a dizzying array of options to review in trimming the short list from thousands to a few universities that feel good.

But try this:

Do a Google search for "common data set" and the name of any college.
Poof, you have landed in a treasure trove.
Universities offer an incredible amount of useful selection information via the CDS.
--Detailed enrollment/”persistence” data.
--Freshman admission/enrollment.
--Academic offerings and required classes.
--College life choices.
--Costs and financial aid.
--Student and faculty totals and ratios.

After you have mastered trolling through CDS' info, data mining gets easier. Let’s say, for instance, your grades are excellent but standardized test are a little scary. But you learn, say, that Bowdoin College doesn't require standardized tests scores (which about 16% of applicants opt to hold back).
Or let's say the idea of becoming a small fish in a pond of tens of thousands of students is not your preference. Delve into, which is chock full of private college info. Private colleges are not the preserve of rich families. They are expanding outreach, academic support and financial aid programs that help students from all backgrounds realize the opportunity to enroll and succeed in a college of 1,200 like-minded students instead of 30,000.

You have started the process of choosing a college.
Do your homework, take good notes and plan on visiting some colleges to see how they fit before your applications are submitted.   

--Mike Ryan

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dollars and Good Sense

Let's push aside paying for tuition, books and a meal plan for the moment.

Instead, let's talk about coffee, snacks, t-shirts, student discounts at theaters, concerts, museums, sports events and retailers. Oh, and those to-die-for jeans.

Cash in a weekly envelope for expenses is so stone age. There are a range of credit-card and app options for the first-time credit user. But pulling out the credit card or phone Google Wallet or Apple Pay is way too easy at the front end for teen-agers when mom or dad get the bill 30 days later.

So don't let Victoria even start loading up the van before you have had the family chat about expenses--as in "other."

Make this at least a two-day process:

On Day One, parents and child independently pull together a list of monthly probable expenses...Laundry, personal care, public/campus transportation and/or gas (for the rare freshman who really needs a car), school supplies, cell phone/tablet wi-fi, entertainment, game/movie rentals, haircuts, etc.

On Day Two, swap lists. Hopefully, the numbers are comparable. If not, negotiate and convince offspring this will be a work in progress and adjusted as school term flies by. 
Next, figure out how everybody is comfortable with a plan for paying for all of the expenses. Do the math...assess the burdens.

On-campus/off-campus jobs should be discussed at this point. Even if your son is making $50 a week doing this or that on weekends to defray costs, it is a great life lesson.

The $25 (or $50) rule: Make it clear there are always going to be opportunity or unexpected expenses. Decide now if your child has to communicate a bigger purchase before it is made.

Do the research. Check out and compare credit cards, debit cards or consider a prepaid Visa/MasterCard. Traditional and online banks offer student checking accounts with a debit card and ATM access. Check out Bluebird by American Express as an alternative to a checking account. And also consider a PayPal debit card. I find PayPal indispensible and the debit card gives parents full access, offers spending limits and automated alerts. And valuable in an emergency: Parents can initiate a transfer in seconds if a student needs money immediately.

So ask around on campus what upperclassmen use for that late-night latte, check the banks and ATMs on or near campus.

Lastly, be careful of some campus-sponsored bank cards. Some charge 50 cents for every transaction and levy an overdraft charge of $38 and $3 for each out-of-network ATM transaction. Watch the Consumers Union video on college cards.

Revisit the budget every 30 days until it shakes out for all. No surprises are a good thing. A responsible money manager allows everyone to sleep a little better.

-Mike Ryan

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Paperwork That Might Save Your Life

What's the worst that could happen as your child goes off to college? Some bad grades? Homesick? Hard to make friends? Nothing to eat besides breakfast bars?

Not even close.

What if a texting car driver isn't paying attention and runs down your daughter walking though a crosswalk?

What if, in this new communal lifestyle, your son picks up some super-serious flu bug or a virulent and fast-acting form of meningitis?

Pretty awful.

But consider: What happens if your son or daughter is incapacitated by those issues or any of dozens of possible medical emergencies that happen on campus every year. 

The days of making medical decisions for your 12 year old at the pediatrician's office are over. Your 18-year-old child is considered an adult in almost every state. Do not send your pride-and-joy off to college without having prepared a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (also called a Healthcare Proxy in some jurisdictions). If your daughter instead says, "Aw, mom, don't worry. I will be fine," it is your job to convince your child this is no joke, that she is now considered an adult who can vote, marry and serve in the military--and, as an adult, she has to do the intelligent thing and cover the rare contingency that this paperwork might save her life. A phone call home is not a substitute when time is critical.

In addition to a Healthcare POA, there is a bit more paperwork to be done. A Living Will sets down your child's wishes about life support and other medical interventions and a HIPAA Release waives strict rights of privacy, allowing the designated party to make critical decisions. Without this instrument, the parents of an incapacitated child cannot even find out what treatments and medications are being given.

Healthcare directives for your child can be prepared by the attorney who created your estate, Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Power of Attorney for Property. Do not put this off; a minimal investment and a few minutes of time now is vastly better than a crisis in which you can only observe, not act in your child's best interests.

-Mike Ryan

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Dirty Dozen: 12 Things Not To Do On Your Campus Visit

Procrastinate. You will place an unfair burden on your family by waiting until your rising senior summer. Experience touring campuses in Grades 9-10 makes you a savvy consumer by learning what is important to test and what is smoke-and-mirrors designed to impress rookie tourists.

Pick the wrong time. Summer and weekends may seem convenient, but you want to see the living, breathing campus in action. An April Monday provides a completely different feel than a July Sunday. And such opportunities such as waiting in the Starbucks line gives you a chance to talk up a current student on what school is like.

Settle for the "show" dorm. A college will make the dorm everybody sees as appealing as possible. Ask to see they boys/girls dorms that freshies actually stay. Be persistent if you get a response about the actual dorm rooms being out of bounds. Explain you've come from far away and need to see the real deal to consider the college.

Spend more time in the nearby town or peeking into the local restaurants than sampling campus food and picking up a campus vibe.

Neglect the surroundings a few hours in any direction. That may sound like the opposite of the last tip. But there is more work to do. Once you have done your intensive campus visit, learn about the Big City a bus ride away. Scan the parks for running, biking or climbing, rivers for kayaking, museums for areas of interest, sports venues for games of choice, shopping options, restaurants, movie theaters. A number of small towns developed around small colleges. If you get bored after seeing things one or two weekends in a town of 2,000, imagine what Year Four will be like for your cosmopolitan soul.

Watch the tour guide walk backwards. Kids, do not try this; s/he has done it so many times it is second nature. Sometimes I suspect there is a for-credit class on heel-then-toe walking. Practice in your bedroom for your bemused cat, not on the sidewalk with an unseen crack. Listen and take in the guide’s spiel as important nuggets of hands-on perspective often give great insight to campus life.

Passively participate. The campus visit is a great time to gather as much first hand information as possible. You are the only one who knows specifically what you consider most crucial to your decision. Take time to do your research and prepare questions before the visit, and most importantly, ask questions of tour guides and admission officers. It is not up to mom or dad to lead the charge; pretend they have a pointy stick for the slow spots and give 100%.

Waste your time checking out the collegians of your preferred sex. They aren't interested in high school seniors. Eye candy is one thing, but focus on connecting with a potential department mentor, not imagine your role in episodes of The Bachelor. This goes double when mom and dad are within sight. Enough said.

Fail to take notes. You need to bring a checklist. After three campus visits your brain will jumble up which one had what. By five, it is ridiculous. Guaranteed. Evernote, Google Keep, Apple Notes, an old-fashioned notebook, whatever. Take pictures, too. Organization is an absolute must for every trip. Your opinions will change as you add school visits. And this will give you ideas for future questions.

Ignore the weather. You already know if you are a warm weather person or somebody who loves four distinct seasons. You have to consider the number of steps between classes and activities during rainy season at the University of Washington, winter at UW-Green Bay and anyplace south of the Mason-Dixon Line without air conditioned dorms and classrooms. Learn about the bus service and check out the campus maps at Stanford and Duke, both of which top 8,000 acres.

Skip schools two time zones away. Virtual tours and university visits in your home area are common. If something clicks, though, it cannot hurt to ask parents if they would be willing to fly 1,000 miles or so to sate your curiosity. Suggest it as part of a vacation if necessary.

Leave after the glowing hourlong report from your tour guide. Definitely hit the library, the food venues, the favored major department building, ask students clever questions. A few extra hours should help you answer the BIG question: Will I be happy here?

- Mike Ryan