All posts by Marguerite J. Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina. Marguerite was responsible for establishing international alumni clubs and was responsible for the international fundraising activities for Suffolk University.. Marguerite has served as a consultant to colleges and universities in Viet Nam, Kuwait and Georgia. She has served as a consultant for international parents and students and developed a Private Client Service, that assists families from pre-admission and acceptance to graduation.

Questions we wished we asked about college admissions

College GuideWe all have questions we wished we’d asked about college admissions.

Not long ago I met with friends Sydney and Tom Hale. They had just finished reading my book, The New College Guide: How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job.

The Hales expressed their disappointment they never thought to ask some of the questions listed in my book when they applied to college and when their children were applying to colleges.

Based on what I heard,  I will answer in this space, over the next two blogs, the questions the Hales wished they had asked.

Transfer Credits

  • After Tom was awarded an associate’s degree, he applied to transfer to a four year college and assumed all of his credits would transfer.  No mention of transfer credits was included in his acceptance package.  After numerous phone calls, Tom learned only three courses would transfer.  He never enrolled in the four year college.

Takeaway:  Be sure you have a clear understanding of how many of your college credits will transfer before you send in a deposit.

Application Acceptance

  • Sydney was one of the few female pilots in her state at the age of 17.  Her high school guidance counselor never suggested her aviation skills, particularly at such a young age, could be a “hook” when applying to colleges.  Sydney did not enroll in her first choice school but transferred after six months.

Takeaway:  Be sure you and your guidance counselor agree on the best way to position your application for acceptance.

Financial Aid

  • When applying to college, Tom never applied for financial aid because he thought his family made too much money to qualify for assistance.

Takeaway:  Regardless of your family’s income, always apply for financial aid. You may qualify for institutional aid, not based on income.

Grim Student Debt Statistics – Historic Levels

Student debt is now at a historic high in the United States.

Last month the Wall Street Journal reported the following grim student debt statistics:

  • Student loan debt was $364 billion in 2004 and over $1 trillion in 2013.
  • The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that as of the fourth quarter of 2012 only about 40% of student borrowers were paying down their loans.
  • 17% of all loans were delinquent, defined as 90 days past due.
  • 14% of borrowers who were not officially delinquent had the same balance as the previous quarter.
  • 30% had increases in their balances.
  • More students are attending college and taking out bigger loans and a weak job market has impacted student re-payment.

There are ways to graduate with manageable debt but you must take the necessary steps before you turn in a single college application.

College GuideI devote many pages in my book, The New College Guide: How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job to avoid graduating with a student loan bill that will impact your life after graduation.

Read the book and don’t become a negative statistic.

Primer on College Reference Guides

There is no shortage of very good college reference guides to help students and families work through college selection.

I am happy to recommend several – and most have online components to make your research even easier.

I encourage you to visit and study:

  • College Navigator. This site is sponsored by the Department of Education and contains a database of thousands of colleges and universities. The schools are listed by location, program and degree offerings.
  • The University of Texas at Austin  Web U.S. Higher Education. This site provides links to the home pages of four year colleges and universities throughout the U.S.
  • Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities ((AJCU).  This site is sponsored by Jesuit colleges and will give you information on all Jesuit schools.
  • Hillel International. This is the official site of Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
  • Women’s Colleges. This site will give you information on women’s colleges in the U.S.
  • Black Excel. This site provides information for African American students
  • NCAA.  This website provides useful information for anyone interested in varsity athletics at schools who are members of the NCAA.
  • FAFSA.  This is the federal site for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  If you are applying for need-based aid, you will need to visit this site.
  • FAFSA.  This site allows families to get estimates of their expected family contribution.
  • Fastweb.  This site provides information on scholarships as well as expected family contribution calculator.
  • Finaid.  This is a general purpose site with lots of information about financial aid.
  • Federal Student Aid.  This is a comprehensive government site with information in both English and Spanish.

Please take the time to review any and all of the information on these sites.  It can only help you narrow your choices and find the best school for you.

Don’t discount the quality of community colleges

Once considered a “stepchild” of higher education, many community colleges are now innovators and well deserving of the title.

Half of all current college students attend a community college.

Federal and state funding for community colleges has increased over the past several years and a great deal is being done at the community college level to match majors with workforce needs.

I recommend, especially if finances are a major issue for you, taking a serious look at enrolling in a two year school first and then transferring to a four-year college or university.

This will save you the cost of a four-year bachelor’s degree at a more expensive school while still allowing you to graduate with a degree from that four year school.  Most community college students live at home so that saves you the cost of residence hall expenses.  And most community college students work and do not borrow to meet living expenses.

If you decide to go the community college route, do the same investigation that you would do if you planned on attending a four year school.

  •  Find out the successful transfer rate of the community college, the schools students transfer into, the percentage of students who stay for two years, the most popular majors, and the average debt.
  •  Find out how many of the students with an associate’s degree get a job at graduation.
  • Be certain that your future career interests can be met by the curriculum.

I have a colleague who recently told me that he put all three of his children through college and graduate school with a cumulative debt of $90,000.  And all three first attended a community college!

College housing can make or break your first year

Once you’ve been accepted to college, the next big decision is college housing.

Where you decide to live can either help you succeed in the first semester of your college career, or it can contribute to you wanting to transfer to another school.

There are many options for you to consider if you decide to live on campus, including:

  • Single-sex residence halls – no members of the opposite sex
  • Substance-free residence halls – no alcohol or drugs are permitted
  • Honors housing – Some colleges and universities house their honors students together
  • Special-interest residence halls – certain majors may be grouped together.  Some schools assign international students to the same residence halls, but I don’t recommend this.  I think it would be better for an international student to have the experience of living with an American student.

Most colleges and universities have single rooms, double rooms and suite-like configuration of rooms where several students live in a group setting.

Don’t count on getting a single room.  Few schools can offer that option.  Doubles and suites are more common. Find out if your school will let you “negotiate” who you want to live with and be certain to find out what you can do if your housing situation becomes intolerable.  What options do you have?

If for some reason, your financial situation changes, and you need to commute from home to campus, know how to petition to be released from your housing contract.

I can’t stress enough the importance of a good housing situation. There are so many changes and new experiences in the first semester. You need to be able to come back to a comfortable space that you can call “home.”

Make the most out of your college campus visits

College Guide Most prospective college students and their parents want to make college campus visits before deciding to apply.

And that is good strategy, a right of passage in many ways.

The guidelines in my book, The New College Guide: How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job shows you how to narrow your choices so that you are not travelling all over the country to visit several schools.

One of my daughters visited 23 college campuses and enrolled in the first one she visited!  There is no need for you to do that.  Read the book and narrow your choices to perhaps ten schools. You may have more or less, but use ten as a benchmark.

When you visit a school try to spend more than the time allotted by the admission office. If you can, arrange to spend a night is a residence hall.  If you can, arrange to sit in on one first year class and one upper level class. Try, if you can, to meet with a professor in your major (if you have one).

Read bulletin boards and pick up a copy of the college newspaper. Forget about being shy and talk to students in the cafeteria, in the library, wherever you can.

Make sure you stop by the registrar’s office and get a copy of the catalog.  Don’t forget to meet someone in the financial aid office.  Pick up forms if they are available. Stop by the career counseling center and speak with someone about what career counseling you can expect from your first year through your senior year.

Be your own investigator and advocate.

College Majors and the Fastest Growing Careers

College GuideCollege majors make a difference throughout life.

If you have read my book, The New College Guide: How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job,  you know I put a great deal of importance on college majors and future career goals.  While I believe that college is not just about getting a good job after graduation, I think it should be a consideration when choosing a college major.

If you read one of my previous blogs about getting a job at Google, you know that having a good liberal arts education can be an advantage when applying for your first job.

Depending on your degree and in what part of the country you live, you may want to consider the following:

Associate Degree

  • Computer programmer
  • Dental hygienist
  • Electrician
  • Licensed practical nurse
  • Paralegal
  • Physical therapy assistant
  • X-ray technician.

Bachelor’s Degree

  • Accountant
  • Airline pilot
  • Computer engineer
  • Financial advisor
  • Physician assistant
  • Dietician
  • Graphic designer.

I have listed only a few of the many college majors that may match your interests and skills.  If you can, I suggest a double major.  This means you graduate with enough credits in two majors.  And I suggest one of the majors be in the liberal arts and one in a “practical” subject area, like computer science.  It’s not always easy to do but a double major can help to land your first job. 

Early College Acceptance Programs

If you have already picked your top choice for college or university, you may want to think about early college acceptance programs.

If you have read and followed the guidelines in my book, The New College Guide:  How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job, you may already know early college acceptance programs exist at most schools and the programs have advantages and disadvantages.

Some early acceptance programs include:

  • Early Action (EA) – You submit an application before November 1st,  notified of a decision by December 15.  However, if you receive an acceptance, it is not binding that you attend this school. You have until May 1st school of your decision and you are free to apply to other schools.
  • Early Decision (ED) – You submit an application by November 1st and will be notified of a decision by December 15th.  However, if you receive an acceptance, it is binding that you attend this school.  You may not apply to other schools.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Early Acceptance Programs

  • If you know for sure where you want to enroll and have done your homework and know that you have a very good chance of being accepted, then you should seriously consider applying as an ED candidate.  If you are accepted, this will save you time and anxiety for the rest for your senior year.  If you have done your homework,, you know you can afford to attend this school and that your academic and financial needs will be met.
  • If you are somewhat certain that you want to attend a particular school and you know you have a good chance of being accepted, then go ahead and apply as an EA candidate.  If you are accepted, you still have the opportunity to apply to other schools and compare financial aid awards.  But you have time, until May 1st to make a final decision.

College Guide
I seriously believe that after reading my book, you will choose one of these options.

Good luck.

What Colleges and Universities Don’t Want You to Know: Financial Aid

“Few admission counselors will admit that your chances for acceptance will increase at some schools if you do not apply for financial aid. There are only a handful of colleges and universities in the U.S. that can afford to be totally and fully blind to financial need. Most schools cannot meet the full need of all the students they accept. Ask the question. I think you will be surprised with the answers you get.”

Some college behavior still protected by privacy

In these days when it seems nothing is private,  college students still have a right of privacy in some matters.

You should be aware of two federal laws which protect your privacy:

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health, Information, Portability, and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

  • FERPA laws prevent colleges and universities from releasing information about academic or disciplinary matters to anyone, including parents, without the consent of the student.
  • HIPAA prevents health care providers from releasing information to anyone, including parents, about a student’s health record.

Colleges and universities are allowed to give out public information that is available online.  Some schools will provide information, especially if drugs or alcohol are involved.  But each school has its own published set of rules and you and your parents should be aware of the guidelines before you enroll on campus.

Many parents are annoyed that even though they are paying the bill, they don’t have access to their child’s academic or health records.

It was at the graduation ceremony for my second daughter, when she received a number of academic awards, that my husband and I were first made aware of how smart she was and how successful her college career had been.  I was proud of her, of course, but I admit that I felt annoyed that up to that point, we had not received any formal notification from the school about her grades or progress.

These laws have as many supporters as they do detractors.  I guess I fall into the latter category.  But the laws are the laws.  I urge you and your parents to know what they are so you won’t be either surprised or disappointed.