We got the inside scoop for College Advice with Jay London, The College Advice Guy. We had questions... he had answers!
What do you do as "The College Advice Guy"?
My mission as The College Advice Guy is to help families navigate the complex college selection, application, admissions and financial aid processes. For most families decisions concerning college represent the most significant choices concerning their child’s future; decisions with a lasting effect on their children’s economic status and future success. Unfortunately, most of the information that they will use for guidance are provided by the colleges, and are carefully crafted sales brochures designed to evoke strong emotional attachments as well as a sense of fear of missing out on making the right choice. As a result students make choices for the wrong reasons and end up heavily indebted, undereducated and facing few opportunities for employment in their “chosen” fields. My goal is to provide accurate and relevant information based upon an individual assessment to enable students and their families to make choices that will maximize the chances for college/career success while minimizing their debt.
What inspired you to become a contracted mentor in this particular area?
While working on as an attorney I had the opportunity to study, in detail, the business side of major 4 year universities. It became obvious that colleges were no longer primarily concerned with developing young minds through challenging curricula while holding students accountable to rigorous academic standards. Since the mid 1980’s, the economic realities of educating the masses caused colleges to view their students as “customers” whose social needs and creature comforts needed to be met as opposed to treating them mentees or apprentices that needed to be prepared for the work force. To attract and retain these demanding customers, colleges started to market themselves with “best of” rankings based on selectivity, not academic outcomes or career success, and engaged in an amenities race by providing world class food, housing, health clubs and exotic travel abroad opportunities. The goal was to attract customers, willing to pay for these amenities in order to have a great “college experience”. Once I realized that colleges were more interested in satisfying students material wants as opposed to their educational needs, I knew that for most families would end up spending too much money (with easily obtainable loans) believing that it was the right thing to do for their children. These decisions were going to be made believing that as long as their students received good grades that they would be able to get a good job and quickly pay off the large debt. I could not allow hard working families go into crushing debt without helping them understand the right way to plan for their children’s future and to let them know that they could find a quality education without exorbitant debt. Don’t misunderstand me. For most people, college is the best place to get the education required for career and life success, but the decisions must be based upon reality. Anyone can get the education that they need at a price that is affordable and practical.
What do you love the most about advising teens?
Most teens don’t have someone to talk to about such as high school curricula, college or career paths that are not emotionally invested in them. Parents care deeply about their children but are not always able to separate their emotions from their advice and students are aware of that. As a result parents aren’t always able to discuss these issues without judgment or interjecting their own point of view. Guidance counselors have a lot of knowledge but are constrained by an excessive workload and limited time for individual counseling. As a mentor, trained as an attorney and psychologist, I provide students with an objective resource for them to discuss openly their fears and concerns about their future while providing individualized guidance and advice that truly addresses their unique concerns. Once a student knows that there are many paths for them to pursue in order to become successful and happy, relieving their stress is what I enjoy the most.
What are the teen benefits to having a mentor (Advice Guy) during the college evaluation process?
When I speak with students contemplating college the most frequent emotion they express is fear. Fear of not getting into a “good” college or not knowing what they want to do with their lives. Students are over stressed and under constant pressure to make what they see as the most important decisions of their life. As their personal college advisor, I work with each student to initially put them at ease by letting them know that if they are confused or scared that that is a good sign. It means that they care about their future. I spend a lot of time with them, discussing the realities of college, including the fact that there is no such thing as an overall best school. Nor is there a requirement that a high school graduates only choice is to start a 4 year college program right away. In fact, going to college, any college just for the sake of going can be a very costly mistake. With 25% of all 4 year college freshman dropping out without ever returning and only 38% graduating in 4 years, going to college without knowing who you are or even what you are interested in pursuing, the college decision is too important to make based upon college rankings, stories from friends or generalized information.
What's your best piece of advice for teens today who are in the college evaluation process?
Before you choose a program, take the time to think about who you are and what interests you. I start all of my student relationships by asking both the parents and the students “Why are you going to college?” The most frequent answer is “to get a job”. When I ask “what job do you want to get?” most answer ‘I’m not sure”. I then ask “How do you know that college is the best path for achieving your goal if you don’t know what your goal is?” Going to college hoping to figure out what you want to do is not an effective method for discovery if you attend college like you attended high school. College is not just about getting “good grades”. I teach students how to use college in a manner that allows them to further their education while uncovering and developing their true interests. If you know how to best utilize all of the resources opportunities that colleges provide, you will be able to maximize your college experience and graduate ready to pursue your achieve your future.
When is the best time to start thinking about college choices and why?
I believe that the best time to begin thinking about the college process, in general, is around 9th grade. I don’t mean actually choosing college programs but this is when a student should begin exploring areas that interest them. Once a student has an idea about what excites them, whether it is math, science, history, art or music, they need to focus on deepening their experiences in the
area. For example, if computers and social media interest your child, have them take an introductory course in coding or app development. Science enthusiasts should get involved in research at local colleges or laboratories. Artists, musicians and writers need to constantly practice their craft with the guidance of seasoned professionals. While taking a general college preparation curriculum in high school will get them the requirements needed to apply to college, it is only with expanded and consistent exposure to their areas of interest that they will be able to develop a truer understanding of who they are and what they want to pursue. The earlier a student learns how to effectively learn, write and utilize critical thinking skills, the better prepared they will be to search for and select the best college program for their individual needs.
What is the most important thing to consider when visiting a college?
It depends upon which visit it is. On an initial visit, most will be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of a college campus. It’s not unlike the feeling you get when you first walk through the gates of Disney World. You’ve dreamed about going there for a long time and once you arrive it’s a dream come true. And then the exorbitant price of admission, food, souvenirs and long wait times to get on your favorite rides start to take the luster off of the jewel. So it is very important to ask yourself if you can be comfortable living your life on campus for the next 4 or more years. But since you’re going to college to get an education in order to pursue a career, you need to overcome the ‘euphoria” and use your time on campus to get answers to questions that are to you. Do not use your initial visit to ask any questions, the answers to which you can find on the colleges website or recruiting materials. You want to plan on undertaking activities other that the introduction and student led tour. Plan on using your time to speak with professors in your areas of interest; inquiring about accommodations to any special learning or physical needs that you may have; meet with various students and ask about their experiences both social and academic. Ask students how the college stacked up with their expectations in order to get real, unfiltered opinions from the college’s current customers.
What's the number one secret to obtaining lucrative scholarships aside from doing well in high-school?
The secret is pursuing and performing well in challenging academic curricula in high school, including AP classes and properly preparing for and scoring well on college entrance exams (PSAT, SAT, ACT). This will qualify you for “merit scholarships” ranging from several hundreds of dollars to full scholarships. Many colleges offer substantial student tuition discounts such as “in state tuition” for out of state students for outstanding academic and entrance exam performance. After that the “secret” is to apply early and often. You can earn scholarships as early as middle school.It is important to constantly search for and ask about scholarships everywhere you go. From credit unions to Rotary clubs to your local Target and Dunkin Donuts, scholarship opportunities are everywhere. Think about the time you spend pursuing scholarships as a part time job. If you obtain a scholarship it may turn out that your “part time” job paid several hundred dollars an hour.
What's the number one thing you've learned from the teens you have advised?
Most of the teens that I work with are extremely grateful to have someone helping them with the college process thereby reducing their stress and allowing them to enjoy their senior year in high school. Seeing those students develop a sense of empowerment over their future, instead of being hampered by fear, is my biggest reward. These students, who typically express frustration and apathy with the college process, and relentlessly push against their parent’s encouragement to get things done, actually embrace the college application process and develop a real sense of ownership in their future once they understand it better. So I guess I learned that most teens and their parents are unprepared to handle the complex high school to college transition and needlessly fumble through with mixed results.
What's the final piece of advice that you would like to give to our teens today to take forward?
It’s okay to be confused about what you want to be or don’t know what college is right for you or what you can do if college isn’t in your immediate future. No one has ever taught you how to discover what you want to be and the college admissions process is very confusing and somewhat secretive. What’s not okay is to decide to go to college right after high school without knowing why, other than it’s what you’re supposed to do. No one makes a large financial and time investment without advisors. You don’t invest in your retirement without a financial advisor although you can be your own advisors with online programs. Your parents didn’t buy a home without paying for a real estate agent, even though all of the real estate information needed is available online through Trulia or Realtor.com. Why then would you and they make such a huge decision about your career and financial future without individualized advice based upon timely and verifiable information from a personal college advisor, such as the College Advice guy? I can help you maximize your college success and minimize your college debt.