Every College-Bound Student NEEDS a 4-Year Plan!

Not a PlannerOkay, now that all the pomp and circumstance celebrations are over, and your college-bound kid is reveling in get-togethers with high school friends, it’s time to get them on board with the next phase in their lives – *their college education*! 

Unlike our college days when tuition was just $1000 a year and we bounced from major to major based on a whim, spending an extra semester or two to graduate didn’t break our parents’ bank. College was supposed to be a time to explore majors and “find yourself.”

But with college tuition starting at $20,000 and as high as $60,000 (Yikes! That’s more than the average family income!), that extra year can dry up your retirement savings or eat into your next child’s college fund. So that’s why EVERY COLLEGE-BOUND STUDENT NEEDS TO CREATE THEIR FOUR-YEAR PLAN!

Most students who end up taking more than 4 years to graduate are *victims of poor planning*. They didn’t understand the progression of courses that they needed to take and when all of those courses were offered. Just about every required course has a prerequisite and with some majors, they need to take these courses during their FIRST SEMESTER in order to complete them in 4 years (especially for engineering and pre-med). With colleges operating on slashed budgets, some of these courses are offered just once per year, or worse, on odd or even years! Upper division courses often have several prerequisites, which requires careful planning in advance.

Then, every college also has set core or general education requirements that are taken in addition to the major courses. With careful planning, some gen. ed. requirements can be satisfied by lower division major courses. Again, CAREFUL PLANNING AHEAD OF TIME. Just yesterday I worked witha client who took 2 courses that satisfied 1 requirement – he’s kicking himself now…

What’s ideal about the 4-Year Plan is that your student will completely understand what courses to take AND why to take them. By doing this research, they’ll know what their major departments have to offer and requirements for special programs like Study Abroad, Internships, and Research. By adding these to the 4-year plan BEFORE starting college, they’ll take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities available to them. So, now that the celebrations are over, it’s time for them to roll up their sleeves and create their 4-Year Plans!;

How Well-Planned Activities Can Improve Relations at Family Reunions

Improving RelationsI dropped off the last family member at the airport on Monday morning after hosting an extraordinary family reunion. Like all families, ours certainly has had our share of drama over the years, so when I planned the activities for this first family reunion, I was both hopeful and worried.

I set up stations where each family member could enter information about themselves and their parents and children; give their oral history via video; and fill out the family tree on a 27-foot cloth banner. While these activities are vital to building our genealogy database, they're usually not considered a fun activity.

So this year, we had a team of 2 to 3 people to support each interviewee. Even our really shy family members came to life with great stories and we all had fun in the process. When people couldn't think of answers to personal questions, that was no problem for our group - others chimed in and shared their recollections, which often led to even more interesting anecdotes. Even those with a history of drama bonded as they remembered the good times. Capturing these story-telling sessions on video will certainly be fascinating, and revealing, to future generations.

Playing baby photo match-up and trivia games gave us interesting insight to family traits (physical likenesses) and idiosyncracies. I made reunion "bucks" to encourage everyone to play the games to win prizes. And our youngest family member was appointed banker, which gave him the opportunity to determine who correctly answered each question. No longer hidden behind his father, he was front and center. By the end of the weekend, everyone felt a renewed closeness and appreciation for our lineage

We're already planning the next reunion!

Juniors, It's Time to Pick Your Colleges. Choose Wisely.

Which college?So you just finished up your junior year in high school and you're a senior now. Hooray! You kinda remember the college-picking hell your senior friends went through last year and promised yourself that you won't do that yourself. And now it's the summer before your senior year and you still haven't started the process  Don't worry - you're not alone.

With over 4,000 colleges in the United States, there IS a perfect college for you.  Every college has its own unique programs and the best way to determine which ones are best for you is to think about your future career options.  You don't need to definitively decide what you want to be when you grow up but you SHOULD choose between 1 and 5 career options.

Then take those options and make a list of possible majors.  For instance, if you want to be an elementary school teacher, you will probably major in Liberal Arts.  If you're interested in becoming a stock broker, you'll probably major in Business Finance.

After you've narrowed down your list of careers and majors, rank them from 1 to 5 (1 being your top major). Then dust off your Google-fu and find colleges that have excellent departments with a variety of concentrations and degrees for each of your top 5 majors. By selecting colleges that have the programs you're interested in, you'll increase the odds of finding your perfect major. You don't want to end up on a campus that doesn't offer the majors or minors that you're interested in, right?

To be thorough, you'll want to find around 50 colleges.  Check out their social life, extracurricular activities, and location. Cut about half of the colleges that don't offer exactly what you're looking for. If you're not into wild parties, stay away from colleges known for their party scene. If you're not into the Greek society, stay away from colleges that have large fraternities and sororities. If you're not religious, stay away from conservative colleges that require religious worship and courses.

Once you have a great list of about 25 colleges that have everything you need, check out their average GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and selectivity ratings to see where you stand. Now cut 50% of the colleges using this criteria. One third of the list should be "Reach" colleges (institutions that normally select students who have higher GPAs and SAT/ACT scores than you have), one third should be "Target" colleges (those that have similar GPAs and SAT/ACT scores), and one third "Safety" colleges (colleges that you'll definitely get into).

Finally, it's time for a road trip to check out your top colleges. You'll find that you'll have a much better understanding about how you can benefit from each college or university by walking around the campus, sitting in on classes, eating on campus, and visiting the dorms. By the time you visit the colleges, you'll have a great list of about 7 to 15 colleges that would be perfect for you.  Apply to several colleges to ensure that you'll get in.  We'll discuss essay topics, letters of recommendation, and other important topics soon.  So get started now!  

Look Out Below! Congress Cutting BILLIONS from Education

Budget CutsAccording to an article on EdWeek, the Senate released their 2016 “plan” to fund the Department of Education in 2016.  It CUTS funding from the previous year by $1.7 BILLION, to $65.5 billion.

Believe it or not, this is actually the BETTER of two bad plans - the House bill recommended cutting the budget by a whopping $2.8 BILLION.  The biggest cuts appear to be in programs that support teachers, the children of immigrants and funding for guidance counselors.

By contrast, the Senate is looking for ways to increase the Pentagon budget by more than $38 billion OVER the legally mandated $499 billion cap.  

The bad (well, even WORSE) news here is that due to the nature of Congress, the final bill will be a compromise between the two plans, so the BEST we can hope for will be the $1.7 billion cut, but the reality is that the cuts will probably be even deeper.

If this country is going to continue to be a world leader, we need to INCREASE the quality of our education system and support the schools, teachers and counselors who are building our future by teaching our children today.

Everyone comes from somewhere.  It’s our duty to make it the best “somewhere” it can be.


Online Courses May Drastically Change Higher Education

Massive Open Online Courses

With undergraduate college degrees costing between $60,000 and $240,000 today, I wonder how long brick and mortar institutions will be the norm.  Seriously, how long can the average family afford to give all of their children college educations AND plan for their retirements? That's why colleges are scrambling to find alternative ways to offer higher education.

It seems that if we take the top professors, the ones who are incredible experts in their respective fields who also happen to be entertaining lecturers who inspire their students, and then record and broadcast their entire classes, we can offer the most dynamic educational experience to unlimited students. These professors could be compensated handsomely for preparing mind-blowing lectures that will be captured on film. This concept is called MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. A Harvard and MIT research team studied MOOCs in 68-certificate-granting courses with over a million participants.

Interestingly, about 40% of the MOOC students were actually teachers.  No surprise here; teachers love to learn. More and more people are interested in seeking this type of certification.  But when MOOCs are free, students don't take the courses seriously and often don't complete the courses or do the reading and homework. A friend of mine who writes curricula for Stanford's MOOCs suggested that students who pay for classes and receive letter grades are more inclined to do the work and get more out of their classes. 

If MOOCs that lead to degrees become the norm in the future, it will create a massive restructuring of the college experience. Rather than parents being wowed by the landscaping or architecture during college tours and visits, instead, they will be wowed by opportunities to learn from world-famous professors. It's like sharing the wealth and talent of our best faculty with everyone. The possibilities are endless and student learning will be comprehensive.

Students of the future might have options to take MOOCs at a number of different schools at the same time. Imagine if they could pick fascinating courses taught by cutting-edge professors, with no physical limits to attendance (like the number of seats in the lecture hall). No more would students need to accept boring professors or TAs teaching their classes - these classes would be lightly attended and would probably not survive, kind of like professorial natural selection. This could really revolutionize higher education!


Family Reunions

Hooray let's all run on the beachLife gets busy but it's important to make room for FAMILY REUNIONS.  It goes without saying, your elders won't be around forever and when they go, they'll take your family history with them. Sure you might have to deal with those annoying relatives -- we all have them -- but your kids will benefit from seeing where they fit into your family tree.

My family didn't have family reunions on either my mom's or dad's sides -- odd, huh? So 6 years ago I hosted the first family reunion for my mother's side. We videotaped everyone's oral histories to capture their stories, and we even taped group discussions about our ancestors that went back several generations

I loved hearing 3 versions of how my grandfather came over from Japan, and how the anti-immigration laws kept my grandmother waiting for 7 years to join him. Hearing how they lived before WWII, and then how the family lost their business and all possessions while incarcerated in an internment camp was fascinating. 

My girls appreciated hearing first hand the hardships that their family endured, and how the family prospered again through hard work and determination. I co-hosted the 2nd reunion in 2013 in Pasadena at my uncle and aunt's house, and we're hosting the 3rd reunion this August.

This summer I'm also hosting the first family reunion for my father's side right here in Santa Cruz. We'll be capturing these family stories, building a family tree, entering data in Family Tree Maker, and playing lots of games to teach us about our ancestors.  I'm looking forward to bonding with cousins that I rarely see and most importantly, I want my girls to really know their relatives and be proud of their ancestors.

So if you have the opportunity to attend a reunion this summer, carve some time out of your busy schedules to check it out.  Your kids will thank you some day

You Need An Advance Directive

Advance Directive FormOkay, I know nobody wants to talk about who will make their end-of-life decisions. I avoided this topic for decades. Even when I went to write my own ADVANCE DIRECTIVE, I found all kinds of excuses for why I couldn't fill in the blanks and state when it would be time to pull the plug on me. I even wrote a comprehensive will designating exactly who gets what so there would be no disputes after I die.  But having to clearly lay out precisely at what point I don't want any life support was gut-wrenching to me.

While my daughter Nicole was in medical school at Stanford, she wrote a song and created a musical video, "Ode to Advance Directive," that clearly stated why everyone should complete an Advance Directive. It wasn't until I heard her perform the song before her Class of 2008 that I realized that I was being selfish by not writing and signing my advance directive.  If I was to become incapacitated -- you know, brain dead -- without an advance directive, my husband Rob and my daughters would have to make the decision. 

Undoubtedly, this would be very difficult and no matter what they decide collectively or separately, they would suffer anxiety from having to make this call.  That's when I finally got up the courage to read through the advance directive forms and fill in the blanks. I had it notarized at my credit union and placed it in my safe deposit box.  Now I know that if the time comes for them to make my end-of-life decision, they'll be able to do it because they'll know exactly what my wishes are for that situation. The last thing I want to do is create strife between my family. So, write yours!  Here is a link to the forms.  Just do it!

Please watch this music video and pass it along to your family and loved ones. It's the best parting gift you can give them.

Can Mushrooms Solve Our Pesticide Problem?

Mushrooms vs PesticidesWe've got pesticide and GMO problems that are causing massive agricultural issues and health degradation for humans AND bees. 

Using something as simple as mushrooms (no, not magic mushrooms), Paul Stamets (a real fun guy, get it?) has patented a SMART pesticide to destroy over 200,000 species of insects without harming plants or humans.

Unfortunately, pesticide giants like Monsanto don't want us to learn about this new-found solution.

Watch his TED Talk below:

Now can you imagine mushrooms solving our pesticide and GMO problems?


Parents Have "Finals" Too!

Parental FinalsWe're all proud of our recent grads, and frankly, and if you're like most parents, you're just glad you made it to the end of the school year without going crazy. Every year, the demands on parents to volunteer, attend, and host end-of-the-year celebrations seems to have increased exponentially. YIKES! Check out the New York Times' article "Mom and Dad Have Their Own Set of Finals" to see that this has become A THING that has consumed us at the end of each school year.

Isn't it true that you feel terrible if you don't attend EVERY SINGLE CELEBRATION and AWARDS CEREMONY? And, haven't you reached the point when you're no longer enjoying these events because you're rushed, stressed and pressured to be everywhere -- all at once? That's why I say, "Congratulations to you amazing moms and dads! You've pulled it together and received A's on your finals!"

Next year, stop that dreadful treadmill and limit the number celebrations you'll attend.  Just let your kids decide which ones are the most important to them. That way, you'll enjoy them more and you'll be better able to support your kids while they're stressed out and/or freaking out during finals!  AND you'll have more free time!  Sounds like a win to me!


6 Things Your Grad Should Do Before Leaving For College

6 Tasks Before CollegeNow that the graduation ceremonies and parties are done (hooraaaay), and your young adult is biding time before heading off to college in the fall, review this list of 6 tasks that will help them close this chapter in their lives and be prepared to start their next one.

One: Clean Your Room!
Okay, this is a great way to get them to get rid of all of their "junk" that they've hung on to for years. Set up 2 large bins: one for trash and the other for Salvation Army or Goodwill. Then, give them a designated area where they can keep their belongings that they'll need when they come home for holidays and breaks. Any remaining items can be stored if they're family heirlooms or mementos, or sold on Craigslist or at a yard sale for cash.

Two: Write Your Autobiography
Before heading off to college, have your teen write an autobiography to give them closure on the first 18 years of their lives. If writing or organizing something like this is not your kids' cup of tea, they can always create a scrap book or photo album and fill it with their favorite memories. Giving them a sense of who they are will instill a strong sense of self-esteem, which will in turn give them a solid foundation on which to build their future.

Three: Create Your 4-Year College Plan
Have them organize their entire 4-year plan for college. By doing the research and thinking about what they hope to learn before the graduate, they'll understand what courses they need to take for their majors (and minors) and general education requirements. They can even add in internships, jobs, and research so they don't have regrets later. Not only will they take advantage of the many programs available to them on campus, they'll graduate in 4 years, which will save you between $12,000-$60,000 (depending on their tuition).  I probably don't have to tell you that anything you can do to save yourself tens of thousands of dollars is time well-spent.

Four: Purchase College Items Early
Every college gives students a list of things they should bring with them during orientation and before classes begin. If your kid is like most college-bound students, they'll probably wait until the last minute to buy these things, which means you'll be paying top dollar at the nearest stores when you arrive with their stuff piled high in your minivan. Instead, ask them to make a list of items they want and ask them to find sales. They can even go on Craiglist, Amazon, flea markets, garage sales, and local bargain stores to get great deals. Most colleges provide a twin bed (extra long), desk, chair and closet. PRO TIP: Buy the extra-long sheets online to get lower prices. They might want a mini-fridge or microwave for their dorm, and you can get those used. My daughter got one for free when students were vacating their dorms and didn't have a place to store them.  Score!

Five: Indulge in Reading
This will be the first time in over a decade that your kid won't have a list of "summer reading" and stress to study for SATs or ACTs. They actually have no responsibilities and no stress. So, give them a list of classics to read for the summer (reading isn't really a responsibility).

Six: Get a Job
With no homework, stress, or lists of things to do -- well, except these (awesome) lists -- they can go out and earn a buck! With no degrees or seniority, taking that low-paying summer job will be just what they need to realize how important it is to get their college degree! So let them slave away at an ice cream counter or bus tables at a restaurant. Earning those extra nickels will also give them spending money once they get to college because you'll be tapped out just paying their tuition, room and board and MONEY DOESN'T GROW ON TREES, KID!