In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- The role of a Certified Educational Planner in your child’s life.
- Why job shadowing is a quick introduction to numerous career possibilities.
- Why following curiosity may be more effective than passion.
- What you need to know about the recent “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal.
- The two things that determine whether your student has a positive experience in college.
Connect with Stephanie:
- 5 Facts About How The College Admissions Cheating Scandal Affects You
- The Collegiate Edge
- The Collegiate Edge Resources
Launch Your Life – online course and coaching experience
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All right. Well Stephanie, thank you so much for taking some time to hang with me today. I really appreciate it.
Well, thank you for inviting me. I’m really excited to be here talking with you.
Yeah, so one of the things in your bio that’s very prominent, is that you’re a certified educational planner. I had never even heard of that term before, until we connected. What is that? And why would someone need a certified educational planner?
I am really delighted that you want to talk about that because that is something that I think we’re trying to raise awareness around. The field of independent educational consulting, which is the full name of what I do and it’s quite a mouthful, is actually a very young profession. It has not been around for very long, and if you look back twenty years ago, there were a tiny handful of us doing it and the profession has absolutely exploded. Which is wonderful in some ways, but the problem is that you have a quality control problem. And it is a field in which there are virtually no barrier to entry, so we have a lot of people who think either it sounds lucrative, which they find out soon about that. Or maybe they had a great experience helping their own kids through the college process, and they think it sounds fun and they jump in and they’re maybe not as well trained as they could be, and not prepared to handle the difficult situations and questions that inevitably arise.
So CEP is a certification. I think most people know about accountants and that you probably should hire a CPA certified accountant because that means they have a certain level of training and expertise. Same is true for us. So certified educational planners have to pass a very comprehensive exam, and have to keep up with pretty high benchmarks of ongoing professional development; attending conferences, touring campuses and so forth. They have to be re-certified every five years, so if you want to make sure that you’re working with somebody who is an expert, you want to look for that CEP designation. The next best thing to do is look for people who belong to professional associations such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association or Higher Education Consultants Association. Those also, there’s some barrier to entry, but not nearly as high as for the CEP.
Okay, great. So give us an overview of the services that you offer, and how is that different than I see advertised SAT or ACT prep, or essay coaches or all of these different things? My daughter, as I had mentioned to you, she just started her junior year actually at Vanguard University. So she finished two years in community college, stayed at home and then went to Vanguard. And boy, we’ve been marketed to a lot. So tell me, what are your services and how are they different?
At this point, all I’m doing is college guidance, so I do not provide test prep. However what I do is work with students starting in the ninth or tenth grade usually, to best position themselves for college admission and having a broad array of options. And that includes helping them think carefully about their curriculum choices. Are they pursuing their extracurricular interests in ways that are helping them really learn about themselves? And are they on track with the standardized testing they need to do? I also do walk them through the application process from soup to nuts, including very close guidance on the essays.
But there are a lot of a la cart services out there. Test prep has become pretty normal. When I started doing this a hundred years ago, test prep was kind of exotic, and now it’s sort of a given. Pretty much everyone seems to have to do it. That can be a freestanding service that you obtain from a company that focuses on that, or an individual. Some people in my profession will offer both. And that’s one of the interesting things about the young profession, is that it’s being practiced in a wide range of ways. But what I do is really just walk families and students through the college process, finding best fit, figuring out how to pay for it, and everything that’s related to that.
It is an overwhelming process. I mean, from obviously all the options, the paperwork, the finances, it’s just overwhelming.
Yeah, and that’s really unfortunate. I mean, I don’t think it’s good for our culture that it’s so difficult that a lot of people think they need to hire somebody like me. But it has become incredibly complex. It’s a lot like doing your own taxes or selling your own house, there are things you could do, but you’re pretty likely to miss opportunities and leave money on the table. But again, I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing for our society, that access to higher education should be so complex. But that is the fact of where we find ourselves.
I even think about, I live in Southern California, so do you, where a high percentage of individuals, perhaps the parents, are first generation and their native language is Spanish. As we’re going through all of this process, my wife and I with our daughter, I’m like, “I don’t see how a parent who English is not their first language, could even possibly negotiate this process.” It is so complex as you mentioned.
Yeah, there are so many obstacles. Almost everyone I know in my profession, does pro bono work because we all lie awake at night worrying about the kids that don’t have access to us. When you have to make a living doing it, you necessarily are working with people who have a little bit of disposable income.
But then that leaves out so many people. There are lots of amazing community organizations and that’s really proliferating. And Michelle Obama is sort of spearheading a big organization to help students have access to college. But yeah, as a culture, we have a lot of work to do there.
Now I want to ask you a tough question, because you’re in the business of helping students get into college. And there’s a pretty big conversation that’s emerging, that’s asking, “Is college even necessary? Does it even matter?” Because there are so many entrepreneurial ways to make a living and the cost of college is so high, versus the return on that investment after students get out of college. Do you think college is for everyone? Should people go to college?
Great question, and you’re right, a tough one. And the answer, as with almost everything in my profession is, it depends. And I think there definitely are students who don’t need college, and I have a couple in my practice, where I’m asking the parents. The kids are incredibly innovative and already have businesses off the ground, “Are you sure this kid needs college?” Or some that are just such great networkers and worker bees, that they have done well just on their ways of relating with people.
So I do think there are some people for whom it isn’t necessary, however if you look at the data, it’s incredibly compelling. The case for college is incredibly compelling just in terms of income. I don’t have the numbers at my fingertips, but the additional income that people are likely to make over the lifetime if they have a college education is pretty significant. I want to say it’s something like a million dollars, but I really should check the sources. And you bring up another really important point, which is the cost of college. And I think a lot of families don’t understand that there are lots of ways to make college much, much cheaper.
Very few colleges are actually charging the sticker price. There is a lot of money out there. Yes, you do kind of have to know where it is, but I don’t think it’s necessary for anyone to pay $250,000 for a college education. Nor do I think it’s a good idea. But the overarching answer to your question is, that not everyone needs college. But I think those young people may be fairly unusual. Because the data, and there are lots and lots of studies, is still showing that college over the lifetime does make a big difference.
My kids, A’s and B’s through high school. And when they think about going to four more years of college it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, this is just so much.” And I break it down this way. I go, “Okay, here are your options. I’ve tried to encourage you to be entrepreneurial. Do you want to start your own business and get going? I’ll invest in it. I’ll help you make it happen. I’ll coach you.” “No, Dad. I don’t want to do that.” “Okay, great. So you don’t go to college, would you like to work in fast food or service industry or in retail?” “No way, I don’t want to do that.”
“Okay, great. Do you want to go to a technical school? Do you want to be a nurse? Do you want to be a welder? Do you want to be any of those things?” “No, that doesn’t sound fun.” “Okay, you’ve got one option, and it’s called college. And that means it’s four years of exploring what you want to do, who you are, developing relationships and so forth.” I just break it down that easy. Those are your options, or be homeless. You know what I mean?
Yeah. I think you kind of got it.
Yeah, yeah. So they’re choosing college.
Well, and I just want to tag onto that when you said, “Oh, it’s four more years of school.” One of things that’s usually an improvement over high school, is students have much more latitude to study what interests them.
And to explore things they’ve never heard of. It’s not just those five core solid subjects they’ve been stuck with in high school. So even kids who are not just loving reading in school and every academic task, often find college a lot more fun than high school.
Right. Right. So let’s talk about how hard it is to get into college. Because boy, I had a friend the other day, he’s actually a pastor. He works with people that are in challenged situations, that are getting out of drug addiction. And he said, “Dave, I don’t even know how to coach somebody on getting into college.” You know what I mean? For some people, if their parents didn’t go to college, if they didn’t have that expectation, it can feel so overwhelming like, “I don’t even know where to begin.” So how hard is it to go to a four-year college?
I’m so glad you asked that, because the answer is, it’s pretty easy. So I think the way college is discussed in the media, and that’s been somewhat brought into focus by the events of the last year, leaves the impression that it’s just harder, and harder, and harder to get into college. That there are more kids fighting over fewer spots, and that it’s horrible and dog eat dog and you have to be an Olympic medal winner and a piano competition winner to even have a shot. So nothing could be further from the truth. It turns out that 80% of the four-year colleges in this country, of which we have almost three thousand. So that’s the first thing, we have almost three thousand colleges in this country. We are so fortunate, we have so many options, we have so much choice.
And that doesn’t even include the community colleges.
That’s just four-year colleges.
And that’s a whole other wonderful, viable option. But just four-year colleges, of those almost three thousand, 80% accept more than fifty percent of their applicants. Eighty percent of the colleges are accepting more than half the students who apply.
You’ve got a lot of opportunity.
Yes, and so the media myth, that this is a scarce resource available to only a few, is exactly that; a myth. Again, we have just such abundance in terms of higher education opportunities in this country. So if you take your focus off of rankings like the U.S. News & World Report, which has very little bearing on the quality of the undergraduate experience, focusing on how many students schools reject as a proxy for quality, which it most certainly is not. And really thinking about who you are and what kind of learning environment you want to be in, what kind of budget is appropriate for your family, and start to approach the process from who you are and what you need. You will be delighted to find the abundance of options available.
So if a high school student, i.e. my daughter, doesn’t have a solid direction in life for a major. Like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m so passionate about X, Y, or Z,” how can they prepare for college? You know what I mean? And even make that transition into a college? It feels overwhelming to go, “I don’t even know what college to look at because I’m not passionate about a certain subject.”
Right. Great. First of all, I think passion is a pretty big word, especially for seventeen year old’s. And I think there’s tremendous burden on these kids, “I haven’t found my passion. I haven’t found my passion,” and I think a different word might be more helpful. And that is maybe something like, “What are you curious about? What kinds of ways of thinking are more fun for you?” We all have brain wiring that gives us certain cognitive preferences, and maybe I might like thinking more about concepts that involve numbers and you might like thinking more about concepts that involve words. So really focusing on that, what kinds of ways of thinking are interesting to you? And what are you curious about? So that, I think, takes the burden off of finding that singular passion.
As you know, as a person who I believe has reinvented yourself many times and who supports people who reinvent themselves, especially now. Most of us have many, many things that we do over a lifetime, and those things evolve. One interest leads to another. One opportunity, one curiosity leads to another. And we need to allow our young people that same latitude. Now I get that that sounds scary, “Oh, just go figure it out.” But a couple concrete ideas; one is if you really have no idea, a student has no direction whatsoever, that will inform your college search. In that you should be looking for schools who specialize in supporting kids in exploring.
There are lots of colleges that have freshman year programs that are designed for that. Where they take personality tests and career interest batteries, and they advise them on taking different classes that help them try things. So a lot of that is baked into the process, so you really don’t need to have a focus or a career focus to start college. But another more practical thing you can do starting in high school is, I am a fan of job shadows. Internships are hard to get, but job shadows are easy to get. And what I mean by that, is to have your student spend a day, an afternoon, a week, whatever it might be, following around somebody who has a job that they’re curious about.
So I always say to the students, “What do your friends parents do? What do your parents friends do? Can you follow any of them around?” I have one student who did six or seven in the last year, and she didn’t even care what the people did. She shadowed a jewelry maker, a television show host, a finance person, and she started to see common threads that she really liked in all of those businesses; the marketing and the publicity. And so it started to help her sort out that at least as she starts her college journey, she’s probably going to start in communications.
So that’s free, it’s not a big time commitment. If there’s an opportunity to do short summer programs that are available through college campuses, some of them are expensive, some of them are inexpensive. Sometimes just a week or two going in-depth in an academic area can tell a student whether or not she wants to focus in that area. But they shouldn’t just be sitting in their rooms on social media trying to pick a career. They are only going to learn about what is meaningful to them, by immersing themselves and doing some of these things.
One of the things that you said in that freshman program is a personality test. How much do you think a student’s personality plays into the subject and ultimately a career that they would choose?
I definitely think it’s a factor. I also really focus in my practice on learning style. How do kids like to learn? Is the student going to learn well in a large lecture setting? Some students do really well in that setting. Or if there’s a lot of independent work and reading to do. Or is the student better suited to smaller classes that are discussion based? Or learning that is hand’s-on? I think that, as much as personality, can really start to direct a student toward the right kind of educational path.
Let’s talk about community colleges. When I was growing up, I’m forty-six, so that was a long time ago, those were seen as kind of a little lowly. Well, I grew up in Kentucky, and so they were probably less maybe pronounced or developed. And yet now, they seem to be so large of an option. What kind of student would be best suited to attend a community college before transferring to a four-year school?
Great. You probably partially have that perception because we’re in California, where we have an incredibly robust community college system. It’s really fantastic.
Is it different? Is it larger than most states?
I mean, we have more people too. But the availability and quality of community college is going to vary state to state, because they’re usually public institutions. So state funding and help to each of the states is going to be a factor. But I think community college can be a great option for a lot of reasons. First of all, it’s cheap, and you can have two very, very inexpensive years. The student can get their general education requirements out of the way, maybe do some of that exploration that we talked about, and then only pay two years’ worth of tuition at a four-year institution
Some kids just really need a little bit more time at home. Some kids can use a little bit more academic maturity, and it’s hard for parents to justify spending money for a student to do a lot of partying and get a lot of C’s and D’s. And that might be a candidate. One of the things that you have to be a little careful, at least in California, is some of our community colleges are very impacted and some of the programs are overflowing. So it does some self-action skills on the part of the student to be able to navigate through, make sure they’re fulfilling their requirements in order to be able to transfer and that kind of thing. But I think it’s a good option for a lot of people whether it’s for costs, maturity, being close to home, exploration. It can work for a lot of students.
I’m also hearing, and the word for this has escaped my mind at the moment, but basically where students in high school can also be simultaneously in a class in college, and it counts for both their high school program and college. And some students are almost graduating high school with an A.A.
Yeah, that’s called duel-enrollment usually.
And again, it varies state to state and institution to institution. Because some colleges are now saying, “Classes can only count for one.” So that really is going to depend on the institution the student matriculates to, in terms of how much of those credits are going to be counted towards a college degree.
But it’s still a good option because it’s giving kids access to more advanced curriculum, exploration, learning the skills necessary to navigate in a college situation. So there’s a lot to be gained from that, but it is case by case in terms of how those credits will be handled by the receiving institution.
So you work with students even as young as eight grade, I believe? Right? Eighth, ninth grade?
I will occasionally meet with eighth graders once. And that is pretty much for one reason, and that is to do a little bit of work on planning the courses that they will take in high school. That’s pretty much the main thing we’re doing there, because if someone comes to me in junior year and has made some really significant errors in terms of the courses they’ve taken…
Such as? Give me an example.
Not taking foreign language.
Not taking a foreign language? But most high schools would require that, don’t they?
They’re all over the map. There’s some high schools in my area that don’t require it at all, or require only one year. Which is surprising, because that doesn’t align with the University of California minimum requirements. So not necessarily. Colleges generally want to see students taking the five core academic subjects for as long as possible, preferably all four years. And that’s math, science, English, social science and foreign language. And sometimes students are doing that
So if they come to me in junior year and haven’t taken foreign language, or haven’t taken much social science, it’s going to really limit their options in terms of the colleges they’re going to be eligible for. So if I meet with them in eighth grade, that’s pretty much what it’s for. Or just because there’s a lot of anxiety in the family and they want to get some questions answered. And even with ninth and tenth graders, I only see them once or twice a year. And same thing, keeping on track with extracurriculars. Sometimes they want some guidance in how they should spend their summer. That sort of thing. We don’t really start the meat of the college process until about the middle of the junior year. So I like to say the only reason I meet with the younger kids is just to keep them out of trouble.
Sure, sure. Take that foreign language. Got to get it done.
So I’m now in college, how do I make the most of my college experience in order to transition into this thing we now call adulting?
Right, great verb isn’t it? So there is a really interesting study that was done about five years ago by Gallup and Purdue University. It was a huge study, I think they looked at thirty or forty thousand college graduates, where they went to college, and they looked at success in life, not just ROI. Not just return on investment, but also job satisfaction, workplace engagement, and basically happiness. How happy were they in their personal life? So really broad in its scope of thinking about success and happiness, and then tied it back to qualities of their undergraduate experience.
So one thing I want to add, which is a little bit on the side to the question you asked, is that one of the things that they found is that the selectivity of the institution. In other words, how hard it was to get in, how high the rejection rate was, had zero correlation on these outcomes. So this idea that’s pervasive in our culture, that you need to go to the most high rejection rate school you can and therefore that guarantees success in life, is not born out by the data even a little bit.
Even on a financial level?
Even on a financial level. Absolutely. And Malcolm Gladwell has done some interesting writing on this, but that really turns out to be a myth. And I’ll tell you, it’s a tough one. I can tell that to parents and then they’ll turn around and say, “Yeah, but we need to pay attention to the pedigree of the institution, right?” No. We do not. That turns out to have zero correlation to income and future success and happiness. So to answer your question, they were able to identify one thing that’s seen to have the most positive outcome, and that was if a student had developed a relationship with at least one faculty member. So one faculty member who cared about them.
So if you are in college, get to know your professors. And it doesn’t just mean your advisor, go to office hours. All professors hold office hours. Any faculty member is a potential advisor, it doesn’t even have to be someone you’re taking a class with. Get to know your faculty. Take advantage of that. And that’s one of the reasons I often encourage students to focus on colleges that are focused on undergraduates, because that tends to mean that the faculty working there like undergraduates and want to mentor them. That was number one.
Number two was if the students had engaged in a project that it lasted more than one semester. So whether that was a research project, an extracurricular activity, could even be Greek life, an internship, anything like that that lasted more than one semester. So get involved. Whether it’s research with a professor, whether it’s an internship, whether it’s just anything on campus that you’re interested in, those two things, which both have a common theme, which is engagement, seemed to be the keys to success.
So if you are in college, take advantage of every opportunity. Meet with those professors. Get involved. Make a contribution. And then another piece is that internships and summer jobs are increasingly important to employers. And I find that so many students do not take advantage of the career resources that are available on campuses. Those are becoming more and more robust, have amazing databases of alumni offering internships and summer opportunities. And that’s another thing students should really be doing, is engaging with the career services on their campus.
Amazing. So Gallup? This was a Gallup study.
Yeah, with Purdue.
With Purdue. Thirty to forty thousand students.
Graduates, yeah. Interesting. So they connected with one professor or someone, and then a more than one year project?
More than one semester.
More than one semester.
So not tough things to do.
Yeah, really fascinating and really kind of counter-intuitive.
Yeah, because I think about my own experience. I had both of those things and it definitely felt enriching.
And often when I tell that to parents and they reflect back on their own experience, they do remember that one professor in that one project. So I think it’s been true for a long time.
Interesting. Okay, so everybody’s who listening has heard about the college admissions bribery scandal. We’ve even at the time of this recording had some people heading off to prison for a few months. Can you just give us an overview of what happened? Just maybe take us back and go, “Okay, what did these people do? And why is that such a big deal?”
Great, because I think it’s both of a big deal and not a big deal. I actually put up a blog post shortly after it happened, which was basically, “Here’s why it’s not a big deal.” But the overview is this, there was one individual named Rick Singer, who was, I will say, posing as an educational consultant. He was actually a criminal. And he had two avenues that he used. One was that he had bought off a group of people who would enable students to cheat on their standardized exams with a variety of methods. But that was one thing, cheating on standardized exams; SAT and ACT. And the other thing he was doing was he had a stable of corrupt athletic coaches who would, in return for bribes, designate a student as a high priority athletic recruit. That’s it. That’s what happened.
So it’s actually pretty simple. And one of the things that I find difficult, is that it’s been called an admissions scandal. And not a single admissions person at any level has been accused or even suspected of any wrongdoing. So that’s where it gets to big deal/not a big deal, because I think a lot of people felt, “Oh, my gosh. This is the tip of the iceberg. The whole system is broken. It’s completely corrupt. It doesn’t work. There’s another system we didn’t know about.” And that’s not really accurate. We have to remember that as high profile as this case has been, and as high profile as some of the individuals are, this is a tiny number of people. Tiny. And a tiny number of institutions. And at not one of those institutions did the admissions office have a clue
In fact, I consider the admissions offices to have been victims. Because admissions officers have to rely on their colleagues, “Is this student a really great soccer player or a musician or a filmmaker, so that we should consider that in our admissions decisions?” They have to rely on people who understand those things, and those people were corrupt. So that’s what happened. But I do want people to know that, that was not normal. It is not widespread. It is not how things work. The vast majority of admissions officers love kids, think education is really important, and work unbelievably long hours fighting to advocate for students and finding the right fit for them. And that is still the case. So it shouldn’t, and I know that some students were discouraged thinking, “Oh, my gosh. All my hard work is meaningless because some rich kid is buying my spot.” Not really. I mean, this was really a tiny, tiny number of individuals and campuses.
However, I do like that it has brought up some important points of conversation. I think there’s no question that college admission is no more fair than anything else in our culture. So much of what you end up being able to achieve in terms of college admission, has to do with where you were born and who your parents are. So all the inequities that are part of our culture, are baked into admissions. So I’m not saying it’s perfectly fair, and we have lots of work to do. And I think some really good conversations have been generated on that topic as the result of this scandal. But the other thing I think it invites conversation on, which we’ve touched on already today, is that these parents – and this is not even getting to what kind of parenting we’re talking about here – but that these parents were, I think the word is “obsessed”, with one or two specific high rejection rate schools. And we now know that that has nothing to do with long term successful outcomes. So I think it’s a good opportunity for us to stop and look at that value, and question it.
But it does increase the size of my ego if my kid gets into that school.
And you know, you’re right. I was just reading, it was one of the fathers who was sentenced recently, and I don’t know if it was the judge or prosecutor who said this, but I read that the person was trying to defend himself by saying, “But I just did it because I wanted the best for my child.” And the response was, “No, that’s not why you did it. We’re not talking about a quality education here, we’re talking about an institution you perceive is exclusive. Therefore it was really about your status.”
Sure. When I saw the amount of money that they were spending to do this, I kept thinking to myself, “Couldn’t they have just given a donation to the school, and the school would have seen favorably upon their child?” I know that’s not legal. I know it’s the thing, but it just seems like that would be an easier way around this.
Actually, thank you for asking that. Because I think that’s something that has gotten confused in the public’s mind as a result of this scandal. We’re talking about two completely different ideas. The idea that a family makes a donation hoping that it enhances their child’s opportunities, that is legal.
It is legal? Okay.
That is completely legal. However a couple things to know, one, is that in most cases it doesn’t work. There is no guarantee that a large donation is going to result in admission of the student, which is one of the reason these families use this more sure-fire method. And I have worked with families who have gotten really worked up about a particular institution, have the means the make contributions and fly across the country and have dinner with the president, and the kid still didn’t get in. To which I said, “Yay!” Because there’s integrity in the system. At least some. So that’s one thing, is that there is no guarantee.
Secondly, we may not like it. It’s certainly true that a student who’s maybe just on the borderline of being admissible, might get the tip in if there’s a sizeable amount of money on the line. So we may not like that, and we may consider it distasteful, however, if the family is giving half a million dollars to build a library on that campus, every single person on that campus benefits. Including the kids who are there on full scholarship, the underpaid faculty, etcetera. And I would argue that there is value of a public good that comes from that system. Again, it’s fraught with issues with it, but it’s a very big distinction. So these families wanted a guarantee, and hadn’t the slightest bit of interest in doing service to the community of that campus.
Oh, so hard. Stephanie, you are a wealth of information. I wish we would have hired you in this process. Oh, my goodness, you’re incredible. And I want to make sure that people check out your website, it’s www.collegiateedge.com. And particularly the resources link, I found to be very rich with resources. And we’ll link to that in our show notes, if you’re listening you can just swipe up on your phone and click it now. It’s www.collegiateedge.com/resources. But also, we’ll have it in our show notes on our website. So Stephanie, thank you. You’re just a breath of fresh air. You’re full of positivity. You’ve got enthusiasm. I feel like you just love students around the world. You just want them to succeed, I love this.
I want them to succeed, and they can do it. We have such opportunity and I want people to know that.
That’s great. Thank you so much, Stephanie. I appreciate you joining us.
Thank you, this has been a blast.