#068 How to Get the Most Out Of College with Elliot Felix Transcript



Lisa Marker Robbins  01:04

Instead of thinking about college as something for your team to get through, Imagine designing the experience with an intention rooted in research. There’s good news, because you won’t likely read hundreds of research papers yourself. Eliot, Felix has done it for you. Over the past 20 years, Elliot has improved the experiences of more than 1 million students across more than 100 colleges that he’s worked with, including top universities like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the University of Virginia. data and research guide has work on improving student experiences. His curated research base tips in his book, How to get the most out of college, his guiding principles begin while your student is still in high school, and takes them through college to offer the most value and best return on your investment for your team. I’m Lisa marker Robbins and I want to welcome you to college and for your clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Eliot, welcome.


Elliot Felix  02:20

It’s great to be here, Lisa. Thanks for having me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:23

Oh, thanks for making time. You know, I love that you bridge this feel like you’ve got the whole bridge, really, you go from high school all the way taking these kiddos until they’re graduating college. And they’re having much more favorable outcomes based on the tips in the research. So I kind of want to dig into you know, I did read your book, by the way. And it’s a hold it up. For those that if we put this part on YouTube, they can see it actually, we decided right before we started recording, we’re going to do a book giveaway for this podcast episode. So we’ll put that detail in the show notes. But Elliott agreed to give this to one of our lucky listeners. So get those details because I’ll tell you what, 127 ways to make connections, make it work for you and make a difference. And there’s something for everyone. And what I love about your book is a bite size tidbits. Each tip is like one or two pages. And I can see somebody picking it up when they’ve got a sophomore in high school and not putting it down until they’re students graduating from college or the student taking it on to college with them.


Elliot Felix  03:32

Yeah, it turns out we have short attention spans and people want to jump around. So that was kind of the idea behind now. The book is setup.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:38

Wow, that’s really shocking. Hahaha. Yeah. Not at all. So our listeners mostly have kids in high school. Maybe also an older kid in college.


Elliot Felix  03:53

Maybe Dover’s, older sibling in college, right.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:55

Yeah. So what I love is that sweet spot of really like early high school is where the starts said, and I know you come from it from a perspective of really like, not just what to do when you get there. But how designing that you’re a designer by trade. I am that is my background. Yeah, actually say something real quick about your background, because I think it’s fascinating because that background has led you to this information. So let’s talk briefly about what is your background?


Elliot Felix  04:29

Yeah, well, I actually started off as an architect and worked on lots of amazing buildings. But I felt like we didn’t understand enough about the people those buildings were for. So I went back to grad school at MIT and tried to solve for that, when an architect came out a designer, and then spent five years writing design briefs for buildings to help improve campuses with the idea that okay, now I can do focus groups, I can do surveys, I can look at the trends, I can understand people and then we can Create much better spaces for students. And after doing that, for a while, I realized that, you know, it takes more than space to improve the experience of students, they need the right support services, they need the right academic programs, they need the right technology. And so I started a company called brightspot. And that’s what we do is we improve the experience for students, we help students succeed with better facilities, better services, better technology. And we’ve been lucky enough to do that with I think about 115 colleges and universities now most of which people would recognize top institutions. And after doing that, for a while, I realized that a lot of what I learned about how college works, would be really useful for students and their families to know so they can make college work for them.


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:49

Well, you say for their families, I really believe in the work that I do as a college major and career coach, supporting families. I’ve always said, the college bound journey is a family journey, you know, my kids are all now in their 20s. But professionally, I’ve been doing this work for 25 years. And then when I did it, as a mom, when I put that mom hat on after, you know, I don’t know, 18 years or so doing this work, it was really different. And it brought even a new perspective, kind of like your work giving you a new perspective. But I became even more convinced that while the outcome that we’re designing is for the student and mind, this is a family journey, like we want to successfully launch our kids, we love our kids, we want to support them. And so that’s what I love about I mean, we met on Instagram, you would be what it is. And we both have that, you know, we just have that heart to connect and support the people for the outcome for the student. But we can’t, I love that you said you can’t leave the parent out of that piece of the puzzle, either. Yeah. So let’s jump into, you’ve got all these ideas about improving the user experience the student experience while they’re there. But your early chapters of this book, start while they’re in high school, and you really come at it from the perspective of figure out how you’re going to college, like what you’re going to do while you’re there to inform where you’re gonna go to college. Don’t start with I guess what I’m reading in my right. Are you saying like, don’t start with Oh, I like this campus is where I’m gonna go to college. Instead, figure out what that college experience is going to look like. Yeah, that’s


Elliot Felix  07:31

exactly right. I there’s two big ideas in the book. The first is that we spend a lot of time thinking about where to go to college, which is important. But we don’t spend enough time thinking about how to go to college. And the research shows that it’s the day to day decisions that students make about where to live, what classes to take, you know, what to major in, what to do a project on how to get involved, those are the things that drive your success every bit as much as where you go. But both matter. And that’s a big idea. The other is that this is an experience to be designed. And so if you’re the designer, you’re trying to understand people, and you’re trying to test things out, test it, you know, no finished product goes straight from a piece of paper, to the the shelves in the store, right? There’s all kinds of testing that happens. And if you think about college, as something to design, then you want to look for ways to test that and you know, that starts in high school because you want to understand yourself, you want to understand that you know, the user, the customer, and you want to look for ways to test things even before you get to college before it’s you know, the product is on the shelf, you know, so to speak.


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:39

I love that. So you you know as a designer using the word design I for quite a few years now since I started my launch Career Clarity course, one of the examples I use is like if you’re not designing, you’re drifting. And so are you going to drift into college a lot things happen by chance and I it for sure it leads to less favorable outcomes, or are you going to design your solution and I Kevin example one time when my husband and I were kayaking on vacation and he refuses to do a two man kayak with me because he thinks he has to do all the work when we do that, which I’ll admit here is true. So we switched to we now own to one person kayaks. And so it was a beautiful day I was just drifting along I kind of laid back closed my eyes were on a very kind of remote lake in my husband was intentionally designed going over to see my dad who is fishing in a fishing boat. I ended up in the cat tails I ended up like so far off course the effort it took me to get back on course, to design a way to get back to the house that we were staying at was Herculean for little five foot to me. And if I would have just duck with the design and put the effort in it would have been a much easier journey. like my husband had. So I who would rather be in a two person, kayak letting him do all the work that?


Elliot Felix  10:06

Well, I’m a big fan of design. So I’m happy to hear that. And I’ll say you look taller than five two on Zoom. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:12

Don’t we all? If we ever been in person like, oh, there it is, there it is. Okay, so we’re gonna think about and I love that you said you got to know yourself, I teach a three pillar framework with the college and career coaching that I do college major and career coaching. And it’s no, I start also with no yourself. So I think that is the first step that we would both agree on know yourself, then I go into no careers and then know what college you’re gonna go to, but that know yourself, what are some tips that you have for high school students? How do you encourage them to know themselves?


Elliot Felix  10:50

Well, I think part of how you know yourself is through reflection, I think part of it is how you know yourself is through assessment, like the kinds of assessments that I know you do. And then I think the other way you know yourself is by testing lots of things out trying things out, seeing what you’re interested in. I mean, I think we’ve all had the experience of a teenager, that who’s invested in something excited about something engaged in something and then it doesn’t feel like work. And then something else, that’s just the opposite. And it’s drudgery, and you’re poking your prodding, and they’re still not getting there. So I think before you get to college, you want to test lots of things out whether it’s an instrument, whether it’s a club, whether it’s a sport, whether it’s an internship, or if something career related, and see what’s resonating, because that’s what you’re trying to do is like help students find their people find their place, find their path, and you don’t that doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by casting the net wide testing a lot of things out and learning from it. I feel like the most creative people, all studies show they have more ideas. They’re not necessarily they may seem like they’re more creative, but the way that they seem like they’re more creative is just because they have 100 ideas where you might have 10, and 90 of those can fail, and they’ll get to 10 gray ones. So do a bunch of stuff.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:03

Yeah, well module for my course. I call it curating experiences. So I think it’s the same thing, right? It is like curate experiences, which would be your equivalent of testing things out while you’re still in high school. So that, you know, sometimes one of the mental blocks, I would say two of the mental blocks I see students having are one they want the quick fix to your point, your chapters are very short in your book, because it’s short at tend to this man. And I think the work that you and I are both asking students to do with the intentionality before they select the colleges even to apply to it before they go. It takes time. And so changing that mindset of okay, I’ve got it, it’s gonna take a little time this is there’s not a quick fix for this. And I think if you curate that experience, and you get up close, and you’re like, Oh, well, that’s a fail, it still is a win. Don’t look at it as a failure, don’t look at it as a loss, because the win is you’ve gained further insights to design the right experience. Yeah,


Elliot Felix  13:08

absolutely. And I think some of the tests can be more quick fixie. And, you know, some are more involved. Like if I think about my own experience, you know, finding a path to architecture, it started off with an amazing teacher who inspired me and, you know, we did these college level projects, even before high school where it was, like bringing a game board and analyze its underlying structure, and then turn that into architecture. So I thought, Oh, I might want to do this. So one of my quick tests was spend a day with an architect just kind of shadowing them while I was in high school, you know, what’s their day like? And then another more involved test was a college Summer Study program that I did at Bennington College, where I spent a month, you know, taking college courses effectively, in a pre college program. And, you know, you’d like couldn’t get me out of the studio, even when the like, the quad was beautiful. And, you know, so are the people. But, you know, I really, I loved what I was doing. And that sent a pretty clear message, you know, this test was a success. Others will be, you know, failures, and you’ll learn from those two.


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:13

Yeah, I love that. So let’s get into some of the nitty gritty on designing this so that you are going to know how you’ll college to pick where you’ll College, and you’ve got some specific ideas that you want to share with


Elliot Felix  14:30

  1. Yeah, I think, you know, one of the first decisions you make about how to college is where to live. And there’s really surprising research about a residence halls dorms. One is that if you live in a dorm that where the rooms are organized a long hallway, you have a higher sense of community, you have more interaction 22% more interaction. It’s actually been quantified and higher GPAs up to half a letter grade in some In cases, if you live in a dorm that’s organized around an idea, like entrepreneurship, or the environment or an identity, like Latin X, those are called Living Learning Communities. And students who live in those have more tend to have more contact with their professors tend to have a more diverse group of friends, they intend to have feel like they work better in teams. So living learning communities have lots of benefits. So that’s an early decision about how and then when you’re searching for colleges, that’s something you can look for. Right? You can ask them about their dorms, you can ask them Do they have living learning communities.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:36

So just the design of the space when you so parents, students, when you’re doing that campus tour, or you’re even just looking online, you can look at the design of the dorm to see if you’re saying a singular hallway,


Elliot Felix  15:53

is a plus. Yeah, versus like suites or an apartment, you know, if you’re a junior or senior, obviously, you’re probably going to want something more like a suite or an apartment. But if you’re in your first or second year, something that actually kind of forces people to interact with each other, may feel a little hard at first. But I don’t think it’s too bitter uphill as medicine because it actually like has a lot of great benefits.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:18

A lot of hard things get easier. I have this past Monday, I was doing a live q&a with the students in our course. And I said, you know, whatever hand you’re brushing your teeth with, for the next week, I want you to rush with the other one. And if everybody try that, you know, we were even like crossing our arms, and we’re and then crossing them the other way. And so a natural, but it was actually two weeks ago, I said, Hey, let’s brush our teeth. Then on the next q&a meeting, I said how many people did it? Some did some probably forgot, some of it was probably too hard. But the ones who stuck with us at oh, gosh, it became so easy after a little bit. And we’ve got to learn how to do hard things. I mean, I think that’s part of raising our kids. Your kids are younger than mine. But we were trying to instill in them. That resiliency,


Elliot Felix  17:05

minor four and seven, and we’re we’re working on I could do hard things for sure.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:11

We’re so minor in their 20s We’re still working on doing hard things. And I it’s a lifelong pursuit. Yeah, I still am at 54. So that’s for sure. So okay, I do what I’m going to link to a previous episode I have within the show notes with one of my former students because she touts living learning communities. And one of her outcomes was it helped her in a Living Learning Community. With people that were in the same, she was in the College of Engineering, it helped her really even learn more about the career possibilities that her major would lead to in an inspired when she thought she was on the right path that helped confirm that she was on the right path that was another that’s one that I’ve heard one of my own students talk about. So I’ll actually link to that in the show notes for sure. Okay, so living learning communities, you got real data on all of this, that’s one thing to look for. What’s another


Elliot Felix  18:03

thing another is real world projects, I think so much of college is about, you know, finding your place, find your people, finding your career paths. And if you’re thinking about it, from this design mindset, from this design standpoint, then you want to have lots of tests to figure out where you want to head who you want to be who you want to be with. And let’s say you’re taking a marketing class, you could do a marketing plan for a fictitious company, you could make up a company, and you’ll get a lot out of that you’ll go through the steps, you’ll learn what’s in the plan, maybe it’s a social media strategy, something like that. But if you do that for, say, a nonprofit in the community, then you’re making an impact, you’re talking to real people. Maybe those people need an intern this summer. Or maybe they know somebody that needs an intern this summer, maybe they become a role model, maybe they become a mentor. And it turns out that working on real world projects is just like magical, because it gives students a chance to apply things in the real world to make an impact. And it has lots of great benefits, you know, one of witches, that students who work on these kinds of real world projects that make an impact, but know that sometimes those are called service learning. They get hired faster, and they actually make about eight grand more a year in starting salary. And they’re doing good, right? And it makes sense because if you think about it, like now a student has, they have this great project and their portfolio, they can show it to potential employers, they’re building their network, they’re making connections, they’re applying the things from the classroom. And as you know, we all know you hear something once and it kind of makes sense. You know, you’re nodding along you’re taking notes and then it’s it isn’t until you have to use it till you actually have to apply it but you really learn it.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:54

While I agree my undergrad major, I was a teacher when I came out and so I taught for eight years at the secondary level. And, you know, it’s one thing to be an expert in the subject matters another thing to teach it to other people, I learned way more teaching it to others than I ever did taking history classes in college, I knew it inside and out, for sure putting it into practice. I’ll also add to that, you know, most public universities are going to admit students by major, right, so not true of the liberal arts, the smaller liberal arts colleges. And that’s not to say that many of those public research universities don’t have Exploratory Studies, many of them do. But there are some majors that you have to apply to when you’re a senior in high school or the doors closed, right, you’re not going to be able to switch that major later after you’ve been admitted to the university. And for the colleges that admit by major, you know, they’re asking students to write y major essays, they’re looking into the extracurricular activities of the high school students to see alignment with the choice of major. And so I liked this idea of what you’re saying about real world and even before about like, job shadows, because those are the things that will get reflected in the college application through essays through the list of extracurriculars, the common app allows for 10 of those. And so it’s giving a positive, a more positive outcome, getting into college. And then now you are showing me this data of, I had no idea about like the income gain and the hired faster with these real world experiences and colleges. So those would be what internships co ops.


Elliot Felix  21:47

Yeah, and the thing to look for as you’re searching for colleges, most of them will have a Center for Service Learning or a Center for Engaged Learning, or it might be a Center for Leadership, it’s often those two go hand in hand. And part of what the leadership group will do is give students an opportunity to, you know, to lead a group on a volunteer project or to do a film series, you know, whatever it might be. So that’s, those are really the things to look for. And it’s important because not a lot of colleges offer these or really offer them well, and or feature them prominently. There’s a recent national survey that wily did that said, 81% of students were looking for these, but only 30% of professors that they surveyed, offered these kinds of projects. And in our national survey, my company brightspot did, only about half of students were satisfied with their real world learning applications. So it’s definitely something to look for and say, you know, ask about either opportunities to do you know, projects that connect what they’re doing in the classroom with the real world, how are you doing that at your college or university, you can visit, you know, might be called, like the Center for Engaged learning or the Center for Service Learning. And visit them, talk to them, see what the opportunities are? Are they just reserved for seniors? Or can first years get involved? For instance?


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:13

Well, this, I like the tips you’re giving us for the questions to ask. And I want to add, you know, you’re not going to get those answers for the traditional college visit, where you sign up, you go to the information session, that’s for everybody interested in every possible major in the universe at that school, which could be 200, or 300, majors at major public universities. And then you go on a campus tour, and that’s about all you’re gonna get, and gonna see one dorm going, by the way back to your dorm setup point. So you’re gonna have to get on and do more research and ask more questions. I really encourage families to when they’re doing these college visits make time to go on the day where the College of Engineering is also available for their your visit day, if that’s what you’re interested in, or the health sciences or the education school, because that I think, is when you’re engaging at the division college major level with the universities, that’s when you’re going to get the answers around specifically, was that real world engagement because the admissions office is not going to be able to tell you much about that.


Elliot Felix  24:17

Yeah, and some of this can start online. I mean, you can Google name of university service learning, or you can google name of university, experiential learning, which sometimes it falls under that and see what comes up. Usually, it’ll be the center for Experiential Learning Center for Engaged Learning Center for Service Learning. And, you know, they’ll usually have a director they’ll or they’ll have, you know, someone in communications, there’s ways you can reach out to them directly so that you can augment that general campus tour with the specifics that you’re talking about.


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:51

Yep, you have to dig deeper. It’s not going to be easy. Okay, so we’ve got the you need to hold on per se.


Elliot Felix  24:59

Um, okay, there’s just Some things happening outside, but I’m sure it’s all under control.


Lisa Marker Robbins  25:03

I heard just a second of it, so it’s not a done deal. Okay, so, because we are coming up on time, so I’m gonna let you like kind of guide us in. Do you want to hit one more tip? We’re wrapping it up day, one more tip and a brief clip and then then I’d wrap it up. Okay, so two great tips, living learning real world projects. Give us one more here as we’re closing things down Eliot.


Elliot Felix  25:28

So I’m a big fan of mentoring, which has a huge impact. There’s great research by Purdue University and Gallup that shows that students who found a mentor someone who was guiding them, encouraging them to pursue their dreams, they’re twice as likely to think their education was worth the cost. And they’re twice as likely to be engaged at work after graduation, which means they found meaningful work that they’re involved in, they’re enthusiastic about they’re contributing to. So that’s another thing to probe is, do they have formal mentoring programs, how accessible are the professors? How do students build relationships with professors. And of course, there’s lots of ways to find a mentor, it might be someone that you work for an internship, it might be someone at your campus job. I mean, we, at my company, we hired someone who was amazing. And her mentor in college, was the director of the Career Center, which was her campus job. So I think mentors come in all shapes and sizes, but asking a university about how they helped facilitate that is really helpful.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:32

Last fantastic, F, this is great. And we weren’t lying when I said at the beginning, Elliot’s done all the research for you, you do not have to go out and read a bunch of research papers, which we know the average parents not going to do even though you and I get geeked out on that kind of stuff. So okay, well, what are some final tips keeping in mind, for high school families?


Elliot Felix  26:54

I think what I’ve seen in my work at more than 100 colleges, is students sometimes don’t feel that sense of belonging, they don’t feel like they have the support they need. And they don’t see how their classes connect to a career. So I think looking at those three things as the problems to solve, or maybe the opportunity when you’re designing your college experience can be really helpful. So talking to your student about how they get involved, do they feel like they belong, and also helping them understand that everyone goes through a phase where they don’t actually feel like that. And, you know, impostor syndrome kicks in. And it just takes time, and it’s common, and then encourage them to seek support. Because if there’s one thing I’ve seen in all my consulting, and I’ve probably done like 2000 focus groups with students, they don’t take advantage of all the things their university offers, you know, they might be suffering in silence, writing a paper, but there’s actually a writing center that can help them or they’re trying to do that real world project. And they don’t know that if they go to the library, there’s actually someone that can help them make a prototype or practice their presentation, or record a podcast. And so just encouraging students to seek support to seek help. It’s totally normal. These services are there, you’re paying for them, please use them, you know, if you’re shy about using them, go with a friend. And then finally, make those class Career Connections, whether it’s an internship, whether it’s a real world project, whether it’s even a you know, a co op, if you’re going to you know, considering a school that has that model. So, see if you can ladder up from belonging to support the class career connection,


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:47

that is perfect. Well, Elliot, thank you, we’re gonna put the contest link in the show notes, run it for two weeks from when this drops lie. And then you’ll be sending somebody really what is a handbook that will take them and my mind from 10th grade to college graduation, and honestly, maybe both parents and students both need their own copies or parents give your copy, start as a family copy, and then ship it off to college with your kids so that they are not, as you said, suffering in silence.


Elliot Felix  29:17

Yeah, it can definitely travel with them. And I’ll just say I’m excited about this giveaway. But I also want to point out that the whole book is a giveaway because it’s a buy one give one model. I’m in it for the impact and so you know, we give away a copy to a student in need for every copy sold. So you know, if you’re, if your listeners also have organizations that we can donate to I’d love those you know those suggestions?


Lisa Marker Robbins  29:41

Well, what is the best way for people to stay in touch with you if they want to do so for the books or anything else?


Elliot Felix  29:48

They can go to Eliot felix.com. And there that’s where I share articles. I’ve written research I’ve done the podcast, which each episode of the podcast delves into one of the topics or the tips from the book. And you can find out about the book and you can also email me with your your suggestions for charitable donations.


Lisa Marker Robbins  30:08

Okay, thank you. Yeah, I mean, it’s truly this is your passion project. This is not your bread and butter of how you’re raising your family. So,


Elliot Felix  30:15

I want to Yeah, during the day, during the day, I’m helping universities help their students succeed. And, you know, nights and weekends, I’m helping students and families learn from what I do during the day. So there you have it.


Lisa Marker Robbins  30:29

That is so generous of you. Thank you, Elliot, I know you’re many family. So we’ll have you on again. I know we will. Thanks, Elliot. Thanks so much. You all might find it weird, but I’m with Elliot and can totally geek out on the research and design piece. For your college bound challenge. This week, I want to focus on the living piece of college. The data Elliot shared is compelling. Choose a few colleges your teen has in mind, then go to the housing section of the school websites. While you’re there, learn about what living learning options are available, and check out the dorm floor plans, as well as the options then discuss them. While you’re there. Take note that not all housing options cost the same on campus, take time to consider how that impacts your budget. And if you’ll set parameters for your team in that area. I did. Interestingly, the dorm floor plan Elliott mentioned as positively impacting your students experience by 22% is typically the less expensive option. So there’s some food for thought. Also, don’t forget to go to the show notes and get the link to register to win a copy of Elliott’s book. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share this with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your teens future