#074 What Admissions Officers Want Students to Know with Kim Lifton Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins 00:59

What if you had 30 or 60 minutes to talk to admissions officers at top colleges to learn the secrets of what they really want to know from your student? What would you ask them? And how would it guide your family’s college bound journey? Well, Kim liftin, has had the privilege of doing just that dozens of times, her background in journalism gives her the skills to get behind typically closed doors. She’s joining us today to share tips from what she’s learned from those conversations with those who make the decisions that impact your team’s future. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Welcome cow.

Kim Lifton 01:54

Thank you, Lisa. That was the most amazing introduction that I’ve ever heard

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:00

it amazing. So I think it’s deserved. Well, thank

Kim Lifton 02:03

you. Remember that? You seven. Okay.

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:07

So I love the fact that you are leveraging, you know, you’ve always been a writer, that you’re leveraging this past the skills really that you developed through being a journalist to now learn about the college space, we should tell everybody that you are with, wow, writing workshops. In your partner, Susan are helping students develop the essay side of this package. And so through that, tell us a little bit about how in the world do you get these people have these conversations with you?

Kim Lifton 02:42

Well, you’re the first one who’s ever noticed I love it. But it when Susan and I decided to start this business, it was in 2009. And it was probably felling up on one of my friends asking me to help us cope with a college essay. And we just we sat and we talked. And we tried to figure out how we were going to do this. And the journalism piece came into play. And I said, well, we need to know more. I mean, I help kids, but I don’t really know what I’m doing. We need to know more because you can’t just go in and say we’re going to help students write college essays if we don’t understand the context of this piece of the puzzle. So I went to Michigan Association of College Admission Counseling conference. Lord knows how I found out about this, but I just did my journalistic thing I found out I was scared Lisa, I was scared. I don’t get scared at people. I walk into this conference, thinking people won’t like me. And their high school counselors dressed in their khaki pants and buttoned down shirt. miling and I met this guy for Cranbrook schools. His name was Bill Hancock, and he’s lived on he was like the dorm dad been at Cranbrook forever like he was president. They were they’ve been involved in all these organizations. And he was really busy but really nice. So he introduced me to his friend, David coats from Rochester, New York. And he goes, You gotta go to Nick. That was that was snack, though. He started telling me about people. And then there I am at this event scared of everyone who was they were all nice, ridiculous. And it ruins running after this man from Michigan State University named Jim Cotter. Michael, he must be the top dog. And I don’t know I walked up to him and I go, Hey, Sparkman next thing you know, I was having lunch in East Lansing, like a month later with Jim Carter at this place called LS TECHO which is an institution at Michigan State eating nachos, chips, whatever. And he was the first person who embraced me and welcomed me and told me everything I needed to know about the college essay, that context of it, what they were looking for, and that was like my template for every future discussion. From there. We went to Ted? Well in his listening, he’s been retired for a while from University of Michigan. And I have pictures of me with the two of them. But I think I needed to know stuff. Or we couldn’t have started a business. And it’s natural for me to meet people, whatever I do. I mean, as a journalist, I used to carry around a notebook. And it was my security blanket within a notebook in my hand. I had this permission to ask anything of anybody. I mean, I once chased Henry Kissinger to an elevator just to get a quote, when I was a reporter, Baba events, like I interviewed him. I don’t know how if I thought about it, I might have been scared. But when I was a kid, my dad, he just used his piece to always say this, and I’m not really sure he meant it to Kimmy, everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time. And I’m like, oh, so I thought, well, if they get dressed the same way as I get dressed, I can talk to them. And I just went crazy. Like, I never I just, I would call anybody ask anything. And always nice. I can life right before he asked somebody something, I share something that too much nobody wants. People like to talk about themselves, that you have to make them comfortable. So fast forward, or go backward. I was a reporter. And I was on the police beat. And I had to ask people really hard questions before trials or what have you. And I knew they didn’t want to talk, you got a parent of a kid who’s accused of murder or something. And I would say to them, Look, you are so much better off with me doing this story, and then someone else, because I’m going to be nice to you. And worked every time like a term. And it was real.

Lisa Marker Robbins 06:44

It was real. I felt bad friend knew, right. You’re genuine. I mean, that’s what I like about you.

Kim Lifton 06:49

Oh, thanks. I mean, I try to be I mean, I don’t like people I like, You got to cut that least. But I really love people. I’m really curious. There’s nothing I don’t want to know. So let me ask

Lisa Marker Robbins 07:01

you. I mean, I hear a few nuggets in there that oh, my gosh, have my friend go and everywhere. So first of all, I love the fact that you’re being strategic. You and Susan, when you’re like, Okay, we’re gonna write an essay where you know, over here, I’m going, Okay, I’m going to help kids choose the right major, choose the right career so that they choose the right college, and then you’re saying, Okay, we’re gonna help them write about getting in. You know, I think too many families are drifting through the college bound experience, leaving things to chance, without designing and being strategic about what they’re doing. So I applaud the fact that, you know, you’re not just saying elicits write an essay, you’re like, No, we need to know more, we need to know, need to be strategic by knowing, right, what are they looking for? So I, we’ve always

Kim Lifton 07:56

needed, you need to know that you’re right, you need to know, the stuff that I need to know. So we need to stick together. But we can’t, there are so many people who do whatever their pieces in any job and anything, and they don’t understand the context of where it fits in. And like the major, that’s what you do, you need to know the context, you’re going to this big school, here are all your options. How do I find out what I need to know so I can help us get oh, you know what, this person knows this guy, maybe I should get some information. Sometimes it’s spot on. Sometimes it’s not. But with the college essay, there is so much garbage out there. And so many myths. And so many people don’t understand that it’s not that big of a thing. You just have to answer the question, show a little bit of insight, and help these people understand who you are. That is it. But there’s so much stuff that gets fed about it. And so many pieces of the puzzle that are confusing, that by the time the student sits down to write, by the time the student tries to pick their major, they’re just so confused, that they shut down. And if you don’t have anxiety, you’re gonna have it before you apply

Lisa Marker Robbins 09:10

to college. Wow. Thorin say to me all the time, you know, my kids unmotivated, and and I’m like, No, actually, they’re motivated you are they’re motivated to, to protect their brain and not be overwhelmed. And so we know, we can get them. It’s not getting them motivated, is getting them out of overwhelm. So how I feel it’s the same thing. I think it really is. It’s totally the same thing. I do love and this has really nothing to do with our topic, but I just gotta drop this nugget in real quick that you said, please do. When you’re like, you know, my dad inspired me when first of all parents, your kids are listening to you and they’re taking in inferring lessons from this. And so he just said, everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time and you’re like, I can approach these people and some of them are probably going to tell me no and that’s okay. And how you Approach them. And this is something I teach in my launch Career Clarity course as when you are starting to build your network or you want to do a job shadow or an informational interview. So you can get up close and curate the experiences to know if that’s what you should start pursuing. First try to be interest did before you work so hard at being interesting. And I just, I love that. Really, that’s the heart of what you just shared about how you’ve curated these conversations. So I just want to remind people, and that’s something that we really teach when you start networking and building your network, which starts in high school and is going to go, I mean, here we are, we wouldn’t have met each other if it weren’t for of having conversations with other people and being interested in them saying, Oh, you’ve got to meet my friend. Hey, families, that’s how it works. Even when your teens in high school in college, they’ll be interested first, and then they’ll start telling you interesting things and you can build connection, I learned so many things. Oh, it’s so

Kim Lifton 11:05

interesting. I once had a student who went to a private school where the decision maker from a university was going to be having lunch at our school, and she really wanted to go there. I said, it’s gonna be there all day. She goes, Yeah, I go. Look, I’m not an admissions. I’m not a coach like that. I help with the essays. But I said, I can tell you that if you sit with him at lunch, and just ask him about himself and his kids. He’ll remember you. Yeah, anyway, she got in early. I’m not sure she should have. Yeah, there you go. But and I know, I’m not telling people to do that. But it really is.

Lisa Marker Robbins 11:43

You’re right, it’s a jet out. People want to call it a soft skill. And Simon Senate calls it a human skill, just be human. So let’s dive in to you have been interested in these people. You got over your fear by going everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time parents tell your kids that constantly, please. And you curated these conversations. You started to learn stuff. First of all, how many conversations just a ballpark number do you think you’ve had at this? Oh, I

Kim Lifton 12:15

thought you might ask that. I don’t know. 50 to 100. I don’t know how can this? Yeah, yeah, maybe more?

Lisa Marker Robbins 12:23

I have, you know, hey, you do it every friday.

Kim Lifton 12:25

I do it every Friday, but I haven’t always done it so strategically. But because I did it so often. Like we had to track it. Course. Yeah. And they do a lot of it at conferences are right, though. I mean, I talked to people in the last month I’ve talked to like 12

Lisa Marker Robbins 12:43

settle out of these conversation. You’re learning. You’re seeing threads of continuity, I’m sure. And some unique things. Let’s talk about

Kim Lifton 12:56

what I’ve learned about AI.

Lisa Marker Robbins 13:00

We’ve had talking about AI, I’ve been telling me Okay, well would be one thing, and it might be related to chat GPT AI, or it might not what’s one thing right now in 2023 that you would say might surprise families the most that you learn from admissions officers.

Kim Lifton 13:18

Here you go. This is so easy. Thank you for asking that. So I want to start this with a little story because I was at an admissions conference recently. And it listened to these professionals debating three college essays, they were reading them aloud. And they’re it’s a game everyone plays which college essay was written by the chat GPT and my sarcastic snarky remark is always why are we playing this game? And this is so out of context, right? So what I think and and the admissions person sitting next to me said, I looked at him I go seriously? Yes, champ, mom. But I sit down. This isn’t. You don’t read this essay wondering if Lisa Mark Robbins wrote it or if the students teacher wrote it or if they copied it from a book or if about Ronda Diego’s No, they’re reading these things so quickly. They’re looking to get to know you. And if it doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t sound right. If they find out it’s cheating, they’re just gonna deny you and you will never know why because they don’t have to tell you. But all that stuff aside, I think people will be surprised to know that they don’t spend a lot of time inside the admissions office today. 2023 talking about AI in the Chatbot you know why they got bigger fish to fry is called the Supreme Court is going to be making a decision in June. That could affect it admissions and the way everybody does it. We don’t know the outcome. It’s about race based admissions, affirmative action. And they are talking about that they have to Seems the lawyers helping them decide, should we change the supplemental essays? Should we change something in the application? What should we do? What can we do? What might they be able to tell us? What might they not? And honestly, I don’t think a lot of decisions have been made. They’re on hold. So if mom and dad think that they are even thinking about this, they’re just not. There are people who have predicted the end of college essays, which is my area anyway, which is my comeback to that. But maybe one. And I have talked to so many I’ve gone to conferences, I’ve listened to presentations. There was somebody from, I think it was a NAT MIT who went to Cal Tech, who basically said, thing I, we’re not, it’s not that big of a deal. Like, I’m not going to, like, invest in all this stuff, just to do some tests to see if this might have been written by that or not. They just want to know who you are. And they’re not talking about this so much. That I think would surprise people that it is not as big inside of that admissions office. And they use AI, everybody uses it. But as far as this had a right, but as far as chat TPT Yeah, I’m sure I have great ideas for what I want to do with it. But it’s not writing something that’s a narrative. Like, it’s not going to help. And by the time somebody might use it to start, and the time they finish, and they actually were to get something that might be genuine, they will have spent a lot more time on it and wasted a lot more time than they would have if they didn’t Well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 16:47

because honestly, I you know, everybody’s talking about Gosh, a new area. Another coming career area, tying this back to careers, the lens that I go through, is there’s going to be a field for engineering good prompts, because I used it today I was writing a proposal for something and I was using it a little bit. And I had to to your point, I had to redo everything, you know, I would have to fine tune fine tune fine tune and you’ve got to you’ve really I’m working on getting better. But you’ve really got to get really great at your prompt. So that’s probably going to be an emerging field is prompt engineer.

Kim Lifton 17:27

Really, yeah. Then what maybe I’ll do that as I’m going to be a prompt engineer, you

Lisa Marker Robbins 17:33

guys you can be a prompt into they’re coming up with because they have to be it’s for AI to be effective. The prompt has to be so dialed in fantastic with the right details and the right information to get the outcome that’s desired. And so that’s going to be an emerging grade or field, but

Kim Lifton 17:53

the outcome desired for like your career interests is only in your head and the outcome desired for what’s important to you. You can’t scan the Internet to find that stuff is inaccurate. That’s right.

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:08

So let’s get all okay, so chat GPT wants surprises. People keep thinking that colleges are losing their minds over what might happen with this. Right. So if they’re not worried about that, and they really on the inside,

Kim Lifton 18:23

I don’t know if they’re not let me bear I don’t know if they’re worried about it. But they’re not really they’re not

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:28

really focused. That’s not worth their energy, not top on their list. Yeah. So let’s go with like, Okay, so that’s what’s happening institutionally inside the walls. When it comes to the student. What would the students be surprised? Or what advice would you have this give for the students up? What do they really want the students to know? Like, if you were sitting down with I know Shawn Felton wrote the intro or endorsement to the book that you in Susan had, I think it’s an endorsed an endorsement. There you go. And so he so you know, if Shawn were sitting here, you know, and he would say, like, gosh, I say this to families, and people tend to not believe me, this is what I want from your student. What would that

Kim Lifton 19:16

be? Despite what you might believe? I don’t really have something specific in mind when I review your essays. I don’t know what I want to read. But I do want you to reflect to the best of your ability and your answer to any prompt, so I can get to know you a little better. As I review your application, Shawn Phelan Cornell, I know it by heart, and it doesn’t matter what he says, It doesn’t matter what I say, because these students, and I just I was working with a student yesterday, my first of the year, and I see her traits and characteristics and she’s writing leadership and what you know, leadership really smart involved in the community. And so I said to her, you’re so compassion In the story you’re sharing is all about compassion. I just wanted to know where the leadership thing is coming from, because it sounds like somebody told you, that’s what you should be writing. And he said, you know, your story naturally shows that right. But the point is, is that they think that there are specific traits that, Shawn, that he thought I’d send it, it, he see you that heater as good at Harvey Mudd. They think that they all want to know how creative they are, how involved in the community they are, whether they’re leaders or not. And this all comes from some report that Harvard done on character in college admissions, it’s got nothing to do with the essay, because they want to know who you are. And if you pull something that’s not genuine, off a list of traits, you’re not going to deliver what they want, which is genuine. And that’s what this is all about. So it’s very hard. I think they’re always surprised year after year, this hasn’t changed. Lisa, what they’re looking for hasn’t changed. It may change in some of the supplements, if the Supreme Court rules in whatever way they might, but for a personal statement when they want to know something about you. They just want to know who you are. Well, let’s

Lisa Marker Robbins 21:27

talk about the supplements too, for a second. Okay. So as they stand right now, you know, pending a Supreme Court ruling on race in admissions, boy, I now have a plan I’m not on the Supreme Court, or in the college is trying to have to navigate all this. So as supplemental essays stand right now, again, they just want to get to know you. But what can students expect them to be asking?

Kim Lifton 21:58

More of the same? You know, there was a question. So right now, I’ve always thought and they’ve been talking about changing the supplements for years. So to have more short answer essays that are more specific. So for like, you want to go to Harvard, they have a really short one, like why do you want to be in this specific program? I can’t see that in 50 words, I’m like, just answer it. So Cornell is doing some changes, I don’t know what they’re going to look like, yeah, they’re not going to be out for a few months. But they’re going to do some changes that have nothing to do with whatever decision might or might not be pending. Because they do want to know why you want to study whatever it is you want to study here. They do want to know, and some of their colleges do require that you pick majors and that’s your area, not mine. But in the answer to the question about why you want to be here, they’re looking for a little more reflection, and in the past that might not have. So you can never go wrong with reflection, even in 50 words, you can do a little bit of it, you just have to know how. So here’s an example of how we can see some changes. So the why this college essay is probably the most popular, and one of the most challenging ones for students to write because they don’t all know, as you all know, because of what you did. They don’t know what they want to do. They’re 17. And I’m not sure they should have to. But they know what they like, they can figure out what to study and then figure it out later, right. So Duke lit on 2021, they had this White House essay, and it was I actually pulled it out so that I could share it with you. So please share with us why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular about Dukes, academic, or other offerings that attract you? The new question for last year was, what is your sense of Duke as a university and a community? And why do you consider it a good match for you? If there’s something in particular about our offerings that attract you feel free to share? It is the same question, inviting you to share information about where you come from. And while I can’t tell you that I know something secret. I’m smart. Okay, I can read. And I look at this question. And I see a test to see if we can ask you where you came from, where your grandma came from, what’s that identity? It could very well be that we may see more prompts like this pending an outcome at the Supreme Court. I am not the expert. I don’t want to I’m just saying read the questions. Do the math yourself. There are little little little changes in some of the prompts that I have noticed. I’ve asked other people in this business if they’ve noticed I’ve gotten nothing. Sometimes I think it’s just me noticing things, but there’s probably going to be more this year and not as many as we think because I think a lot of colleges are on hold Don’t know if they’re going to make a lot of changes while they’re not sure. And then probably after June, they’ll go, Oh, why didn’t I change it? So there’s no, but we’re going to probably be seeing some changes in our supplements. And they will whatever they ask, you just still need to answer the prompt, you still need to break that prompt apart, decided what you want to share with them and what you don’t. And no matter what happens, if you aren’t, whatever it is, you think they want, you cannot manufacture it. So the advice I would give to anybody is just be like in a so cliche, but just be who you are. Because it doesn’t work if you make it up, or pretend University of Michigan has a community essay. You know, they Michigan is one of those states where they cannot use race based admissions. They I mean, this was one of those states. And they have this essay, which allows students to share stuff in their idea questions this hear from students asking how they can add their identity to any comment prompt? And, you know, the short answer to that is like prompt number one specifically will ask you about your identity. There are plenty of places in these essays to share information. But you don’t just drop it in, it won’t work.

Lisa Marker Robbins 26:21

It’s got to be good. Well, that is fantastic advice. I mean, don’t try to manufacture is really the bottom line.

Kim Lifton 26:29

Be right no matter what, whether your dog barks or not, no matter what, you can’t make it up. I can see through this stuff. I’m not the only person in the world who can see through it. People who read for a living, right? They’re reading your application. If you tell them you want to be a computer science major, and you’ve never taken a computer class in 2023, and you can barely turn on your iPhone, like really, they’re gonna see through that.

Lisa Marker Robbins 26:59

Well, it’s the can they’re not evaluating just the essay to that. No,

Kim Lifton 27:04

I’m talking about. I’m talking.

Lisa Marker Robbins 27:06

Right, but they’re looking at like your extracurriculars better reek of it, especially computer science, which is the which you know how

Kim Lifton 27:14

hard right? Yeah, at least at least. I’m sorry, I’m learning a lot. And I think I told you about it a little bit. And maybe one day, we can have a conversation with facts, but computer science Wow. That is a really hard program to get into anywhere right now.

Lisa Marker Robbins 27:30

Well, you know, and I’ll link to this episode in the show notes, Andy bores to the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. I had him on back actually, it was Valentine’s Day that we published that if anybody wants to look it up, easily house we February 14. But at computer science there, if you don’t declare that major in 12th grade, you cannot switch into that major ever, it is only open to 12th grade applicants because they have so much interest in it. And going back to the saps, you talked about how succinct you know, a 50 word essay is theirs is 150 words. Why do you want this major 150 words, which is still 150 words is challenging, but you can do it? And what are you going to do with this major? And that’s really what they’re interested in a backwards look. And a forwards look? Yeah, you agree with that? But in the conversations you’ve had, yeah.

Kim Lifton 28:22

But like, sometimes they don’t ask about what you want to do. Right. And students want to put that in there. So I they’re always surprised when that’s your question. They’re always surprised when they say you have to answer the prompt. And you did ask earlier I think about mistakes, or that was something you email. Yeah, I don’t think it’s just a mistake in the essay, I think that the mistakes the students make, is how they view it. And the essay is, the essay is like the stressor is the thing that causes them to just, it’s the end of the process, the last thing they have to do, and they’re beyond looking at opportunity. So they just they’re so stressed that it all comes to place there. And they just, they’re so busy thinking about what somebody else wants, that they’re not focusing on themselves. They’re not filling out the application correctly. And they are not answering the prompt,

Lisa Marker Robbins 29:19

because they’re focused at night. And I think we unfortunately have to wrap up because the time but I think that’s great advice. Like, think about yourself, not what somebody else wants,

Kim Lifton 29:30

in all of it. Lisa, in your program is the whole I mean, I am I’m thinking about the big picture, because that’s what I do when I call an admissions person that I do want to talk to anymore, so I hope he listens to this, because I’m really curious about computer science. And I’m going to be running around the next conference, finding people who are running those programs so I can get more information about those assays, but that’s what I did. But I do I really like I want to know it, because accuracy is what It’s what Susan and I have built this company’s reputation on being generous and accurate. And we trained professionals. And that’s what they believe. That’s why they like us. Because we were a good source of reliable information. And when I talk to admissions, I talked to them about the essay within the context of the entire application process. And that is what a one admissions name I can say, is Sean Felton, because obviously, he wrote the foreword to her book, and people know he likes us. But one of the things he says about us is that we listen to what he says,

Lisa Marker Robbins 30:39

and be like them a lot of times, right. And we

Kim Lifton 30:43

don’t know that they don’t believe him. But they might not believe me. But if I tell them that Sean told me, they might not believe me, if they read in my book, maybe they’ll remember. And then if another admissions person who just started their job three months ago says they might believe it. I don’t know why people, you have to be so careful where you get information. Yeah, you have to make sure it’s accurate. And as a journalist, that was hard for me, because people just didn’t do it. And today, I don’t know what journalism looks like. I had to have three sources backing up everything. And I use that when I’m getting information from these guys. So if I get something from one, I call another one. And then I call another one. And I actually never even really thought about that. But I want to make sure it’s accurate.

Lisa Marker Robbins 31:30

Yeah, I love that. Well, thank you cam for coming. Hey, Julie. So we’re gonna have to do it again. And we’re gonna collaborate on this, like part two? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Okay, families, trust us students. Think about yourself, not what others want you to do. And you know, I think about surveys, end of life surveys, and people say the number one regret that gets mentioned over and over again was I was not true to myself. So stay true to yourself. Think about who that is, as you choose your college major, your your career, your colleges, and you write these essays to reflect them. Thanks, Kim.

Kim Lifton 32:11

Trust yourself. I once in a while that is to trust themselves. And I want the parents to tell their children to trust themselves.

Lisa Marker Robbins 32:19

Amen. Thank you. I’m envious of the many conversations Kim has had with admissions officers. And I’m thankful that she shared what she’s learned with us. My hope is that what Kim shared takes the pressure off of your team to fit a mold and be someone they aren’t in their application in essays. This is essential for raising adults who have confidence in knowing themselves and their path. My college bound challenge for your family this week is not a to do item that can be just checked off does always feel good, right? But instead, have a conversation with your team about who they are, what their goals are, and what they genuinely want reflected in their future application. Record this, write it down, keep a record. Then when it comes to applications and essays, remind your team to stay true to themself, which will ultimately lead to the best outcomes. If today’s episode left you feeling like hey, your kids all right. And you want others to have the reminder to that it’s okay to be true to themselves. Take a quick screenshot of this episode and text it to a friend or post it on Instagram and tag Lorsch coaching co when you do this, it 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 team’s future.