075 How to Build a “Responsible” College List with Cathy Copeland Titus Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:44

What does it mean to you for your team to have a perfect college list by the time they apply to college in the fall of their senior year, for different families, it means different things. And if you are the parent of more than one child, it can even mean something different for each unique student in your family. My guest, Catholic Copeland, Titus is an independent educational consultant, and a vice president at strategies for college. Her strategy to hit the college list target includes the intersection of your family’s financial position, and evaluating your student’s profile through the eyes of the college. She believes that only then will your student have not a perfect college list, but a responsible college list. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right into a great conversation. Cathy, welcome.


Cathy Copeland Titus  01:54

Thank you, Lisa, thank you very much for having me today.


Lisa Marker Robbins  01:57

Oh, it’s great to be with you again. So Well, again, for us, you haven’t been on the podcast before. So thank you for making time. So this idea of a perfect college list that families are seeking, I know you’ve got a different term for it. You don’t like the term perfect, right?


Cathy Copeland Titus  02:17

Well, I think perfect can be misleading. And it often does not reflect the current college landscape. And when reconciling what it is that parents are interested in when it comes to outcomes for their college, their child’s college experience. And what the student is interested in building, that college list often starts in their minds with colleges, they went to perhaps colleges that their friends are talking about for their children, and what the kids are talking about through their peer interaction. And honestly, the differences in the college landscape from when parents went to college, and what our students are facing these days is really quite significant. So setting them up for success begins really with defining what that success means to each family to each individual student. Only then can we really begin to build a college list that makes sense for them.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:19

I like that. Well, you know, it’s funny, you said, it’s so different from when the parents went to college. And you know what my mind jumped to? Because you and I’ve been doing this work for a long time. It’s so different pre COVID versus post COVID. You know, we had and I’ll link to it in the show notes. We had a previous episode on what’s changed. We actually did it on the anniversary of COVID. Which is not an anniversary to celebrate. But just to mark that milestone. And the two guests that I had on, we talked about how wildly different the landscape of college admissions is just for 2019 to right now. So if it’s that wildly different right now, yeah, to lean on what a parent experienced. It’s, that’s the Dark Ages, right?


Cathy Copeland Titus  04:05

It is the dark ages and even pre COVID, you go back 2030 years when those parents were in the college game. It’s such a different landscape. Not only is it so much more competitive for the student, but it’s also crazy expensive as we are. And so those two factors are really what we try to address when it comes to the students profile and their candidacy and the parents in their financial position and how prepared are they to pay for college? Both of these factors really intersect in a way that impacts how we build that list for them.


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:44

I’m almost picturing in my mind a Venn diagram, is it would that be an accurate picture to have in my mind? Oh,


Cathy Copeland Titus  04:53

absolutely. We love Venn diagrams they they help us understand, really where things intersect. And so thinking about it in terms of, first of all, dispelling some myths, that always is job number one, when it comes to starting with a new family, thinking through how this family defines success in as an outcome, often Dad, mom or parent one, parent two, and then student often have three very different opinions of what that success looks like. So coming to some sort of common terms is a really crucial aspect of this whole process. And it’s not to get into a conversation of dissing the brand name schools, because we know that, as we’ve begun to call them in the industry, the high they rejected, yeah, they, it’s really, it’s about name recognition, it’s what they recall. But again, those students who have parents who went to these top to your brand name schools, that they are not on the same playing field that their parents were. So the likelihood is they could be a better candidate, and in many different ways, but they’re still not eligible for those brand name schools. So we’d like to find ways to get that common language between us all, and then begin to build a list that’s really reflecting those two areas that we just discussed, what is the student’s candidacy, based on their profile? What have they, what do they have to offer the colleges? And then the other piece of it is how is the family prepared to pay for these and it’s so going to your Venn diagram, where those two things intersect, is really a crucial thing to begin to define and process.


Lisa Marker Robbins  06:41

So you start with defining success, because I always, you know, I say to families, we’re gonna give them things, you know, they’re gonna be able to take this away. I mean, I would encourage our listeners, and I think I’ll make it for my college Challenge of the Week, which I always put in the outro. But to just sit down and define parent one, parent two and kiddo, what does success what is that in my college, a major and career coaching course, I always say let’s begin with the end in mind. And I’m centered in on college majors and careers. In the work I do. We’re talking about creating a list, they’re all part of the college bound journey. So on each piece of those of the puzzle, what is that end goal? What does success look like? And then do you guys start with the student profile first? Or do you start with the family’s financial position? Where do you go after you’ve defined success?


Cathy Copeland Titus  07:35

Well, once we find success, there’s a, as you know, it strategies for college, we work in teams, and I have a fantastic financial expert person who collects up all of the family financial data, and then puts into place a set of guardrails, that helps me to understand where the family’s position is. What’s happening over here on the other side of the story is the plate as we’ve always got multiple plates spinning as we’re going through this process, of course, and they don’t really start to coalesce until we are in the phase we’re in right now with juniors that are becoming seniors soon.


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:16

I wish to say as you say, those juniors, we’re recording in late May, and this will drop a little bit later. So timeliness, you know, yes, if you have by the time your student is at the end of their junior year, heading into applications and essays, summer and into fall, you’re really at that point where as you said, it’s all coming together, and you’re finalizing that list of okay, where are we going to throw those applications in? Exactly as you you were saying you’ve got somebody on your team who digs in with the family and kind of looks at the financial profile of the family? Are there ways for our listeners that they could be categorizing themselves? Or what insights do you have for them around? You know, if they’re not working, if they don’t have a great resource like you what strategies for college? How would you advise them to think about their finances as it relates to this responsible college list that you’re building?


Cathy Copeland Titus  09:16

Well, the idea and the goal and this is directly what I’ve learned from working with my colleagues, like up Walker, of course, she’s my favorite go to person because her passion comes through and her knowledge and her skill set is just incomparable in the things that I’ve learned, but the earlier a family start, the better, of course, when it comes to planning for paying for college, but the goal is always to create a funding plan that doesn’t disrupt cash flow that doesn’t put their home or their retirement in jeopardy. And this is unemotional purchase at sending your student college is such a life event. And parents are generous. Only not prepared, they’re often in denial about this transition. And at the same time, this enormous emotional event carries such a price tag. And so reconciling those two facts is also one of the biggest challenges. And I addressed this in that family meeting where we kick off things and talk a little bit about how do we define success in this scenario? So looking at how a family is financially position, what if they say, what can they afford to spend, without sacrificing the things that we’re trying to keep intact? Primarily their retirement in their cash flow? How do we take that and translate it into a set of colleges that create that list that we call responsible. And so defining the guardrails. That’s part of what the financial pillar people do at strategies for college, I am then delivered as an I will clarify, I’m in what we call the academic pillar. So I am an admission specialist, I work the long haul with my students that starting with that success meeting at the beginning of hopefully, it’s at the end of sophomore year, it even earlier.


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:11

And I think that’s a great point to make to our listeners is, you know, that this planning, and I always say have a budget in mind, really, by the end of sophomore year, because you need to make sure that you’re not getting your kids on campuses that they fall in love with. And they fall in love with that campus. And now you find it’s out of budget, but I also find that many families think that they’re going to get merit scholarships, not even need based scholarships, but merit scholarships, well beyond what the typical college is giving now, some of them do give that. But I use a good example here, you know, I’m in Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio State University, or I should say, The Ohio State University, students who I’ve worked with that have perfect 30 Six’s on their ACT, there may be getting 2500 or 3000 off that is, you know, they don’t say that’s all you’re going to get. But that’s about all I see the typical student with a perfect ACT getting off of their tuition. So when you talk about that affordability, it’s not only like what do you have what have you saved, but then it’s also that idea that you really need to understand how the colleges are working with merit.


Cathy Copeland Titus  12:29

Absolutely. And I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the idea of, oh, we’re going to get a scholarship and what does that actually mean? So a little bit to unpack in your comment that the idea of Merit Scholarship, of course, is essentially tuition discounting, and state schools for in state students, state schools for out of state students, and then privates all manage this process different. There is no consistency or hard and fast rules. But we do understand that merit scholarship. In other words, something that’s reflective of the student’s candidacy, and a place to the second piece of our of how we develop these lists, understanding getting families to understand where they should be fishing, where do they need to drop their fishing line? Or as our friend Beth likes to put it, what zip code should they be shopping in understanding where you should be going is part of the responsible list piece. That’s where that adjective comes in. But Merit Scholarship is specifically based on where this candidate sits within their entire candidate pool. How desirable are they? So one of the first coachable things that I do with my families is say, it’s not as much what you want, what you want, of course, is important. And that’s why I’m here for you for the next two years. But it is also what the colleges are looking for. And the sooner they understand that relationship, the better in our process. So, yes, Merit Scholarship is a way to bridge that gap between what of family’s ability to pay might be whether we’re talking about EFC or Sai, these are acronyms that that people in this industry use and are what’s better related to the FASFA essentially, the sai is the new term coming up this fall. But that what can a family afford? According to the Federal Government’s formula, versus the reality of their cash flow situation there is very often a large gap. And then there’s this is above and beyond need based aid and need based aid eligibility is a whole other story. It is again related to the EFC or Sai. But that piece of the puzzle is not I would say our typically our client base is more in the we need to bridge the gap group of people. So that said once we have An idea of those guardrails. Now we can go in and say, let’s find that the right place to drop our fishing pole, so that we can collect up that responsible list of colleges that will fit our student beautifully academically, because we want the proper challenge. But we also we want the personal fit, we want them to be finding their tribe and recognizing the environments where they’re going to become responsible, valuable citizens. But let’s figure out where the financial piece of the puzzle plays and merit scholarship can very often help us to bridge that gap. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:37

if you drop your line at the right spot,


Cathy Copeland Titus  15:41

absolutely. So what a family who has let’s say, your student who had the 36 AC t, in his going to his state school, were they an in state resident or an out of state and state in state? So they have the benefit of in state tuition. Right, which essentially, is their tuition discount?


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:01

Yeah. I don’t think people look at it like that. Right. I mean, I think that’s, this is a mindset piece. You know, we talked I had Megan Hyatt Miller on to talk about mindset across the board with parenting teens. But there’s a mindset around this money piece, right? So yeah, the hearing that loud and clear. If you live in state, you’re applying to a state school, you already have a tuition discount in the form of in state tuition.


Cathy Copeland Titus  16:28

Exactly. And if you don’t, you’re an out of state student, but it’s a desirable College. Think of schools like Michigan or UNC Chapel Hill, these are highly competitive state colleges that do carry a percentage of seats, large percentage of seats for their in state students. But those out of state students that want to go to those desirable colleges are looking at a very competitive landscape. And it’s almost comparable, if not comparable to talk to your privates when it comes to their acceptance rates.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:03

I agree. I think that’s where the managing the expectations comes in.


Cathy Copeland Titus  17:07

Absolutely. Absolutely. So it’s always that blend of we’re, you know, how do we define those guardrails first and foremost, so that families don’t get into trouble. And it’s like many relationships in business, you get the the cup of money conversation done, and then you know where to go from there. And a lot of parents don’t think of it that way. Because it is an emotional purchase. They’re thinking that their little darling deserves the absolute best. I’ve never met a parent that doesn’t think their child deserves the absolute best. And so defining best is crucial to the relationship. So what we do with our software that we’ve developed it strategies for college is create those lists based on those factors. We have set our financial guardrails, and now we develop the student’s candidacy profile. So what is their GPA? What is their curriculum rigor? What are their extracurriculars? What is their writing ability, so we can emulate how their essay might be perceived and their supplemental essays? And how do we take these factors to create some sort of profile as the colleges see them. So that’s the lens we’re, we’re using. And what this does is it assigns a number. And then we have our fabulous database of all of the colleges. And we understand and have predicted a range, it’s kind of a range finder, of here’s the bottom quartile, here’s the top quartile, here’s the median of this candidate pool at this college. And then we’re able to drop in and place the student. So we see where they sit in that candidate pool. We know from 30 plus years of data in creating this, that students who sit in the top quartile of the candidate pool at the colleges that they’re applying to, not only will they get in, but they’re going to get better merit scholarship. And this is regardless of need based aid. need based aid is always going to be reflective of the family’s financial position, but merit scholarship that freebody the tuition discounting that everybody is looking for to help bridge the gap that is dependent on how desirable the student is to the college that they’re applying to. When we target schools, where the student is a top quartile student, not only are we getting the best academic fit, because we want them challenged, but not overwhelmed. All right, but they’re also getting the best merit scholarships. So it’s kind of got that double whammy when it comes to free.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:51

Yeah, so then when you meet both of those, you have what you’re calling a responsible college list for your term. You know, I think two families do I’ll realize that colleges and this probably goes to the front end conversation that you’re talking about in myths around colleges, where every university has their institutional priorities. They do. And sometimes that is the zip code that you live in. It could be applicants to a particular major, when I think about the work that I do, you know, you talked about schools that give have a preference to their in state students, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign would be one. And the major piece plays out a lot over there, because there are a school that admits by major like a lot of state schools do. So fail, you know, it’s not personal, it’s not about the student, they are a business. And that business has institutional priorities to get rear end setting and seats who are paying to meet the budget of the college, it’s really pretty simple. It is


Cathy Copeland Titus  20:57

it does come down to data. And that’s partially why once you’ve established all of the emotional parameters, and we know that this is a loaded subject for families, but you can’t argue with the data, one of the examples I use is when they are insistent upon a particular brand name school, and we know that the student is going to be a bottom quartile candidate. Well, the idea is they might get in, but they’re going to be the bottom of the academic barrel. And they’re certainly not going to get the scholarship because they’re not as a desirable candidate. They may get some if there’s other factors involved. It’s not just the students profile, it’s of course, you know, is it a full pay family, for example? And do they have any kind of legacy and or do they have? How good an alumni are they going to be? Right? But absent out,


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:49

you only know a business is yes, it’s a business. I always say, Don’t ever forget their business. And you need to be a smart consumer. And that’s what you guys are doing as strategies for college is helping families be wise consumers. That’s what I preach all the time. And to do so let’s begin with the end in mind. So fantastic food for thought to drive these conversations that families are having, and encourage our families to be strategic and responsible. Thanks, Cathy. Absolutely.


Cathy Copeland Titus  22:24

You’re so welcome. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah. If


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:27

people want to keep in touch, where’s the best place to find you?


Cathy Copeland Titus  22:31

Well, strategies for college.com is our website. And I’m right there on the team page. Of course, I welcome any conversations that families would like to


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:41

have. Wow. And you mentioned Beth Walker, who is a common friend of ours, and she’s been on the podcast twice already. We’ve got a third episode in the hopper about the upcoming changes to FASFA. So I will link to Beth Walker’s episodes in the show notes as well. So okay, take care Cathy, on your phone. Thank you Take care.


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:07

I don’t know about you. But I’ve moved my lingo from perfect college list to responsible college list. With so many moving pieces in the college bound journey. I think that’s a better fit. Your college bound homework this week is to have the conversation that Cathy suggested, talk about what it is for a successful outcome for your college list. You might even want to each write it down first, then talk as a family to make sure that you are influencing one another in what you think a successful outcome might be. I might even suggest having your student go first when it comes to sharing their thoughts. If you know another college on family, who also needs to reframe how they think about the college list. Please share this with a friend who needs it too. 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 team’s future.