#081 Free Resources to Search for Colleges that Fit Your Teen with Susie Watts Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:43

Whether you are just starting to think about where your teen will apply to college, or you’re knee deep in the process, and need to refine the list before fall college application deadlines, my guest Susie Watts has resources and strategies to help. You’ll leave this episode knowing where to start, how to find more information, and understand what will give your students an edge. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Susie watts, welcome.


Susie Watts 01:26

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.


Lisa Marker Robbins  01:29

Well, you know, I am so glad that you made time ahead of your book, we should tell all of our listeners, we have a book coming out beyond the GPA, how to give your student an edge with college admission. And when I read that title, and then you sent me your preview chapter. I thought, Okay, I’ve got to have her on. She knows what she’s talking about. She’s got great advice for families, which is what we try to do on here. And so the timing is perfect, because your book is coming out relatively soon, or maybe even already, by the time we post this, right?


Susie Watts  02:03

Correct. It will be published on Amazon, I’m hoping on August the first.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:09

Okay, so we will link that we’ll get that link in the show notes for our listeners so they can find it. But you really families do get all caught up in GPA. I mean, I hear families students say all the time, ah, I’ve got a four point whatever, they’re always quoting their, their weighted GPA. And they think that that is like the number one thing, but it’s really about so much more. And I love that idea of opening up the horizons. What I really want to talk about today with you is that process that our listeners can use to research colleges, you you know, you talked about a lot of things in the book. But let’s talk about that part where you’re talking about researching colleges. You’ve been working with students for what over 30 years? Is that right? Correct. Uh huh. And so where do you start that process? When a family? Well, let’s start with what age do you suggest that families start researching colleges to add them to their list?


Susie Watts  03:12

Well, I may be a little unusual. And this way, I have five children of my own. So I don’t like to get them thinking necessarily about college planning any sooner than necessary. So in the book, I do do a small part that’s devoted to freshmen sophomores, and those in their first semester of their junior year, but I get serious with students usually in the second semester of their junior year. And I think that’s when a lot of the seniors have started to hear back from colleges. So going to college suddenly becomes a reality for a lot of juniors. So at that point, I tried to ask them a lot of insightful questions that I think will be helpful in helping us to determine where they might want to go. I want them to first think about why they want to go because college is not the answer for everybody. There are a lot of kids who probably would do much better going to a trade school or apprentice or working or what have you. But once we have determined that they do want to go to school, then we start talking about how they can find out more about colleges. So trying to do that we I suggest that they go to Google and that they type in college search. So a lot of there are a lot of different places where they can get that. Then from there, they come up with a list of potential colleges. I usually say go ahead.


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:56

So I want to I want to go back just a little bit and say like most First of all, I love that you start with why, right? Let’s begin with why and I agree with you, we have five kids, my husband, myself, also, and not all of our kids went to college. And one of our students even transitioned over to the vocational school for his junior and senior years, it was a perfect fit for him. He learned so much and has such great skills coming out of that program. So I love the idea of begin with why. And you’re right, you are a little different, and that you start a little bit later than some of the independent Educational Consultants. And there’s a lot of kids that aren’t ready to think about that. The reality of what comes after graduation. You know, until that time, and, you know, sometimes I have parents reach out to me and go, Well, my, my sophomore is hungry to start working on this. So if they are I mean, you’re good with them going ahead and starting earlier, but do you? I would imagine is that true?


Susie Watts  06:00

Yes, I’m in there, plenty of things they can do to lay the groundwork. Obviously, if they are working hard academically, if they’re involved with extracurricular activities, all of those things are going to go toward college planning. But to get into the actual serious part of it, where you’re meeting consistently are talking to students about really where they’d like to go to school. I just feel like they need to enjoy their high school experience, I just get so focused on college as this thing out there, that I would prefer just to wait until I feel like they’re really ready.


Lisa Marker Robbins  06:43

I would imagine in the book, because it’s not quite ready yet. But when it is, I haven’t seen the whole thing yet. And imagine you do you go into in your book about those things that are foundational, really, in that freshman and sophomore year, you know, what extracurriculars are you pursuing? You know how to keep your grades up? Things like that.


Susie Watts  07:06

Right? Oh, yes, definitely building a vocabulary reading more. A lot of that’s in preparation for the LSAT or AC T. But on the other hand, it’s sort of preparation for life. And, you know, if you’re going to go on to school, I think it’s really important, the more you read, the more successful usually will be.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:30

Absolutely. So starting with Google’s always great, it’s Google’s our friend. So they get in there. And it’s free. It’s available to everybody. So you start with kind of like Google, kind of bring me some ideas yourself. And I’m sure that kids even before they start Googling some of them. I know some of them already have like their parents, Alma Mater, maybe a sibling School, a school nearby, a school that they’ve dropped up. But you would say first, go to Google, and start searching around on your own.


Susie Watts  08:04

Well, I go to Google, probably more to find out what college searches are available. So for example, the College Board does have a very good big future. And they can put in their priorities and their academics and a lot of things. And this will bring up a number of schools that are potentials, but it also gives them a chance to put in location and size and academic preferences and majors. So that more importantly, they’re getting to some college searches, that will kind of give them a foundation. And then I think it’s important that they create a Google spreadsheet, because that’s something then that they can write down all of the information they get. And they’re able to compare schools doing that. Another site that I recommend that I think is very helpful is college navigator. And I suggest that all of my students go and use that. So by the time they have compiled this information, then we can look at it and decide which school sound like they could be good possibilities, and build a balanced college list from there.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:22

I love that. So one of the things that then in listeners, she’s giving you pure gold here because I only use Google free. Big future.org is free, and college navigator.gov. We’ll link to these sites in the show notes for our listeners, but these are free resources to get you started. Right and I and they are de organized because people think that they’re Oh yeah, that’s a great idea and they don’t write it down. And then they forget, you know, that’s one of the things and module five of my course launch Career Clarity. We give so Students a spreadsheet to track those things and is organized. Because you will forget you think you won’t. You will forget. So where do you take your clients next? So they, they they get a start kind of on their own. They’ve perused now you’ve got some meat to have conversations about. And they come to you, you start discussing what’s on that list. Where do you go next, when, for that next step of researching colleges?


Susie Watts  10:29

Well, one thing I suggest to every family is, they go to the website of each school. And the statistics are pretty grim on this in that most kids don’t spend much time on the College website. And it’s really invaluable information, because this is where college puts out everything they believe in and everything they offer. So I feel like that’s something they definitely need to do. Once then that they’ve learned about a school or at least had a chance to find out more, they decide whether or not this is a school they’re really even interested in. And if they are then great, if not, we just take it off the list. So once they have a list of schools, and it can be any number, I usually say have kids applied to somewhere between eight and 10 schools. But I want them to use the net price calculator for each college.


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:31

Let me ask you something back and up for a sec. So ultimately, you’re having the students that you work with, they’re going to apply to somewhere between eight and 10. Schools. I recently saw a statistic where I think the average is like six, but I am with you I see students that I work with that are in our course applying to a little bit more than that six are on the higher end of that. Is there a number like that? You want kids? Because at that early stage, they’re starting? Probably you’re you’re trying to whittle down to eight to 10 schools? Correct? Is there a target number when you’re like, hey, we’re just in the research process? We don’t need to have this down to eight to 10. Yet? Is there a target number on that research process that you’re like, have 15? Or 20? Or do you have a number in mind that usually


Susie Watts  12:26

15 to 20 is plenty. Although this does vary. I mean, sometimes I have a student who has a major that they’re pretty committed to, and there just aren’t as many options because it’s not something that’s available in that many schools. So in that case, you may be looking at 12 schools and saying, okay, you know, I could dig up probably some others, but I don’t know whether they would really be the program that you’re looking for. So it’s important to think about that.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:59

Yeah, that’s really I mean that I had Andy bores to the director of admissions from University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, on the podcast back, it’s February 14 2023. Episode, you know, and he encouraged students just like you are, and I agree, as a college major and career coach myself, know what that major is, and it needs to drive the list. And so yeah, if you have a really obscure major, your list might be smaller. If you’re very common major, the potential for dozens and dozens of schools is probably greater, but apply to the schools that have your major, don’t just start applying to schools that meet your other criteria, but they can’t get you to that end goal of launching you into a career.


Susie Watts  13:46

But then there are the students who are totally undecided. Yes, Major goes and translate. I don’t think that’s all bad. I mean, I know myself, I thought I was going to be a veterinarian. And I could no more have probably done that science that was required. But then I went to be I was going to be a sociologist, and all sorts of different things. And I ended up being a college consultant. So I mean, there are kids sometimes who just simply don’t want to commit. And I do understand that and there really isn’t anything wrong with applying as an undecided major either. And taking a number of different courses to figure out really what does interest you.


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:33

I you know, as I think to some colleges are friendlier to undecided than others. So that probably should drive your research. You know, we have like, I have a free video training that I give out to families, and it’s how to choose the right college major and career. And one of the things we talk about is schools that are friendly or even really set up for an exploratory studies program to help appeal with that. But there are some schools where the doors are going to be closed a future options because of how they, you know, they admit directly to major, it can be more more restrictive to the students. So that should be part of your research. And to your earlier point of go to the college website, I would say that’s a piece of information, you’re not going to learn anywhere, but from the colleges themselves. Nobody’s set up as a clearinghouse for who’s friendly to undecided and who’s not. So I agree with you, I see kids skipping over the college website themselves all the time to go to these fantastic search engines. But there are some pieces of information that you should not rely on a third party for in some places that you can’t even find it. So okay, so you say go to the school website. Let’s talk a little bit about your next stop, which is the net price calculator. Some people might not even know what that is, do you want to fill us in on what that right,


Susie Watts  16:01

the net price calculator is usually on the financial aid part of the website. And it’s something where you plug in some information and gives you an idea that based on what you have said, this should be the estimated financial contribution that you should be able to make for college. Most people get it back and are somewhat horrified because they think like, there’s no way we could contribute that because we don’t have that kind of money. So obviously, that goes into then how do you find money to pay for college, but I think a lot of people don’t realize that it is something it’s not always as accurate. But most of the time, it’s pretty good, at least in terms of giving you want an estimate. And I think that is really important for parents to know that something they need to discuss what their child you know, what we’re able to pay and how we’re going to pay for this whole thing.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:00

Yeah, and what the students responsibility is going to be so once they because that, to your point, like on the front end, they could bring you that list that okay, it’s looking pretty good. But then all of a sudden you find out, it’s not really financially responsible, or even, we don’t have a way to pay that cause that should then filter it out. So now you’re you’re already whittling that list down a little bit probably with consequently,


Susie Watts  17:24

and one thing I always tell parents and students alike is, you know, don’t take out a school because it’s out of your ballpark. I mean, colleges oftentimes are willing to work with you. So I think that is something but as you are, as you said, getting it down to a more realistic list, it probably is something that obviously, cost is a factor.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:52

Yeah. So okay, they’ve done the net price calculator, they’ve got that list. What do you use next? Like where else can they go to research and learn more about the schools?


Susie Watts  18:03

Well, there are a number of websites that they can look at that are student comments. And these can be helpful. Again, sometimes they’re more realistic than others. But this is where kids are, attend the schools, and actually put down their comments of what they think about them, what they like, whether the what kind of political activity takes place. I think they’re, you know, can be pretty amazing. I don’t look at them for the statistical part, because I don’t know if they’re always as accurate as they should be. But I think that they certainly give kids an idea of the pluses and minuses of particular schools.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:51

Yeah, so labor of the university. Whereas like, to your point, the data point, the accuracy of data, you’re going to find to be more reliable on some of the earlier resources that you definitely


Susie Watts  19:05

correct. But you and there are some words, websites that actually do feature students who talked about the school and their experience there and what they liked about professors, so they can just again, do a Google search for college opinions or, you know, something along that line, to come up with some different places where they can get that information. Do you use social


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:31

media at all in this process of helping students research colleges and understand colleges?


Susie Watts  19:39

Oh, yeah, I think that part of finding out more about schools and this is actually a good way to do it, is to find what their social media accounts are. Almost every college is on Facebook, Instagram, a lot are now on Tiktok So that is a great way. And then for example, if you go to say, your Instagram account, and you put in, let’s say, the University of Washington, it’ll pull up any accounts they have, let’s suppose you’re interested in some particular sport, it may be that you could look up the University of Washington soccer, and they may have an Instagram page. So you can do that. The same with Facebook, but it is a great way of following them. Because they, you know, surprisingly, they do pay attention to these kinds of things. The other is to join any groups that are on social media, that would be helpful. A lot of schools and a lot of this came out of the pandemic, have done, you know, online college tours, online information sessions, and I talk kids all the time. I mean, it’s a great way for you to be able to participate in these to ask questions, especially when they may or may not be able to visit a lot of schools in person. So I think that’s another thing. Joining webinars, colleges are really out there to find students, and they put on webinars all the time. And all they need to do is just again, do a Google search for a particular school and a webinar. And they may find that that’s something that they could be part of


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:29

it, you know, as you mentioned, webinars, and I do I agree, schools have gone on to their A game since the pandemic, to get out there. I’ve seen a lot of them do a really great job with like YouTube channels, right? So a lot of these webinars are self hosted, you know, on Zoom, or wherever you can find him on the school website. But YouTube, we would consider social media, get over it to YouTube, and look for their channels over there as well. What about LinkedIn? Do you use LinkedIn at all? Because I do in the college management career course they build out their profile, and we use it to search for careers and learn about the careers as part of our research method. But do you use it at all? That you’re doing,


Susie Watts  22:17

I think it’s important for students to sign up for a LinkedIn account, even in high school, they can put down you know where they are, at this point in time, they can indicate that they’re looking for potential internships, or part time jobs or anything like that. And then the more they go on and into college, it will be just an intrical part for them to continue to add to this organizations that they have joined. Anything along that line. And I mean, I’ve watched a lot of the kids I’ve worked with and looked at their LinkedIn profiles as they’ve gone on in business, but starting it early. The other thing they can do with it is connect with colleges, most colleges are on LinkedIn. They are I’ve had students who actually have found students at a particular college, contacted them by messaging them, and just asked if they could talk about the school sometime. So I think all of that is important.


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:20

I think kids don’t realize linked and like you can search with by who is who went to the school, who’s who is in this field of a career field, I show students how to do that inside the course, to really refine your search because it’s a great place to connect to your point to of like finding internships, there are high school internships out there, not just college and I even know here in the Cincinnati area, there’s an IT organization, and they will not even let you apply for any other internships until you have an improved LinkedIn profile. So the the families that are Pooh poohing, you know, do students really need to be on LinkedIn? I agree with you. I think they do. So I want to talk about one more resource that I know you talk about in the book is college fairs. And so let’s kind of as we wrap up the how to research these colleges. What’s your advice for students when it comes to college fairs?


Susie Watts  24:24

Well, I think college fairs are a wonderful opportunity to meet college representatives. These are the people who work for these schools. Oftentimes, they are also the person who may be reading your application. So I think to go to the college fair with an idea of schools that you want to look at, because they can be a little overwhelming sometimes. So if you have your list of where you want to go. Some kids go so far as to print out a card with their name their phone number or an email address and leave it with a particular school. I think it’s just something maybe not enough people realize how important they can be. And especially if they come in with good questions, not something they can just google. But a question that needs sort of an insightful answer. I think this is where people, you know, the college representatives who usually are manning the table, could remember somebody, and it sticks in their mind. And that can be very important in terms of admissions. So I recommend any opportunity, whether it be colleges that change lives, which are mostly smaller schools, or some of the NASDAQ college fairs, which probably could have anywhere between two and 300. Colleges. But they definitely are something that students need to take advantage of.


Lisa Marker Robbins  25:55

Yeah, if you Google going back to Google, if you Google, you know, colleges that change lives, college fairs, NASDAQ, college fairs is going to take them I know NAC CAC, because it does have hundreds of schools, usually in the cities where they host Cincinnati is one of the cities where they host neck fairs every fall, they have maps of where the colleges are you, you said something that was such great advice, and I want to repeat it, because I think it’s this important. At these fairs, they all have like, fill out our card, give us your information, well, that is going to slow you down. And so print out a student, you know, like a business card size, print them out, have your name, your email, address, your phone number, you know, any of that so that you’re not slowing down, you can make the most of your time and you give the representative that card and then have that conversation that you’re ready to go. So this is great. It’s nice that you’ve been given. Yeah.


Susie Watts  26:56

But one of the things you said too, and I do suggest that is look at the map. And that way you can figure out this is where this is this is where because most of the time, they’re in alphabetical order. But I know that when I go to college fairs that are just for counselors alone, it is overwhelming if you don’t really know where particular schools are some you’re not as interested in so having that map and mapping out how am I going to use this next two or three hours really can make a big difference.


Lisa Marker Robbins  27:32

You don’t want to have to slow down to figure out the path. I mean, if you’re heading out on vacation to drive somewhere, you would certainly have plotted your path and your stops and all of that. So do the same thing at college fairs. Well, Susie, it’s been wonderful. We will link to your book Beyond the GPA. I know that you’ve given us great advice here and you’ve got a lot more in that book. So thank you, Susie, for making time.



Thank you. I enjoyed it.


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:07

I’m excited to read Susie’s book and I know our listeners will find it a helpful guide. Your college bound challenge this week is to use at least one resource mentioned in the episode. We’ll link to these in the show notes. It might be something as simple as Google, okay, I don’t have to link to that. Or other ideas like plotting your college fair strategy using college search tools mentioned in the episode or building your students LinkedIn profile, head to the shownotes to get the resources in. I’ll also include my student guide to building a LinkedIn profile, as well as my free on demand video, how to guide your team to choose the right major college and career without painting themselves into a corner, missing crucial deadlines or risking choices you both regret. If today’s episode was helpful to you, 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 incompetent about your team’s future.