#082 Facing the Unexpected: How to Get to College During Tough Times with Wendy Briley Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:54

Over my 25 years working with college bound families, almost every single year, I have a family for whom their bump in the road to college is well, rather significant, and sometimes Sadly, even tragic, is marked by perhaps job loss or a drastic reduction in income, sudden divorce or even death of a parent, or maybe even illness, including the dreaded C word, cancer. They have new things to navigate while still trying to stay the course to college. Mike as Wendy Briley is the executive director and founder of college consultants care. They provide free college admission support for families impacted by a cancer diagnosis. She believes that cancer shouldn’t keep students from their dreams, when she will share today will help any family navigating any such unexpected challenge. keep from becoming a roadblock. I’m Lisa, Martha 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. When the well welcome,


Wendy Briley  02:08

thank you, Lisa, thank you so much for having me. You’re so welcome. I


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:13

mean, I just want to tell everybody, the way we got connected was I just saw a post on LinkedIn. And I thought, this lady is doing amazing work, and she needs to come on the podcast.


Wendy Briley  02:27

I appreciate that. Thank you so much.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:29

I love what you’re doing. So if we really want to talk about navigating the hard stuff, we’re not going to limit it to cancer. I want to say to everybody who’s listening, and we’re only minutes into this episode. Everybody should keep listening. Because one, we’re going to talk about college admissions overall. So everybody can get something out of this. But to sadly, either you need this now listener, you might need it in the future, because we don’t know when tragedy is going to strike. Or you may know somebody who can benefit from listening to this, it maybe it’s a friend and they’re you’re supporting them. So it’s an important topic. Even if right now, you don’t feel like this topic is for you. I encourage everybody to keep listening. I think there’s something for everybody in what we’re going to talk about today.


Wendy Briley  03:21

I agree. Yes, I think it is a very important topic.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:24

Talk a little bit about how college consultants care came came about in what you guys do, because we’re not going to really just talk about your company, we’re going to talk about what you do. So people can take those things away and apply them themselves. But the story of how you started this is impactful.


Wendy Briley  03:45

Yeah, well, just like you said, it was a conversation with a friend of mine, who had had a cancer diagnosis and was in a support group. And within that support group, one of the fellow cancer people that she was in, in the group with had a son that was a junior in high school. And this was a sudden impactful thing that was happening to their family. And her greatest fear was that she wouldn’t be around to be able to assist her son going through the college application process. So just within that conversation with my one friend, I realized, oh my goodness in there probably so many people just like you were saying that have something happened so unexpected and need some assistance and support. I also realized that we had so many consultants across the US that are just wonderful and caring and willing to give up their time. Most of us that are in practice, do pro bono work. So I knew it wasn’t going to be a hard ask when I reached out to a lot of my colleagues and sure enough, everyone was on board. We have over 70 IECs across the US now who are working with college consultants care, providing that support for students that had been affected by cancer.


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:00

I love it. I think that’s why it resonated with me. You know, I, anytime that I’ve had a family hit one of those bumps that I mentioned earlier, I immediately just turned off the billing and just kept him pro bono, you know, throughout. And even my brother in law even had passed away. This is a number of years ago now. But he passed away a month after their youngest graduated high school, and people might think that like, oh, well, he graduated, he was already enrolled in college. No, it changed their income, it changed. I stepped in to give advice on navigating the expenses and the eighth appeal with a college. So even in the college when these things happen, there’s an impact for sure.


Wendy Briley  05:43

Yeah, I agree. I think every year, I always have a family that has some kind of a situation, whether it be a cancer diagnosis, a loss of a job, you know, anything that kind of changes the finances or even, you know, the mental health for a particular student? Yeah, there’s, I think it’s important to have these students aware of how they can advocate for themselves, how their parents can advocate for them. So yeah, I think this is really an important topic to talk about.


Lisa Marker Robbins  06:14

So let’s start with what doesn’t change. I mean, you know, and this is where every listener is gonna get something out of this, right. So at the said, what you just said, you’re really like, serving both everything, we have to do all the boxes, we have to check. And then you’re also serving, like new territory, that’s really tough to navigate. Let’s just talk kind of talk about that. What do you do? Yeah,


Wendy Briley  06:40

I think what doesn’t change is exactly what you said, kind of the nuts and bolts, you know, we still have to do all of those things. We still have to plan testing, we need to talk about curriculum, we need to work on the essays. What does change is the dynamic, I think, is really understanding now, what is different within the family? What is different within the student? How do we work differently now, because, you know, whatever has happened, is going to be very impactful for not only the student but the family. And now it’s up to us as their advocate to really help them navigate not only just the nuts and bolts, but how do they prepare themselves and going into college and knowing to ask for resources, or like you were saying how do they know to go and appeal an aid letter? Or do they even know that’s possible? So I think, you know, when we get those families that have something disrupt what was kind of our just the routine of what we were doing. Now it’s up to us as kind of experts to help them navigate this new way. So one thing


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:57

I’m curious about, because I’ve navigated this with some families, whether they’re sophomores, juniors, or seniors when a diagnosis or other unexpected tragedy strikes, what is your practice with like the college list? Like do you give? Do you give advice about how to think about where you might want to go to does that change a little bit, when families are navigating a hard space?


Wendy Briley  08:23

In my experience, it normally does, you know, probably students who were maybe looking to cast a wider net and go farther away from home. Now, they’re kind of rethinking that, and I think a lot of working with these students is helping them understand, you know, whether it be maybe a parent who is now sick, and they feel guilty about leaving and being so far away from home, whether it be the loss of an income, and now they’re feeling differently about a school that they were looking at. I think a lot of it is just really establishing that good relationship with the student and the family. And being that person that they can be open and vulnerable with no judgment. You know, let us just work together and help us figure out what’s going to be the best. And also maybe pointing them to other people that can be of assistance, you know, counselors, family therapists, and working in conjunction with all of those professionals, to help them make the best decision because I think a lot of times when something happens so unexpectedly, you’re right, emotions are high, and it’s how can we be kind of that calm within the storm, and helping them work to what’s going to be the best for everybody.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:45

As I’m listening to you share that such sage advice. Where my brain goes is okay, first of all your organization’s providing free college counseling, free college Test Prep. for students whose families parent or student is navigating cancer, right? Correct, yeah. And we’re going to have listeners who themselves or they have a friend, where instead it’s divorce, job loss or death of a family member from something else, navigating a different illness that wouldn’t fall under the scope of what you guys serve. So, as you’re giving that advice, and maybe he’s a family that doesn’t have an IEC, working with them, you know, one of the things I hear you saying is like, okay, let’s first identify who all can support you. So,


Wendy Briley  10:37

if this is a family who doesn’t qualify, first of all, if you know, somebody that does qualify, like, go to your website, and get connected with somebody who can give you the free advice, and counseling and coaching that you need, but if it’s something else, and it doesn’t qualify, let’s go back over that list to get people thinking about who’s in the sphere of influence, that you should be making sure is helping you navigate. So I heard school counselor, yep, family therapists, social workers. And what I in my local area, I have really tried to build those relationships. And I think what I found too, is on the ICS, that work within the college consultants care, they have built those relationships as well. So even if maybe you don’t qualify, or you don’t have an IEC, there’s certainly, like I reach out to colleagues across the country, if I have somebody that, you know, might, it might be a job loss, or I know several of my colleagues who had, you know, really know that how to reach out to colleges or so it’s just establishing those networks of support. If you are in your local area, you know, reaching out, I tried to really establish good relationships with the high school counselors, you know, they can let me know if there’s somebody, matter of fact, I did have a high school counselor reached out to me that had a father that was diagnosed with cancer, and we were able to provide assistance. Now, you know, they didn’t reach out, but this counselor did, and I was able to reach out, you know, indirectly through to the family. So it’s just making sure you establish those relationships and networks that will allow you those opportunities to get that assistance.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:29

I’m sure some families are they’re navigating the hard stuff, like there can be this self protective, like kind of folding into yourself. But what I hear is, share that, you know, I mean, maybe you know, sharing every little bit, but share what you’re going through, because people will step up on your behalf to help point you in the right direction.


Wendy Briley  12:50

I mean, exactly how this organization was formed, you know, through a friend of a friend, I heard about this woman’s desire to have her son helped, and an entire nonprofit was created for that. So yeah, and I, you know, hopefully that, you know, whether it be you know, job loss, or you know, an illness, that there are people in your life that are going to maybe point you into those directions of where you can receive assistance, you’re right, I think we tend to kind of when something happens like that. So unexpectedly, we reach within ourselves. And sometimes it’s up to maybe family members, clergy, you know, all of those networks that we have that you know, can hopefully help that person maybe reach out when they wouldn’t necessarily done it on their own.


Lisa Marker Robbins  13:45

You know, when it goes back to the college list, and then I want to talk about how this changes paying for college and the college side as well. I because I’ve had at least probably one family a year over the 25 years that I’ve been an IEC that needs this help. I encourage all families, whether they’re navigate like that, if they’ve got ease and a ton of money and nothing big going on. I always say you have to have a school close to home. You love you have to have a school that was is one of your public’s in state. I mean, I say have to of course it’s their choice. But I highly encourage all families like have an in state public that if everything else if the bottom fell out of everything else, you know, you could go there, they’ve got the you know, my desire is to get everybody on the path to the right college major right career. So they have your major, they are close to home they’ve got in state tuition, so that if something happens, I agree with you. I see something shift a lot of times depending on how big this bump in the road is kids will decide to stay closer to home when maybe they were going to I live in Cincinnati, maybe they were gonna go to California and now they want to be at University of Cincinnati because their family is going through something,


Wendy Briley  15:12

I think led to your point of what doesn’t change. You know, I think all of us when we’re working with students, we want them to have a well balanced list of schools. Yeah, that can mean a variety of things, whether it be the well balanced list of admissions rates, well balanced list financially, well balanced list as to your point, let’s say what if something changes? So I think you’re absolutely right, when we are guiding our students in building those college lists, it’s important for us as ICs to really listen, and you know, inform them making sure that yes, it has, you know, everything they want, academically, socially, financially, but then us also bringing that expertise and knowing that we don’t know always know what’s going to happen. And we want to make sure that whatever happens, our students have options, and I feel that it was the most important thing. But you just,


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:09

it’s funny, you just ran through that list of fit. And I used to run through floors, coaching my company, a college list building challenge, and I still probably will run it occasionally. But it’s four pillars, and we drop content and coaching once a week for four weeks. And there’s a week on social fit, which I argue is the least Hill Hill to die on. Like that’s not the hill, kids don’t think it is. But that’s not necessarily the hill to die on. But, you know, college major fit, which is my expertise in making sure that that aligns academic fit, can I get in, but then let’s talk about financial fit, because I think I always say parents don’t start opening the mail from or taking your kids to a campus that you’re never going to be able to afford. You know, I remember when my oldest was going through the process, and when you get mail, and I’d be like, Yeah, that one’s going in the trash. And one time he looked at me, and he’s like, why are we just throwing things away? I said, because with my line of work, I know how much that school costs, and it’s out of budget for our family. I know that they’re not generous at that school, it’s out a budget, and I’m not gonna let you fall in love with something and then us be fighting up against each other over that. So let’s talk about financial fit how the financial piece changes, like when you have when you hit the unexpected or like, I mean, I think with cancer, the astronomic medical bills that are going to be coming in. So how do you help families navigate that? What do you want people to be thinking about?


Wendy Briley  17:49

Yeah, you know, I think we have started to have some maybe different conversations, you know, if it’s something that is, you know, very dire, you know, is it now the student thinks about maybe doing two years at a community college and then transferring in? Is it you know, just to your point, are we really going to just consider maybe those state public schools that, you know, are less expensive. I think, you know, what I find too, is a lot of families just don’t really know, the cost of college. And one of the first things I asked when, whether it be with college consultants care, or in my own practice, one of the first questions I asked families, how are you paying for college? And, you know, sometimes I would say, probably 99.9%, you get that blank stare. And it’s, they just have not had that conversation with their students. And to me, that’s one of the most important because I think that’s going to set the framework of how we go about building that list of schools that’s well balanced. If it’s not financially feasible. I’m like you, it’s going in the trash. So, you know, I think in a lot of times, I think families haven’t had those conversations with their own students. I remember with my two girls, I’ve had two girls going through the college application process, and we were very clear, we said, we have this amount of money. You can decide, you know, where you want to go, but we’ll fit within this budget. So yeah,


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:29

I was so smart. And I am as you’re saying that we’ve had a number of episodes on paying for college, and like in in the budget and things like that. I’m gonna link to all of those episodes in the show notes. But as you’re saying that I’m like, you know, I’m absolutely in alignment with this idea. But then I think sometimes parents say like, this is what we have to spend. And you can choose where you want to go, but I think a piece that they miss is kids can’t go out and get private love. loans without a cosigner. Exactly. And if a cancer patient or somebody becomes unemployed, now the parent, I advise parents not to cosign loans, but to work within the budget, you know, federal student loan that can be in the students name only without the parent $27,000 over four years 31,000 If you go beyond four years, that’s fine. But beyond that, my encouragement is don’t get in there and start co signing a bunch of loans do you need to be able to take care of your retirement yourself? And so, but it I’m gonna just guess this is true. So please correct me if I’m, if I’m wrong. If suddenly, like a parent’s unable to work, I’m thinking of one of the families I was working with dad was diagnosed, and when the student was a sophomore, cancer came back in the fall of the senior year, it was liver cancer. And so the prognosis was not good. He died in July, after the senior year of the oldest student, but that dad had to quit working. The students entire senior year in the mom had never worked outside the home. So even if the parents were like, Oh, we would have cosign, now they don’t have an income to secure a loan. Right?


Wendy Briley  21:20

Right. That’s exactly right. Yeah, so in those situations, you know, that could be an instance, when you reach out to an admissions office, explain the situation or their financial aid office. And, you know, say, you know, I think I have found that colleges are, you know, very receptive to families that are going through some real emergencies. And, you know, maybe they can set up a payment plan or have a variety of different, you know, there could be, you know, institutional money departmental money that’s available for students that maybe they didn’t know about. Certainly, my advice, whenever a family has any kind of disruption is to reach out to the financial aid office as soon as possible, and see what things they have in place, what things they can be doing. Prior to I mean, I think the more proactive you are, you know, it serves you better. And, you know, I think there’s a lot of things that colleges can do that we may not necessarily know about until they have reached out to those specific areas. You know, this


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:33

theme is one of the reasons why I encourage families to complete the FAFSA every year, completely agree, because I’ll have a lot of families push back who are who can afford to pay for a private ice, you see, just like we are we, you know, we have those families we’re working with, and they’re like, Well, we’re never going to qualify for need based aid that those schools, and I’m like, okay, and we don’t know if something might happen, because I think back to like when my brother in law died, had they not completed the FAFSA, here, we would have been navigating a loss of a family member, having to navigate the funeral, the changes with the college and filing the fastball, which is not fun to complete everybody, by the way. Right? So because they hadn’t completed it, really my nephew, he’s well out of school and married now. But he was going to Miami University, they just had forms, you just went to the financial aid website, you download the forms filled them out. And because they’d already completed the FAFSA, it wasn’t one more thing they had to do while they were under a tremendous amount of stress.


Wendy Briley  23:50

I completely agree. You know, I get a lot of code, I think we all need to get pushed back. They’re like, Well, I’m not gonna get anything and but you just it’s, you know, it’s thinking ahead. And you know, we don’t always know what’s going to happen. Having those things in place. It’s almost like a will, you know, why wouldn’t you do that? And then, you know, then you don’t have to go through all of those terrible things. If you haven’t done it. It takes 10 minutes to fill out. It’s not that hard.


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:22

So absolutely,


Wendy Briley  24:23

yeah, I always same with, you know, like health forms for students. You know, we’re talking about students that may get a cancer diagnosis in college, it’s important to have those power of attorney because when they are over 18, and adults, you know, parents may not have that ability to make those decisions. So there’s, you know, all of those legal forms that are important to have before your child goes to college as well. You know, it’s nothing anybody likes to think about you don’t want to think about something bad happening, but it’s so important. Have these in place?


Lisa Marker Robbins  25:01

Yeah, the reality is the unexpected happens, things. So I agree with you on getting that form. I did find also going back to the financial piece, you know, the family that I was talking about where the father ended up passing, right after not my brother in law, but the other family that I was talking about, that family kept row, I had encouraged them right away, like keep track of your medical bills have him in one place, because they were that student ended up going to a private university. And we were, I was helping them write letters to negotiate for more need based and merit based scholarship aid in the college actually came through, and they were very helpful. But keeping if you’re navigating the hard stuff, keeping track of the documentation, you know, they weren’t just gonna say like, the family couldn’t just say, Oh, we had $50,000 in medical expenses this year, which by the way they did, and the college go, okay, you know, I said, get a letter from your doctor, keep track of your medical bills. Yes, yeah, your disability payment forms together, so they can see the loss of income. And that family’s case, the medical bills for one year, exceeded the disability payments that the father was getting. And so there was, there was an income, there was a loss in that year, and the college showed up with like, a full heart. And the daughter ended up being able to go to college.


Wendy Briley  26:35

Yeah, that’s what I need. You know, you’re exactly right, you know, keeping all of that information. It’s hard. I’m sure, as a family is going through this. It’s hard. But you know, having that information documented for them to be able to see, yeah, they’re, you know, there are lots of avenues at colleges, whether it be, you know, departmental institutional, yes, where they, they do have hearts, they want their students to succeed. And I think you’re right, yeah, making sure that, or maybe, you know, if you’re a family member, because you know, that family is going through a hard time, maybe you volunteer, help them keep track of all of that, because, you know, they’re in the midst of care and caring for that loved one, or, you know, if it’s a loss of a job, maybe now, you know, the other spouse is having to go out, maybe as a family member, you offer to be that person to help them organize. And it’s, again, it’s all about those communities, and those relationships, and you know, just making sure that you’re there to step up and help.


Lisa Marker Robbins  27:42

That’s, uh, that I love that point. Because I think when we have a loved one, or you know, a friend, a family member, who is going through it, you feel helpless. And so I think that’s a great note to end on, just to say like, Okay, if you’re the listener that hung in here with us, if you know somebody that’s going through the tough stuff, it’s not you, a share this episode with them be if it’s a cancer diagnosis on the part of the student or the parent, get in touch with Wendy and Shay will get you the free college counseling that you will benefit from, and see when you’re at a loss of what to do. That’s a very practical way that you could step up and help a family navigate this if they’ve got teens in high school during the time, Wendy, thank you. Where do people go to learn more about how you guys can help.


Wendy Briley  28:36

So good at www college consultants. care.org. You can nominate people, it doesn’t have to be someone you know, directly in your family. If you know of somebody, like I said that high school counselor that referred his student, we are happy to take any referrals. There’s a form on there. It’s very easy. You just fill it out and we will reach out to that person.


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:59

And is there a donate button on your website? Yes, there is. We will take



donations all day long.


Lisa Marker Robbins  29:07

I’m going to ask you weren’t going to ask for it. I’m going to ask Okay, thank you.



I appreciate that.


Lisa Marker Robbins  29:14

Wendy, thank you for coming on. It was great.


Wendy Briley  29:17

Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  29:24

Wow, I think this episode speaks for itself. And there’s not much else to say other than your college bound Challenge for this week. If you know a college bound friend or a family member with a cancer diagnosis, head to college consultants care and nominate them to get free college counseling. And if it’s someone navigating a different difficult path, please share this episode with them. They’ll get lots out of it too. I’ll link to Wendy site and the group of financial episodes of College and Career Clarity in the show notes. Hopefully everyone got a friendly read mindre to complete the FASFA because you don’t have a crystal ball to know your path won’t be without challenges. If you’re a faithful listener and are helped by this episode or another, could you do me a favor and rate my show? Doing so helps expand our reach to fulfill our calling of supporting teens and their families on the college bound journey.