#030 Your College List: Academic Fit Transcript



Cyndy McDonald  00:01

The more a student can challenge themselves to the four years of high school, the more competitive they’re going to be, the more opportunities and the more doors are gonna open for themselves. So number one thing is the river. Number two thing is how well did you do you doing all these rigorous classes and then you’re getting C’s and some B’s, then that may not be the best thing for you to do. So you want to take those hard classes and you want to do well in them, not forgetting tutors and things like that tutoring is probably the most underutilized resource in a high school students career.


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:40

This month, we are focusing on the four pillars of building a college list, and we are kicking off with a focus on what it means to find academic fit. I invited Cyndy McDonald to sit down and explore this topic with me. She may be the most connected independent college counselor there is and she practices her expertise by teaching college counselors and training through the UCLA college counseling program. She will share her wisdom and approach she uses in helping the students she works with get admitted, the rest of the factors on the college list don’t really matter unless the student can get admitted, which is also the focus of my college list building challenge that kicked off last week, and can get your family aligned on building the perfect college list for your unique family. I’ll drop a link to it to learn more in the show notes. But without further ado, I’m Lisa marker 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. I am so excited to welcome my friend and the coach of college counselors, the college counselors coach Sandy McDonald to the podcast to talk about how do you find academic fit in building a college list? I thought well, who could be better than the person who is teaching college counselors, both for her own business, the college counselors coach.com And as part of the UCLA online college counseling certificate program. So Cyndy, welcome to the podcast.


Cyndy McDonald  02:31

So good to be here. I’m so pleased that you asked me to do this. I’m usually on your seat. So it’s kind of nice to be on the side of the river. And


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:41

it’s nice to be the guest right? Yes, you’ve always are putting great content out, which made me think when I’m working with families, and we all have different ways and formulas and methods when we’re working with families. But when I’m talking about a college list with a family, we have four components to that college list. The academic fit, which really is around Can I get in? I mean, that’s the hill to die on. If you can’t get in, then the conversation stops quickly. Yeah, no, right. Then the financial fit meaning is it within budget for our family, is it reasonable to spend with that particular college is probably going to cost us which we’re going to talk about in another episode. Then we’ve got the college major and career fit my personal favorite, I would say all three of those are hills to die on. Students think the fourth one’s the hill to die on the social fit. Very trade to all things social. And that’s where they like to start where we’re like, No, we’re gonna start over here. So to kick off what is a month long series for us. I thought, okay, that the expert, the teacher of coaches, is here. So let’s start with how do you define academic fit?


Cyndy McDonald  03:58

Lisa, I like the definition that actually that Peter Van Buskirk talks about and he talks about academic fit being from the student perspective, first finding a school that’s going to be your learning perspective. And you know where you’re at. So academic achievements, your GPA, and your testing and all of that, but really focusing on where you are as a student and what your interests are. Because, like you said, if you can’t give in, but if it doesn’t teach anything that you’re interested in, it’s not going to be a beneficial experience for you. So academic fit is meeting your needs as a student. And so then you have to explore what those needs are and what you are as a student. And so often, what I find is students aren’t able to do that while they’re in high school, their their schedules are so regimented, that they haven’t had a chance to explore that finding that academic fit and finding what your interests are and other students that have those interests too. Reo is a key part of that.


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:02

Absolutely. I love that definition. Because I feel like it it almost pulls in two parts of like that framework that I teach, right? It’s pulling from the Can I get in, and it’s pulling from the can’t get me to where I want to be at the at the end being intentional with that with the end in mind, which is so key and making sure that the students at the center of it, right,


Cyndy McDonald  05:28

right. And that’s the absolute key part of it. A good example of this, I’m going to use two universities to kind of demonstrate this. So I’m situated in California so that your audience knows I’m a California counselor. So a lot of my students go to the University of California, and I had a student at UCSB, University of California, Santa Barbara. And I asked him like, well, what’s your biggest class? What would you think the biggest class at UC Santa Barbara would be? What would you guess?


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:57

Oh, gosh, hundreds of students, 1100 students, I was thinking between three and 500 students,


Cyndy McDonald  06:05

a lovin 100 students. I asked him, like, how do you even see your professor, he says I don’t, the professor’s in one room, and he has classes there. And then we’re in another room. So he literally never met his professor, and was one of those freshmen bio or psychology classes. And he was a pre med major. But that was his educational experience. And then compare that to Minerva. I just interviewed and talked to somebody from a nerve education, where it’s a very small, it’s very personalized. Then the gentleman that I interviewed, he said, like I wanted to learn, but I never felt like I learned while I was in high school, and I wanted a different way of learning. And so that’s why finding that academic fit, how are they teaching? Are you more structured? Do you like being in the back of the classroom, some students don’t want to be in the front, you have what’s called the participant or observer learner. It’s like a continuum. So yeah, if you’re on that participant learner, and 1100 class is not going to work for you. If you’re an observant learner, it doesn’t matter to you. So finding that academic fit, what other kinds of experiences have students have, what is the college looking for, if a school has a 20% or less admissions rate, I automatically put that school in a wild card or a dream category. Because it doesn’t matter how great you are, you’re still competing against everybody else. It’s just as great as you. So yes, putting pinning your hopes. And even though you may be academically prepared for that, putting your hopes on the school that has that smallest of admissions, and now we’re looking at three and 4% of the highly competitive schools. And so you may be an academic fit any number of places. So it’s a good place to consider. I agree with


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:00

you that like the messaging, managing the expectations for the families for the student is, if it’s admitting fewer than 20%, or 25%, even, it is a wild card. To your point, we saw colleges become much more selective in the last two years, this last year, we were like, is it gonna go even more selective? And it did, which was just crazy. You said it’s a wild card. And I’ve been telling my families that I work with, we’re in the wild west right now of college admissions. Yeah, it’s really hard to predict at that level, not at all schools. But those schools, we don’t really know how this is going to fall out. Will it become easier next year? We don’t know. So that on the school side, I love that you start with from the student perspective, it’s does it fit with how I want to learn what what I want in a university academically? How they’re teaching? Do they have my major? Can they get me to my future career, but on that college side, which I think is really what interests our listeners a lot, too, is how are they going to assess me so that under 20%, you might be very successful there, but it’s a wild card, whether you’re gonna get in or not,


Cyndy McDonald  09:17

right? Because those colleges say, like, they should admit probably 10 different classes just out of their applicant pool and they would all be excellent classes, then it goes back to the colleges are all going to have their own goals or criteria that they’re looking for maybe this year, they need an oboe player or maybe they’re starting a new program and they need people to fill that you’re not going to know that and we aren’t going to know that as counselors either. And they’re not always going to share that freely. But the more students learn about the college and really engage with them, the more that’s going to make a difference at other colleges. Are as highly competitive, they want to like Southwestern, they want you to know who they are and what they’re about College of Wooster, Rhodes College, I mean, colleges that change lives, colleges that are in the Fiske guide, or creative colleges, I mean, the more you know about them and share it like the students can articulate, well, here’s what you’re about. And here’s what I’m about, that’s going to make much more of an academic fit for them too. Because they’ll realize that they’re, they’re coming together, whether it’s a liberal perspective, or a more moderate perspective, or conservative perspective, the more you know about the college, the more they will feel like you’re choosing them. And then they’ll feel better about choosing you to


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:43

know we’ve had a couple of episodes on just the college visits for tool or in person where you, that’s how you start to get to that heart of what they want what they’re about, I think we’ll link to those two, one of them with more Makala from college scoops. And the other one was with the college spy Michelle Mecca nanny. And so I’ll link to those in the show notes. Because those two episodes really equip families to do what you’re suggesting is a best practice to find if you’re going to have a fit there on that piece. So you talked about those schools that are admitting fewer than 20% of their students. How do you and I know there’s not one right answer to this, but how do you band those admission rates, like what would be your next selective group up, it’s still going to be selective schools just not highly selective, what would you say the percent admitted would be in that next category up.


Cyndy McDonald  11:42

So the next category I use for my students is would be the reach. And I’m very conservative in terms of my my numbers and my approach, because I don’t want people to be disappointed. So usually, I use about a 45% up to that, that just under that 20%, to be a reach and probably narrow that a little bit. But I really, I’d rather people be surprised when they get into reach little than market as a target. And you don’t give in so reaches us that like 45%. And then the next category would be the target. And this is where students really want to be when we talk about that academic fit, is buying the schools that’s going to fit you personally, all these four things you’re going to be talking about where you just sit and right smack dab in the middle. And if you’re at a higher level, in terms of your academics and your your GPA and your achievement, then that puts you in a position for really good scholarships. And for a lot of families, that is the key, having 2530 $40,000 scholarships is a very big help to families. And yet, it can still be a really positive experience. So those are your target schools. So usually I use target is from about 30% or where it’s 60%. Up to that 45. And then for I don’t like the term safety, but foundation schools. That’s a nice name. Yeah, one of the things that I like to term I like to use is Foundation. And those are the schools that okay, this is these are still good schools, schools you’re interested in, but we know that your student profile meets or exceeds that of other students at this school. So usually, I use that as 100 to 65% 100% acceptance to 65. And the target I have between 50 and 70%. The Reach is between 21 and 49%. And then the dream is the 20% or less. But you know, again, it goes back to what you’re looking for. So for example, right now I have a student who’s trying to figure out what his major is and what he’s going to do. He’s a transfer student, and he wants to go into aviation. Well, I can tell him right now, you can apply the University of Utah, Utah Valley University and get in because I know it’s an open enrollment. If you want it, you can only apply to one school, because it has what he needs. And it has all these other things. It’ll be a good academic fit, major fit and everything else. And it’s an open enrollment school. So and I know they’re very hands on. So their approach to teaching, they bring in people from the industry, and that’s what they use. So all around it could be a good fit. So using those foundation skills can be very beneficial for students. I like that


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:46

you’re having conversations around and pointing out to families that there’s value in each of these groups, beyond just perceived perception on the brand name and really to think about it very holistically.


Cyndy McDonald  15:04

Yeah, it’s what you want to get out of it college costs so much. And this is one of the things you’re going to talk about. But we used to be able to say, Oh, well go to college and explore your major or explore what you want to do, it’ll be undeclared. But when you’re spending $80,000 a year, that’s awfully expensive to go and find yourself, finding what your needs are, where you fit academically, you want to be in a place where you’re going to be challenged. But you also want to be in a place where that meets your needs. If all you want to do is go spend 24/7 stunning and a library, then that’s perfectly fine. That’s kind of campus you look for. But if you’re looking for us, we talked about in the beginning that academic social balance, you want a social life. And we all know the social life can be just as important as the academic, you can learn from having a roommate, all those things, then you need to look at more about what’s going to fit for you. I love that, like we’re


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:01

talking, this is the first in this series. But we’re already we can’t get away from talking in this conversation about how all of the pieces all four pieces are so important. And they all play off of each other to have that balance list. So we’ve talked a lot about on the family side on the student side, being student centered, what you should be doing, and assess does it fit how I want to study what I need? Let’s talk a little bit about on the college side, we have these fans of knowing the percentage of students who applied that are admitted, where you’ve got your highly selective VHS and all of them that you just ran us through. First of all, where would families go? What do you feel like is a super reliable are a couple really reliable sources to find out that data of what percent they’re admitting?


Cyndy McDonald  16:55

Usually? And that’s a really good question, because that has been changing over the last couple of years, especially with COVID. But right now, there are two sources to look, the ads that are most consistent and available are the what’s called the iPads data that’s through the college navigator. So it’s a federal website. It shows admissions, it shows financial aid, it shows majors, it shows a lot, there’s a lot of data there.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:23

So that link to that in the show notes for sure.


Cyndy McDonald  17:26

And then the other one is through Petersons. They have a database that they use. So College Board, they collect a lot of data. College, there is


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:37

usually a pretty up to date as well, College Board, I feel like they don’t some of these sites lag behind and like we’re talking about right now, if you’re relying on 2020 data with this wild west we’re in right now it is unreliable, for sure.


Cyndy McDonald  17:52

And that’s the problem with the iPads data is that it lags behind. So maybe


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:57

we won’t link to that one in the show notes. And we’ll link to College Board and Petersons which tend to update. There are good reasons to use the iPads data, but probably not for that one. So we’ll link to the College Board and Peterson so that families can just go out and very quickly and easily fine. This was the percent of students that were admitted last year. Yeah. Now what is your advice? So over on the college side, they’re also then assessing academic fit, which is going to lean into what would you say are the components on academic fit? Should we let you in the college is looking at


Cyndy McDonald  18:35

the number one thing I give my students like a list of 10 things 10 characteristics colleges are looking for in students. The number one thing they’re always going to look at is the rigor of your curriculum. What classes did you take in high school? Did you take AP classes? Are you in IB? Did you take dual enrollment? Did you take college classes? Did you challenge yourself when you’re in high school? That is the number one thing that they’re going to look at a lot of them on their reports there’s also the common data set and so families can Google the Common Data Set colleges will publish those for their information and that’s what Peterson uses and many other US newsrooms is a lot of them used to come and dataset but when you look at that it shows how many students how many had AP and and the number of rigorous courses and things like that. So the more a student can challenge themselves to the four years of high school the more competitive they’re going to be the more opportunities and the more doors are gonna open for themselves. So number one thing is the river. Number two thing is how well did you do you doing all this rigorous classes and then you’re getting C’s and some B’s then that may not be the best thing for you to do. So you want to take those hard classes and you want to do well in them. And that’s where getting tutors and and things like that don’t students, tutoring is probably the most underutilized resource in as high school students career because you can do well on that AP Physics with a tutor, then that’s great. So those are the those are the some of the things that you look at is younger her and how many and what


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:21

how well you do in there. And it’s funny when you’re talking to students, they right away want to say, oh, but my GPA is in there and they always give you that way to GPA which colleges generally prefer an unweighted GPA?


Cyndy McDonald  20:35

Yeah, they grab they’re all getting recalculated GPA no matter what.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:39

That’s right. Absolutely it families don’t realize that they’re going to recalculate your GPA from your weighted down to an unweighted. And some of them will go far enough as taking out your PE class and your health class and all of that out there to get down to that core GPA. And it’s funny kids tend to lead with Oh, my GPA is a 4.4. Am I that doesn’t tell me anything unweighted. And what classes did you take to get that unweighted GPA is what they’re going to look at. So when you’re looking at am I a candidate at this school, we really want to know how your grades in the types of courses you’re taking are comparing them to the kids they admitted last


Cyndy McDonald  21:23

year. Exactly, yeah. And so then if you’re taking those AP tests, I mean, those classes, you should be taking those tests, because that’s going to be the proof, especially now with so many schools going casts optional, or blind. Having that rigor and demonstrating that you achieved is going to be key


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:41

that we had a previous episode with David, vice of modern state educational Alliance, they have free classes, and they pay for students to take the CLEP exam. And that will be another way to demonstrate up while you’re in high school. And I said to David, when we were doing that conversation, I’m like, this is like free built in tutoring for kids in high school. To your point, Sandy, like, if getting a little bit of tutoring is going to help you achieve and learn the material, then do that to get the grades, right? Yep. And so


Cyndy McDonald  22:18

that colleges don’t care if you got sued or not. They just care what the outcomes are. And that’s going back to our conversation about academic fit. That’s what you need to look at is what classes did they take? What kind of level of achievement did they have? You know, are you at that same level? And will you feel comfortable being able to compete at that level? And if you’re coming in with more, so much the better because it’ll help you?


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:43

Would there be any other factors that you would add to that list? It’s like at Ohio State University, their test optional. Again, this coming for the class of 23. But on their website, they say we encourage you to test and submit test scores, because we find them to be highly predictive of who is successful at Ohio State University. And it’s like, so they are test optional in name, but they tell you right there, if you look at the website, they want test scores. And this goes back to what you said about if you’re doing your research, and you’re on the side, and you’re talking to the colleges, you’re going to you’re going to learn those things.


Cyndy McDonald  23:18

Exactly. And you’ll see whether they’re valuing community service or how they look at leadership, or all those different things. And that’s one of the other characteristics is like, how much do you know about my college and that’s what the college visits mean to students and parents know that the colleges have a program called slate, and they actually can track how many emails you open. And when you open them and how many times you’ve gone to their website. I mean, that’s, that’s pretty intense demonstration of whether you’re interested in the college or not. So sometimes people are surprised when they’re not admitted. You might look at and say, Oh, I’m going to apply to this school as a foundation school. And then you don’t give in because they know you’re more qualified for that campus. And and people are surprised when that happens. But but that happens all the time, too.


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:08

It does that yield protection that they have for sure. What would be parting words, advice for families that are really trying to figure out that academic fit? Do you have any final words for our families,


Cyndy McDonald  24:24

the most important thing is to do your research and visit the colleges. Check them out on social media of students can often talk to other students, there are lots of different websites that offer that too is finding that well rounded. But going back to what we were first saying is well what do you want? What is going to be a good academic fit for you? Are you going to be okay sit in a class of 1100 students I’ve never seen your professor or having one to one conversations that you know you’re sitting on their couch and talking about physics with them. So which learning experience do you Why, and then find the colleges that are going to meet that. And that’s in the end is you want to find a college that wants you, not the I want this college, which college is going to want you. And that’s, that’s another one of Peter Van Buskirk perspectives is is having that let’s find college that wants you. And we have 20 colleges in the US. There are lots of colleges who want students.


Lisa Marker Robbins  25:25

That’s right. There’s more than one college for everyone that they want you. That’s fantastic parting advice. And I think it drives home something that I teach to families that every college bound family, I encourage them to have a weekly, dedicated family college time where they’re just making, keeping momentum going and figuring out these pieces. And if you don’t carve out that time, it’s gonna get away from you. And then all of a sudden, you’re applying to college. We’re going into that senior year, we’re dropping this episode in August, those seniors are going to be applying soon. And you don’t want to just throw schools out there without knowing if they fit. Well. Thank you, Cyndy for for being on the podcast today. You are always a wealth of information. Remember everybody Cyndy is the coach of college counselors herself through both her own program and UCLA where she teaches. So she is an expert in the field. And she taught us today. So thank you.


Cyndy McDonald  26:33

Thank you, Lisa, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure to be here.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:39

Cyndy offered fantastic advice to help your family find schools where your student can be admitted. My weekly college bound challenge for your family to accomplish by the very end of this week is to sit down with your students high school transcript, report cards, academic record, whatever you might have, and have an honest and realistic conversation about your students. unweighted GPA. Yes, I said unweighted not weighted, and how rigorous their coursework is. Create a one pager with this key information. Next, use one of our resources in the show notes that Cyndy mentioned to see if your student academically aligns to schools you have in mind. Don’t have any schools in mind yet. Peruse different schools to see what you can discover. If you want to go a level deeper and get expert support on finding academic fit, and building a college list. Join our college list building challenge that is only open for enrollment through August 10 At noon Eastern next week in our college list building series we will focus on social fit, which is likely your teens first filter when building the college list. You’ll learn how one of my students overcame challenges to find her fit. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share it with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast where I help your family moved from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your teens future