#56 Finding College Campuses that Fit Your Teen Transcript



Anita Gajula  00:00

I think campuses are more similar than different. And I think that there are some pieces that you really do need to be aware of. Like maybe if a matrix is there or not. There are some pieces that you just have to go for what you want.


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:17

When building that perfect college list that fits your teen, the first thing your teen likely thinks about is what the campus feels like to them. Well, you may very well be thinking about paying for college first. Does that sound familiar? I need a god EULA is an independent college counselor who successfully guides families through this process, even when parents and students have different priorities. In this episode, she’s going to share with you her insider process that she uses to guide families through finding your teens future home away from home, not only will you learn her process, but Anita shares her favorite free resources on the web to help you window shop for colleges. 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. Well, it’s my pleasure to welcome Nina Godzilla to the podcast. She has a long career working with students and the college and college bound space. She’s served as an academic advisor, and she’s an independent educational consultant currently. So through that she has gained tremendous insights into how can students assess a fit of College and today we’re gonna talk specifically about social fit. Nina, welcome to the podcast.


Anita Gajula  01:54

Thank you so much, Lisa. It’s great to be here.


Lisa Marker Robbins  01:57

So we want to give families insights on you know, like, we’re going to talk about social fit. So for me, I always say it’s finding your home away from home, like what feels right on a campus, how would you define it?


Anita Gajula  02:09

Yeah, definitely a home away from home, the place where you feel like you can be yourself and also kind of get out of your comfort zone to where you’re going to meet some interesting people that maybe you’ve never encountered before, or some, you know, different kinds of opinions and ideas. So just like at home, you’re gonna have things that you’re, you know, have in common with your family. But there’s also going to be a space where maybe you feel comfortable enough to disagree with someone, you’re going to have all the natural things that happen already in life. It’s not all perfect. You know, it doesn’t mean that you are just like everyone else, just like you’re not like all your siblings or your parents. But there’s enough there that you feel a sense of togetherness.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:49

I love that it you know, we’re both moms. So my kids are out of the house now. But yes, we don’t all get along perfectly all the time, do we? That’s for sure. So expect that exactly. That’s that’s managing expectation. That’s great. Because I don’t believe in soulmates. I don’t believe there’s a soulmate college, I don’t believe there’s a soulmate, like marriage partner for someone, I don’t believe there’s a soulmate career. You know, I work in the space of college major and career coaching, you know, if my job ended today, there are other jobs out there I could do and be very happy. So taking that pressure off to feel that like that soulmate piece, I think is really important.


Anita Gajula  03:31

I agree with you. And I actually don’t like the word fit, because it implies there’s like a mold that you have to fit. I like the word match better. So you’re like a set of matches, is the way I like to describe college not really fit. But fit is a buzzword. So you know, I use it when I have to. But if you really think about you know, your top, whatever three to five criteria, not every place is going to be perfect. But if you find some good matches, then hey, you know what, there’s a lot that you can do with that. And that builds a stronger list because you know that no one places that dream of the perfect and then you can go in there with eyes wide open instead of feeling like, Oh, I found my perfect fit. And I’m gonna be perfectly happy here when that doesn’t actually exist.


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:15

That actually can lead to a lot of disappointment and heartache if you have that mindset. Now I always advise my students hold things loosely, right? We’ve got these ideas that we go into it, but you learned so much through the process. So when you’re working with a family, what would you say is the starting point of assessing that social we’ll call it match. Where do you suggest a family start when they start thinking about you know, their their thinking about finances what we can pay academics? Can we get in do they have the right major, but in finding that home away from home? Where do we start?


Anita Gajula  04:53

So I actually think that most people start in the wrong spot. I think that people are looking ahead and saying like, Well what do you want in the college? But if you’ve never experienced before, how were you supposed to know? I actually like to look backwards for a minute and reflect. So, you know, for high school student, I might say, what are the things that you love about your high school? What are the things that you wish you could change? What are the things that you do regularly? Is it that you’ve found your friends through the weekly football games, because you go to them all the time, or it’s through your classes? So think a little bit about who you are? And the journey you’ve already been on? Your close friends? Are these people that, you know, you became friends with just because of proximity, which happens, I went to a really small high school. And if you’ve had the chance to choose some friends, like maybe you went to a summer camp, or maybe a bigger High School, how have you found people who have some interests that are similar to yours? And everyone’s got a different answer to that. And not everyone is the Friday Night Lights person where they’re at the football game meeting, people look back and think, do you like being sort of anonymous? You know, where you’re kind of one and a big crowd? Have you enjoyed that in your high school experience? Or do you feel better when you’re like, in a small group that you know, a few people really well? Do you constantly want to meet new people? Are you happy with two or three friends? And if you look back a little bit on the activities, you’ve enjoyed the kinds of ways you’ve met people, and then think to yourself like, well, what if this wasn’t there? Or would I have done anything differently? If I could have had the choice, then that’s a great starting point for them thinking about what kind of college are looking for? What kind of activities, what type of people? What kinds of social pieces do you want,


Lisa Marker Robbins  06:37

and I would add, don’t just think about it, journal it, write it down, make a list. I often tell kids who don’t like to take notes or write things down. Even downloading an app like otter or rev, where you can do voice recordings and get a transcript of your thoughts can be a great idea. So think about it, maybe talk about it with your parents jot it down somewhere, I love that idea of looking backwards, instead of just jumping in looking forwards. So once they started looking backwards, I really want our families to get some tips for Okay, now what should I be assessing? What can I do? And where can I go? To start to see like, is there alignment? Right? Is this an aligned with what if I look back at who I am and what I know, and what’s been comfortable or uncomfortable FETs


Anita Gajula  07:33

what I always tell my students find two or three places close to you that you do not have to be any place that you’re even remotely thinking about attending. But just buy two or three colleges and universities near you drive to campus, no need to do a tour, no need to do the information, no need to do anything. Just show up and walk around for a bit. And you want to pick two or three places that are maybe different from one another, maybe a public institution and a private one, maybe a big one and a small one, whatever it is that you can find near you. I live in Chicago. So I tell people often like go to Loyola and go to North Central, very different campuses. Just what’s the vibe? What do you sense, what stands out to you? And my favorite thing in the entire world is to just sit in the Campus Center wherever that is, or just a busy spot. And people watch. I know it’s creepy. I know. It’s a little my kids are like don’t do that mom.


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:28

Well, you have teenagers. So that’s rare yet.


Anita Gajula  08:33

I’m not trying to stalk anyone, obviously, I’m just trying to get a vibe. What is that vibe? Are people dressed? Like very casually? Are they more dressed up? Do they seem happy? Do they seem tired? You might hear some snippets of conversation, what are they talking about? You know, you kind of want to go at a point where they’re a little bit busy on campus. So maybe not Sunday morning, but a holiday for you at school or an early day for you. And it doesn’t have to be a ton of time, half an hour an hour. And this is what I call the window shopping. Is this just like what’s out there? I’m just taking a quick look. And then the next phase is to again reflect and I love your idea about journaling. Actually tell families like a student should have one journal. Parents should have a separate journal


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:16

and are sent. Yes, yes. You


Anita Gajula  09:19

can compare notes later or you write your questions down in your spot. And then you have your weekly conversation or whatever it is with your parents. But so after this window shopping fees, you get a few ideas, okay? Like this is what it this might be like, what it might not be like if you know someone on campus, maybe stay overnight with them, whatever it is, then you’re going to dive deeper into what I call really browsing the store. And that’s when you get online and you get to do a little bit more in terms of you like a certain type of college or school find some other similar types of schools. And there’s a lot of great research out there. It’s a little bit I think, overwhelming for people, but that’s my next stop usually but students,


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:59

you and I I but because I’m in Cincinnati, we both live in metropolitan areas that have a high number of universities. So I always tell anybody in Cincinnati, anybody in Ohio like we are blessed with the number of options that we have both public and private universities, same thing in Chicago as well. And I do the same thing. I say, hey, here are our three campuses. Just go after school, you get out of school at 230. Just drive to campus, there will still be activity during the week on campus, go do that. Would you advise to a family who lives in maybe an educational desert? Or they’re not geographically in a place like you and I are where they can do this window shopping? I love that term that you use. Where do you suggest they start?


Anita Gajula  10:47

If it’s really hard, then yes, skip. But if possible, even if you’re on vacation, somewhere, you’re driving to go see somebody, my dad grew up in India. And when I got to the high school party, he was just like, very confused, very lost, like, where do we start? From ninth grade on, we would just drive by campuses, and on the way to go visit whoever. And we would just stop and look around. And that’s really all it is. So if you’re lucky enough to have a little road trip, or take a road trip, or you can start asking people around you What were their college experiences. But I do want to say that that window shopping is pretty i For me, I think there’s this, this funny little dream of what college is supposed to be. Maybe it comes from TV, maybe it just comes from folklore, I don’t know. But the reality of it is so different when you stamp a step on a campus and see what it really is, like, all of a sudden, there’s no babies, there’s no little kids. There’s no older people, everyone’s like the same age, the buildings, it just it feels like another world to me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:51

It’s funny that you say that I sometimes students will say to me, I am not even going to look at that school. Are you kidding? That smaller than my high school if they go to a really large public high school? And I’m like, but it’s not going to feel that way when you get on campus because it’s spread out, unlike your high school. So yeah, I agree with you that that window shopping phase is an important one you mentioned. Okay, now that next phase, we’re actually like browsing through the store? What are some of your favorite ways you indicated starting online to do that?


Anita Gajula  12:27

There’s a great new app called Loeber. It’s on the phone only no website? Are they very minimal on the website. And they actually start sort of giving you like, an they’re kind of like cards, it’ll say things like interested in Greek life, for instance. And you can either say yes, that’s important to me, or no, it’s not important to me, or maybe it’s a little important, or I don’t know, and you have these ways to swipe to say what the importance level is. And then you could do this for a bunch of cards. And you can dive in a little deeper to like, what is Greek life mean? Like, how is that going to impact my time, and they’ve got some good information on there. And then they come up with the list. So that’s one way to do it. Another way to do it is I’d like to tell people you’ve paid so much the college board might as well use all their resources on the College Board, college search engine, big future is actually very useful, you can go in there and say, Yes, you know, I want to be within 50 miles of my hometown, or I want to be a flights distance away. And I maybe want to major in some of these areas or looking for certain types of activities, whatever it is, I you start getting this list, and then you can go look a little bit more. Certainly the fist Guide is a very, very popular source. And the fifth guide is probably the one that is considered most authentic student experiences because of the way they survey students. And there’s so many other websites, I mean, niches like the Yelp of college reviews, you know, such as depending on what you want. I do say to my students, the college website is probably the best place to really do some deep dive research. But you kind of got to know what you’re looking for, before you get to a college website, because you can go down a rabbit hole that is so deep and so overwhelming. I’ve spent way too many hours on college. I mean, I love it. I know what I’m looking for. But it’s hard. And it’s intimidating when you start so I would encourage you know, to find whatever website it is, it’s useful to you and shy away from the ones that just give you the top 10 Because the rankings the worst, yes, I just it’s not accurate at all. And it’s a very one dimensional view, whereas colleges are obviously much more complicated than that.


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:31

A parent or student says to me, like that’s in the top 25 And my next phrase is according to who? Alright, top 25 No, no on the ranking. One of the things that I love once the students really do start to say okay, I’ve gone through a kind of starting to build that list of schools that I think there might be a social match for just starting to follow them on Instagram or Tik Tok. or social media like that Twitter, I think you can get a great feel as well.


Anita Gajula  15:05

Yeah, I agree with you. And I think that one of the things that I like to make a distinction about is what are the public relations marketing pages, and what is maybe a little more unfiltered. So the student newspaper, definitely unfiltered, and you’re gonna see a whole lot of stuff, sometimes not always accurate, but unfiltered versus the glossy brochure from the school, very different take. And so you gotta gotta remember who their audience is, and why they’re doing it. So some of the social media pages are put out by the school campus administrators, for instance. So the admissions page is probably by the admissions office, someone that a full time staff member, whereas if you’re going to see something about a club, that you’re excited about, it’s probably done by a student, the feed might be a little more sporadic, but you might find out about some interesting things. So there is this distinction, I like I said, between the PR marketing piece and like the more unfiltered look, and you kind of have to take everything with a grain of salt. I always tell students don’t just go by what one person has said, Get a few views, because you and I could see the same movie and have completely different reactions to it. It doesn’t mean that one of us is right or wrong. It’s like


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:21

when kids go on a college tour, as part of their official visit. There are really great tour guides, and there are those that are not so great, we as counselors get feedback from the students. And we can tell when they had a bad guide. And we know that cash had they just had somebody else showing them around campus, they would have had a really different take on that school to cite that I also like that I would add is like college scoops, and campus real, because again, they’re the students doing it, and campus rail or college scoops was not being paid by the university as a PR funnel, to give a feel for the campus as well. So I’m gonna, in our show notes, I’m going to link to all of these great sites that we’re talking about.


Anita Gajula  17:11

Yeah, there’s definitely so much and I say to students pick one or two that you like, and keep doing the research there, just so you get consistent about it. And you learn them the ins and outs of maybe that one website or that one tool, so that you’re not like trying to like compare, like, I don’t know, apples and oranges. That’s great advice.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:29

So at the end of the day, you have worked on campuses, as an academic advisor, with students, and you saw probably happy students and sad students through that. And you’ve done your work at that you’re still currently doing as an IEC. So, like, how much do you think social fit matters or social match?


Anita Gajula  17:50

One of my favorite lines is, is it about fit or is college what you make of it. And at the end of the day, I think campuses are more similar than different. And I think that there are some pieces that you really do need to be aware of, like maybe if a major exists there or not. There’s some pieces that you just have to go for what you want. So my story is that I went to Williams, Massachusetts, I really didn’t know anything about college, when I started high school, my dad and I would just take these like random visits on our road trips. And I quickly realized I need to be at a small liberal arts college, I was very undecided about what I wanted. I came from a very small high school. So small college seemed pretty intimidating to me. So I picked that small liberal arts college was going to be a good match for me. Which one of those, you know, they all seem to sound the same, they all sort of bleed together. I went to Williams because a family friend went there, had a great time, and really completely missed the memo. That it was like so many athletes, and that it was so outdoorsy. I don’t know how I did that. But he and I got there. And I was like, this was a little bit of a shock, like, did not realize that I hadn’t really truly done my homework. Are you


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:05

saying you’re not an athlete? Yes, I’m


Anita Gajula  19:07

not an athlete. And I’m not an outdoorsy type. I don’t camp. I mean, I just snapped me. So yeah, but I got there. I had a great time. I mean, I truly did. I found people that I became friends with got involved in a lot of different activities. I felt really good about being there. You know, there are obviously some pieces that maybe didn’t jive with me, but I made the best of it. And I tell students this all the time, you’re gonna go there. Maybe you don’t like your roommate, or maybe you don’t like that first class you take. But keep trying keep an open mind because there’s a lot more out there and sometimes you just have to dig deeper. And at the end of the day, I think you and I would agree that college is probably more similar difference just like high school experiences across the country. Probably more similar than different.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:54

Totally agree your story reminds me of the last time we talked about social fit on the podcast, which was in August of 2022. I had a former student of mine grace on it, she came back to me and she said, like I saw over thought this bit of a campus. And she ended up on a campus where, if you knew Grace really well, he knew what was typical of that student body, it might have been like you with the Williams in the non athletic part of you. And she is having the best time ever. She’s tried new things. She’s starting a club. And so she wanted to come on the podcast to say to students, because she’s still a teenager when she came on the podcast, like, you’re probably overthinking this part of it. Because you can be happy if you make up your mind, you’ll be happy on just about any campus as far as that social fit goes. Now, of course, if you can’t afford it, or you can’t get in, or they don’t have your college major, I always say those are three hills to die on. But this idea that there’s a perfect environment is just Yeah, I think it’s overstated. So we agree. Yes, most of our colleagues would agree with us as well as we get in conversation. Well, thank you, Nina. This has been fantastic. And I know so helpful. If any of our listeners want to stay in touch with you explore working with you, how is the best way for them to find you.


Anita Gajula  21:22

I work for college, why so they can go to college wise.com They can look up my name. You know, even if you Google college wise, Anita, you’ll find my bio and a link to directly contact me. So I would love to hear from you all and hear if this resonated with you or not.


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:38

That sounds fantastic. Well, we will put your link for them to locate you in the show notes as well, along with those other fantastic resources. Thanks, Anita. Thanks, Lisa. What I really appreciate and love about Anita, its approach is her emphasis that social fit is often over thought and campuses. Well, they’re really more similar than different from each other. I wholeheartedly agree. On episode 31 of the podcast last year, I had a former student of mine Grace EE on to talk about how she overthought this during high school and how she’s found her fit at Boston College, which back in high school may have seemed like an unlikely fit for her on the surface. I’ll link to that episode in the show notes. It’s a great one to share with your team. So they’re well hearing it from a team. We all know that often works better much of the time. Your college bound conversation homework this week is to check out the resources and need a mention. I’m linking to all of them in the show notes. I recommend you bookmark them and spend some time together as a family looking at different schools. If today’s episode was helpful to you, I’m going to ask that you do me a favor. Can you share it with a friend? They’re going to need it too. If you’re having these questions, they’re having them to see sharing and following my podcast rating and reviewing while it all helps me resource more students to launch into a successful future. So would you mind doing it? rate review follow share. Thank you for listening to the College Career Clarity podcast where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and competent about your teens future.