People have a different perception of what schools provide and the reality of being on campus. Dr. Aviva Legatt, founder of the VivED Consulting, an elite college admissions consulting company that helps clients eliminate ambiguity in competing for admission to top colleges, says these brand names that have been around for hundreds of years carry a lot of weight, and a lot of people don’t understand what it means to be there.
They’re not looking at the environment in both its positives and its negatives. They get focused on acceptance rates, numbers and grades, which of course are important things to keep in mind as you’re looking to create a balanced list of colleges, but it’s not the selectivity that should be driving anyone’s decision making. It’s about finding the right college that fits you. Learn how to choose the right one for you as Dr. Legatt walks us through a framework for researching colleges.
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Finding The Right College That Fits You with Dr. Aviva Legatt
I have with me Dr. Aviva Legatt. She is the Founder of the VivED Consulting, which is an elite college admissions consulting company that helps clients eliminate ambiguity in competing for admission to top colleges. This is information we can all use. Her expertise is regularly cited in major outlets including U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest many, many more. She also has a column in Forbes. She’s on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in Organizational Dynamics and here she’s joining us. Welcome.
Thank you so much for having me, Terri. It’s great to be here.
I’m excited to have you and I’m going to tell you why. I have several cousins, friends, children, and other people that I know that have all been talking about how tough college admissions has become. They’re all asking questions about how do we get in and which colleges to apply to. In my view of the world, because I’ve been out of college for so many years, things have changed dramatically. I wouldn’t have a clue to tell people what to do. That’s the first question. Why is there so much confusion?
It’s hard to say exactly one reason, but one reason that pops to my mind is that people have a different perception of what schools provide and the reality of being on campus. These brand names that have been around in some cases for hundreds of years, they carry a lot of weight and a lot of people don’t understand what it means to be there. They’re not looking at the environment in both its positives and its negatives. They get focused on acceptance rates, numbers, and grades, which are important things to keep in mind as you’re looking to create a balanced list of colleges. It’s not the selectivity that should be driving anyone’s decision making. It’s about finding the right college that fits you.
What I like to help students with is to walk them through a framework for researching the colleges. Researching the colleges is not just in terms of the faculty to student ratio and what majors are offered, but help them to picture themselves at that college. Select the specific resources that they will likely access when they’re at that college to see. Number one, does a college fit that and number two, to have some concrete data points as to why they want to go there.
That, in itself, many people research based on some very general things. One of the things you said resonated with me. When I applied to colleges, I absolutely knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to go to Ithaca College. I always envisioned myself there and saw myself there. I went and looked at other colleges. My parents wanted me to and I just couldn’t see myself there. I said, “I’m going to apply to Ithaca College,” early decision. My parents were like, “What if you don’t get in?” I said, “No, I am getting in.” I just knew and that was an important point that you made. You do have to picture yourself where you fit in.
The other thing that was key, what are the resources you’re going to access. I had a cousin who was looking at two different schools, Drexel here being one of them in our area. She’s looking at two completely different schools. I had reference points for Drexel and the other school was the University of Pittsburgh, which is one of the schools I graduated from. I had a reference point for that. I know my cousin well. I know what she wants to do and the kinds of activities that she likes to get involved in.
I was pushing her towards the University of Pittsburgh because I knew that had some things that Drexel couldn’t afford her. She picked the school because of the resources. She wouldn’t be able to tell you that but that was really it. I love that. Does it fit? Look at the data points that make sense. This is brilliant. I have a serious question. Why do most college counselors or high school counselors not give this kind of advice? I don’t see this happening.
I don’t think my approach should be unconventional, but the reality of that is a lot of people tend to get bogged down in the numbers. I do use the numbers to help students figure out if it’s a fit. In terms of what might be feasible for them as well. There are thousands of colleges in the United States. If there’s a college or one program at the college that you especially like, there might be that program in a similar form or in a somewhat different form, but still check the form in another college.
The numbers matter but the problem that a lot of people have is that they use the numbers too much. They don’t look at other things enough. A lot of high schools have a Naviance. It’s a program or a little portal that students have access to that ties back to their high school. It shows you where people from your high school are going to college and what their stats are generally.
That’s a good tool to use to just get an idea of, “Are you in a range?” Also, the key part is to know who’s going to be accepted from your high school. How many people are getting accepted from your high school? Let’s say you want to go to Brown University and no one has been accepted there in seven years, that’s probably not a very likely choice for you if you’re coming from a high school where one person every seven years is getting accepted. It might be you but more than likely it might not be you. I would use that to say this is discouraging you to point, but if Brown University is truly your first choice, you have specific reasons you want to go there, you could envision yourself there then you should absolutely apply to Brown University. Even if it is a long shot.
I thought of the reversal of like the tail wagging the dog mentality that a lot of people have going been into the process. Looking at part of the admissions committee, I was on the admissions committee previously at the Wharton School, I saw at those students that resonated, I connected, were those people that had some connection. I’m not necessarily saying like just a legacy, but people who had a good idea of what the university offered and what it specifically offered to them personally. Most people don’t know how to do that. That’s what I like to help my clients with is to figure out what are their strengths and where would they like to go, finding the appropriate resources within whatever university would fit them that would enable them to continue on in their lives and in their work.
The idea of finding your strengths, finding where you want to go. It does make sense to take a look at, “Are people getting accepted that are like me or that are in my high school or that have similar grades,” or whatever it might be so that you also have somewhat of a realistic view in the world. That all makes a lot of sense and is brilliant. Is there any recommendation on how you narrow it down? I’m asking that question because when my great nephew was doing this, he had a list of 30 colleges and I’m like, “There’s money in applications for each of those. You might want to pair that down.” Do you have any advice in that area?
The way to narrow the college is going to be a little bit different for every person. Some people need to use the money first and they absolutely should use the money first if money is a big factor for them. The fact is that schools are charging $55,000, $70,000 a year. If you’re not going to get financial aid that’s sufficient to cover your cost and your family doesn’t qualify, then you could potentially be taking on a lot of debt yourself or cause your family to take on a lot of debt.
A lot of cases, finances should be one of the first things that you look at as a family. It’s very hard for many parents to do this, but you have to have an honest conversation with your child about what you can afford and what you can’t afford. That has to be the first step because it definitely has to be a family decision. It’s certainly one of the first child decisions but you can’t really make that decision without considering the consequences. It’s a difficult conversation.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take on debt ever. It’s always a bad idea, but it is a major consideration, especially in those years right after college when you might not be making as much money and if you have a lot of loans to pay back. That can limit your options as far as what you’re going to be doing after school. That’s an important factor to consider. It would be the money. I’d say that’s the first factor.
There are different ways you can find out how much you’ll owe by using the net price calculators on the college’s website that you’re interested in. Also, there’s data out there and it’s very hard to access that but there’s a big data called the Common Data Set and not every single one, but almost every college publishes this data. It tells you how much stash of money was given and whether or not that was for need-based or merit-based financial aid.
I also suggest that parents talk with a financial advisor about how they might revamp their taxes or move things around in order to maximize the aid that they’re getting. That’s an important critical step for a lot of people. In terms of narrowing it down from there, it’s about looking at what those student’s strengths are, what are the right programs in terms of academics as well as extracurriculars that are going to support them in enhancing their interests, their profile and their opportunity.
How much of the emphasis on some academics will depend on how focused the student is on one subject. Some students might have a specific major in mind, others might not. Other students may have a deep interest, let’s say in a clarinet and so they want to find a way to further that. What colleges allow perhaps non-music majors to have different performing opportunities?
Whatever that top priority is or the small priority in the student’s life, you want to find the colleges that fit that first and then go from there. In addition, you can use the numbers from the Naviance as I said to further narrow it. When you look at finance, when you look at location, when you look at the student interest and when you look at the feasibility, the list ends up getting narrower.
The problem is a lot of students do have twenty, 30 schools on the list because they’re like, “I’ve heard of all these schools that may also be cool,” but then they’re not digging into what the consequences are of those schools and what that means for them. They have to start with that high-level conversation and then start to fall in love with the school as they researched them more.
There are so many things that you said in there that are so valuable. My husband is a financial advisor. He’s constantly helping with all of the finances around college and talks about scholarship money, net price calculators. I’ve heard him talk about the Common Data Set. I’ve never heard of that before. A lot of it boils down and this is so valuable. Does your heart resonate with the school? Is it a school that you have fallen in love with? If you’re making a commitment to be at a school for who knows how many years, you want to resonate with it.
The other thing I always tell people is if for some reason it doesn’t resonate and it’s not a good fit, you’re not stuck there the rest of your life. We all have choices we have to remember that. I talked to a friend and their son is just dreading his college, like in every way, shape, and form. It’s just not a fit for him. The weather, anything and I’m like, “Why doesn’t he transfer?” “He’d lose credits.” I’m like, “You need to look into that because not necessarily.” I did transfer from one school to the next at some point in my career and I did well by transferring. I love what you’ve shared. I know you have more to share. How can people connect with you and find out more? You bring such a fresh approach to this.
I’m happy to connect with people through my website. It’s VivEDConsulting.com. You can email me at Aviva@VivEDConsulting.com. I have my links to my social media on their Facebook.com/AvivaLegatt, Twitter.com/VivEDConsulting. My LinkedIn, you can look me up @Aviva. Like it if you want to connect with me as a parent to another professional.
[Tweet “They have to start with that high-level conversation and then start to fall in love with the school.”]
I’m going to recommend that everyone go on over and get familiar because there’s so much value here in what you offer. I did have a look around at your website and I highly recommend that you do that. Thank you so much. This has been fascinating and I do recommend that you make a connection. It’s Dr. Aviva Legatt and if you have kids that you know or know somebody who has kids share this because to me this was extremely valuable, and these things aren’t being spoken about. Thanks so much for joining me here. I appreciate it Aviva.
Thanks again, Terri. Thanks everyone.
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- VivED Consulting
- Forbes – Link to Aviva’s column
- LinkedIn – @Aviva
About Aviva Legatt
Dr. Aviva Hirschfeld Legatt is a faculty member in the Organizational Dynamics Program at University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches a course about effective global collaboration. As an independent consultant, Dr. Legatt lectures globally about international higher education challenges, and provides one-to-one advising for students seeking admission to U.S. colleges and universities (http://www.vivedconsulting.com). A critical part of her work is developing students’ cross-cultural fluency of both American and academic customs. At Penn, Dr. Legatt guides the organizational learning of executive teams through facilitated team-based reflections and 360-feedback. Also at Penn, Dr. Legatt worked as Senior Associate Director for Special Programs and Admissions, where she oversaw the Leadership in the Business World pre-college program and served on the undergraduate admissions committee.