The Search, Episode Five Transcript

The Search

Episode Six Transcript

 

Lee Coffin:
From Dartmouth college, this is Lee Coffin, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admission. Welcome to The Search.

Lee Coffin:
Today's episode turns the attention from the students and college counselors to our friends, the parents. And they literally are my friends, so I've had this moment in the last couple of years where the parent group caught up to me, in my biological march through time. And over the last several years, I've had more and more friends come through the admission process with their own kids. And so I reached out to three of them to join me on the podcast, to share some thoughts about the journey each of them took with their children over the last year, year and a half. And what's interesting about our three parent guests, the three parents have five seniors among them, two sets of fraternal twins. So the bingo of this particular cast is we have three parent voices with five different searches to reflect on.

Lee Coffin:
So let's say, hello to the three of them. Rich Dines is the dad of Lily and Isabel, and they attended public high school in Northern Virginia. So welcome to Rich.

Rich Diner:
Thank you,

Lee Coffin:
Elizabeth
Rynecki is the mom of Tyler, who attends a charter school in Oakland, California. Hello Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Rynecki:
Hi, nice to be here.

Lee Coffin:
And Jessica Viner is a former admission colleague of mine from way back at Connecticut College, and she's been an admission reader at Vanderbilt for many years and her twin daughters, Gabby and Rebecca also completed this journey from Nashville, Tennessee, where they are currently seniors at an independent school in Nashville. So hello, Jess.

Jessica Viner:
Hello Lee.

Lee Coffin:
Nice to see you all. And I'm interested as we start talking about this, just for the parents and the twins, what was it like to juggle two searches at once.

Jessica Viner:
Our girls are very different and they've been involved in very different extracurriculars their entire lives. So it was sort of like the first year and a half of their lives definitely felt like more than twice the work, but we had to give them each their own attention. I think for me, my biggest or helpful realization with twins was that at some point I recognized that they were each other's biggest influencers, that it was going to matter more what Gabby thought about Rebecca's choices than what my husband or I thought.

Lee Coffin:
That's interesting. Yeah. And your daughters both looked at liberal arts colleges as the search began and continued and ultimately chose Barnard and Colgate.

Jessica Viner:
Right.

Lee Coffin:
Right. Okay. Rich, tell us a little bit about Lily and Izzy's journey.

Rich Diner:
Yeah, so our girls from the outset, had set one rule really, and that was that they didn't want to go to the same school. Which certainly was a limiting factor because at certain times during their searches, they were actually looking at similar schools. But I would say early on, neither one of them were really very focused in their search. We at least had one thing to help us with Lily's search, and that was that she was interested in dance. So early on in the search, we were focusing her efforts on looking at schools that had a good dance program. But beyond that...

Lee Coffin:
Wide open.

Rich Diner:
... big school, little school, geographical location, there really were no easy characteristics that she was focused on. And certainly with Izzy, it was wide open even more so. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to go to a big school, small school, urban, rural, so everything was on the table. But we did encourage them early on to look at Virginia in-state public institutions, just because we wanted those to be options. We in fact told them early on that each of them needs needed to have at least one Virginia public school among the mix.

Lee Coffin:
Among the options, okay. So that's a lot of stuff to unpack when we come back and ultimately Lily is at William and Mary and Izzy is on her way to the University of Pittsburgh.

Rich Diner:
That's right.

Lee Coffin:
Okay, and then Elizabeth out on the West coast, tell us a little bit about Tyler's journey through the last year.

Elizabeth Rynecki:
So Tyler is a largely self-taught computer programmer, and he knew early on that that was really important to him. He wasn't so sure about geography. I grew up in California and I went to college in the East and my mother used to joke that I took a string to see how far I could get away from my home. My son was not so interested in going far away, although he did ultimately apply to two East Coast schools, one Midwest school, and then mostly West Coast schools, although a little bit in inland a bit. And we had decided early on that we would not visit schools until he was accepted because we were afraid that he would fall in love with the school and then not get in. And that was a strategy I used when I was in high school and it was a great strategy until COVID-19 hit and then we couldn't visit... we did visit one school, but it made it a lot more complicated in the end.

Lee Coffin:
He ultimately chose University of California at Santa Cruz.

Elizabeth Rynecki:
Correct.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. So interesting quintet to talk about here. So we've got three State Universities, two Liberal Arts Colleges, really different academic interests. And you all touched on this a bit, but let's go back to the beginning of their respective searches. And how did you, as parents, either on your own or with a guidance counselor college counselor, how did you start to set up expectations? We've heard other students on the podcast talk about the importance of having a heart to heart with mom or dad at the beginning. Did you all have that, sounds like Rich had that conversation around having an in-state option, but what advice would you share with your peers who have a junior in high school who are just getting started? What, if you can go back and do it again, what do you wish you had done at the beginning? Or maybe you did it at the beginning and it worked really well.

Elizabeth Rynecki:
I loved the idea, I forget, I think Lee, you said about a senior who was about to graduate said, "I wished that I had had these conversations upfront." And unfortunately, I think that that is a realization that you only have once you've gone through it. Because I think that the summer of my son's junior year, he was not prepared to have those conversations. And every time I pushed for them, he really struggled. So I bought a book, because that was how I did it, about colleges across the US that are really great and have write-ups and descriptions about what their strengths are and what their SAT scores are and all those sorts of things, and it was a struggle to get him to look at it. I wanted him to create a list rather than my saying, "These would be 10 great schools for you to look at." And ultimately I did have to give some suggestions to motivate him to look a bit.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. So you played the role of researcher, recommender, navigator a little bit more at the beginning to make this work, and sometimes the gentle push to get them going is helpful. Jessica and Rich, knowing Jessica, who's a planner, I'm guessing your kids started out with good instructions.

Jessica Viner:
Yes. We were eager to get them to explore a different part of the country and get out of the South for a little bit. And they were very open to that, both of them. And I was excited to plan some trips East and see some of these schools. So we sort of started with geography and spent a lot of time talking about size, we did see big and small, a really wide range. And then talking about... one of my girls was always very interested in the programs of the school. Does the school have, like yours Rich, a dance program that she could access as a non-major and languages, she's very much a language girl. The other, Rebecca is much more interested in culture and a campus culture. And so we had to look at places in that way, but we think our biggest driver initially was geography, location.

Lee Coffin:
So Gabby ended up at a women's college, was that a priority at the beginning or did that emerge later?

Jessica Viner:
That emerged later. So Barnard was the very first school that we went to see, because it was our test run. We happen to be in New York City, and so we went to see it is as, I think parents... it's a good way to just get their feet wet, just go see any school I think in their neighborhood, even if it's a local school in your town. And my daughters attend an all-girls high school, so they were not inclined necessarily to do the women's college route, but it really took hold of her. After that visit, everything started being compared to Barnard.

Lee Coffin:
So that's interesting. So that was her first visit and it set a really high bar that no other institution caught.

Jessica Viner:
Right. And it was a visit where her sister was not there. It was just the two of us. We didn't know it would go that way, but she's she really stick with it.

Lee Coffin:
Students tell me all the time that they know it when they see it and feel it. And you can't always guess where that will happen in the chronology of your exploration, but when a place speaks to someone, it's a really powerful moment. Rich is nodding, as I say that...

Rich Diner:
Well, yes. They were looking for a school that would click for them, but that didn't really happen. They did get to sample, to visit a lot of different types of schools. And I would say, at the end of all that, Isabel was all over the map, she really didn't know. She didn't know what she wanted until it came time to have that she had to make some decisions, where to apply. Whereas Lily, for most of her process was focused on William & Mary. But then I think she rebelled against this pressure that she felt that she should apply to William & Mary, and for about one or two weeks, she was sure she was going to apply to Occidental and not William & Mary, because she wanted to get as far away as possible, I guess. She came back to William & Mary and applied their early decisions. So you're going to go through changes.

Lee Coffin:
You're just describing something that a lot of parents tell me that, that if you're, I don't want to say lucky, because I think every search has its own personality and it plays out in really interesting ways, but the easier ones are the ones that are like Gabby is where she has an epiphany at the beginning and could measure everything against something that really resonated. But a lot of students go through what you've just described Rich, where it's a really open-ended shifting audition of different campuses and experiences. And you did it really, really well by exposing them to lots of different places and types. Elizabeth, how did Tyler end up wrapping his arms around the list you created for him? Did he finally embrace the challenge?

Elizabeth Rynecki:
He liked some of my suggestions and ideas and not others, and that was fine. We have always said a couple of things. One is that, you don't have to emphasize the name-brand schools, right? There are a lot of schools and a lot of them are great for lots of reasons. And we wanted him to not feel pressured that he had to go to one of those. We also said, it's four one year contracts. And if at the end of or the middle the first year, you're miserable, you can apply to transfer because you shouldn't feel locked in. And so he ultimately, I think, felt a little relieved about that and just tried to put together a list, but had a smattering of Liberal Arts schools, as well as State schools that had programs he was interested in.

Lee Coffin:
And so Elizabeth of the three of you, you did less of the visits, it sounds like upfront, and were banking on April of senior year as the go to campus experience. And so that's probably the closest parallel to where juniors are right now, where you can certainly drive to a nearby campus and look out the window of your car, walk around perhaps with the mask. But the campuses are not in session right now, except in a remote way. So how is that for you? What parallel from the decision making part of your search might help families at the beginning of theirs. There's virtual assessment of all the things Jessica and Rich said their kids had a chance to do last spring in summer.

Elizabeth Rynecki:
Well, I think they're different resources and they certainly offer different kinds of information, but I definitely would suggest junior parents use them and try to get their kids to use them. So the big one of course is the virtual tour, and of the campuses that we looked at, it looks like they're all using the same company to do it. So once you're comfortable with it, it's super easy to navigate around. The other thing we did was use Google Earth and Google Maps to actually physically see the campus. So Tyler was looking at one school in the East and the virtual tour was clearly in the spring or the fall. And it was really beautiful and my kid's very much a California shorts and t-shirts kid. And I said, "You should look at pictures in the winter." And he said, "Oh, there's a lot of snow there? And that suddenly wasn't quite as interesting to him.

Elizabeth Rynecki:
The other thing we did was burrow down into faculty lists. So who are the teachers? What are the classes that they teach? What is their research interests? Have they published books? Have they written papers in areas that they might invite students to collaborate on? And then I looked at, I'm a social media user, my kids aren't really, but I went onto the school's Instagram pages and looked at what their pictures were and what they were touting about themselves. And so we tried to use all the official resources and then sort of dig around backwards a little bit. If I knew somebody who had a kid there, I might email them and say, "What does your kid like about the school?" Because I knew my kid wouldn't do that. And that kind of information helped us to, to learn a little bit more about campuses that we had not been at.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. That's helpful. And Jessica, you were nodding as Elizabeth shared that.

Jessica Viner:
Yeah, the social media and the Instagrams have been really helpful to my girls, especially right now doing admitted... they haven't had the typical admitted student programs, but they are tightly connected with admitted student groups. And those groups have been influx a little bit as kids make decisions, but also particular groups that they were interested in. The Mock Trial Instagram at Colgate for example, was really helpful for Rebecca to sort of try and put herself, try and cast herself forward and see if she couldn't see herself there and with those people. And it also gave her a place to reach out, if a child is willing to do that, to email and say, "I'm interested and can you tell me more about it?"

Lee Coffin:
I witnessed in April kind of a digital renaissance, that might sound funny because everything's digital, but there was a moment in early April where the campuses really figured out how to tell our stories on platforms, we weren't using two weeks before. And I think we continue to build them out in ways that I find myself in lots of conversations at Dartmouth, with my colleagues in admissions saying, "Okay, we did this in April and it worked, it was fun. And how do we take what was a yield conversation and turn it into an introduction, so that if we can't travel right now, how do we reach out to students in Nashville and Virginia and Oakland and say, hello, introduce ourselves and get the conversation going?"

Lee Coffin:
So the virtual space is actually very purposeful. As you think back on the year, what speed bump did you hit that as a parent, you thought, "Oh, I wasn't expecting this to have interrupted, besides the pandemic, which is probably the ultimate speed bump at the end, but was there a part of the search where you're like, "Oh, I didn't anticipate this playing out in quite this way." Jess.

Jessica Viner:
Our speed bump definitely was testing.

Lee Coffin:
Testing.

Jessica Viner:
I would go about that differently if I got to do it again.

Lee Coffin:
How so?

Jessica Viner:
They took too many tests. They took the SAT and the ACT. They took them too many times. I think it pulled a lot of their energy in a way that I wished I could have given them, or they could have had a little more space to think about their stories and their essays then think about their testing. And in the end we just simply wouldn't have had them sit for as many administrations of the tests.

Lee Coffin:
Sounds like the testing might have been stressful as well as distracting where they, yeah.

Jessica Viner:
Yes. For all of us. And that may be a reflection on me, but you've mentioned procrastination earlier, and I think that there was so much family energy put toward the testing that they didn't start their essays until perhaps a little bit later than then would have been relaxing for them. I also don't think that one of them was as ready to write an essay until it all became real. It's time, we have to do this, I have to put some thoughts down on paper.

Lee Coffin:
So testing and essays were the two kind of challenges,

Jessica Viner:
The essays were fascinating exercise for them in that was, I think, everyone's favorite part, but the testing was the speed bump.

Lee Coffin:
How about Elizabeth and Rich? Was testing a similar challenge or was there other bumps in the road that as a parent guiding this search, you thought, "Okay, I would go in a different route next time."

Elizabeth Rynecki:
I think testing wasn't as big an issue, he took the SAT and some subject tests and he's a strong student and a strong tester. I mean, could he have studied more, sure, but ultimately I think like, had I gotten his scores, I would have been thrilled. We thought he did pretty well. I think the speed bump, it's interesting I'm realizing that I'm the only parent of a boy in this conversation, and I do think that gender probably plays some role in the topic of organizational skills. So my son's really good at getting his schoolwork done, so I stay out of it, but his organizational skills are severely lacking. And so we told him early on, "You need to set up a spreadsheet and you need to start figuring out what different deadlines are because different schools have different requirements."

Elizabeth Rynecki:
And so in fact, he missed the application deadline for a school that my husband thought would have been a really good fit for him, and that was kind of a bummer. And then he also, I would highly recommend to junior parents to tell their kids, to check their emails. My son applied to a school that has a multilayered admission process. So you submit your application and then if they want to meet you, they bring you to campus and do an extended interview visit group activities. And my son missed the response deadline to them. And actually it turned out to be a learning experience for him and there was panic for a couple of days and he ultimately did email them and say, "My bad, I missed this deadline. I'm really embarrassed. But I'd like you to know that if a spot opens up, I'm very interested in taking part." And so ultimately they didn't have room, but it was a really good learning experience and hopefully he'll be more organized the next time he needs to be.

Lee Coffin:
Elizabeth, that's a really, it seems like such a simple piece of advice, but as you say it, I'm smiling because we all send out so many emails to prospective students and our database can track how many times the emails are opened or not, and you'd be surprised by how often students were quite interested in the college, don't open their email, and you can see this long queue of unopened messages that's maddening. And we wondered, how do you, like in the old world of paper, the mail would come to your mailbox, so you might see it sitting on the kitchen counter and would open it or look at it and be more aware of what was going on in the search then I think a lot of contemporary parents might not appreciate what's going through the email and hitting the spam filter and... yes Jess.

Jessica Viner:
One piece of advice we had got from our college counselors was to set up a time to speak with the girls, to just touch base, because we were carrying some anxiety about the ambiguity of it all and were are they doing what they need to be doing, and they were too. And, I learned this the hard way, but instead of me coming up to them saying, have you checked your email and catching them at not the best time, we did start setting aside kind of a Sunday afternoon, check-in where they could expect that we were having this conversation and ask questions and we could ask questions. That wound up being really helpful guidance for us.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. That is good guidance. Stress keeps coming up in this conversation and I'm curious from the parents side of a search, what caused the anxiety for you as parents? I understand the student piece, but as a parent, how would you give voice to whatever anxiety you carried during the college search?

Jessica Viner:
I was talking to Rebecca about this last night. She said one of the best things they figured out was that they had to stay in their own lanes and not talk to their friends about their process. And where we lived, small Liberal Arts, New England colleges are not the norm. And so the application processes are much different. So she said once they figured that out that reduced their stress. It took me a little longer to figure out that I needed to do the same.

Lee Coffin:
And not talk to your friends about it. Yeah.

Jessica Viner:
Right. Because you can get caught up with everybody and staying in our own lanes really helped reduce that stress.

Lee Coffin:
Is it a worry about the competitive landscape that other people are applying to the same places or doing things better, differently? Is that part of this?

Jessica Viner:
Yes. It's so known. And it's the first time in your parenting life where none of the mail's coming to you, the emails aren't coming to you.

Rich Diner:
You don't have as much control as a parent in this whole process. I mean, you have quite a bit but not total and yeah, that is new.

Lee Coffin:
Elizabeth. Does that ring true for you as well?

Elizabeth Rynecki:
Definitely. I mean, you think you know your kids so well and know what decisions they should make and what mistakes they should avoid, and it's not really your choice anymore. And that's tough, our stress in our household, I think was more about just that my husband and I saw things a little differently. So Rich, my husband like you, went to a really big school and he went to UC Berkeley and I went to a small Liberal Arts College. And so I was kind of pushing the small Liberal Arts College and my husband was pushing the UCs. And so it was a difference of opinion about what a good fit was and how far away from home he should go and what programs they offered that would make him blissfully happy and well on his way to being gainfully employed when he's done. And so those differences were a little bit hard to navigate at times. I think ultimately all three of us are super happy and excited for Tyler, so I think it worked out.

Lee Coffin:
One of the factors that is often on the the non-negotiable list at the beginning of a search is the question of cost and affordability, and a couple of you have mentioned in-state options, which are always a more reasonable cost conversation than a private institution, but to what degree was that a challenging conversation have if you had it with your children? I mean, where does a parent have an opportunity to sit, down probably for the first time, with a child and say, "Okay, here's the reality of what we can afford or how far we're willing to stretch to make this happen?"

Rich Diner:
Yeah, we had those kinds of conversations. We kind of hinted at it early on and then got a little bit more detailed later on in the process. But with Lily, she applied early decision to an in-state public school. So, once that decision came through, she was all set and we didn't have any problem with the cost there. But with Isabel, it was an issue because ultimately she was accepted to a few private Liberal Arts Colleges and a couple public institutions, one in-state. So we did have those discussions around what she would ultimately need to consider in choosing a school, but we didn't immediately take any schools off the table because of cost. And in fact, the school she got into offered different amounts of financial aids so that ultimately the cost was within a range that we felt we could afford.

Lee Coffin:
Was that an awkward conversation to have with your daughters, or did they...

Rich Diner:
Little awkward.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah, a little awkward. Because it's probably the first time you had to talk about something like that.

Rich Diner:
Right. I mean, this is a big-ticket item that, while they wouldn't necessarily be footing the bill themselves, I think they realized that this was a family, a household commitment that we were making so that they bore a lot of responsibility for the financial aspect.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. I, myself as a financial aid student and I remember my dad having that conversation with me saying, "We're hoping you get a scholarship, but you're going to have to own some of this yourself." And to this day, think about my education, the loans I had to be able to go to college as kind of a mortgage on my future is the way I always thought about it, that we all would like to buy a really big house, sometimes you can't afford it. And but I always framed it for myself as I'm making this commitment to my future.

Lee Coffin:
But for many families, it's the first time this has ever come up as a topic. And my advice to families listening is, even in a light way, as Rich said, it's a good topic to put on the radar early, as opposed to at the finish line, when there's a more of an emotional impact when costs interrupts the heart. When someone has fallen in love with the campus and the finances don't work out for whatever reason, that's always heartbreaking to witness when a parent for the first time has to say, "We can't make this work." And we will come back to affordability in an upcoming episode where we'll offer some guidance around the net price calculators, and how to think about the ins and outs of financial aid as a factor.

Lee Coffin:
Thank you all for joining me today for a conversation about the search, from the perspective of parents. You're more than just tag-alongs on a campus tour, you have a vested interest in what happens, and you're certainly looking out for your child's wellbeing. And it's interesting as I reflect on my work as an admission officer, when I talk to students about what creates the most anxiety, they will often point back to their parents and say their expectations and their attempts to be helpful often create space where you trip over each other. And so, I'll end this episode with some tips I shared at a college program in Florida this past winter, where I reminded the parents of juniors, that at the tone starts with you, the way you shape your expectations for the college search, the way you allow the applicant, your child, to explore with a degree of independence is going to be a really important part of the way this search plays out in the most peaceful way it can inside your home.

Lee Coffin:
And one of the tips I gave that group of parents, that they seemed to appreciate is, let's turn the search into a play or a movie that your child is directing. And your child has the opportunity to cast you in a particular role that you both agree upon. And some of those roles might be using the letters in the word, parent. Planner, archivist, researcher, evangelists, or editor, if you want two E options, nag, as we mentioned on this podcast, therapist, or in words, an optimistic realist. A mentor, maybe you're the Yoda in the search, or are you just the driver? It's your job to take them from point A to point B. What I didn't suggest we cast a parent into is mommy dearest, social media influencer, mean girl or a gossipy neighbor, worrier, defense attorney, offensive lineman, bulldoze operator, and applicant. The applicant is your child.

Lee Coffin:
So if any of those roles make sense, jot them down, sit down with your child and say, "What role can I play in your search that's most helpful to you?" And let the person whose search this is say to you, "You can be most helpful in the following role." Tip for the day.

Lee Coffin:
Next episode, we will turn to a big topic. What counts? When I make my way through the world and people find out what I do for a living, what counts, is the question I get asked most often on airplanes at the dentist office at cocktail parties. And we will spend some time with one of my fellow deans and a college counselor walking you through the various elements of the application and how an admission officer assesses that piece of information in our respective environments. So until next time, this is Lee Coffin from Dartmouth college, see you soon on The Search.