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April 15, 2022

Raging Gracefully: College Admissions Help

Nina Collins is in conversation with Lisa Hefferman, co-founder of Grown and Flown.

Nina Collins is in conversation with Lisa Heffernan, co-founder of Grown and Flown, an amazing website devoted to helping women with the trials and tribulations of the Empty Nest, a big part of which is often the launch to higher education.

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This transcript has been auto-generated and lightly edited, please excuse any errors in grammar or spelling.

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This week we're in conversation with Lisa Heffernan, one of the co-founders of a really great site called Grown and Flown. Grown and Flown is a it started as a Facebook group, I believe I'm going to let Lisa tell us a little more about it when we originally at the Woolfers started as a Facebook group, what would Virginia Woolf do we were very aware of grown and flown as kind of the really big facebook Group for women, whose kids are leaving the nest and um I've been very impressed for a long time with what Lisa and her partner have done and their business has morphed into. As I understand it, more of a business around college admissions, I think we all struggle with these communities from how to monetize and how to you know what becomes our resonant or whatever and for Lisa it seems to have grown more into the college direction. So welcome Lisa, and I would love it if you could just tell our audience a little bit about grown and flown and your own story.

LH: The same reason, you started the Woolfer, we start these things because we're looking for them and they don't exist and when you look for something - and you think you want it, you figure other parents would want it. The thing that didn't exist was content around parenting. Teens and college students, so at the time that i started it, i had um, i think, two in college and one in high school or two in high school one in college and um. There was very little content around the very complex issues of parenting, kids as they get to the years where they're leaving home and while they're in whatever that first step is after they've left home um. So we started as a website actually um at the moment. We have 700 writers on our website. We have published thousands and thousands of pieces of content. Anybody writes, let me know because we pay all of our writers um and then we started a Facebook group because I saw a button on Facebook that said, do you want a group - and I thought sure I pushed the button um. I think we have about 230 000 parents in the in our Facebook group now um and that's the community where people discuss everything. You know your kids gotten a dui. Your kid is: come out, your kid is trans, your kid is lost your kid is depressed, or you want to celebrate because your kid's got a great prom dress. So we it's everything from the celebrations: a community that celebrates all the wonderful things that are happening to us as parents of teens and young adults, as well as the problems and challenges that we face. 

NC: Yeah and people can really go and get advice, which is so important because I think one of the challenges with having teenagers I've often found. I mean, there's a lot of shame around talking about the difficult stuff right. Your kid has to go to the wilderness. Your kid is, got caught shoplifting um and we need support, but we also have to respect our kid's privacy. So it's really kind of challenging. I think for people to talk about this stuff and you've created a forum where people can 

LH: It's really challenging so from the beginning, we post it anonymously for parents because some of the most difficult problems, as you say really violate the teen's privacy and that's sort of not okay, so Facebook luckily gave us the functionality so that now people can post anonymously themselves, which they do all the time, and you know in our own world how many people do we know. We know 70 people. We know 50 people. We know 200 people, I don't know how many people, but so many of the things that we're experiencing. We probably don't know anybody in our real life who's experienced them. But when you come into a community that spans the country you will find when your kid is caught, cheating and you think, okay, I'm the only person who's ever had a kid caught cheating you come into the group you posted anonymously. Hundreds of parents will share with you what their experience was, how their kid grew from it, how the kid learned from it, what the repercussions were and how they wish they had parented through this moment, which might help you parent through this moment. So much helps you parent through this moment makes you feel less alone and you learn so much. I mean we both we're so in the same space, so we we've seen firsthand how much it helps people. 

NC: So that's amazing, so you created this group to talk about these issues. How did you morph into the college space and how much would you say your business is defined by that space now? 

LH: So one of the biggest challenges that parents face is around the college issue and they face it around helping their Children with the whole process of finding a list and creating a list and applying to colleges, but obviously the biggest thing is paying for college. This is the second biggest expense families have after buying a home and how much you should pay. How much you should borrow whether you should borrow loans merit aid, every aspect of paying for college is highly complex, highly technical and to be truthful people were extreme. Exchanging a lot of misinformation in our group would come in and ask about college, and then other parents would, with the best intentions, tell them things that were either not true, um or more likely we're outdated because things change so quickly. You know you and I would have said well; of course, you have to take the s.a.t you're, not getting into college without the s.a.t. Most schools are test-optional now, so things change really really fast and parents were giving each other outdated information. So we started a second community with experts, so parents aren't giving each other the information the experts are giving parents the information. Once a week, we have a session a live session with an expert covering a particular topic. It can be paying for college. It can be creating a list, it can be visiting campuses. Um. 

NC: Is this a group on Facebook that people can join?

LH: Both on Facebook and it also exists on on a platform. So if you aren't on facebook, you don't want to go on Facebook, you don't have the time you can't go to the sessions when we hold them. Everything exists in parallel on a platform. You can watch everything we've ever done. We have about 70 live videos at the moment. You can also ask questions in the group and get answers from experts and we're really careful to make it clear to parents that we're looking for answers from the experts, because they do this every day. Many of our experts are actually former admissions officers. A couple of them have been current admissions officers, so they live this every single day and they can give - 

NC: Do people work for you full-time? 

LH:  No, I guess not no um. No, they don't um. I run the whole back end of everything um, but then I have a whole panel of experts that we rotate through. So we do one session a week. Um live um, but then parents can ask questions during the week as they as the questions arise. 

NC: That's amazing 

LH: to this point: there have been two ways to get admissions information. Well, there's three ways: one way is just to go on the internet and who knows what's true and what's not true and what's dated, and it's so overwhelming, there's so much information. It's overwhelming can't find it in one place and much of it is inaccurate. So that's a problem and it's hard to tell what's accurate. The other is your school counselor, which all students should work closely with, but many of the school counselors have as many as 500 kids that they're working with really hard to give kids personalized attention really hard to give your family financial information. The other end are private counselors, who are unbelievable, fantastic, highly trained and unaffordable for almost everybody and there's nothing that sits in between so- 

NC:  I hadn't really thought I mean it's true in my community in Brooklyn, where I raised my kids, a lot of people hired those really expensive private, counselors, um, they're, excellent yeah. No, i'm sure they're excellent and I didn't use them because I felt I felt kind of like it was so gross like offended by the whole concept I feel like. Okay, and in my case i had paid for my kids. We had paid for them to go to private school and they were all you know. I felt like okay, if they can't figure out how to get into college like there's something just wrong with the system and and my kids did okay, but a lot of people do pay those private counselors and we used the school counselor, but didn't think they were That great particularly so that's interesting, you found this niche that really is in between. 

LH: We're trying to go where most parents are, if your kids in private school you're, probably okay, because those counselors are more likely to have 30 or 40 or 50 kids they're unlikely To have 500 kids, private schools have the resources to hire more counselors and they have smaller classes. So what we're trying to do is sit where most people sit, whereas they can afford a small amount of money that the um the program is 20, something dollars a month. We'Ve just changed the price and I'd have to look again um, but if you bought, if you go for six months, it's maybe like 25 a month kind of time, that's an amount of money that many many many many many many families can afford. 

NC: That seems very reasonable for real, accurate, up-to-date advice from an expert

LH: You will have four live sessions in that month. You will also have um access to all of our previous live sessions. You know and they're recorded and labeled, and you know what the topics are when you want to watch the one on merit or you want to watch the one on filling out the fafsa. You know they're all sitting there for you, um and most parents can't begin to afford that other, that you know private coaching yeah. 

NC: No that's really great and you can go on and ask questions so, and typically people stay with you. I would imagine for like six months, do they sign up around this time of year? 

LH: Yes, they stay assigned around this time of year and they stay with us, usually until they know where their kids are going. So for some people that could just be um next spring um. Sometimes we have parents of sophomores who come in early, particularly they have complex financial situations. They know they need to do a lot of planning up front yeah and we were able to give them the advice and end some yeah, because it's super complicated the financial aid situation, yeah, there's the fafsa there's a css profile. There's 's merit aid that people can appeal. There are ways if your family needs aid and many many families do they're in that situation, where they make too much to get need-based aid, but they cannot afford the full price of admission and housing and board. So a lot of families find themselves in a situation where they really really need need-based aid, and that depends where you apply how much you're going to get, and you can determine a lot of that ahead of time. So your child can create a list which will very much weigh towards the schools that are likely to be most generous with your family. When that's a need that your family has and that's where a lot of middle-income families find themselves. That's why parents sometimes need to start this early, even if the student doesn't need to start till 11th grade parents need to think about some of these strategizing a little bit. 

NC: It's an amazing service that you offer. How many people do you serve a year? 

LH: How many people um over the last year we had about a thousand families um and we can have more um. We just restarted it. We had this a couple years ago and Facebook actually shut it down because it was, we were part of a beta that they did and they shut the beta down, so we restarted we've just been going for about a year now, so we have an amazing library of content and people stay with us about a year. Sometimes they pop in um in the summer before senior year, because they realize things are getting a little bit they're trying to get their kid to do their essays they're trying to get their kid to start the application - it's not happening, so they join us, then, For about six months, 

NC: I mean what are some of the trends you're seeing with college applications since COVIID?

LH: Like the biggest issue, is the test-optional issue and for many students this is an absolute godsend, because act and sat tests just are not everybody's bailiwick. For some students, they're they're an easy hurdle that they have to get through for many students, they're really really challenging. So the fact that almost all I shouldn't say many - a very very large percentage of schools are now test-optional. The goalposts are moving constantly every week you hear about schools that are going back to tests or permanently test-optional. It's all a moving target at the moment, but a very large proportion of colleges are now test-optional and that is benefiting a lot of students who found those tests really really a hurdle for them. 

NC: Yeah the tests suck, but that seems kind of overwhelming to me, like how do people now apply to many many more schools like. 

LH: Yes, so this is that that's the plus side of that the negative side of it is it's allowing students to apply to schools Or encouraging students to apply to schools where they might not have in the past, because their act or sat score didn't really rule them out right, so kids are applying to more schools which are making the schools look more competitive. 

NC: Do you feel, like I feel like this Is just untenable, this whole college situation in America like? What do you think is the future? Are you getting a sense? I mean there just seemed to be a little bit of a trend, people recognizing more or saying more. How important is college like do you think? It'S going to change in our lifetime? 

LH: I think that is changing a little bit. I think we're recognizing that there are career paths for which this is not a necessary um that you need to have. One of my sons works in tech and he said that companies he's worked for have hired many kids out of these tech boot camps and the kids are completely qualified to call them. Kids, that you know I mean that they're 20 somethings totally qualified have the skills that they need for the job, and these are wonderful. You know high-paying jobs in tech which great futures and flexibility, and really they didn't need a college degree. What they needed was the tech training, so I  think we're recognizing more and more that there's a lot of skills, whether they be traditional skills that we thought of as like mechanic and plumbing, and things like that or newer skills that are 21st-century skills like Coding that people can find um without the college degree, so there's a little bit of trend away from that. I think the biggest trend, though, and I have to give frank bruni a lot of credit for having kicked this off, is he wrote a book called it's uh, it's not where you go. Who will determine? I can't remember the name of it yeah, i'm writing it. I interviewed him actually about it. It's not who you're go where you go is who you'll be basically his thesis, which is born out by a lot of research is it's what you do in college that matters um as long as you go to you know, an accredited good university of which this country has hundreds and hundreds of them all over the country. You will be able to get where you're going um, but it's what you do when you get there, so he really pushed that thesis and i think that's one of the biggest changes in people's thinking. 

NC: That's great. I mean that seems really promising. I read an article in the wall street journal maybe last year about this trend with young men, particularly not wanting to go to college and not thinking it's as necessary. I guess the numbers are really tilting more toward women 

LH: Right. Yes, very much. That actually started in the 80s has been going on for 40 years, but it's only become more acute, yeah yeah. 

NC: There'S a question from the audience. I'd love to hear your take about what you learned from the most recent year, this year's current seniors and how this should inform what we do differently going forward? 

LH: What I've learned um! I think what we've learned is um. You have to create a list that has lots of colleges that your student is very very likely to get into yeah we're hearing lots of stories of kids who are very disappointed, um we, I did a live session last night in uh in our membership and um. One of the counselors was talking about a student who had applied to 25 schools and has already been um rejected by 23.. That doesn't mean that it was hard to get into college. That means she applied to the wrong schools 

NC: Right. Absolutely well that I guess to me that ties into this not requiring the test, because if you don't require the test, then does every kid think she can apply to brown and Harvard like? 

LH: Not every kid should go to brown or harvard and those schools are actually very, very small and they can't take very many students. So I think if we've learned one thing, we've learned two things I think strongly this year. One is the most important part of the process is creating a list that has a bunch of schools that your kid loves and will more than likely get into. They won't get into all of them. But if there are four or five schools on that list, where your kid thinks you know what I would be happy there that's great, and that is the most important part of the list. The important part of the list isn't to find those really difficult to get into schools pie in the sky that your kid would love to go to. Those are easy to find and the schools that they're 100% gonna get into, but they don't want to go to those are easy to find too. So if we learn one thing this year, it's finding the schools that they can get excited about and they can get into that's where their choice is going to be, and you really want your kids to have a choice if you, if you can yeah - 

NC: And it seems Like from what I see anecdotally, among my friends, the problem is often the parents like it's the parents, expectations like, I know - of a child who didn't get in anywhere this year and her father was convinced that she'd be able to get into you, know Georgetown Or whatever, and so then yeah it's, it's really tricky. 

LH: You have to it's about setting expectations and realistic expectations, which is about us, a us remembering it's their life and not ours. 

NC: Exactly and you can't say that to yourself too many times and my children are in their 20s and I still have to say that to myself pretty regularly, so I think we all have to remember to say it's their life, not ours. 

LH: The other thing is, things have changed and they've changed a lot and schools that people weren't rushing to get into when we were college-age students people are rushing to get into. 

NC: No, I know like northeastern is a good example of that, like when we were applying to college. Even when my oldest daughter, who's 28 was applying, northeastern was kind of a safety, and now northeastern is really hard to get into 

LH: Exactly. Some of that is because a school like northeastern has an amazing job pipeline yeah yeah. We need to let go of whatever we thought about from the 90s or whatever, whatever fictions we or the worst is actually when our parents weigh in that's. Actually the worst bring your insights from the 1960s to our job search. 

NC: That's really helpful, so we need to let go of our preconceptions and information, that's outdated and things that we're totally wrong about um. So, like i went to university of california, which is an amazing place to go to college. The whole uc system is amazing, but now you have to apply to many of the campuses by major and some of the majors are closed already and there's just no use going to a college where the major that you want to go to is already closed before You get in what does that mean that the major is closed, you're applying to majors the majors are full, sometimes they're, full, 

NC: Oh wow. I didn't even know that was a thing,

LH: And sometimes you can't get the classes you want, because the schools are big and they're crowded, and so then you can't graduate in four years, if you're doing a major like an engineering major which is sequential - and you have to do - you know A before bb before c um, you can be stuck so you have to dig deeper. We have to let go of what we thought. We knew from past decades and realize it's their job. It's their sorry college search not to it will be their job search afterwards. 

NC: Um yeah, I know I think, that's a good takeaway actually to remind us all that we we think we know stuff that’s just wrong at this point, that's outdated! That a lot has changed in this landscape um. What do you think is the right number of schools to apply to a member of audience?

LH: I never speak as an expert, so I'm not gonna um, we're seeing kids apply to 10 12 schools and most counselors seem happy with that number that 10 12 number, but if that 10 12 number is 10 schools that have admissions rates of less than 10, you have not applied to 10 12 schools. So that's why the number of schools doesn't matter yeah. That'S realistic is that group of schools that your kid likes and they can get into that is actually the whole if there's a handful of those you're, probably in good shape. But if you don't have those you don't have it doesn't matter, you could just 40 schools exactly and you're not doing the right thing. 

NC: Another member of the audience is asking about this kind of out of control numbers. She says my alma mater received more than 50 000 applications this year compared to 41 000 last year and 33 the year before. Is there any talk among college admission departments about how to calm this madness? That'S kind of what i wonder. I really do wonder like where is this going? It seems unsustainable, the huge expense of college that, like it seems like we should have a matching system more like this new york state schools have where you, you know, choose 10 schools and you rank them, and then they just get matched.

LH: I haven't heard of any suggestions of what anyone's going to do about this. It's important to remember, and there was an article I think it was the wall street journal last week about this. There are fewer kids applying to college. The numbers are smaller. We have to remember this. There were more kids born in the 90s than the naughts and - and there were many many more kids born in 1992 than 2005. Many more so we're actually seeing fewer kids we're just seeing them apply to a lot more schools, but they can still only go to one school, so we're a little bit like blinded by these numbers, because the numbers themselves actually got it. 

NC: Oh that's interesting, interesting, okay and um. Where do you see this business going like? What'S your personal ambition for this business? 

LH: You know I just want to make this available to as many people as possible um. I want to we we've just been getting more and more as we've grown, we've gotten more and more incredible experts, because people are more attracted now to working with us um, and i want to do many more specialized sessions so um next month. I have a session on kids with learning differences. Um we've got an expert now in theater applications because that's a whole, it's its own world zone, world, conservatory music. It’s like two applications at once when you're trying to go to college as an athlete. So as we grow, I'm able to get more and more specialized content. So I think that'll be more and more useful to parents because if you have a kid applying as an artist a musician, an athlete, they need even more help because there's more complexity to their application, yeah well, the whole also. D1. D3. There'S a lot of complexity. 

NC: That's interesting that makes me wonder about your book. I know you guys published a book which was called remind me. Um, do you have a college book in the works? It seems like you. 

LH: We don't have a college book in the works.  We do have a great resource, actually, can i add it to you? We have. We have one of our experts. I hope this is helpful to you. We had one of your experts um. One of our experts create a timeline that goes from ninth grade to twelfth grade. 

NC: So as I listen to you talk about how everything has changed and thinking about all these specific areas like change, lives colleges that change lives I could really see you doing a book, but you might be right that the better path in today's world is just to keep having an excellent website with updated content all the time. But it seems like what you're doing is super important yeah. 

LH: I think it's hard because it changes so fast. We spend a lot of time on the paying for college peace because that's the paramount so complicated and important. 

NC: So thank you very much Lisa. Thank you to our participants. It's lovely to see you and um. I look forward to seeing you and you know - thank you. 

LH: It's been such fun. We've got a great audience. 

NC: Yeah all right. Take care. Lisa thanks. Everyone, bye-bye

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