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Transcript: Ross Mankuta-The Reality of 30K+ Valedictorians, Class Presidents, Football Team Captains

Season 3, Episode 42 Ross Mankuta 12.18.19

Destination YOUniversity:
Ross Mankuta-The Reality of 30K+ Valedictorians, Class Presidents, Football Team Captains


Interview with Ross Mankuta

Intro: There is no guarantee for success. But there are ways to get closer to it when you do the right things. Who you surround yourself with is just as important as what you do. Finding the right people, the right classes, the right activities and taking the right tests are all decisions that shape your future. Find out more today on Destination YOUniversity with Dr. Cynthia Colon. Dr. Colon and her guests will give you the tips you need, whether you're a student, parent, or educator. Now, here is your host, Dr. Cynthia Colon.

Dr. Colon: When was the last time you were uncomfortable? I mean really uncomfortable, think about it. Wherever you're listening right now, just say it out loud to yourself. Many adults will say; public speaking, small talk, admitting you were wrong or admitting you don't know something or disagreeing with your boss. Your team might say; being without my phone, being somewhere that I don't know anyone, speaking up in class or talking to a teacher.

But my absolute favorite answer is when anyone says that they're most uncomfortable when trying something new. Translation; I don't like doing things that I'm not already good at. I mean, who does? Here's the crazy thing. Once you've experienced the feeling of 'failure', you sort of never want to experience feeling again. So we become hesitant and less likely to try new things. Children are fearless, willing to try nearly everything. And even when they fall off the monkey bars or the jungle gym, they get right back up and try it again.

Today, our guest offers his tips, tales, and lessons on being present, being open-minded and being willing to explore and be uncomfortable. And if you as the parent can find a way to teach your child to do all of that, well, my friends, you are raising a courageous doer and a college-bound teen. Ross Mankuta is the Director of College Counseling, Alumni Relations and Strategic Partnerships at the Milken School in Los Angeles, California.

Originally from Long Island, New York, Ross spent his early career on the Hill working in the House of Representatives and in the White House. As an experienced college admission counselor, Ross worked at George Washington University and at the University of Southern California. At Milken, Ross spends his days guiding students and families on navigating the college admission process. I cannot wait for you to hear his tips for every level of High School and even Middle School.

Welcome to Destination YOUniversity. This is Episode 42: Be present. Be open. Be Uncomfortable. Okay, so before we dive into my interview, I have to announce this week's Double Scoop Star student of the week. It isn't a student at all, actually, it's an entire school. Yep, you heard that correctly, an entire school. St. Paul High School located in Santa Fe Springs is the Double Scoop Star School of the week.

Every December the school organizes its annual march for hunger. Not just any March, I mean parents, alumni and over 70% of the student body, commit to walking 26 miles to raise and support the Catholic Worker Hospitality Kitchen. This is an organization that serves the homeless of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. The money raised by the students in this annual event is the largest annual donation that the kitchen receives.

Participants start at 6 am with the morning mass and rally. And this marks the start of their journey. And they arrive in busloads at Salazar Park at 8 am and journey through LA all the way to Santa Monica Beach and then they returned to school for a well-deserved barbecue on campus. This has been an event for over 40 years. And when it first began, really the students said well, why don't we just do a 5k like everybody and the gentleman who started it; his name is Dan said basically, you're not like everybody else. We're going to do 26 miles and I actually think it's a 26.2 I think it's a full marathon.

But I want to say congratulations to being present to being open and being willing to be uncomfortable. And 26 miles I know those feet are very uncomfortable. Bravo to the principal; Kate Aceves, congratulations. You've got a special something coming your way. Congratulations on being the double scoop star School of the week.

Well, hello, listeners. I'm Cynthia Colon, author of the book, Tips, Tales and Truth for Teens, where we explore extraordinary people who lived ordinary childhoods and found a pathway to college. If you are a student, parent of a student, teach students or our student of life this show is for you. Well, hello Ross and welcome to Destination YOUniversity. How are you doing today?

Ross Mankuta: I'm great, Cynthia. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be with you.

Dr. Colon: Oh, I'm super excited to you. It's been a bit since I've been to Milken. But I remember the space is beautiful. Your location is beautiful and everyone there is incredibly friendly and so welcoming. So tell our listeners just a little bit about your school like where you are today.

Ross: Sure. So for those out there who don't know Milken, Milken Community Schools is a Jewish day school; grades seven through 12 located in Belair. We're actually right on Mulholland with a beautiful scenic view of the 405 on one side and our students come from both the city and the valley. And we teach a dual curriculum that includes secular education and Jewish studies classes as well.

Dr. Colon: That's amazing. Now, just before we went live, I gave our listeners a little introduction about you and who you are. And I'm excited about this theme of being present, being open and being uncomfortable. And I shared with our listeners that you've come from both sides of the desk, as we say, the shipping and receiving end. Right and so I'm curious before we sort of dive into our interview here, but, you know, do you have a favorite side of the desk? Or is that maybe unfair to ask because you're on one side now but --?

Ross: Yeah, I think I should be honest with the listeners and say this is my 10th year doing college counseling and compared to four years doing admission. I think in terms of favorite, I am definitely really happy where I am. There are certain aspects of the college admission lifestyle that I miss. But I love the counseling piece, the relationships you're able to build with students and families have really changed my life. I never would have imagined what those relationships could be like, prior to my time, being a counselor. But I'm thrilled I made the transition 10 years ago and really happy that I wound up at Milken.

Dr. Colon: Thank you for saying that because as you know, I interview people from both sides of the desk. And when we talk to folk, in the mission world, at the institutions of the colleges, they really, you know, talk about meeting the families along the way and they talk about obviously, what they see as important as pieces of getting admitted. But you get to go that journey with them and see them through and you see all the anxiety and all the build-up and all of the worries and the woes from, you know, both the teenagers and the parents. But and I know you shared a little bit about Milken, but you just said you're really happy that you landed at Milken. What makes Milken so special in terms of those relationships?

Ross: You know the name of the school is Milken Community Schools and I've done some hiring for Milken in the last couple of years for faculty. And when I meet with faculty and they have about our community, I think that's the keyword. We really are a community. A lot of our students have known each other for their entire lives from summer camp and from local sports leagues and things like that. So a lot of our kids have grown up together.

And I think while our student body is pluralistically Jewish, our faculty and staff are widespread and diverse in their religions and their backgrounds. But everybody at Milken really comes together to form a really special community that we have. And I have colleagues in my own office who are not Jewish and have really come to embrace the community that we've built. This past weekend, we had an all-school Shaba tone which is a weekend getaway to a camp in Simi Valley where every single student was together with all faculty and staff from Friday until Sunday.

And it's a slight example of the way that our community has been built and the way we instill community within our different grades. It's just the way our students come together is really inspiring.

Dr. Colon: I love that, and I think that community is so important these days when so many of us are disconnected because we're connected to our phones if that makes any sense, right. So I think that families come together, and schools are a great way to create community, so I love that theme of community. So thank you for sharing a bit more about Milken.

Ross: Sure.

Dr. Colon: So okay. So we have listeners across the country and a little bit across the globe as well. And I think more than anything they like to hear from our guests, you know, your own journey to college, what was your pathway? So I know that you're, you know, originally from New York. And we should share with our listeners, you know, we met a few years ago, got connected through mutual friends and we hit it off maybe it's the Trojan connection. It always has something to do with the USC. And then also, we're both sports fans as well. So I remember a lot about what you shared with me in our travels. But share with our listeners your own journey to college and who believed in you when you were in high school.

Ross: Sure. So oftentimes, I tell my high school kids that I can't relate to their up and down journey because I had a pretty simple journey when you think about the big picture. But it all starts with your second question; the supporters. I come from a very tight-knit family. I only have two aunts, two uncles, three cousins, and one older brother, and my family's very tight-knit, great support from my parents. Having an older brother, as I'm sure a lot of people can relate out there listening with older siblings, it's always a little bit easier being a younger child.

Your parents have been able to go through that College journey once before. So my brother is three years older and had a pretty healthy journey himself probably applied if I'm remembering to maybe eight to 10 schools and wound up at his dream school with his girlfriend. And now they're married well over 10 years and have two beautiful kids. So my process was a little bit informed from that. I did a couple of college tours with my brother when he was looking.

And I also had the great luxury as a high school student, knowing exactly what I wanted to do for college and what I thought I wanted to do for my career. As a high school kid who was really involved in politics and knew that's where I wanted my future to go. It made my college application journey pretty simple. I'll never forget sitting down with my guidance counselor when I was in high school. And he asked me to go over my list which may have had two or three schools on it.

He asked me about expanding it to places like McGill in Canada and a couple of other schools in the States. And I looked at him and I said the whole goal for me was to be in DC. So I only applied to two institutions, one early decision and one early action. And when I got into the early decision institution, I withdrew my other application. I had already been admitted to the early action school. So I let them know I wasn't coming and it's December when we're recording this by this time when I was a high school senior I was signed, sealed, and delivered.

I also again, with the help of my parents and visiting school, I had a good sense going into the application process that I would be successful. My grades and my test scores aligned with what the school needed. So it wasn't that big of stress and anxiety-riddled experience for me. And I had the great luxury of by December of my senior year knowing where I was headed the next fall.

Dr. Colon: Okay, I want to pick up a couple of things that you said. So you said, you know, you had an older brother and so you were taking these tours earlier as a youngster. And you knew clearly what you wanted; you had a clear vision of what you wanted to do. And then you said your grades aligned with what they needed. So was it chicken or the egg? Like Did you know like, once you said okay, I want to be in DC and these are the schools when applied to so you were goal focused on getting those grades or, you know, when did that alignment happen for you personally in your mindset?

Ross: Yeah, it's a great question. Part of me thinks that it happened naturally. When I was growing up in New York and you visited DC and you looked at the colleges there, there were really three colleges right in the heart of the city that were serious contenders for students who wanted to travel down there. One; I had visited and knew was not for me, the vibe that I was getting from the student body wasn't as strong a connection.

And then there were two left and one of them, ironically enough is very elite, a very difficult school to get into. And I remember very late in my application process, talking to my mom about, you know, maybe I'll throw in an application to that institution. And her response was, I knew I had a good thing in the school I had applied to early decision, I knew I would be competitive, and I knew I would be a really strong academic student once I matriculated there.

And my mom's comment about the more rigorous and elite institution with a lower admit rate and more selectivity was if you were lucky enough to get in there, you'd first be playing catch up. My grades and my testing wouldn't have aligned with most of the kids who are getting in. So and you know, Gladwell has written about this in some of his books; do you want to play catch up with your peers the entire time you're in college or do you want to potentially go somewhere where you set the curve or you're really strong?

So I kind of think it just worked out that when I evaluated my options in DC, the school that was most attractive to me for myriad reasons, was also the school that I happened to be a strong academic applicant for. And then again, applying early decision, which, you know, I talked to my kids about all the time doesn't completely tip the scale but certainly enhanced my application standing as well.

Dr. Colon: Excellent. Now listeners if that's not a golden nugget, if you didn't catch that, what Ross just said was that his mom; moms are so genius.

Ross: My mom would be thrilled to get credit for this.

Dr. Colon: Yes, right. Ross's mom gave him the advice of like do you want to be playing catch up, basically, do you want to go somewhere or set the curve? So that is a really golden nugget because so many families say would have done what you said; should I throw my hat in the ring just because and your mom said well, if you were lucky enough to get that spot, right and if you were, you've been maybe seduced by that and maybe gone right. And she was sort of saying to you, in mom language that maybe it wasn't the best --

Ross: I think being realistic is really important. I know we'll probably get to more of that topic. And then I also think being true to yourself and knowing what it is you're looking for. When I really thought about the schools in DC, thank God I wound up where I did, I had an incredible experience. But in the grand scheme of things that was really the one place that meant the most to me and I had the strongest connection with. So just to go to the 'better school' would have meant giving up a lot of what I knew I wanted in my undergraduate experience.

Dr. Colon: So good. The other thing I wanted just to pick up on and I don't know, I always do this, and I think I should more often. You said early action and early decision. Can you briefly explain for our listeners who don't know what the difference is?

Ross: Sure, okay. So early action and early decision are two application options that seniors in high school have. Both generally have November deadlines. And when students apply to schools; early action and early decision, they are committing to a couple of things. They have to have their applications prepared. They have to be ready to go with whatever essays are required of the institutions. And they also have to have their testing completed by the time of their application.

So many students listening who might be testing deeper into the senior year would not be appropriate early action or early decision applicants because they don't have their SATs or ACTs finished. The other thing I mentioned, where I work most of my students apply early action or early decision. So all of their writing and sometimes that could mean not only their main personal statement, but 10 to 15 additional supplemental essays also have to be done by early November.

Then the main difference is all schools do not offer early decision. Early decision is generally offered at private institutions. So here in California, the UCs and the Cal States do not have early decision as an example. Many Ivy’s do not have early decision; Harvard, Princeton, and Yale being three that don't. Stanford do not. USC a private school here in LA does not.

If a student chooses to apply somewhere early decision and they get admitted, and they generally find out about their admission in December. They immediately enroll in that institution and withdraw their applications to the institutions that they've also applied to. So early decision is a binding commitment between the student, the applicant, and the school that they're applying to. So because of that, a student can only apply to one school early decision because if they get admitted they must attend.

The rules that my office has about early decision, the student and usually the family must visit before they apply. How can you possibly know you want to go somewhere more than any other school in the world without being on campus? And there's also a major, major financial piece to an early decision commitment. When you get admitted somewhere early decision you are bound to go regardless of the financial aid that you get back from that institution. And that is a major financial commitment that most families in America cannot make.

You could still receive merit and need-based aid as an early decision admit but it's not guaranteed, and your admission is set in stone. So if you need to consider different financial aid packages and final price tags early decision is not for you. Early action; same application deadlines but you could apply to as many early action schools as you'd like because you are not bound to go to any of them. So you could apply to five early action schools, get admitted to three or four of them and go to a school you find out your decision from months later.

But if you're a student who wants to have those decisions in hand by New Year's, if you're able to get the writing done, if you're able to get your testing in order and get everything submitted, applying in either of those fashions does enhance your application, certainly, early decision. Because you are telling the college on yours if you admit me, they have no competition if you apply early decision.

Dr. Colon: Great. Thank you so much for sharing. I mean, I do, and I think in bits and pieces but that was really great for you to share the way that you share with your families at Milken.

Ross: Sure.

Dr. Colon: By the way, I love that you say my kids because I say the same thing, my kids.

Ross: Yeah, I have 30 a year.

Dr. Colon: Yeah.

Ross: I am the father of many.

Dr. Colon: Okay, so I think it's important for us to close the loop for our listeners in terms of revealing where you went to school in just a second. But can you, once you knew you want to go to see DC and what schools you would be applying to, how did you round out your resume? What are your PQ's? Share with listeners what, you know, what you were involved in high school and getting prepared to apply in college.

Dr. Colon: So I'll start with I was an athlete, I played volleyball and baseball during high school and that was something I loved. I was never excellent either. I was a good player on the team and was a good contributor, but I was never going to go to college to play either. And I got really involved in politics at a pretty early age. I worked on a senate campaign first in New York and then when that candidate lost their Senate election, I had a connection to the House of Representatives member in my district.

So I worked in the district office for the congressman who represented my hometown. And then the other things I was involved in during high school, I was really involved in student government to elected positions pretty much every year during high school. I was on a superintendent's committee. I did a mock trial which I loved. I loved getting that trial every year and working with my classmates on dissecting it and figuring out who is going to be witnesses and attorneys and things like that.

Undoubtedly, I'm leaving out a couple of things that I did. I had a law office internship at one point. I spent my summers doing political stuff. I did a presidential classroom one summer which I do not think is around anymore. And the coolest thing I did in high school was during the senior year I was part of the US Senate youth programs. It's a one-week program for seniors. Two kids from every state in the country are selected to participate in their senior year. So I was nominated by my school, I had to go to the state capitol to interview. And I did that program in my senior year.

So again, I knew early on middle school, early on in high school that I want to pursue the political arena. And I just did things during high school to and again, I wouldn't necessarily say I did them intentionally. Because I think about the work I'm doing with my kids now and we'll get to this but oftentimes the question is, what should I do this summer? Nothing that I did was something that my parents or I or my counselor at my public school on Long Island told me I needed, or I should be doing to gain admission to a college down the road. They were the things I just really, really enjoyed doing and I wouldn't have wanted to be spending my time doing anything else. I also had part-time jobs in retail throughout high school just to make spending money.

Dr. Colon: Well, I just feel like you said a lot of great stuff to share with parents who are guiding their teens. But, you know, this theme of being present, being open, being uncomfortable and you said this political campaign that you worked on that they didn't win the campaign. But, you know, it still was a learning experience, it opened another door and then you were courageous enough to be uncomfortable and say hey, can I do this for you, you know, through --

Ross: And to being present, I mean, kids should be finding those things that they really enjoy. I work with boys. And my boys, oftentimes, what's the thing you like doing the most and the answer might be fantasy sports. Great, that counts just because it's not robotics or it's not, you know, the JSA doesn't mean fantasy sports isn't something real. And maybe finding an outlet and doing something deeper in analytics might be something a student might really like.

So I think it's knowing yourself and not taking for granted the things you know, you enjoy, and you know, you're good at. The quick point I'll make about the politics. I worked a political campaign for a member of one party actually. And when he lost, he was replaced in the house by a member of the other party. And that's the person I went and worked for. So I was so willing to be uncomfortable working for both parties, wanting to learn as much as I could about both sides of the government and the different points of view and perspectives were something that I thought could only benefit me down the road.

Dr. Colon: Okay, so this really leads us to the next question which is the show was called Destination YOUniversity because I believe that's the destination you're trying to find you; your passion, your love and the rest of it should just fall into place if you can do that. So you've kind of answered this but you know, what advice would you give your younger self? Or maybe speak a little bit more to your point about being comfortable with being uncomfortable?

Ross: Yeah, I think people, hopefully, students wherever they are, have the resources either in their schools or in their personal life to pursue things that appeal to them whether that's drawing and painting or musical theatre or sports or something in medicine or what have you. But I think it's really important for students to explore.

At Milken, we work with our ninth and 10th graders and we make sure they're aware of all the different opportunities at Milken and in the greater LA community that they can go take part in. Whether it's the Milken investment club or a political organization on campus or art classes in our community or service opportunities, Milken has a service requirement.

So our students are very, very deeply involved in service. But there are so many ways to do that whether it's with veterans or with the homeless or elderly, any number of different avenues you can take. So I would say to high school students who don't yet know what they like, go out and Explore and try to do a bunch of different things. Ninth and 10th graders when we tell our students to do that go out and explore and really figure out what you like.

And then when 11th and 12th grade rolls around when things get a lot busier and more difficult, it'd be great if they could home in on two or three things. Whether it might be one sport or the mock trial team or an internship they have at, you know, investment company, homing in on a couple of things that they really like. I also think youth; 13, 14, 15, 16-year old’s have to be okay with the idea that they don't know what they like, and they don't know what they want to study.

I'm always shocked when a student will ask me the question when we're going over an application; can I apply undecided, is that allowed or is that okay, is the school going to look at me in a bad way? Students are going to hear on the college tours they go on that students switch their majors upwards of three or four times when they're in college.

Most colleges are wildly okay with students being undecided. There's a couple of schools I know that require students to apply to a specific major because they want kids on a specific trajectory when they get there. But being clueless and being into three or four or five different things and not knowing what you want to pinpoint is also totally acceptable.

Dr. Colon: I love this. I love this. The listeners write this down. That's the golden nugget. There actually, you gave three. The first one was ninth and 10th grade --

Well, the three that I wrote down. Ninth and 10th grade explore as much as possible. We say that theme comes up many, many times with many, many guests, explore, explore as much as possible, take risks. And then 11th, 12th grade you're homing in on what you like hopefully. But it's also okay to not know what you like, not know what you want to do and undeclared,

Ross: If High School didn't provide you enough opportunities or you had too many opportunities and you couldn't hone in then utilize college as the time to explore. I mean, most colleges out there have general education requirements, you're going to have to take classes in wildly different things. Go do it.

Dr. Colon: Yeah, love that. That's what I would, that's I did anyway. Love that good stuff. Now, as we said you've been on the shipping and the receiving end of this college admission industry. And I'm just curious to know, the book is Tips, Tales and Truth. Is there a tale of someone that you remember, a student in your career or at Milken, in your time at Milken that has stood out and can you share with our listeners, what makes them stand out?

Ross: So I've been dwelling on this. You know, this is my 10th year at Milken and I've had a lot of students. So there are some students I'm absolutely in love with and still really, really close to this day. One just stood out as I was saying that and then there's one kid from my college experience that stands out. So from the high school experience in my second graduating class, I had a young man who was a 'C/B' student in regular classes, might have gotten into an honors class in the senior year. I don't think they ever touched the AP realm.

The student was an athlete, he probably played one sport. But what he was known for in high school was all the work he did in the local community when it came to the fire department. This was a young man who wants to be a firefighter. That was his goal and he became a ride-along EMT during high school. He was, had an incredible honor. There's actually a picture of him behind me in my office. He was on the front cover of the Jewish journal which is a Southern California magazine in full fire gear. And he was on their Mensch list, he won Mensch of the year.

Mensch in Yiddish is a good upstanding citizen, a young man. This is a great kid, beloved by the community, worked hard in school wasn't blowing anybody away with grades or with his academics per se but just was a good kid. And when it came time to apply to college, he was the second oldest in his family; second of four. When it came time to apply to college, he was applying for schools that admitted 40%, 50%, 60% of their applicants. His SAT scores were low.
I'll never forget him getting a letter from one institution saying thank you for your application, let us know if you're taking the SAT again. Pretty much saying what you have now is not going to be good enough. And he got deferred from another out of state public institution. And in the midst of getting deferred, he got named; Mensch of the year and was put on the cover of this magazine. And I was really close with admissions folks at the school that he got deferred at that he was interested in.

And I literally took a magazine, put it in an envelope and I mailed it to the admissions team. And I said this is who you just deferred. This kid needs to get in and he got in. He went. He spent either a semester or a year during undergrad interning with the FBI in Washington, DC, actually, the Department of Homeland Security, not the FBI. And he's since graduated college probably three or four years ago. He is now working in real estate here in LA and it's just mature into a great young man who, you know, 10 years ago when he was in sixth, seventh, eighth grade nobody really probably could have said where he might wind up.

But he had a passion. And even though he hasn't seen his passion to fruition, he's not working as a firefighter. He's just blossomed over time. And really mature through the experiences he's had. So that's one example I have from my work here. I'm not sure if you want another one from the college side.

Dr. Colon: Yeah, that's a beautiful example. Yes, shared the next one because --

Ross: Another one that just comes to mind and I'm not going to remember as many details. I recruited in New York and Connecticut when I worked at USC and I had a boy who became known in my admissions office as 'train boy'. This kid again, I don't remember public or private, but he was applying to college in 2009, 2010. And USC had just opened a new school called PPD; Policy Planning and Development. And one of the focuses within the school had to do with not just real estate but city planning and things like that.
And this is a kid that I met on my travels in Connecticut and he, you know, I talked about the firefighter, I talked about my own passion for politics. This kid, don't ask me how I don't remember, had an incredible passion as a high school student for trains and for mass transit. And when he applied as a freshman to USC and I reviewed his application for PPD for the school at USC, part of his application was an entire mass transit plan for an urban center.

Dr. Colon: No!

Ross: And I don't remember if it was his hometown or if it was Los Angeles. But I had grids and maps and designs of what this plan would look like. And I mean, the program was new, so they needed students and he was beyond a perfect fit for what they were looking for. I'm looking at some photos on my wall and I'm 99% sure if I looked at the back of them, he took them. He was just a really interesting kid who, you know, when you worked in the admissions world you're reading applications with your colleagues for three, four months at a clip.

He became known on my team as 'train boy', he was just this kid who had this incredible passion. He was such a fit for the program that he was applying to. You notice I didn't say a single thing about his grades, I have no idea if he had 'B's or 'A's, what his test scores were. And I tell my students all the time if they are uniquely my students at Milken if they are uniquely qualified and prepared for a program or an institution they're applying to, their grades may not matter as much.

Don't get me wrong at some schools, you still have to have certain GPA and certain test scores. But if you're an architect or you're an artist or you're a musician or an actress, those talents at certain institutions may be a far bigger deal than grades on a transcript and two or three times you took the SAT or the ACT.

Dr. Colon: So both excellent examples and it's so clear to me why they would stand out to you and still years later, be really great examples. And somehow, it's hard because you mentioned earlier, and I say this sometimes. People ask me and I'm sure they asked you, what is the formula, what is the right thing? What is the checklist? How do I get into you know, you just said USC and that's a highly coveted spot to get as well as many other schools in the country that is selected like that. So how can you answer that question? How can we convince teenagers or parents of teenagers that it's fine to just, you said he was known as the 'train boy', right, the maps boy, you know that what you do and what you're good at is good enough? Yeah.

Ross: I think well, part of it is just that. The other thing we have to always constantly remind our parents and our families, and our students is the plethora of options they have. Our community is so caught up on the most selective. You know, we always start our work with families and remind them how many institutions are out there in the country. And that's not even including Canada and Europe and so on, not only that there are 3000 or 4000 options for them out there in America.

A former colleague of mine who we have to do presentations on campus sometimes is also fond of asking the trivia question, what do families think the average admit rate is at all the colleges and universities in the country? And generally, the answer, the guesses are 25 or eight or 50 or 40. And my colleague who works at USC reminds them it's 75%. The vast majority of colleges out there take the vast majority of their applicants.

So for so many of our students, they are looking at schools that don't require the 1550 and the 34 and the 4.3. They'll take a normal kid who gives back to their community, shows a couple of things that they're interested in and takes classes appropriate to their level of ability. Don't get me wrong, there is a group of 50 to 100 colleges and universities that expect far more from their students. And if and when I come into contact with those students, you know, there are so many ways to talk through those relationships and those dynamics.

I had a meeting at lunch today with one of my students who will have a list comprising these schools and I have no doubt he and his family think he is doing all the things he needs to do right now to get there. But when I really start sitting down with them, the conversation will have to take place he's not done anything wrong. And if he eventually gets a 'no' at one of these institutions, a lot of these things students are hearing 'no' for the first time in their lives when they get their admissions decisions. And those results and those decisions are not a commentary on what they've been doing.

There are only so many spots for so many really, really qualified kids. We share the anecdote, another kind of quiz we give our families as we asked them if they have any idea how many high schools exist in the country. And again, most have no idea, but the number is somewhere around 30,000; private and public high schools. And I remind families all the time which means that there are 30,000 valedictorians in this country.

Dr. Colon: Wow, yeah.

Ross: And if you want to think about the top 10% that means there are 300,000 students in the country that are in the top 10% of their high school senior class. And the other thing I keep saying in the country, we're only talking about applicants from the United States, we're ignoring the world of college applicants. So I think when families start appreciating the volume, not just of applicants, maybe in my school or in the greater LA community or in California, forget about that when it comes to the UCS. But when you're thinking about the much, much broader world out there, some appreciation of reality must seep in.

And we have to let our students be students. The last thing I want is a student looking back and book smart is a great movie if people want to watch a movie to kind of reflect on how students utilize their high school experience. I don't want students looking back when they graduate regretting giving up weekends with their friends, giving up enjoying a family vacation because they're too busy reading an extra book over the summer to get ahead in their AP literature class. You know, students are allowed to be kids.

We talked about summer plans with our kids all the time and what they're going to do over the summer. I know the boy today and talked about that. And I made sure during the conversation like what point where it's fun, like yes, you might love that internship and you know you're going to prep for the ACT but where do you take a couple days or a week or a month and just go to the beach or hanging out with friends or catch up on reading that you've been meaning to do? You know, re-engaging with your family after a long school year. These kids have to remember that there's a lot more to life than just getting ready for the college application process.

Dr. Colon: Absolutely, I love that. It is a bit daunting but that is a dose of reality. Thank you for sharing that truth about just how many high schools there are and what that means they're just not enough. I feel like don't know if I heard this or read this that, you know, Harvard and many of the like H, Y, P and S and the like, you know could trash every application that they've just admitted and starts again and admit another class and probably --

Ross: Several times over.

Dr. Colon: Yeah. And that's the reality, that's the truth. So a golden nugget there that still stick with me, what you said is that you've done nothing wrong. And this is not a measure of, you know, this is not a reflection of who you are, you know, who you become but it just, there's just not the space, it's just not.

Ross: Right. And a lot of colleges will come out and say, you know, their admit rate was 12% or 20%. They could have easily admitted 60 or 70% of their applicants who could have absolutely got the campus, done the work, done it well and succeeded on their campus and within their community.

Dr. Colon: And to that point, let's also, I have to say, you know, I know this is hard to hear, I'm going to give you some reality. But I also want to praise you for being courageous because you're putting these on your list. You're going to go through with applying to them and it takes courage to do so because as you said many times, this is going to be the first time they receive a .no'. And that is a lot for a teenager.

Ross: Yeah. And it's not only a lot for the teenagers, it's a lot for the parents who see too often their success as parents wrapped up in where their children get admitted. And these are parents and many of the students from where I work have the means and the resources. These are parents who've given their students everything they could possibly have given them in their entire upbringing, all the tutors, all the lessons, all the coaching and it doesn't result in their ideal cumulation. And they often see it as a reflection on their own parenting and oftentimes it's that understanding for them also, that it's not a reflection on their parenting just as it's not a reflection on their students' abilities to succeed and thrive and college.

Dr. Colon: Right. So this idea of being present, being open and being uncomfortable is not only a theme for our teams that we work with our kids that we work with but also a note to the families.

Ross: Families, their families, yes.

Dr. Colon: Yeah, I always remember the chart you know, in like fourth grade or third grade I can't remember, you get stars every time you learn your multiplication. You know; ones, twos, threes, in parenting there is no star chart. And I think that the bumper sticker, that sweatshirt, for them feels like this is my reward for having raised my child was 18 years.

Ross: Right.

Dr. Colon: It's hard. Absolutely. So we've been talking about this theme being present, being open and being uncomfortable and I think that's your tip for being all the years in the business. But do you have you know, feel like we've had a really good conversation to now and in just your thoughts right now, is there another tip, anything else that you would say, you would want to share with those that are listening that might have students that are in elementary or middle school. What's the best tip that you can offer?

Ross: I think for students that young and this is a tip for parents, it sounds like.

Dr. Colon: Yeah.

Ross: I think you have to let your kids and let them come into their own. Let them dictate what they like. So much implicit bias about, you know, what we think kids should be doing whether they're; boys, girls, left brain, right brain, athletes, artists, let your kids show you what they enjoy and what they're good at and what they want to pursue. Signing your kid up for seven sports teams because you think they're an athlete and you think that's what they enjoy doing, let them dictate that.

I would also encourage parents not to over-schedule your children. Let them have time to grow up, to get dirty in the, you know, park to hang out with their friends, to fail. I think that's a huge part. We talked about being uncomfortable. I think failing is critically important. You know, we talked about college acceptances and denials being the first-time kids are told no. Well, it's often because we don't allow our students to not succeed as they're growing up.

A student not making a sports team is acceptable, everybody need not make the team. A student not getting a ribbon for an art project or not being accepted into a choir because they might not just be good enough to make that choir. I think allowing life to happen to your kid will only make them stronger. Case in point, the admission scandal; parents taking away the opportunity for the process to play itself out and for the students to earn what they will or will not earn on their own.

So I think that's probably the biggest tip I would have for younger parents. Then a tip for older parents and the tip we probably give our parents more than any other is having an open mind. There is not one solution and one institution that is the right place for their son or daughter to matriculate to. And so many parents come at the process with such a limited scope of the true realities of what options are out there. And if they just have an open mind and are willing to accept a recommendation about a school that they've not heard of.

You talked about the sweatshirt already. Don't buy the sweatshirt when you go on the college campus. It's not about the bumper sticker you get to put on your car. It's about finding the venue and the place that your kid is going to be the most successful and will thrive at the most and that many times can and will come from a place you don't know much about that hopefully, you can embrace wherever that destination becomes.

Dr. Colon: Love it and you even use the word destination.

Ross: I did, I made sure I got that in just now.

Dr. Colon: Got it, destination. All right, so this conversation has reminded me why I think we just fell in love, like sort of, you know --

Ross: Got a lot in common.

Dr. Colon: Like, I could talk to you forever on all kinds of topics for sure. So I think it's only fair that we answer this fun question that you, thank you for agreeing to answer this. You know, we do talk as counselors as guidance as coaches to we say fail and take risk and be uncomfortable. So, let's both answer the question. When was the last time you did something that was you know, made you really uncomfortable?

Ross: You gave me this ahead of time and I should have done more prep thinking.

Dr. Colon: You want me to start?

Ross: Yes, sure.

Dr. Colon: Okay. So I thought about this as I was just prepping for our talk here. And I thought you know what, I'm terrified of the ocean. I love the ocean and it brings me peace and I like to be in it. But I remember when I was young sort of the wave taking me, whisking me away and I was so far I felt like I was never gonna make it back to land. And I was, you know, I got help eventually. So I love to be in the ocean, and I tried surfing and it terrified me to death.

My cousin took me. He gave me this, you know, wet suit and got all the gear, gave me a board and I just like I thought I can't do this. But I tried and I got beat up really badly, but I was completely out of my element and completely uncomfortable. But I had to trust that he was there to help me and guide me and would make sure that I would survive. So that's probably the biggest thing and then just little things of being somewhere holiday party where I'm like, you know, I only know one person there, that's, of course, uncomfortable.

Ross: Right. You know, I think in hearing you talk and thinking about the relationship I have with my kids and talking about uncomfortability, I think all of us are pretty risk averse and I'm no different. The two things that immediately come to mind. I've been at Milken 10 years and this year; I've taken on considerably more responsibility. And I'm doing things on campus that are putting me in different meetings and interacting with different colleagues and different players in the secondary education world.

And there are elements of my new role that I'm definitely uncomfortable in. But as I look to grow more in my career and learn more about myself and learn more about Milken and the educational landscape, I have to suck it up and become more comfortable in these uncomfortable potential surroundings. I'm going to a conference in Philadelphia in February. You know, you've kind of alluded to this, a conference I've never been to before. I won't really probably know anybody there, learning a lot of new information I've never considered, that will really stretch me, my comfortability and learning something new.

And then I think to the second point you made very similar. I mean, I have a really fantastic group of friends who I spend most of my time with here in LA. I'm blessed that most of my friends here in LA are actually friends from undergraduate college in DC. So my best friends in LA are friends I've known in many cases for 15 years plus. But when there are new people thrown in, I just went to a holiday party this past weekend, when there are new people thrown in that's always different. You know, you're reintroducing yourself, you're building new relationships. So I think all of us have a little bit of apprehension around that also.

Dr. Colon: Love it. I love it. Oh my gosh, thank you so much. You're such, I think you just speak so eloquently to this process and I think it will resonate with a lot of our listeners. And so and I know that you're well connected in the field and so I just you know, as you heard and as maybe you've listened to other episodes, are there colleagues that you admire in this business; mentors that you have, that you think that our listeners should also hear from as well?

Ross: Yeah. So I think I've always said my mentor in the field is, well, was my boss at USC; his name is Mark Rasik. He now does what I do for a living. He's a college counselor at Poly over in Pasadena. Every time he's reminded that I think he's a mentor, he's always shocked and usually sends me a text and say I can't believe I'm a mentor of yours, but he is. I mean, when I moved out to LA, I knew nobody. It was my second admissions job working at USC and he just allowed me to do my job.

He knew, he was in charge of all assistant directors of admission, but I was one of the only ones with previous admissions experience. And he allowed me to do my job and I really always valued that. And he also was just great with people, so I always have looked up to him. The other name that comes to mind as kind of a mentor is Jane Cohen-Alexander. She was my mentor at GW. And again, I see her as a mentor because she was one of my first ever bosses. And again, really taught me the ropes and let me grow and let me fail and make mistakes and pick myself up.

Other people who I think would be really great for your listeners, Rahsaan Burrows, he's a GW admissions guy and now he works for Collegewise. As a counselor back east, he's based in DC. He just got back to the states, he lived abroad for a number of years. Just a great personality, really connects well with students. Another, the last one I'll give you is the Director of Admission at Brandeis; her name is Sara Brookshire. She's been at Brandeis five to eight years, their director for a number of years.

She's on the NACAC executive board. And she is just a star in our industry, has risen to a pretty high level at a pretty young age. She's a member of the young director's group that presents at NACAC every year. She is just a special personality, a great presenter. I'm going to throw in one more; her and Jeff Schiffman. He's the Director of Admission at Tulane. They both kind of co-chair that young director group until I left the industry.

Well since I left the industry, Jeff has become the greatest recruiter in the country. I used to joke with him that he and I were tied for the role when I was still -- But now with my presence gone, Jeff has assumed the mantle of the greatest recruiter for any college admissions officer. And you could see what Tulane has done when it comes to their numbers.

Dr. Colon: Absolutely.

Ross: But he and Sarah are just great young minds, great with people and connect to parents and students and they'd be great assets for your listeners.

Dr. Colon: This is so great. This is great because your episode is going to be the last of 2019. And then we go on break for those two weeks, holiday break. And then I've got Bowden college and UNLV and Princeton, it's gonna be a great 2020 season. But what a way, let's start -- What treat you had to end 2019 with Ross and you can see why I reached out to him. He is to me; he is a rock star and just so great to listen to because he's so thoughtful and mindful of --

And just to circle back, at the end of the day this is what I'll take away with me is this process is a community. It takes a village to get through this journey and you need a support system. You need to be present; you need to be open; you need to be uncomfortable. And the only way to do that is with your community of supporters.

Ross: You got it. And I wish everybody really good luck with their process. And it is a marathon, it's not a sprint and let the process play out. I really think that people wind up where they should be and that could be after transferring. There are many different ways to get where you need to be. But I think it all works out in the end.

Dr. Colon: Well, that is all I have for you today, my friends. Thank you for joining me. If this episode has in any way fueled your confidence or help build your dreams, please share this episode with three people in the next 30 minutes. You can join the conversation on our Facebook group; Destination YOUniversity. It's open to all parents, no matter the grade level. And if you've found me, you are a parent, a mentor, or an advocate for college-bound teens, come on over and join the conversation, get the insider scoop.

And if you haven't noticed, we have officially kicked off our season for hosting guests on our show. Coming in the new year as I mentioned, admission guests from Bowden College, UNLV, Princeton University and founders of the scholarship system and project giving kids and so many more are lined up. If you would like to be a guest on the show, nominate someone as a guest on the show or would you like to be a sponsor of the show, please visit my website; and get in touch with me today.

And as we mentioned, this is the end of 2019. Thank you so much for allowing me into your home, on your walk, in your exercise or wherever you listen to this Destination YOUniversity Podcast. It is my honor to be with you and be your number one fan as you journey through the college admission process. From my family to your; happiest of holidays and here is to a joyful new year. I can't wait to see you same time, the same place and until then have a happy and sunny day. Bye for now.

Outro: Thank you so much for listening to this week to Destination YOUniversity. Be sure to join Dr. Cynthia Colon again next Wednesday at 12-noon Pacific Time, 3 pm Eastern Time on The Voice America Variety Channels and get one step closer to your success.