Mike Giffin, founder of Ensphere College Planning Services, shares the 5 steps to successfully guide your family through the college planning process. He and Emily also talk through the common pitfalls of college planning and how to avoid them.
- “When you said misfits, that’s my nametag. Misfit.” – Mike Giffin
- “College is absolutely worth it if you can build a strategy that starts primarily with what training do you want your student to have in college? It’s not just going to college and getting a degree, you’ve got to at least establish a career path or career clusters.” – Mike Giffin
- “You can pass all the tests, but not be good at or enjoy the career. And I see a lot of people go into careers that they think they love and are passionate about, but ended up actually hating it, becoming bitter about it, because it was a bad match for how they naturally operate.” – Emily Melious
- “I will say to parents, I can’t guarantee the students are going to do back handsprings on the way to work Monday morning, but let’s find them something that makes sense so that they won’t start hating Monday on Sunday.” – Mike Giffin
- “He started out hammering nails and building decks. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with having a mechanical engineering degree and doing that. So get them at 15, trying some of these things. Quit making it a mental exercise.” – Mike Giffin
- “I would so much rather try out with no risk, or low risk, what I am investing in for my future, in a summer of my freshman year and not get paid, than earn minimum wage and not be investing in my future or having more confidence and clarity in that.” – Emily Melious
- “Give them a chance to learn. Learning is fun. It really is. And it helps us make those decisions later on. Do those internships, do those jobs, particularly in the summer because you know it’s only for three months at the most, so you can get out from under it.” – Mike Giffin
- 1:50 – Is college worth it?
- 4:07 – Does the college matter?
- 6:19 – Student debt
- 12:36 – Is college for everyone?
- 20:19 – 5 Strategies to prepare for college
- 22:09 – Get in touch with Mike
- 23:14 – Help your kids find their strengths
[00:00:00] Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.
[00:00:17] Emily Melious: Welcome back everybody. I’m really glad you’re here for another episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mike and his team for, gosh, I think it’s been 10 or more years now. So Mike is the creator and owner of Ensphere College Planning Services.
[00:00:37] He’s been providing A to Z advisory services in the college prep business for 14 years. They’ve worked with over 600 families and 1500 students. And their main office is right here, close to me in Pittsburgh. And like I said, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with all of the students who come through their program and help them make a clear and confident decision about their career path and therefore college major choice. So, Mike, it’s awesome to have you on the podcast. Thanks for coming on.
[00:01:10] Mike Giffin: Well, thank you. When you said misfits, that’s my nametag. Misfit.
[00:01:15] Emily Melious: Well, and honestly, we need to have a whole other conversation about that because Mike is a proud misfit and, you have absolutely gone your own way in everything that you do. And I admire you about that and you’ve encouraged others to find their own path, whether it’s the, you know, quote unquote accepted or not.
[00:01:35] So we do need to have another conversation about that, but today we’re going to focus on something that I think is on the top of minds of a lot of listeners and families right now, which is, higher education and college planning. And I’m just going to jump right to it, Mike, and ask you a question that I hear a lot of people asking these days, which is, is college worth it?
[00:02:01]Mike Giffin: College is, is absolutely worth it if you can build a strategy that starts primarily with what training do you want your student to have in college? It’s not just going to college and getting a degree, you’ve got to at least establish a career path or career clusters. As an example, if they’re good at math, everybody says, be an engineer, but I think there are 75 or 80 different disciplines in the engineering field and it could be in the research and it could be in bio and math and it could be medicine and it could be so many other things. And just because you score well on a test, doesn’t mean you’d really know what you want to do with your life, because most students don’t know the difference between, any kind of physical therapy, whether it’s occupational therapy or, or do I want to be a PA or do I want to be a nurse practitioner, or they just, their hard drive doesn’t have enough information for them to make the choice.
[00:03:08] Emily Melious: You’re speaking my language because my work with students, I personally have worked with, well over a thousand at this point. And, the conventional advice or wisdom around career choice is what you said. It’s based off of skills and academics primarily. Then they also say, do what you love.
[00:03:32] And the problem with those things is to your point, you can pass all the tests, but not be good at or enjoy the career. And I see a lot of people go into careers that they think they love and are passionate about, but ended up, actually hating it, becoming bitter about it, because it was a bad match for how they naturally operate.
[00:03:53]Mike Giffin: Yes. That’s why we’ve turned this into, again, a strategy where you start off, it’s like building blocks. You have to start off with a career path. Like building a house, you got to do the right foundation.
[00:04:06] Emily Melious: Does the college matter?
[00:04:11] Mike Giffin: It matters somewhat to some people. We have kids that like to get into a master’s in physical ed that may not get into Pitt right away, but there’s schools that offer sister programs and then they come back here for two more years. There’s so many things that your high school guidance counselor is not going to tell you because they’re looking at, you know, 300 or 400 students, they can’t get into it in depth at all, or very little. They’ll come up with the, around here, the Pitt/Penn States, we deal with a lot of people that don’t live here. And I have to find out and, and want to know what’s the Pitt/Penn State kind of school in that area that they would default to, and why does that make sense? And what do you need to get in there? I have people that say, well, I’d like my son to go to MIT, and he scored 1100 on his SAT, which means there’s no chance under this earth that he’s going to ever go that to those tier one schools or even to the Ivy schools, which I’m not so sure would be that great a choice anyways.
[00:05:19]Moving forward, when you might have, an RIT or another school, that’ll teach them more about engineering and will find them a job. I will say to parents, I can’t guarantee the students are going to do back handsprings on the way to work Monday morning, but let’s find them something that makes sense so that they won’t start hating Monday on Sunday.
[00:05:41]Emily Melious: Absolutely. Yeah, and again, that’s where you and I strongly align and why I appreciate your program so much, because that is where you start. You start with the student and helping everyone rally around their unique capabilities and pointing them in the right direction first. And then, layering on the other parts, like you talked about, you know, building this in the right order, because you can go to the right school, you can get all the right grades, but if you’re majoring in the wrong thing that sets you on the wrong path, was that really successful?
[00:06:13] And unfortunately, that’s what I see so many students doing. And maybe even the greater tragedy is how much money they spent, or I should say debt they got into to do that. So, you know, what do you think about the issue we have with student debt in this country right now?
[00:06:34] Mike Giffin: A lot of the student debt that’s being talked about nationally is actually parental debt that parents co-signed for loans. They don’t, well, they think it’s really a parent’s job to co-sign for a loan to help their student. But if their student comes into an economy that’s not hiring, the bank or Sallie Mae or wherever the money was borrowed, it’s not going to go after the student cause he doesn’t have a job or she doesn’t have a job. So the parents are responsible, and that’s part of the fact that these academic and financial is so intertwined that people try to see if they can save a couple thousand dollars on tuition and spend, $20,000 on somebody who goes an extra year, or $40,000 on the student who goes a year and a half, that never enters their mind. As they say, they’re tripping over dollars to save dimes. That’s why it has to be a plan. It has to be laid out. It has to be in writing. We’ve got to pull as many of the feelings out of there, and look at the practicality of what it means to co-sign a loan. What it means, for a student to take out a Stafford loan, which I like. And then most of the people we talk to have no idea how colleges price their service. We just had a lot of changes recently, as a matter of fact, in the last two days, from the Department of Education and Congress moving forward, and the public’s confused. You have one person waving free college over here, and you have another person over here saying, well, we’ve changed them and we think you’ll like these changes, but if you understand what they’re actually talking about, and how to calculate what’s called an expected family contribution, which everybody figured out what that meant, so they’re going to change that in 2022 so it sounds different. But as an example, we used to have, if you have two children in school and your expected family contribution would be $40,000 a year. That means that the schools expected you and your family to come up with, whoever’s paying, whoever’s borrowing, $40,000 a year per student.
[00:08:44] But if two are in at the same time, they would cut that pretty much in half. So it will be 20-20. Well, they changed that, now it’s 40-40. So each child, you’re expected to pay $40,000 for. So if you have two in paying $40,000 a year, prior to anything else going on and I’m not talking about scholarships, they’re a separate animal altogether. It’s way more than everybody thinks they could possibly afford. So the inside tracks and what you need to learn are, even in the last 18 months, they’ve changed so much that if you thought you knew what you were doing, you probably don’t.
[00:09:26] Emily Melious: Wow. And I like how you bring up this idea of how much more you spend in going extra semesters or maybe extra years. I just had a conversation with someone yesterday where the son didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do, going into a fairly expensive college, they’re all expensive. So he switched majors about halfway through which added an extra year, and you know, all the expense that comes with it.
[00:09:54] I know several colleges that are just advising families, just count on it being five years, as you and I know that’s, that’s a great business marketing tactic. It’s good for them. They’re expensive for families. I personally graduated in three and a half years, because I worked very hard, I took many credits per semester. I don’t, I don’t think anything ridiculous. It wasn’t an unhealthy level. I was just focused and studious and I took courses through the local community college over the summer. And even some throughout the year. Courses that really weren’t directly related to what I saw myself doing in my life, but were more Gen Eds and things.
[00:10:33]And I was able to save a whole semester . But I see these kids going so long and, worse is they graduate and still don’t really know what they want to do with their lives. But yet I’ll have families say to me, well, college is the time to explore, colleges the time to, you know, ask these questions and figure yourself out.
[00:11:01] And I would say that you should actually be starting to help your child discover their super powers, you know, how they naturally operate. The situations in which they thrive. Well, frankly, as young as possible, I mean, we can assess kids as young as three, but elementary and middle school are great times to encourage them on those things that they do well. I mean, even my five-year-old can articulate, I’m a great organizer, I build things. And that’s because we really reinforce that in him, and help them do that exploration. You know, you talked about before, get those experiences. There’s really, in my mind, no reason why they can’t have those kinds of experiences, even when they’re in middle school. Start shadowing friends, you know, it doesn’t have to be an internship, but just getting exposure to things that are out there and they can try on these ideas or careers for size, with very low risk.
[00:11:56] And then when they get to high school, you know, now, that student knows themself. That student has a sense for their direction. They’re confident about that. They know the kinds of roles in which they’ll thrive or at least general career paths. So now we can get really serious about the college planning part.
[00:12:14]Mike Giffin: Yes. It also gives the consultant advisor team that you’re using, a little more time to get to know the student. Don’t think that they’re going to pick all this up just because they’re going to high school. Each child’s different, each child’s unique. That’s why we pride ourselves on customization and thinking outside the box.
[00:12:34] Emily Melious: On that note, what do you think about, is college for everybody? I know in the work that I do in uncovering people’s M.O.’s of all ages, so how they naturally operate, and juxtaposing that against the school system and how students are expected to learn and expected to behave in school.
[00:12:56] We know that only 20% of kids are wired to basically do well in school. So that means the majority of students, by a little or a lot, operate very differently from their environment for the first, you know, 20 some years of their life. And there’s some really serious fallout from that. And we’ve addressed that on the podcast, in their mental health, in their confidence, in their performance.
[00:13:21] And many of those students get to this big decision and, and look at the possibility of tremendous debt for college and say, maybe college isn’t for me. And honestly, many of them are the students that are wired, either entrepreneurially , and or, very hands-on. So they’re the tactile students, again, incredibly talented and gifted, but for them another four years of sitting in a chair and learning from a book is just prolonged torture.
[00:13:51]I have some thoughts on the advice that I share with those students, but I’m curious from your perspective, is college for everybody?
[00:13:59] Mike Giffin: No, it truly isn’t. But what you have to think about when you’re having the discussions with, either our people or, or at home with your students, is where are the parents coming from on that subject? Is it, these kids got to go to college? And the students saying that, I think I’d rather have my own business. It goes back to, let’s take that 15 year old, who might want to just hammer nails for a summer and get him a job building decks, get him to understand that, you know, the guy that actually owns this company has a beautiful home in Florida and he’s only 50 years old, and they do beautiful work, and he’s always busy and he’s always in a great mood.
[00:14:42] I want to be like him. Well, he started out hammering nails and building decks. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with having a mechanical engineering degree and doing that. So get them at 15, trying some of these things. Quit making it a mental exercise.
[00:15:00] If you want to be a landscaper, go carry some rocks. See how much you like that. See if you’re really pleased with, wow, look what we did, or man, I’m not doing that, that’s all the way out. But that’s how you learn what you might want to do as an adult. So if we take that away from them, we’re not helping them.
[00:15:16] Emily Melious: I’m glad you bring that up because I remember from when I was a college student, that what was preached to us and came also out of the career centers where that, you’re not qualified to do an internship until you’re at least a junior.
[00:15:33] And so most students just said, oh okay. And, you know, their freshmen or sophomore years, they either, didn’t get a summer job, or they did waitressing at the pizza shop. And I think that’s not right. I’m frustrated that that’s what we tell our students. Now, you might not get a paying internship. But to your point, I would so much rather try out with no risk, or low risk, what I am investing in for my future, in a summer of my freshman year and not get paid, than earn minimum wage and not be investing in my future or having more confidence and clarity in that. And honestly, if you start off after your freshman year finding opportunities, actively looking for those experiences, like you said, they tend to lead to bigger and better ones.
[00:16:22] So by the time you are a junior or senior, you probably might be working for your future employer. I’ve seen that translate for students, again, even ones who took unpaid opportunities, it’s translated into much higher salary offers and much better job offers because, you know, they’re coming in with not one summer of experience, but really four summers or four years, even.
[00:16:46] So I am all about internships, but I don’t know if you hear that. I don’t know if that’s still a thing, but I remember it was, yo don’t even bother until you’re a junior.
[00:16:56]Mike Giffin: I say it, you say it, I’m not so sure too many parents understand that, well we want them to enjoy the summer, you’re actually taking away from them things that help them become more satisfied adults. Don’t do that. Give them a chance to learn. Learning is fun. It, it really is. And it helps us make those decisions later on. Do those internships, do those jobs , particularly in the summer cause you know it’s only for three months at the most, so you can get out from under it.
[00:17:28]Emily Melious: And how wonderful it is to find that sweet spot. You know, that’s again, in my work, these are the conversations I’m having every day, all day with people of all ages, and stages of their career. And when you see those people who have found that trifecta, what I talk about the formula is, the alignment of your talents, passions, and skills.
[00:17:52]Again, most people only look at skills and personality and those just aren’t enough. So we have to look at how the student naturally operates, what gets that fire burning in their belly. And then, where their unique area of expertise and knowledges is. But it’s not a majority rules.
[00:18:10] You got to get all three, you got to check all three boxes. And when somebody does that, you can see it. They’re unstoppable and they don’t want to retire. They’re living their purpose. And I know everybody listening, we all want that for our kids. The top thing I hear from parents, cause I always ask them, what do you want?
[00:18:30] And they always say, I want my child to be happy and successful. Verbatim, that exact phrase all the time. And that really requires us getting them into a job that honors all of them. And, unfortunately the educational system, I just don’t think it’s enough on its own. We’ve got to do this legwork outside and in addition to. And we can’t just rely on the guidance counselors, like you said, they’re good people doing great work, but they’ve got way so much work to do. And this is just not a focus anymore. And we’ve got to be very proactive and intentional and start early to be thinking about this massive decision.
[00:19:14] Probably one of the largest decisions in our lives, our families lives, our kids’ lives, that are going to set the tone. I mean, I really do think these kinds of decisions chart the course in one way or the other for the student.
[00:19:28] Mike Giffin: Yeah, I completely agree with you and people in my office, and I know you say the same thing is, I have the most fun when I’m able to sit down and be able to ask questions of parents and students and learn. It’s kind of like, we can show off, we’ve been here before. You’ve never been here before, but I’ve been here before.
[00:19:45] I understand what makes sense, so we’re showing off a little bit, but so be it. We’ve been around long enough that we get the chance to do that. And it’s so much fun to say, well, have you thought of this? Did you think of that? We actually want to try to work with you to find out what is this thing? You’re going to run up some dark alleys and you’re going to make some mistakes, but we’re going to hunt for it. We’re going to try to find it.
[00:20:07] Emily Melious: We’ve talked through a lot of things and I’m sure coming into this, parents felt like their heads were spinning and we, we might have added to that a little bit. So let’s boil this back down. What are the top actionable strategies that families can do today, to better prepare themselves and their kids for the college experience?
[00:20:29] Mike Giffin: Okay now, number one we’ve mentioned before is, help determine, discover, career path or career cluster. Number two, find the finest best university that’s going to train them in that field, and you’ve got to deal with distance from home and all those other items. Then the next is finished four years in four years.
[00:20:50] Remember college comes in semesters. You don’t have to say I’m going to finish in four years. You have to finish all the credits in that semester on time, and then go to the next one, and the next one. I’ve had many students who got dual degrees in three years. How did they do it? They worked pretty hard.
[00:21:06] The fourth one is have a plan of who’s paying for this and how we’re going to figure out how much is this going to cost, and whose responsibility it is. I strongly recommend you do that in writing. And the fifth one is don’t blow up the family finances or, or your own retirement doing this. You need to pay attention to all five of those and coordinate it all.
[00:21:30] And it all happens, at the same time. So, it never ends. You’re constantly tuning into one part and see how it affects the other part. So it takes reviewing at least annually.
[00:21:43] Emily Melious: And that’s why it helps again, to start early, because like you said, a lot of moving parts. And to try to do this in a shortened time span, is just, it’s hard. It’s more stressful, it’s already stressful. And then everybody’s running at double time and you’re trying to coordinate all these pieces. And I think financially, there’s just some things that can’t happen in a shorter amount of time.
[00:22:03]And it also just speaks to the benefit of having outside help. So on that note, Mike, if folks are interested in your services, how can they get in touch with you and do they need to be in Pittsburgh? Cause we have listeners all over the country, even outside of the country.
[00:22:19]Mike Giffin: No, you don’t have to be in Pittsburgh. Our databases cover everywhere, including we’ve had some kids go to Scotland and UK to school. And, you know, how many credits transfer and all that kind of stuff, that gets technical, but we can help them there. The company name is Ensphere. E N S P H E R E. CPS, collegeplanningservice.com. There’s all kinds of neat free information. If you have any trouble with it, just go to the contact. You’ll go right to Jessica and she can help you. There’s a basic course that’s no cost, it’s free on getting ready for college and one to look at finances and how you are going to handle the financial side.
[00:22:58] We will offer a free consultation that says, okay, here’s where you are and here’s what you need to do, and here’s what it’s going to be to engage us. And it doesn’t work for everybody, but most of the people that take the time , we can help.
[00:23:14] Emily Melious: And for those that are interested in that very first building block of getting your kids pointed in the right direction and aware of their strengths and where they fit in, you’re welcome to go to mothersofmisfits.com and click on the Work with Emily tab, and you can find ways that we can help you do just that and really prepare your son or daughter for a clear and confident future.
[00:23:37] Mike, I’m glad you shared all your wisdom with us today. We could have talked for hours, I’m sure, but those are great strategies and really opened our eyes to what a critical time this is. In our lives and our kids’ lives and how we have to take it very seriously and, be very thoughtful about it. So thank you.
[00:23:56] Mike Giffin: Thank you Emily.
[00:23:58] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com.