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955 Benecia Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA 94085

(408) 479-4742


Helpful tips about college admissions, test preparation and just being a better student, leader and person from ILUMIN Education.


Elton Lin

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REGISTER >> HERE by April 20th! (currently only for existing ILUMIN students)

Hi Students (and Parents)!

Do you ever feel stuck writing an email to a teacher?

Do you worry about saying the wrong thing in an interview?

Are you confused about how to start and maintain a conversation with an adult?

Come join us for our first Professional Communication Workshop!

You'll learn about how to speak, email, AND text appropriately and professionally to teachers, bosses, professors, and interviewers. You'll practice with real conversations in order to build up your communication toolbox! You'll also meet other peers and work together to be better communicators.

We'll prepare you for different professional settings and help you overcome your fear of communicating with adults!

AND... it is FREE for ILUMIN students BUT you need to register below by April 20th!


ILUMIN Education
4701 Patrick Henry Drive, Building 3 (Redwood Room)
Santa Clara, CA 95054


April 27, 2019 >> 10 am - 12 pm

REGISTER >> HERE by April 20th!

NOTE: Currently only for existing ILUMIN students - keep a lookout for more student success workshops open to the public coming soon!


Elton Lin

Register HERE by April 20th!

Hello!!! Seattle!!!

We’ll be hosting our first seminar in the great Pacific Northwest! We’ll be covering three ways high school students can improve their admissions chances and reach their dream schools. We will share more about the current landscape and provide practical insight on how students can stand out from the pack.

We will be covering the following topics (and more):

  • What type of essay is most effective for the college application?

  • What is "Early Decision" and how important is it to apply early?

  • How important are extracurricular activities, AP courses, or test scores?

  • What are admissions officers looking for when reviewing a college application?

"Three Ways to Improve Your College Admissions Chances"


Lake Hills Library Meeting Room
15590 Lake Hills Blvd, Bellevue, WA


Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 10:30 am - 12:00 pm


Elton Lin, Founder/CEO of ILUMIN Education
Yii-Shyun Lin, Expert College Counselor, ILUMIN Education

Attendees will also have the option of signing up for a FREE 1 hour consultation with our consultants.

Register HERE by April 20th!

Contact us at or 408-479-4742 for more info! More information on ILUMIN Education and flyer below!

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How to Craft Your Extracurricular Resume

At every college admissions presentation we’ve given, we are approached with one very popular question, “What extracurricular activities are good for college admissions?” Our one sentence answer, “Anything you love and can commit to” can be understandably frustrating for parents and students seeking a silver bullet to elite college acceptances (spoiler alert—there is no “silver bullet” activity, unless participating in the Olympics is within your reach AND even that isn’t going to get you in everywhere). This article will explore that principle in greater depth and give you some examples on how to take what you’re already interested in and build upon it to help you stand out on your college application.

When admissions officers review extracurricular resumes, they are looking to see what kind of student emerges from the activities and descriptions. Is this applicant someone with a long-standing commitment to animal welfare? Someone who spent much of his time on the tennis courts? Someone who explored her interest in astronomy? All those tabulations of hours and dates reflect choices that you’ve made during high school. What story will your choices tell about you on your college application?

Find a Focal Point

“I’m just another boring Asian girl who volunteers and plays piano!” Katie (not her real name) wailed dejectedly as I scanned her extracurricular resume. Key Club? Check. Piano up to CM Level 10? Check. Hospital volunteering? Check. While clearly in possession of a sense of humor and a lot of intellectual curiosity, her personality didn’t really come across on her resume.  Fortunately, as a 10th grader, Katie still had time to shape her extracurricular profile.  And my first advice to her was to find a focal point. We explored the following questions:

What is the one activity you would focus on if you had to give up the rest? Why is it important to you? How can we highlight that activity and do what we can to formalize the interest? Are there other activities that you would be interested in trying?

Some students might not be able to pursue their quirkier interests in an established club. One of my students loves investing and watching his stock portfolio grow. Another spends all his free time mountain biking. Katie devoured novels at a rate of several books per week and had also started writing short fiction pieces on her own. But it wasn’t something that she felt like was a “legitimate” interest or anything outside of a private hobby. As we talked, she began to see how her writing could be a focal point of her resume and something that would help her stand out despite her choice of stereotypical activities up to this point.

Look for Ways to Formalize Interests

One of the easiest ways to pursue an interest in a more formal way is to take classes or lessons related to that interest. My student who was interested in investments enrolled in a finance-related university-sponsored summer program. Another student who loved to bake took a series of cooking classes in her community and then organized a bake sale as a fundraiser. Students interested in marine biology can get scuba diving certifications. And, of course, there are a myriad of learning options for those interested in science research or computer programing.

You might also want to think about starting something on your own in order to explore your interest. Students interested in creative writing can start a blog or a literary magazine at their high school (if there isn’t one already). A former student with an interest in judo started a free self-defense workshop to help women in his community gain some basic skills in crisis situations.

As for Katie, she decided to take a creative writing course over the summer, submit several of her shorter pieces to a fiction-writing competition, and to join her school newspaper as a staff writer to polish her writing skills.

Build Cohesion

On a more advanced level, you might want to think of ways to connect the different activities that you’re involved in. Not only will this help you take a more holistic approach to your out-of-school time, it will also help to paint a more cohesive picture of who you are for admissions officers.

What does building cohesion mean? It means finding the overlap between two or more of your interests: music and math, swimming and cooking, or psychology and running. Well, let’s take Katie’s example again. She loved to write, but she also has a budding interest in medicine. She decided to combine both of these interests in a club she became involved in that centered around public health. She used her creative writing talents to write and illustrate a children’s book that explained this particular disease and encouraged testing in a way that even kindergarteners could understand. She also wrote articles about this public health issue for her school newspaper.

What are admissions officers looking for? They are looking to see how you use your time. Remember that they are looking not necessarily looing for a well-rounded candidate but to build a well-rounded class. They want to see what you’re passionately devoted to. They’re looking to see what YOU would uniquely bring to their campus. We encourage you to take steps to discover that now!

Do you have more questions about extracurricular activities? Feel free to submit a case study on your extracurricular resume, and we’ll pick one entry and try to give you our best advice on how to improve your activities from an admissions standpoint.

We have many more tips for students as they work on their college essays.  Contact ILUMIN Education for more suggestions: OR (408) 479-4742.

2018 Admissions Trends: 3 Strategies for Your Best Results

Elton Lin

2018 Admissions Trends: 3 Strategies for Your Best Results

2018 Admissions Trends: 3 Strategies for Your Best Results

In 2018, trends in college admissions can be boiled down to a single point: increased unpredictability, both for students and colleges. As the number of applicants continues to increase each year, students have a harder time predicting which colleges they will be accepted to, and colleges have a harder time predicting which students will choose to attend their campus.

Yield rate, the number of accepted students who actually enroll at a college, is extremely important — it’s what allows a college to plan for their budget, departmental resources, and other things. If too many students enroll, the college risks not having enough space in residence halls and classrooms. This happened to UC Irvine last year, which caused them to rescind 500 admissions offers, ostensibly because students didn’t submit documents on time or received lower senior year grades. While many of these students appealed and were reinstated, colleges will be especially stringent about requirements if they’re overenrolled, and in some cases, resort to desperate attempts to cap enrollment.

To prevent this from happening, colleges are using their waitlist more. It’s safer for a college to accept fewer students upfront and later pull from the waitlist to bring their enrollment numbers up to capacity. This also allows colleges to further refine and diversify their freshman class and make sure that every department has enough students. Of course, this also means more uncertainty for students. Chances are still slim to be taken off a waitlist, as the applicant pool continues to increase.

So what should students do? Below are three solutions to the increased unpredictability in college admissions:

Diversify Your College List

Your college list should include a variety of schools, including different geographic locations, acceptance rates, large and small, public and private, liberal arts and national universities. One reason we keep seeing admissions rates decrease is that more and more students keep applying to the same set of schools. California students don’t seem to want to leave California, and if they do, they often limit themselves to urban areas on the East or West Coast. Sound familiar? What these students don’t realize is that there are amazing towns and cities all over the country, rich with culture and opportunities, and colleges there are vying for more California students on their campuses.  When we talk about college fit, we don’t mean passively sticking with what’s familiar, but branching out in a way that helps you grow. College is meant to be a time to broaden your perspective and experience new challenges, and attending college in a new part of the country is wonderful way to enhance your educational experience.

If out-of-state tuition is holding you back, consider schools that are part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE). These schools offer reduced tuition to students in nearby states, so they’re an excellent affordable option. In addition, many small private schools, if they are target or safety schools, offer merit aid to incoming freshman to attract them to their campuses. This offsets the sticker price of tuition, bringing it closer to the price of an in-state public college.

So don’t just think about the obvious college choices! Even if you think you know what you’re looking for, give yourself the option to try something different. I once worked with a student who thought for sure she wanted to attend a UC; but she was also accepted to Whitman College, a liberal arts college in Walla Walla, WA with a focus on experiential learning. She not only fell in love with the charming college town, but also Whitman’s unique Studies in the West program, where students conduct environmental field studies and meet leaders of conservation efforts. As an aspiring environmental lawyer, she felt right at home at Whitman. You never know what might attract you to a particular college, and by giving yourself a variety of options, you’ll also give yourself more chances to be accepted.

Apply early

There are several advantages of applying early: getting work done upfront, which makes the rest of college applications much easier; receiving early admissions notifications, which can relieve stress if you have an early acceptance; and benefiting from increased admissions rates. That’s right—admissions rates tend to be higher for early applications as compared to regular deadlines. The reason for this is twofold.

For one, students applying early are typically the strongest applicants; they are well prepared and their GPA and test scores are high enough that they don’t need the extra semester to show improvement. This is the cream of the crop of applicants, so it’s no wonder more students from this pool get accepted.

The second reason early applications benefit from higher admissions statistics is that by applying early, students are demonstrating their interest in the college. Ah, there it is: demonstrated interest. An admissions trends article would be incomplete without the mention of demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest can come in many forms: participating in campus tours, attending local college fairs and events, signing up for their email newsletters (and opening emails—yes, they track this), contacting your local admissions representative, or writing a compelling Why Us essay. Every point of contact you have with a college is noted in order to gauge how much you’re really into them and how likely you are to attend their campus if you’re accepted. In an increasingly unpredictable college admissions landscape, the ability to predict yield is increasingly important.

Applying early to a college is one way to show that you’re interested in their college. Early Decision (which is binding, meaning if you are accepted you commit to enroll), clearly tells a college they’re your first choice, because you’re willing to forego having any other options if you’re accepted to that college. If you have a first choice college, a college you would be absolutely thrilled to attend above all others, you should consider applying Early Decision to show your commitment. Applying ED will give you an advantage if your profile is strong enough to compete at a particular school.

Also be aware of Early Decision II, a second chance at the binding agreement with a later deadline, usually in January. If you don’t get into your first choice college through ED in November, you can apply to another college with ED II. A student we worked with in the past did exactly that — when she didn’t get into Pomona with the first ED round, she applied ED II to U Chicago and was accepted. This gives students a chance to apply to a higher reach school for the first ED round if there’s an ED II school they feel strongly about.

As for Early Action, the non-binding early option, this doesn’t give the same advantage as ED or ED II, but it does show a higher level of interest than applying Regular Decision, because of all the colleges on your college list, you will likely only end up applying early to a few.  

Bottom line: take advantage of applying early!

Go deep

With larger applicant pools every year, “soft” factors like extracurriculars, essays, and personality (as opposed to hard factors like your GPA and test scores) continue to be increasingly significant. Colleges want a dynamic student body, which is why they want students who actively pursue their interests and goals. But even more than this, they’re looking for depth—for students who have taken their interests as far as possible.

Students with clear passions not only demonstrate a high level of engagement, they also stand out more. Compared to a well-rounded resume, one with a well-defined focus tells a more coherent story about the student and therefore makes a stronger impression. One of our previous students, a Caltech and Harvard admit, was a finalist in a top-level competition for computer science, which landed him an internship at a tech company. After that, he participated in a prestigious research program where he used machine learning to track agricultural data. Ultimately, he started his own nonprofit to teach coding to kids from lower-income families in his area. By diving deeply into his main interest, he opened doors for more prestigious opportunities later on. His resume alone, over half of which contained activities related to computer science, made it clear what his main interest was and how it developed over time.

Your extracurriculars tell a story about how you took charge of your interests, which shows colleges that you will be active and engaged on campus. While it’s possible you may change your major or your interests, they know you’ll still be the kind of student who loves to dive into whatever you’re interested in and get involved in whatever community you’re a part of.

This means you should strive to develop a clear focus, rather than dabbling in multiple things. Pursue meaningful activities that truly motivate you. Of the students I’ve worked with, the ones with clear passions and unique interests receive the best college results—the acrobatic gymnast, the poet, the chemist. Don’t just do what everyone else is doing, but join that niche club or start that quirky hobby. Instead of striving to be well rounded in a lot of different things, choose one or two main areas into which you want to go in depth. This will ensure that you are truly motivated to go above and beyond in that interest, and will give you authentic material to write about in your college essays.


Above all, don’t despair! Remember that colleges want you. The majority of colleges in the US accept more than 80% of their applicants. If you remain open to the many opportunities that exist in a variety of campus settings, and you accurately and sincerely represent yourself on your applications, you will have good college options.


Elton Lin

>>> A letter from one of our recent ILUMIN graduates!

You have finally made it to high school!

It may seem daunting; trust me, it was for me too. Freshman year, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought I was going to become an engineer like my parents and follow the predictable Silicon Valley route - this makes me laugh because there is no way I would want to be an engineer now!

Read More