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



CONGRATS to the ILUMIN/Junior Achievement Company Program team for winning "BEST PRODUCT" at the NorCal JA Company of the Year Competition 2018!

Great work team and excited to empower and equip the next generation of entrepreneurial change makers!

AND now off to the JA National Company Program competition in Washington DC!

You can also check out the Silicube and preorder yours HERE.




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My first two weeks at Amherst College were uncomfortable, to say the least. Meeting new people really isn’t my thing, but that’s what freshman orientation is all about. Struggling to find something in common, fake-coughing during awkward pauses, cringing when I fumbled over my name — I felt like a fish flopping on land.       

And saying good-bye to my family? That was the worst part. My mom, who traveled the 3,061.2 miles to help me move in, had to leave right at the beginning of orientation to catch her flight. So I met my orientation small group in a mess, tears streaming down my face and unable to croak out much more than “Hi."

That night, I was sure I’d chosen the wrong school. “I should’ve stayed closer to home,” I thought to myself as I miserably slipped under the covers. “I miss home. I miss my mom. Everything feels weird. This was a mistake.”       

But within a couple of weeks, as classes started and I began to check out clubs on campus, those thoughts slowly disappeared, and to my utter disbelief, I settled in.

The excitement with which I approached my classes was surreal. In high school, with the end goal being a high GPA and college, I’d lost a lot of my passion for learning. School became a routine; classes became a means to an end. But in college, getting to choose the classes and professors I wanted — Amherst has an open curriculum — made a huge difference, and I found myself looking forward to class for the first time in a long time.

Granted, I wasn’t always excited — there were days when I didn’t even want to get out of bed. But the intellectual environment at Amherst really reignited my love for exploring and expanding my worldview. We weren’t taking classes to get into college anymore; we were taking classes because we wanted to learn.

And as I got to know my peers both in and out of the classroom, I began to feel more at home — like I belonged. I still remember feeling simultaneously weirded out and pleasantly surprised the first time I referred to Amherst as home. It just slipped right out of my mouth, and it took me a second to recover as I realized what I’d said. But I also knew that somewhere along the way, it became true, both in my mind and my heart.

Maybe your first few weeks in college will also be uncomfortable. Or maybe they won’t. Regardless, here are some tips I wish I’d known when I first got to college. Hopefully, they’ll help you get a head start on having a great year.

  1. Check out campus clubs within the first few weeks of school. Clubs are probably the primary way you’ll make friends, so it’s important to find a club that fits you and your interests. That way, it’s a win-win situation: you’ll get to be involved in something that’s important to you and you’ll make connections with people who share the same passion.

  2. Try something you maybe would never have tried before college. Each semester, I promised myself that I’d push myself out of my comfort zone in at least one big way. First semester, I joined Amherst’s mixed martial arts club, and second semester, I participated in a small flash mob performance. (I have no experience in either arena and am an especially clumsy dancer.) But though my entire body throbbed for days after each martial arts practice and I spent the entire dance performance with my face flaming red, it was exhilarating to know that I’d had the guts to do something a little scary — and stuck with it.

  3. Being sick sucks. The first time you get sick in college, you’ll find yourself really missing and appreciating your parents. You have to go out and get your own chicken soup and hot teas, you have to rely on classmates for notes, you have to check your temperatures yourself and decide whether or not you’re capable of attending activities. So try your best not to get sick; it just becomes such a burden. You’re better off regularly taking care of yourself and resting the moment you feel something coming on.

  4. People care way less about your GPA in college. At Amherst, no one ever asked me, “What grade did you get?” It was such a refreshing change from the culture of academic striving in my hometown of Palo Alto, California. In college, it’s not about making the next benchmark. It’s about discovering what makes you light up — what creates the spark in your eyes. Don’t try to hold yourself to other people’s standards; instead focus on what interests you and what you can do with what you have.

  5. You’ll meet people who are rude or inconsiderate but you’ll also meet so many more people who aren’t. Don’t let the bad apples take away from the good ones. Make the most of the time you have with people who care about you and want the best for you. You only have four years in college, but those four years will feel like lifetimes because in college, your friends really become your family. So don’t give up on friendships just because of a disagreement; instead, pursue the people who matter to you.

  6. In a similar vein, don’t let what people say get you down. Not everyone in this world is going to like you, and that’s sometimes hard to take. But at the end of the day, you’re only going to be sharing the same space with them for four years. Think big — in five, 10 years, unless they’re devastatingly attractive, you won’t even really remember what they look like. Don’t let other people’s opinions of you dictate who you are and what you do. Choose to pursue what you want for yourself — what aligns with your heart.

  7. Widen your perspective — talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to. So much of what I thought was right and true was thrown out the window the moment I set foot on campus. I come from a pretty homogenous town, and getting to talk to people from all walks of life — different race, different socioeconomic status, different upbringing, different opinions — made me much more aware of how limited my understanding of the world is. When you start to appreciate the nuances of each person you meet, you too will be able to develop a more comprehensive perspective of this world and its people.

  8. Be on top of your workload — no one else is going to do that for you. This was really difficult for me in the beginning because I’ve never gotten in the habit of using a planner, but I found out you don’t have to use a planner to stay organized. I started using a simple checklist on my phone that helps me focus on my priorities and accomplish what I need to do each day, and it worked really well for me. Poke around and see what can be of aid to you.

  9. Find spots that work for you off campus. As the year went on, it became clear that the on-campus environment could be too much for me to handle sometimes, so I started exploring off-campus spaces, working at a different cafe every day until I figured out which one felt the most comfortable for me. These spaces can give you a moment to breathe away from the sometimes suffocating social and academic scene on campus.

  10. Know what resources are available to you. I didn’t know that Amherst offers funding for its students’ unpaid internships until an upperclassman sent me the application link. After that, I spent two days exploring the Amherst website for any other Easter eggs — of which there were many!

  11. Keep up with school events so you don’t miss out when a prominent figure visits campus. This year, one of my favorite authors, Ta-Nehisi Coates, came to give a talk, and I was shut out of the event because I didn’t sign up fast enough for tickets. That will remain one of my biggest regrets for a long time, I’m sure.

  12. Keep in touch with your parents — this became increasingly hard for me as my workload piled up, but no matter how much adulting you do, you’ll always be your parents’ child. They want to hear about all the new ventures you’re chasing in college, and they’ll want even more to know when you’re having a hard time. Besides, letting them know what’s going on in your life might just increase the chances of receiving a care package during a period of difficulty!

  13. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I know this is cheesy and everyone says it, but in college it’s especially true because you won’t have family members checking in on you every day. No one will be able to tell that you’re struggling unless you tell them first. And if you’re struggling, that’s normal. Each semester brings its own challenges. Rather than waste time and energy pretending they’re not real challenges, reach out and let people know. Check out the counseling center. Talk to your professors. You’ll find that people are much more supportive than you might expect.

At the end of the day, college doesn’t make or break you. There are high points and there are low points. You might not fall in love with your school right away, but as a clever man named Elton Lin once said, “Love is not always at first sight.”

College will be a lot more enjoyable if you make it your mission to make the most out of your experience. Before you know it, you’ll be done with your first year, and you’ll look back and be amazed at how fast it went, the good and the bad. Me personally? I missed Amherst the minute I left, and I can’t wait to go back and see what’s in store.

-- Shawna C., Junior at Amherst College

Getting Extra Time on the SAT or ACT (for Students with Learning Disabilities)

Elton Lin

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Test Accommodation:: What are they? Do I qualify? How do I get them?

Imagine that you are about to take a test that will have a major impact on the opportunities that are available to you in the future. You made sure to get plenty of sleep the night before, had a big (but not too big) breakfast, had your parents drive you to the testing center to avoid any stressful fender-benders while parking, and have made dozens of other choices in the days and weeks leading up to this moment to give you the best chance possible to succeed. The proctor stands at the front of the class and tells you that you may begin, so you open the test booklet to the first page and work feverishly for the next sixty-five minutes, at which point the proctor tells you that time for the first section is up. You look down at your paper and note, with alarm, that you have barely been able to answer half of the questions in the section.

The above experience is not as rare as it should be. Preparing for and taking standardized tests are harrowing experiences for any student, but, to a student with special needs, they can be difficult to the point of being unfair. To help level the playing field, both the SAT and ACT offer accommodations to students with special needs to ensure that they are on an even footing with their peers. It is essential for students who have special accommodations in their classes at school to also seek out accommodations for these standardized tests.

What are accommodations?

Accommodations are special considerations afforded to students with documented disabilities. The most common accommodation for both the SAT and ACT is extended time (either 1.5 time or double time). However, both the SAT and ACT are able offer other types of accommodations to students with disabilities. This includes offering tests in braille, a reader for students with visual processing issues, a test with larger text, or any number of other accommodations to meet the needs of each student.

Are there any differences between the SAT and ACT accommodations?

While both the SAT and ACT offer similar accommodations for students with special needs, there are two major differences worth noting. First, for extended time on the SAT, students receive the extended time by section. Meaning, the reading section, which is normally 65 minutes long, would be extended to 92.5 minutes for a 1.5 time test. On the other hand, the ACT manages extended time by giving students an overall allotment of time that they can use however they like. For example, a student with 1.5 time on the ACT would be given five hours to complete the English, math, reading, and science sections, divvying up the time as they saw fit rather than simply extending the length of each section. This is an important distinction that should be considered by students who have extended time and difficulty in one or two sections but not others, as the ACT would allow them to conceivably spend more than 1.5 time on sections that give them difficulty while moving through the other sections in normal time.

The second difference is that it is possible for students with accommodations on the ACT to take the test over multiple days. If a student chooses (and qualifies for) this option they would need to complete the sections in 1.5 time rather than getting the bulk time discussed earlier, but it is often a good option for students who have difficulty with the endurance required to take the test in one sitting.

Do I qualify for accommodations?

The easiest way to determine whether a student would likely qualify for accommodations on the SAT or ACT is whether or not the student has been diagnosed with a learning difference, has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan at school, and already uses the accommodations they are seeking at school. If so, the student should be able to reach out to the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) Coordinator at their school to start the process of applying for accomodations for the SAT and/or ACT. If not, then meeting with the SSD Coordinator is a good first step to discuss possible options to have the student evaluated for learning differences.

How can I request accommodations?

The SSD Coordinator at the student’s school would be able to walk the student through the process of applying for accommodations. However, both College Board and ACT have detailed pages outlining the process.


While it will take time to apply for accommodations, it will be time well spent. Standardized tests tend to sacrifice accurately evaluating students with unique circumstances in exchange for efficiency, and accommodations are a way to put students with special needs on an even footing with their peers. However, they can only be of help to students who know they exist and how to get them.

Article Contributed by David Massey, Menlo Park Office Director for AJ Tutoring.

Congrats to Our 2018 Admits!

Elton Lin

We wanted to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to our seniors this past year! They worked tirelessly on their applications and we’re so proud that they were recognized and admitted by so many amazing colleges and universities!

Many of our students have been with us since 9th grade so we're especially excited to see their years of dedication and hard work pay off! 

Here’s a full list of where our students' acceptances: 

Azusa Pacific
Boston University
Boston College
Cal Poly Pomona
Cal Poly SLO
Cal St East Bay
Carnegie Mellon
Case Western
Claremont McKenna
Fresno St.
Georgia Tech
Harvey Mudd
Illinois Wesleyan
Indiana - Bloomington
Johns Hopkins
Miami U of OH
Oregon State
Penn State
San Jose State
Santa Clara
SF State
St Michael's
St. Mary's
UC Berkeley
UC Davis
UC Irvine
UC Los Angeles
UC Merced
UC Riverside
UC San Diego
UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Cruz
University of Colorado - Boulder
University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign
University of Michigan
University of Oregon
University of Pacific
University of Portland
University of Pennsylvania
University of San Diego
University of Southern California
University of Washington
UT Austin
Virginia Tech
Washington University in St. Louis
Whitman College
Williams College
Wisconsin Madison


Elton Lin

Interested in learning what it takes to be an Entrepreneur?
Want to become the next Steve Jobs?
Sign up to join the Junior Achievement Student Company Program!

ILUMIN Education is partnering with Junior Achievement of Northern California to host a 13-week entrepreneurship workshop and incubator for aspiring teen entrepreneurs. Students will work with local business leaders and learn what it takes to raise capital, write a business plan, market a product, and build effective teamwork and leadership skills.

Students will be broken into teams, develop their own product or service and launch a real business. Teams will also have the opportunity to submit their business idea to the JA Company of Year Competition, sponsored by Intuit, in April 2017.

For more information on this specific workshop, contact us at 

Session Information:

Dates: Every Saturday starting Jan 27th to April 21st
Time: 1-3pm
Location: ILUMIN Education Office - 940 Stewart Drive #236, Sunnyvale, 94085
Cost: $285/student** (funds go towards facility/program expenses and a donation to Junior Achievement)


1. Must currently be in high school.
2. Provide your own transportation and arrive on time to all sessions.
3. May not miss more than 3 sessions (if more, please discuss with instructor).

Accepted students will be notified on January 12, 2017.


** - Make check payable to ILUMIN Education and bring on the first day.

Some words from one of last year's Company Program team members:

"Before attending the Junior Achievement program, I knew little to nothing about business and what it took to run a business. Now, after my experience with Junior Achievement, I understand the number of different teams and the endless work that come together to produce a single product. We had marketing, sales, product, and management teams that all worked together. The marketing team and I had so much fun making a commercial and brainstorming ways to bring our product, PiggyPack, to the public. My favorite moment with the entire company is when we finally got to see our product (a waterproof, dual compartment athletic bag) in person. We had been working on the logistics of the bag for over a month, and to finally see all of our hard work come to life was so exciting. Even if you aren't currently interested in going into business in the future, I would highly recommend joining the JA program, because it introduces you to many other dedicated and inspiring high school students, and it gives you a newfound appreciation for the world of business."

 ILUMIN Education Team // Best Demo and Commercial 2017

ILUMIN Education Team // Best Demo and Commercial 2017

Upcoming ROLF Seminar - 12/2 - 2pm // Three Ways to Improve Your Admissions Chances

Elton Lin

 ** Three Ways to Improve Your Admissions Chances - River of Life Foundation + ILUMIN Ed

** Three Ways to Improve Your Admissions Chances - River of Life Foundation + ILUMIN Ed

// How important are grades and test scores?
// Which activities matter most to admissions officers?
// How do students find good leadership opportunities?
// What can students do NOW to help them reach their dream colleges?

Come to our upcoming seminar hosted in partnership with the River of Life Foundation!


The college admissions process is growing more confusing and competitive every year. We all feel the pressure to achieve "more" and worry that we're not doing enough. 

But what really matters when admissions officers review an application? What activities should students do and NOT do during high school? What steps can students take to help them reach the dream colleges? 

We will discuss how every student can improve their admissions chances, whether their goal is Stanford or UC San Diego. We will discuss how students can discover their passion and build on it throughout high school. And we will also share how students (and parents) can navigate this stressful season and be their best. 

River of Life Church
1177 Laurelwood Rd.
Santa Clara, CA 95054
December 2nd - 2 to 4 pm

 ILUMIN Education Consultants // John Chen and Kevin Nam


John Chen - Educational Consultant & Operations Director

He graduated from UCLA with a BA in Business/Economics and is a licensed CPA. He previously was a data analysis and management consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers working with clients like Google, VISA and EA Games. In recent years, he served as a Senior Consultant for the Bay Area’s largest educational consulting firm. He has over 15 years of experience mentoring and teaching hundreds of students and uses his vast business and hi-tech experience to guide them towards the right schools. Nothing gives him more joy than seeing students breakthrough to become who they were created to be. John is also a member of the Western Association for College Admissions Counseling. John is a member of the Western Association for College Admissions Counseling. 

Kevin Nam - Educational Consultant

Kevin graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a double B.A. in Psychology and Computer Science. Throughout this time, he served as a teaching assistant for Introduction to Computer Science at Penn and helped develop a curriculum designed to expose students to computer science in fun and interesting ways. Upon graduation, Kevin declined to work in software, instead deciding to pursue his passion for education by working as a computer science tutor and now as an educational consultant for ILUMIN Education. 

ILUMIN Education students have gained admission to every top 50 university in the United States, including every Ivy League university, Stanford, UC Berkeley, NYU, USC and many others. 

For more information, contact us at info[at] or (408) 479-4742.

Why I Said NO to Harvard

Elton Lin

How do you know if a famous university is the right school for you? Just because it’s ranked highly or because it has a long and storied history doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be happy spending four years of your life there. Today, we have the privilege of hearing from someone who was faced with this dilemma. Read on to find out why Elizabeth (not her real name) decided not to attend Harvard University and her advice for finding a good-fit school.


In the spring of my senior year of high school, I received two college acceptance packages in the mail.  One contained an acceptance letter that looked almost like a diploma.  It was printed on frameable cardstock paper and declared that I had the right to study at the most prestigious university in America, Harvard University.  The other was written on regular paper and invited me to study at a very selective liberal arts college that most people have never heard of, Swarthmore College. 

I said no to Harvard.

The process of saying no was not easy, and my decision was not made flippantly.  Of course, initially, I was thrilled to be accepted at both schools.  In some ways, it seemed like madness to even consider turning down an acceptance to Harvard. This school was the “holy grail” of studious, hard-working students like me.  However, I was uneasy about the kind of pressure that a name like Harvard would have on my education.  I wanted to learn for the sake of learning and to serve my future community.  I was afraid that at a place like Harvard, I would live under the pressure of achieving academically so that I could prove that I was worthy of my acceptance.

I had the privilege of visiting both campuses before making my final decision.  During my visit to Harvard, I was impressed by the classic architecture and the feeling of intellectualism mixed with a youthful energy that pervaded the campus.  I slept over with some students in the dorms, ate in the dining hall, attended an ice hockey game (Harvard won over Dartmouth) and visited a class.  However, the main thing that sticks out to me is a conversation I had with one student.  When I told him my dilemma over which school to choose, he said, “How could you even think about going to another school?”  In a way, that comment confirmed the misgivings I had.  My personality is more “march to the beat of a different drummer” than “go with the flow.”  That student’s comment grated against my desire to be different, to make my own path in life and not just do something because it’s what I’m expected to do.

On the other hand, when I did my Swarthmore campus visit, students seemed deeply intellectual but also less stressed about themselves.  The campus is beautiful (its grounds are an arboretum), and even the physical surroundings fit better with my personality and preferences.  The students at Swarthmore talked about their small classes and their personal interactions with their professors.  As a group, they seemed more anti-establishment, more relaxed, more fun.  I could fit with this crowd.

As the time neared for me to send my confirmation letter, I was convinced that I would get an excellent education at both schools, but Swarthmore seemed to be the place where I would thrive more.  Many years later, I do not regret my decision.  The education, experiences, and memories that I gained in my time at Swarthmore is an invaluable part of my life, and I wish the same for you as you go through the process of choosing a university.

Putting Together a Great College List

Elton Lin

It’s easy for students and their families to decide on a college list based solely on how a particular school or department was ranked by an outside agency. Though rankings have some value, they aren’t predictive of your experience at the school—you will NOT necessarily have more success or a better time at a higher ranked school as opposed to a lower ranked school. In fact, the best school for your situation may be a less competitive college where you might really thrive. Here are some suggestions we have for you when thinking about developing a strategic college list.

Create a Balanced List

Though none of the students we’ve advised have ever experienced this nightmare scenario, I’ve met a couple students who did not get into a single school to which they applied! In one case, a girl applied to all “reach” schools except for one “target” school. Unfortunately, she severely underestimated her “target” school. The year in which she applied, the school changed their admissions policy and ended up admitting far fewer students from her high school than they had in previous years.  When thinking about your college list, we advise students to apply to three tiers of schools:

  1. Safety Schools—These are schools that you have a 75% chance (or higher) of getting into. If you look at the school’s standardized test scores and average GPA of admitted students, you should be in the 75th to 99th percentile of students that they admit. You should apply to at least two safety schools.

  2. Target Schools—These are schools that you have a roughly 50% chance of getting into. If you look at the standardized test scores and GPA of admitted students, you should be in upper 50% of students they admit. For most of our students, this is the sweet spot—you should be building your list around your target schools.
  3. Reach or Dream Schools—These are schools that you have a less than 25% chance of getting into. If a school has an overall admissions rate of under 15%, the school represents a reach school for any student, no matter your grades, scores, or activities.  Apply to as many reach schools as your family decides on, but remember that each additional application will likely require more supplemental essays.

Consider Fit

Several years ago, a student from a rural area was accepted to a number of top-20 universities and liberal arts colleges. Because I had worked with him for many months, I knew that he wouldn’t enjoy life as an engineering major at Berkeley, a large, public university in California. Instead, I advised him to attend a small, prestigious liberal arts college in a small town on the East Coast. However, he went against our advice and enrolled at Berkeley. After his first semester, he was back…asking for help for transfer applications. No matter how highly ranked a particular college, if the school is not the right fit, you will not succeed academically or socially.

Here are some questions to ponder as you think about your best fit:

  1. Are you a big school person or a small school person? When I was applying to college, I knew that I would not enjoy being one of 35,000+ students. I turned down a scholarship to a large university to go to a school of only 1600 students, and I never regretted my decision. Though I didn’t get to cheer on a winning football team, I conducted research with several professors, took a class with only six other students, led a student club, and had dinner with my faculty advisor in his home.
  2. Where in the U.S. do you want to live? Are you more comfortable in a city? The suburbs? In a rural area? Remember that your college experience extends beyond the academic program. It will (hopefully) become your home away from home for the next four years of your life.
  3. What kind of academic program are you looking for? Are you looking for a program that will prepare you for a certain career or professional school (e.g., pharmacy school)? Are you interested in continuing on in academia? University of Chicago and Northwestern University are two schools that look very similar on paper—both medium-sized, top-20 universities located in the Chicago metropolitan area. They nevertheless exude a different “feel” and campus culture. Northwestern has a far more pre-professional orientation (great for engineers!) while the University of Chicago is all about developing the life of the mind (great for future PhD's!).
  4. What kind of campus culture appeals to you? Some schools are known to be more competitive, others are more collaborative; some have a strong Greek system, some have a theatre program; some emphasize undergraduate research while others emphasize co-op experiences.

Campus visits are one way to experience a school and to see if a college fits you well (more on this topic in a future blog post), but there are other ways to determine if a particular school would work for your needs. This recent article in the New York Times recommends that you skip the college tour and talk with current students or recent alums of a particular college, reasoning that it’s more productive to talk with someone who represents your future self (at the school) than to hear about a college’s cafeteria and classes and to imagine yourself there. In our opinion, one of the best tools for discovering a good fit college would be to talk with several current students or recent alums of a school you’re interested in who also knows you well

With tuition increasing at rates far outstripping inflation and with a significant time commitment on your part in the application process and in the four years of earning your degree, creating a solid college list and choosing the right school for you is one of the most important decisions you will make.

If you help with the all-important college list, feel free to reach out and we'd be happy to provide a free consultation!  


Five Ways Students Can Manage Stress

Elton Lin

“I am sooooo stressed…” she groaned, her head resting on her thick Chemistry textbook. “I have three tests this week, and I’m behind on all my homework.” For many of our students, feeling stressed out has become the norm, though the causes may vary. Some students have relationship worries, others struggle with family conflict and parental pressure, but many put great pressure on themselves due to a fear of falling behind in a competitive high school environment.

Experiencing stress during high school is inevitable. It’s how you respond to it that can make all the difference. Here at ILUMIN Education, we see how common – and damaging – it can be for students to be stressed on a daily basis. Dealing with stress constructively is arguably more important than GPA or resume in terms of preparing students for success in college and career.

Here are some of the strategies we use to help students manage their stress effectively.

1. Use a calendar

It’s fairly common for high school students to think they can get by without using a planner. Often, teachers post the homework online. Or maybe Mom manages the family calendar. Time and time again, we have found that students underestimate the benefits of using a calendar themselves. Without a doubt, students who manage their own calendars are able to accomplish more because they can be more strategic about how they use their time. Ultimately, students who take control of their schedules manage their lives better and reduce stress.

If you haven’t already, get a paper calendar or choose a digital one, and start to fill out the calendar with all of the important dates: tests, papers, project due dates, due dates for applications, games, club events, social events, family events, etc. Be sure to work backwards and block out time to study. If you know you need at least a couple hours to prepare for your history final, reserve some time for yourself to make that happen. If you know an especially demanding school week is coming, schedule a pocket of time for yourself to exercise or meet up with friends as a healthy outlet in a stressful week.  

2. Create a good homework routine

Creating a good homework routine is key to getting things done and reducing stress. Ask yourself: Do I have a designated place to study? Have I reduced distractions? How can I work most efficiently? For example, a student we worked with usually did his homework while lying on his bed at home. It wasn’t uncommon for him to fall asleep while doing homework. He also kept his phone by his side and Facebook messaged his friends while he studied, which he insisted was helping him get his work done. Every night, it took him until at least 1 a.m. to finish his homework. He woke up tired, which increased the likelihood of him falling asleep again when doing homework after school.

When our sleepy student experienced a dip in grades, he took our advice to start going to the library after school to do his homework. He kept his phone on silent in his backpack until he had worked at least two hours. He made a note of any questions he had for his friends from class, and messaged them after he worked independently. The student was surprised that he could go to bed two hours earlier than before by making adjustments to his daily routine.

3. Take care of your health: eat, sleep, and exercise!

Physical health is inexorably linked to mental and emotional health. Have you ever noticed that you’re more prone to mood swings or impulsive behavior when you’re not getting enough sleep or when you are hungry? There’s even a term, “hangry,” that’s been coined to describe that very state of being angry because you’re so hungry. Many students report that they need to stay up all night to study before important exams, but they may be shooting themselves in the foot. Teenagers, in particular, need more sleep as a part of their developmental stage, and when they’re operating on a sleep or nutritional deficit, their cortisol levels will rise and their cognitive function will suffer as well (i.e., you will feel stressed and not think clearly).

Exercise is especially effective in reducing stress. Instead of watching a YouTube video on a study break, go for a lap around the block and see if you feel any better. Furthermore, a Stanford study shows that just spending time outside in natural surroundings can improve focus and reduce anxiety. Although it might be tempting to take a break from homework to check your Snapchat, it’s better for your brain to rest away from the stimulation that screens provide. Even spending a few minutes in your backyard or a nearby park can help clear your mind.

4. Get help when you need it

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your problems, it’s important to reach out and talk to a trusted friend, family member, mentor, or teacher. Not only will you feel less alone, a counselor or teacher, for example, might have some practical suggestions for making up a low grade or dealing with other school-related issues. It can be surprising by what can happen when students speak up. We’ve seen teachers change grades a year after the fact, students receive extended testing accommodations, and bullying issues resolved after students reach out to an adult who can help. After all, the worst-case scenario is that nothing will change. 

Although dealing with stress and changing moods is a typical part of the high school experience, some students face more severe anxiety or depression. Please be aware that mental health issues are more common than you might realize. If you’re experiencing anxiety attacks or depression, seek professional help. Many people struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lives, and there are resources out there to help you.

5. Remember the big picture

It’s 2 a.m. and it seems like your grade on the Chemistry midterm in the morning means everything. It may seem that your entire future rides on this one exam.  It doesn’t. You likely won’t remember the grade you get on this test a year from now. That’s because your future success is a result of the sum of your efforts over time; an occasional misstep is part of the human experience. Whenever you find yourself overwhelmed by stress due to a challenge you are facing, ask yourself: will this matter a year from now? In two years?  If the outcome isn’t what you want, it may very well become one of the many learning experiences that will make you stronger and better equipped to deal with challenges in the future. The point is that though a grade or a problem might be eating you up in this moment, in the longer term, what matters is how your character develops from dealing with this challenge, how you learn problem-solving skills through addressing the situation, and how well you treat the people around you in the midst of it.

Teens face many pressures in high school. However, by learning to manage your stress now, you will have gained a lifelong skill that will serve you far into the future. We find that when working with our students, it’s important not to minimize the stress our high school students are experiencing, even if the source of their worries seems small. Helping students manage their stress levels is as important as providing tutoring for a strong academic performance. After all, stress is a catalyst for growth and an opportunity to develop emotional resilience in the midst of life’s challenges.


Elton Lin

Congrats to ILUMIN's seniors on their college admission results this past year! We're SUPER proud of you! Not only for the schools you've been admitted to, but for how you've grown as leaders, citizens and game-changers during our time together.   

We'll share more about individual student stories... but just for this post, let's celebrate the schools our students have been admitted to:

Azusa Pacific University
Bard College
Barnard College
Biola University
Boston College
Boston University
Bowdoin College
Cal Poly SLO
Carnegie Mellon University
Case Western University
Chapman University
Cornell University
CSU Northridge
Drexel University
Duke University
Emory University
Fordham University
Georgia Tech
Georgetown University
Hamilton College
Harvey Mudd College
Haverford College
Johns Hopkins University
Loyola Marymount University
Northeastern University
Northwestern University
NYU Stern
Occidental College
Penn St.
Pitzer College
Pomona College
Purdue University
Rice University
Rutgers University
Santa Clara University
San Diego St.
San Jose St.
Stanford University
Swarthmore College
Tufts University
Tulane University
UC Berkeley
UC Davis
UC Irvine
UC Merced
UC Riverside
UC San Diego
UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Cruz
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
University of Maryland
University of Chicago
University of Michigan
University of Oregon
University of Oxford
University of Pacific
University of Pennsylvania (including Wharton)
University of Rochester
University of Southern California
University of Texas at Austin
University of Wisconsin at Madison
University of Washington
Virginia Tech
Washington University - St. Louis
Wake Forest University
Wesleyan University

We're not only proud of your results, but excited for your futures and know you will make your mark to build a better world for us all!