As a member of the ILUMIN consulting team, Lia Tanti brings her years of experience working in education and college admissions consulting.
We asked her five questions to help you learn more about her.
What’s one surprising thing you’ve learned from doing college prep?
Being impressive isn’t just about doing impressive things. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take on leadership roles or do internships—on the contrary! I’m always encouraging students to take the next level in their activities. But pursuing any true passion wholeheartedly or doing something out of the ordinary can be just as valuable. It’s better to be genuine than do things just because they seem impressive.
One of my previous students was a voracious reader. He spent every free minute buried in a novel or writing poems. He progressed to writing book reviews for the library and participating in creative writing workshops. He wrote a compelling, heartfelt college essay about his passion for reading and writing, and was accepted to several Ivy Leagues. It wasn’t a prestigious internship that helped him stand out, but the true zeal with which he immersed himself in his interests.
What if students don’t know what their genuine interests are?
A good place to start is getting insight on your personality—are you more collaborative or independent, spontaneous or structured, outdoorsy or bookish? Defining the environments you thrive best in can point you in the right direction when deciding on activities, a college major, and potential careers.
Next steps could be joining the Youth Advisory Board at their library, taking an online course, volunteering, or watching TED talks for inspiration. In any case, take action! Don’t wait until you have your college major figured out—getting involved can help you figure it out in the first place. I enjoy helping students choose majors that connect to their experiences and strengths.
I worked with a student in 9th grade who was unsure about her direction. She joined a STEM club, became a math tutor, and acted in a play. As her interest in acting grew, I encouraged her to develop it by making her own films and leading a drama program. By testing different activities and delving into the ones she was drawn to, she naturally figured out her interests and developed a compelling resume. Allowing for trial and error made her path more genuine and interesting.
What is the most common issue students struggle with?
Time management is a big struggle for a lot of students, and this can manifest in procrastination, cramming for tests, never having downtime, giving up sleep, etc. One student wanted to explore medicine, but her schedule was so packed with art and music, she didn’t have time. I helped her prioritize by keeping violin, which she was most talented and invested in, and dropping piano and dance, which were only casual interests. This freed up time to join a medicine club and start volunteering at a hospital, and as a result, she felt a renewed sense of direction and purpose.
When students struggle with time management, I help them evaluate their schedule and long-term goals to identify areas of improvement. Whether it’s giving them study tips or mapping out their schedule, I provide students with tangible advice to address their particular needs and goals.
What is the most important piece of advice you give students?
Be creative when developing your extracurricular activities. College admissions officers have seen it all, so you should have something a little unexpected in your application. Don’t just sign up for opportunities that exist, but create your own—for example, I had a student who built a computer for a summer project.
Join niche clubs or start your own. Perform DIY science experiments. Start a craft business. Don’t limit yourself to things that seem educational. Colleges are interested in ALL your passions and hobbies. If you are truly invested in an interest and you show it through your actions, it will “look good” on your application. Your goal shouldn’t be to impress admissions officers, but to show them what you’re all about.
What is the main takeaway you want students to have from their high school experience?
My main goal is to show students how to navigate challenges with resilience and pursue their goals with resolve, so that no matter what they face in life, they will be prepared to tackle it confidently. I want students to see that the problem solving and goal setting skills they develop in high school are tools for long-term success. Especially when writing college essays, students should be able to articulate what they’ve learned about themselves and how their high school experiences fit into a broader context.
One student I worked with struggled with confidence because she worked hard but her grades weren’t stellar. I helped her focus on what she was doing well, such as her strong work ethic and accomplishments in martial arts, rather than only what needed improvement. We set manageable goals with clear steps so she felt reassured and in control of her progress. For her college personal statement, I helped her write about her journey towards self-acceptance. The candor and maturity she displayed in her writing was a strong point in her successful application to NYU, but also evidence of her readiness for a confident transition to college.
Every achievement, no matter how big or small, is a milestone for personal growth, and therefore students should be proud of their hard work and progress. Colleges aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for honesty and relatability. No matter what their accomplishments and challenges are in high school, I want students to feel proud of where they come from and optimistic about where they’re going.
Click HERE to schedule a free consultation with Lia and discover how she can help your student!