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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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>>> 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!

I remember joining only one club, but quitting after the first meeting. Everyone around me was so involved with clubs, competitions or sports, while I only had competitive soccer, which I had to quit mid-year. I was just following the wave. Oh, you volunteer at the library? Maybe I will too.

My one regret is not spending more time figuring myself out. What type of studying (flashcards, group study, making a jingle, etc) helps me the most? If I limit external influences, what hobbies do I truly want to do? I couldn’t answer these after freshman year. I spent too much time worrying about insignificant things like my GPA, grades and what my peers thought of me. These “worries” drew away much needed energy from myself. I never spent the time to take care of myself or to grow as a person.I realized that I didn’t really know myself. I did what others asked of me, but never satisfied myself; it was like I was simply riding the wave.

Nonetheless, here’s more that I wish I knew before entering high school.

  1. Do certain activities because you are interested not because you want to boost your resume. Focus on what you like to do. I know a lot of people have told you this or something along this line. It’s probably annoying to hear about this so many times, but if you are to take one thing out of this list, I hope it is this. Forcing yourself to go through activities to impress colleges or your peers is pointless. High school is a time to discover yourself. You are young and can use the time to develop interests. Don’t waste your time. During my freshman year, I had to choose between 3 different journalism routes yearbook, broadcast journalism (SHSTV) and newspaper. Newspaper was the most popular class; all my friends ended up taking it as well. I joined the next year only to find myself not having fun. I switched to broadcast journalism during my sophomore year and shocked all my friends. SHSTV was a new program and didn’t have a good reputation for producing as high quality products as the yearbook and newspaper classes. As I look back, I often think that is the best decision I made in high school. I had always been into film, but never wanted to join the journalism class everyone thought sucked. The Bay Area is a surreal bubble.

  2. Find genuine friends that want you to succeed. There will be rough times, and a good support system outside of school definitely helps. These people shouldn’t be people you are embarrassed to tell about a bad score or afraid to look vulnerable in front of. I had a toxic friend in high school who would always compare our achievements; it was clear from the beginning that she never wanted the best for me. I later found out she would talk behind my back and make up false rumors about me. Soon after I realized how toxic she was I slowly cut off communication with her and started to hang out with friends that who wanted me to achieve my goals. I find that you are molded by friends, so if you hang out with people who are negative then that will translate into your own life. Try to limit these relationships as much as possible.

  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s important to remember that you don’t look dumb if you ask for help. Do what you need to do to improve whether that be setting up times for essay help with your English teacher or asking your math teacher to explain a math problem.

  4. Don’t compare yourself to others. I know this is easier said than done. There are going to be people who are smarter, more athletic, prettier than you, but that shouldn’t affect you. The Bay Area is a surreal bubble and possesses the power to make us feel weak. Don’t let your confidence go down because you see others are doing better than you. If you ever find yourself starting to compare yourself, find out what your triggers are. For me, a lot of it came from social media when I saw everyone having the time of their life. When you eliminate your triggers (for me that was deleting social media for a month), you break your habit of comparing yourself. Remind yourself of your strengths. Comparison should not be used as a way to berat yourself. You don’t need to beat them to be successful.

  5. Learn to manage your time. Turn off your phone when it’s study time! I would throw my phone on my bed or ask my parents to hold on to it until I finished an assignment. It’s motivation to finish and allows you to efficiently complete tasks. On the weekend, write down on a calendar or planner what assignments, projects, or tests you have coming up. I put important assignments and tests on my Google Calendar to see how I should divide my time.

  6. Don’t memorize. Understand. Try to understand concepts instead of pure memorization. One study trick that helped me was trying to explain a concept to someone who had no prior knowledge of it. If you can clearly describe photosynthesis to your younger sibling, then that will stick more in your head. We forget things that are put into our short term memory. What’s the point of taking a class if you forget most of it later on?

  7. Relax a bit. Don’t stress out too much. A “B” will not kill your chances of getting into your dream college. Whenever you find yourself stressing over little details, take deep breaths and remind yourself that school is a place to learn. Go outside and talk a walk. Everyone has their own way of dealing with stress. Once you find that way, use it. You don’t want to look back thinking that you were too stressed out as a high schooler.

  8. Have a positive attitude towards everything. I only found out about this much later on, but your high school experience will be much more valuable if you take time to be grateful and have a positive outlook on life. If you find yourself in a hole, talking to trusted friends and family helped the most because it really brings things into perspective. Focus on your successes (even little ones) and see failures as lessons. Also, eliminate negative talk.

Always stay true to yourself, and I wish you good luck on this next big step of your life.