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ILUMIN Blog

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

Filtering by Category: ILUMIN Staff

ILUMIN Staff Profile: Katie Young

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5 Questions for Katie Young

Katie brings a wealth of experience to LUMIN Education’s consulting team. Since 2012, she has been counseling students in college admission, and in 2017 she completed her graduate certificate program in Educational Consulting through UC Irvine.

We asked Katie five questions to help you get to know her better.

1. What is one of your favorite aspects of working with students?

I love talking about college all day, every day! After getting to know students, it is fun to show them different collegiate environments where they would not only be great fits, but also fill niches and thrive as unique contributors. y thoroughly researching and visiting colleges, as well as speaking directly with admissions counselors, it is possible to determine the values of a given campus and whether those align with my students'.

For example, my student, Kira, really wanted a college where curiosity and questioning the norm were valued by both professors and fellow students. We found that environment for her at University of Chicago. Similarly, my student Jennifer wanted an intellectual campus where discussion and open-mindedness were valued. We discovered that Reed College was a perfect place for her to study.

I truly believe that every student has a college where he or she belongs and delivering the perfect applicant and application right to the admissions officer's doorstep is my passion.

2. What is one insight you’ve earned from being involved in the college admissions process?

There is no such thing as a model applicant. Students should never try to "keep up with the Joneses" by copying course schedules, testing plans or extracurricular activities from older students they see as successful. Colleges are not looking for cookie-cutter, well-rounded students. They are looking for students who are one-of-a-kind, who are truly interesting, and who find unique ways to pursue their passions in high school.

For example, my student Nicole had three big interests: film, engineering, and women's rights. Her affinity for engineering was obvious early in life, but her interest in film burgeoned only after joining her school's television production team on a whim. Her dedication to women's rights stemmed from her grandmother who, growing up in rural China, was not allowed an education. Nicole found a way to combine all three interests, making a short stop-motion animation film about her challenges as a female aspiring engineer and her desire for all girls to pursue their goals free from discrimination. She entered the film in the White House Student Film Festival, and won. She went on to be accepted to every UC campus and eventually chose to attend UC Berkeley.

It's helping students identify and combine their passions that makes counseling students in college admissions a new adventure year after year.

3. What do you want students to know?

I want students to know that setting realistic expectations for college is important.

The harsh reality is that there is a valedictorian with a perfect 1600 SAT score and an impressive resume at every single high school in America. There are over 37,000 high schools, which means there are way more than 37,000 amazing students applying for approximately 2,000 spots at each of the top 10 colleges (not to mention all the stellar international and home-schooled students in the mix). My student might be one of the fortunate and deserving admits...but she might not be. It is my job to prepare her for that "no."

I'm not here to crush students' dreams -- in fact, I encourage students to follow their hearts and apply to Stanford or Columbia if it is truly their ideal college. I did, and even though I collapsed into a puddle of tears on my doorstep when I didn't get the big envelopes, I don't regret it. My goal is for my students to feel the same way: to look back and have absolutely no regrets about this process. To me, that means not only following your heart, but also looking at the numbers in black and white and making wise decisions.

Just clicking the box and adding Merced to a UC application is not enough. My students will be doing their homework, visiting campuses, and ensuring that even if they are only accepted to one of the colleges on their list, they know they can be happy and successful there.

4. What do you want parents to know?

The most important lesson I can share with a parent is that every student is different. It is not productive to compare your child to others. Each student is unique in terms of what they respond to, what motivates them, and what is most important to them. Colleges don't want dozens of the same student, so there is no reason for a parent to force a child into being someone they are not.

I once worked with a student, Jared, whose older sister got into Cornell, USC, Carnegie Mellon, NYU, and other top business schools. He tried to replicate her resume, while his parents tried to replicate the parenting style that had worked for their first child. He was forced to pick up and continue her projects and leadership roles, letting go of his own interest in law and politics in the process. He was absolutely miserable: his grades started dropping, he had disciplinary problems at school, and he couldn’t have a conversation with his parents without someone yelling. Needless to say, no one was surprised when Jared was rejected from nearly every college he applied to.

Conversely, my student Adam’s older sister was a star who got into UCLA and interns with the LA Times. He was a B average student who wasn’t interested in activities at school and struggled to get above 30 on his ACT. His parents never compared him to his older sister or expected him to replicate her success. They let him follow his interest in psychology, manage his own schedule, and choose his own colleges. He was accepted to thirteen of the fifteen colleges where he applied because he and his parents set realistic goals and listened to one another.

The best outcomes are only possible when parents and students communicate enough to share common goals and expectations.

5. What is one way you can help?

I think the greatest way I can help is through my ability to listen to a student's words and help him translate those words into actions.

One of the biggest mistakes high school students can make is to think too small. They often give up before they really try. In my experience, there is always more that students can do, and sometimes all it takes is for someone to point out the path.

For example, I had a student named Wyatt who often complained that no one showed up to sports games or events at his school. I asked Wyatt how students could find out about these events, and he said there was a morning announcement over the loudspeaker. That information was often too little too late, as it only mentioned events for that day, and many students didn’t pay attention to  announcements anyway. I asked Wyatt how he would improve that system, and he thought about making a calendar and posting it on bulletin boards. I asked him if students would even look at bulletin boards -- aren't they busy looking at their phones during passing periods? A lightbulb turned on, and Wyatt realized he should design an app that students could use to see not only which events were coming up, but who was going. He made the app central to his campaign for class secretary, and won.

The same process works for college application essays. Students often have trouble recognizing what is valuable or interesting about their lives.

One of my recent students, Matt, was struggling to come up with a captivating idea for a personal statement. During one of our many discussions, someone was microwaving lunch in the nearby cafeteria. I mentioned that it didn't smell great, and he replied in a blasé manner that he couldn't smell it. In fact, he was born without a sense of smell. I was shocked that he didn't seem to think that made him unique. I helped him think about how his way of interacting with the world was intrinsically different from everyone else's, and he caught on. We discussed how he first discovered his sense was missing, and how it helped him realize that there are unseen and unsung forces in our world. He related that to his desire to study physics, a great essay was born, and he was admitted to UCLA for mechanical engineering.

Click HERE to schedule a free consultation with atie and discover how she can help your student!

ILUMIN STAFF Profile // Lia Tanti

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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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

5 QUESTIONS FOR AZURE BROWN, FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A UC EVALUATOR

Elton Lin

Azure Brown joined Ilumin Education’s consulting team in September 2015. For more than 10 years, she worked in secondary education as a high school teacher and administrator that included English department lead and vice principal. Since 2009, she has been counseling students in college admissions. Before joining Ilumin, she was a senior evaluator and counselor for the University of California, reading applications and counseling high school and transfer students on the UC application process.

As an Ilumin consultant, Azure coaches students from 8th grade through college, supporting the application process for every stage, including private high school, undergrad, and grad school. We are excited about the experience and passion she brings to our team.

We asked Azure five questions to help you get to know her better.

1. What is one of your favorite aspects of working with students?

I love supporting application essays. For the students applying to summer programs, my advice is centered around encouragement and application essay mechanics. A typical case would be Stacy, a 10th grader who didn’t think she was “good enough” for COSMOS, a summer academic science program, which is quite competitive. With a little guidance, she wrote thoughtful and enthusiastic essays. I was thrilled, not just because she was admitted to the program, but because she felt empowered through the writing process.

This process is even more complicated - and rewarding - for college application essays. The writing is often casual and creative, like an entertaining conversation with a trusted friend. Supporting students through this sometimes scary writing process can be so challenging - but when students tell me I’ve helped them express themselves more authentically than they could on their own, I know that a kind of personal success has been achieved that extends beyond college results.

And, from my experience, those that are most authentic in their essays achieve their best results, like Phil who wrote about standing up to bullying - even exposing those moments when he didn’t behave at his best - and was admitted to both UCLA and UC Berkeley with somewhat average test scores.

2. What is one insight you’ve gained from being an admissions reviewer?

I believe the most important quality for your best college results is resiliency. I’ve sat with parents who have cried over a “C” in junior year and students who felt like their college dreams were over when they received a weak SAT score. However, it’s important to gain a wider perspective on your future.

As an admissions reviewer, I was humbled by gaining a glimpse into the lives of a cross-section of UC applicants. It’s important to understand that no matter your challenges, there are likely to be so many other applicants confronting even greater challenges. And the truth is that a UC reader is evaluating your application holistically, which means they are not as concerned with your weaknesses as they are with the sum of your strengths.

No matter your setback, it’s all about how you respond. Stella, a brilliant junior I worked with, was turned down to every competitive research program she applied to for that critical summer before senior year. So she got to work - until she had secured a job shadow that led to research completed partly at home because there was limited space available in her mentor’s lab. She was admitted to Cornell, UPenn, and UC Berkeley.

3. What do you want students to know?

I want students of every grade level to know the surest path to future success is to try something new. If you think you know your direction in life, look for ways to get more firsthand experience in your prospective major. If you have no leadership experience, think about what you do well and how your strengths could benefit others. If you’re not sure about your direction or strengths, sign up for a volunteering experience, join a school club, or apply to a program that interests you to start figuring it out.

No matter where you are in the process of finding your direction in life, going out of your comfort zone will surely pay off in greater self-knowledge and confidence.

4. What do you want parents to know?

Parents often ask me how they can help their sons and daughters achieve their greatest success.

What I tell them, after working in education for more than 20 years, is the best thing that parents can do for their teens is to give them a certain level of independence in making decisions, even if it sometimes means watching them fail.

Being a protective parent myself of two daughters, I understand this message can be counterintuitive. However, I’ve seen too many students who run into trouble after becoming an adult because they don’t know how to think for themselves. It’s so much better for your child to experience the outcomes of their decisions, in the context of your supportive home and patient guidance, than it is to send your child off for freshman year of college without the ability to think and act independently.

5. What is one way you can help?

Every student - and family - is different in terms of what type of guidance they would most benefit from. As a coach, my role is to help each student take that next step, whether it’s improving study skills, increasing organization, exploring interests, setting goals, creating solutions to problems, assessing progress, or presenting yourself effectively on applications.

I truly enjoy helping students make incremental changes that result in greater confidence and achievement.

Click here to schedule a free consultation with Azure and discover how she can help your child! 

Introducing ILUMIN Education's NEW Educational Consultant: AZURE BROWN!

Elton Lin

 Azure Brown Educational Consultant

Azure Brown
Educational Consultant

We can't tell you how OVERJOYED we are about the new addition to our staff!

Azure Brown comes with a wealth of experience:

  1. Senior Admissions Evaluator and Counselor - University of California
  2. Reviewed 1000+ applications within the UC system
  3. 10+ Years - High School English Teacher and Administrator
  4. 6+ Years - College Admissions Counselor
  5. Worked with students admitted to: Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley

AND is the mother of TWO beautiful daughters! Read the rest of her bio HERE.

It's rare to come across someone with Azure's credentials. She is an amazing advisor and mentor and we're excited to have her on the team! 

Azure is providing free 1-hr consultations to discuss how she can help with the college preparation and admissions process. Contact us at info@ILUMINeducation.com or (408) 479-4742.