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

Filtering by Category: Summer Planning

ILUMIN Interview on Bay Voice Radio - Summer Plans!

Elton Lin

It's important to properly plan your child's summer...

It's important to properly plan your child's summer...

This past week, John continued his popular series of radio interviews on Bay Voice Radio, 96.1 FM (Bay Area, NorCal). Throughout this series, he'll be highlighting aspects that help students find the right majors, write the best (and most honest) essays and reach the right universities.

This time... summer plans! What to do this summer that will really make a difference. 

The interview is primarily in Chinese -- apologies to the non-Chinese speakers! If you would like to find out more, we'd be happy to do a free consultation and discuss how we can help. Click HERE to contact us and click on the link below to listen to the interview!


Summer Programs Alternatives: 5 Outstanding Summer Options

Elton Lin

When faced with the question of what to do this summer, a program could be the most convenient answer. There is a worthwhile program for you, no matter your interests, GPA, or goals. Still, summer programs are not mandatory for your best college results. Every year, thousands of students who have never participated in a single summer program are admitted to even the most competitive colleges.

As a former UC admissions evaluator, I have been asked many times which summer activities increase a student’s admissions chances. The perhaps unsatisfactory answer is: it depends. There are numerous factors that can make a summer experience an asset to your college goals.

For one, admissions readers review extracurricular activities for evidence of your genuine interest in your prospective major. If you love it, why wouldn’t you be spending your free time doing it? And, if you’re not sure about your major, summer is the perfect time to try something new. Even if you don’t like what you try, the time you spend exploring demonstrates your intellectual curiosity, motivation to succeed, and discipline to see something through to completion.

What admissions readers aren’t looking for is how expensive the summer program or how prestigious the host university, even if you’re applying to that host university. So, if you have summer commitments that preclude you from participating in a program, it’s not in your family budget, or you are denied by your desired programs, here are five outstanding options for your consideration.

1. Volunteer locally

So many well-meaning families arrange for their sons and daughters to volunteer overseas. However, many colleges view these summer escapades as “voluntourism.” If you can pay, you can feel good about yourself. Instead, volunteer locally. What colleges want to see is: How does your commitment to social justice play out in your own backyard? How are you applying yourself selflessly in the long term, not just during an expensive trip?

Lisa volunteered in a food pantry during the school year. When she needed to stay in town for her SAT prep course, she increased her summer hours at the food pantry. She made it her mission that summer to find a better way to organize the food donations. The experience Lisa gained from leading the food pantry project became a strength that helped her achieve her college goals.

2. Take a class

Community college courses offer a wealth of opportunities to explore your interests at bargain rates. For Kristen, earning an A in a community college accounting course became a convincing argument to colleges that she was a strong candidate for their accounting programs.

For students in 10th and 11th grades, a passing grade in a UC-transferable California community college (CCC) course is guaranteed to be treated as a weighted GPA point for UC--just like an AP course. And now, with a searchable database of online CCC courses, it is easier than ever for high school students to pursue their interests while improving their UC GPAs through CCC courses.

3. Get a job

Working requires that you show up on time, be a team player, and meet the expectations of your customers and/or boss. Even those students earning a perfect GPA have something to learn from giving good customer service at the local burger joint for minimum wage, and college officials understand this.

My student, Jared, who was interested in business and fashion got a retail job at Macy’s, which led him to a new understanding of selling techniques. Jared’s job experience became the theme of his main personal statement, and he was admitted to top business schools.

Demonstrating your ability to maintain--and excel--at a humble job in the real world is worth more than your paycheck. And, if you’re able to contribute something new to the workplace you join, your accomplishments become brag worthy, a jewel in the activity section of your college applications.

So, start working on that resume. Even if you don’t have work experience, you can still write a resume.

4. Land an internship

What student wouldn’t want a summer internship? The challenge is the much celebrated internship in your field of choice may not be readily available. Therefore, aspiring interns need to be resourceful.

James’ summer research plans fell through at the last minute. So, I had him look up local researchers who were doing the specific kind of research he was interested in. James contacted several researchers to request a brief informational interview. One of his contacts replied to him, and the interview went well, leading to a job shadow, and eventually, an internship.

5. Start something new

Completing an independent project that you’re in charge of is one of the most impressive activities that you can report on a college application.

The options are endless. Mary taught a writing course at Boys and Girls Club and was admitted to almost every school she applied to. Other students I’ve worked with have done everything from creating a shopping service, writing an e-book, and spreading awareness about hepatitis B. You can’t go wrong with working toward a solution for a local problem.

No matter what you decide to pursue for summer, remember to have fun. Exploring your interests and demonstrating your passion should translate into enjoying your summer break. If you find your summer plans to be less than inspiring, it might be time to consider a new direction.

If you’d like to know how we can help with your--or your teen’s--summer, please contact us to schedule a free consultation at or (408) 479-4742.

Summer Plans: Taking Classes at Community Colleges

Elton Lin

Thinking of taking classes at your local community or junior college this summer? Here are a few reasons you should do it:

  • Community colleges normally have classes you can't get at your high school. You can explore your interests or take more classes in an area of strength (math focused students taking higher levels of math; history students studying different eras of history, etc.). 
  • If you get an A, it may give your GPA a little boost!
  • If you do well, it can signal to universities that you're ready for college-level study.
  • It can demonstrate to colleges your interest in the subject.
  • You can takes classes almost anytime morning, noon and night. You can take classes online through your community college as well!
  • It's a good complement to a part-time job.

A few things to be mindful of when taking community or junior college classes:

  • You have to WORK! Summer classes are accelerated so you need to stay on top of it. 
  • Teachers won't pay as much attention to you, so you NEED to be pro-active with asking questions and seeking help.
  • You need approval forms signed by your high school before you register. Start all this paperwork in April and search for the high school enrollment info on each individual community college website. 
  • High school students register last... so have a few backup class choices ready!
  • California students applying to UCs or CSUs - try to choose UC-approved courses so you'll definitely get the course transferred later on.

Hope that helps! Questions? Comment below or contact us!

5 Great Activities You Can Do This Summer

Elton Lin

Students (and parents) often ask me how they should spend their summers. Should I go to summer programs? Should I take SAT courses? Can I just play video games and watch TV? Uh, no, to the last one for sure. 

Summers are important because it provides colleges a glimpse of how you spend your free time. It's also a great time to do things you didn't have time for during the school year. Here are five great options for the summer:

1. University Summer Programs

Yes, lots of students are going to them. No, you won't automatically get accepted to USC if you go to USC's summer program (or any other university's summer program for that matter). However, university summer programs are a great way to focus on a specific interest area (business, engineering, art, etc.). Since most high schools don't focus on career exploration, studying engineering at Johns Hopkins Engineering Innovation program or business at Georgetown's Fundamentals Summer Program may help you learn more about those careers. 

Living on campus will also help you see if you really like the school and have what it takes to handle college life. I had a student whose dream was to go to NYU. But after a summer in New York City, he realized he hated city life and applied elsewhere. I also have many students come back from summer programs way more motivated because they got a better taste of the hard work needed to succeed. Whatever the reason, summer programs might be the way to go.

2. SAT or ACT Study

Yeah it's a little boring, but it's the best time to get it in. You can take an expensive training class or study on your own. Either way, you should do it before your junior year (when you need to be taking them). What's the best way to study? That's another post for another time. All I can say is every good test prep plan requires taking plenty of practice tests.

3. Volunteering (with ONE non profit)

That might seem boring too, but summer is the best opportunity to commit more time to ONE local non-profit or cause you're interested in. Focus more on deep than wide. When you commit more time, you'll develop stronger relationships with the leaders and the community the organization is serving. You'll learn more, have a richer experience and may even help with leading big events or new projects. Summer is a great time to invest more deeply in the organizations you're passionate about. 

4. Independent Projects

Start a cooking class out of your house! Start a weekly fitness group with your friends! Make Youtube videos on how to dance! Do something, anything... but find something you're interested in, set a goal and then go for it. Don't be afraid. There's plenty of time to be scared when you're an adult (401k's, osteoporosis, etc.). Do something fun and challenging and set an awesome goal for the end of the summer. Yes, it demonstrates leadership, personality and all that stuff (blah, blah, blah) to colleges. But more importantly you'll have a great time and accomplish way more than you ever think you could. 


You're thinking, "YUCK." But wait. Reading is the easiest way to build your English foundation for the SAT or ACT. The more you read, the easier it will be to fly through those reading comprehension passages. If you read good stuff, you'll pick up good vocabulary and you'll intuitively learn how to formulate good arguments. AND you might just fall in LOVE with reading (your English teacher's wildest dream!). Don't just read anything. Read good, classic literature. Read the New York Times. Read the New Yorker Magazine. Read about what's going on in the news right now and what's happening all over the world. Don't make it chore. Read on your smart phone when you're in the bathroom in the morning. Read on the way home from school. Read when you're waiting for mom to finish her manicure at the spa. It's OK to read what you like, but also read widely and deeply. Set a goal for reading 3 or 4 books over the summer and go for it. I promise you won't regret it. You'll do better on the SAT and you'll discover a world you may never have seen before.

I've got other suggestions including part-time jobs and internships. But that's another post for another time. Develop a plan and go for it. And make your summer both fun and productive. Questions? Comment below. Thanks!