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955 Benecia Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA 94085

(408) 479-4742


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


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! 

SAT Subject Tests // What are they? Why do I need them?

Elton Lin

sat subject tests what are they how many do you need

With the recent changes in the SAT (and to a lesser extent, the ACT), college admissions offices have been redefining guidelines for standardized test scores, with many schools no longer requiring applicants to submit SAT Subject Test scores. So what should a sophomore or junior do with that information? Are SAT Subject Tests even necessary anymore? Should you be registering for SAT Subject Tests this year?  Today, we’ll be tackling some FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) regarding these exams. Let’s start off with some basic information.

What are SAT Subject Tests?

Your parents may have known them as Achievement Tests. Your much older siblings may have called them SAT II tests. But regardless of their changing name, the 20 different SAT Subject Tests remain hour-long, multiple-choice, content-based exams designed for students who have completed the honors level of that particular subject. For example, a student who has completed Honors Biology at school may consider taking the Biology SAT (unless you’ll take AP Biology later—see below).

SAT Subject Tests are all scored out of 800, and they range in subjects as diverse as Modern Hebrew to Chemistry. As you might imagine, there are many language exams offered (nine total), and most of the language exams have both a listening portion and a reading portion.

When are they offered?

The most popular SAT Subject Tests are offered six times a year—on the same dates that the SAT is offered (Aug, Oct, Nov, Dec, May, June), so they may not be taken on the same date as the SAT. Many of the less popular tests, including ones like World History, Latin, or Japanese are offered fewer times a year. For current dates, check this link. Students should generally take them in either May or June, at the end of the academic year, to maximize their in-class preparation.

Do I need to take SAT Subject Tests to get into college? 

Many schools are no longer requiring the submission of SAT Subject Tests, but what does this mean for applicants? Only a handful of schools currently require the submission of SAT Subject Test scores, including Carnegie Mellon and Harvey Mudd. Some colleges, like Tufts or Wellesley, require either the submission of ACT scores OR the SAT with two different SAT Subject Test scores. Other schools “strongly recommend” the submission of these scores (e.g., Duke and Georgetown).

Our suggestion? If you are targeting a top-50 university or liberal arts college, you should plan on taking at least two different SAT Subject Tests. Although they are not a required element of your application, they could give further proof of your readiness to take on college-level material, particularly in your intended major, and perhaps balance out a lower grade in that subject on your transcript.

Additionally, SAT Subject Tests may give you some more options come application season. Some schools, such as NYU, Brandeis University, and the University of Rochester, are allowing students to submit SAT Subject Test scores in lieu of SAT or ACT scores.

Which ones should I take?

Our general advice for all students is to take the Math Level 2 SAT. Not only is higher level math critical to success in STEM fields, selective colleges also want all of their admitted students to be proficient in math.

After Math Level 2, students should be taking exams in the subject(s) of their academic interest. If you’re hoping to become a social science major, take the World History or the U.S. History exam. If you’re a prospective English major, signing up for the Literature SAT makes sense. If you’re going to be a Chemical Engineer when you grow up, definitely take the Chemistry SAT (and maybe even the Physics SAT).

If you’re taking an AP course, you may want to take the corresponding SAT Subject Test since you’re probably studying for the AP exam in May anyway. For example, you may want to take the World History SAT in June if you’re enrolled in AP World History, even if you have no intention of becoming a history major—you are already studying the subject; you might as well take two tests!

What kinds of scores should I aim for?

Broadly speaking, if the test is in your area of potential major and you are applying to a very selective school, you should be aiming for a 750+ on that particular exam. However, our best advice to you is to look at the percentiles. Keep in mind that many native speakers take the language exams. For example, a score of 790 out of 800 sounds very impressive. But if you earned that result on the Korean SAT, you’d only be testing higher than 42% of all test takers (for the Chinese exam, a score of 790 means that you’re only in the 48th percentile—the bottom half of all test takers!). This is why it’s often not worth it to take the Chinese or Korean SAT since high scores do not mean much in terms of percentiles.


The bottom line is that SAT Subject Tests are an important but not critical part of your college application.  Like AP exams, they are another way for admissions offices to assess your mastery of certain subjects using a standardized test. Applicants to the top colleges should definitely consider taking these exams, but maintaining a high GPA and earning a great SAT or ACT score will always take precedence.

Navigating the Waitlist Limbo (What Should I Do If I'm Placed on the WAITLIST!)

Elton Lin

“I didn’t get rejected…but I didn’t get accepted either,” Joanna replied in a dazed voice when I asked about her admissions results. As we approach April 1st, the date by which most universities notify applicants of their admissions decisions, the majority of students are either celebrating acceptances or processing rejections. But what happens if a student is faced with neither outcome? What if he has been offered a place on the college’s waitlist like Joanna? This is not an uncommon phenomenon, and some schools, such as Case Western Reserve University, are known for placing a high percentage of applicants—up to 40% at Case—on waitlists. Every year, students struggle with how to understand this outcome and move forward, and every year we’re helping students unravel the waitlist ambiguity.

Why do schools have waitlists?

The answer to this question will depend on the specific college under discussion. Highly selective schools like the University of Pennsylvania might be using their waitlists as a courtesy, a way to gently let down an alumni family or a high school from which they didn’t accept any students. Eric Furda, the Dean of Admissions at Penn, admitted as much to the Daily Pennsylvanian in a 2015 article.

Most schools use waitlists to control their yield rate—the rate at which accepted students decide to enroll. If a school has a yield rate of around 50% (i.e., half of the accepted students decide to attend), they will need to admit twice as many students as the number of freshmen seats available. But if fewer than the expected number of students decide to attend, admissions offices will turn toward those waitlisted students who have accepted a place on the list and, in many cases, who have made their desire to attend clear.

How many students are accepted off of waitlists?

Again, this is highly school-specific, but in general, the more selective the school the lower the chance of being accepted off of the waitlist. For example, Stanford University, one of the most selective schools in the country, accepted a grand total of 0 waitlisted students in the summer of 2015. Similarly, no students were accepted off the waitlist in 2012 and 2013. Last year, however, Stanford accepted 55 students from the waitlist—this might seem like a hopeful number, but keep in mind that this is only an acceptance rate of 3.5% of students offered a place on the waitlist.

On the other hand, Stanford’s rival across the bay, Berkeley, accepted 35.6% of its waitlisted student in 2015. This 2016 Time article lists a few schools that had very high waitlist acceptance rates in 2014, including one school with a 100% acceptance rate off the waitlist.

What should I do if I am offered a place on a waitlist?

First of all, we advise that you assume being waitlisted at a very selective school is essentially receiving a soft “no.” Of course, students get off waitlists every year, and some of their efforts include elaborate YouTube videos, but you do not want to pin all of your hopes on such a slim possibility. It’s better to move on with your life and perhaps be happily surprised in a few months than to wait in anxiety and be unable to enjoy the end of your high school experience. With that being said, here are some steps you should take when you are waitlisted:

  1. Do you really want to go to your waitlisted college? Is it a dream school? Would you regret not waiting out the waitlist? If so, accept a place on the waitlist.
  2. Regardless of whether or not you’ve accepted a place on a waitlist, you should definitely make plans to attend a school at which you were accepted. Of course, this includes sending in a deposit and the Intent to Register form by May 1. If you have a well-constructed college list, you should have been accepted at a couple of schools that you would be happy to attend.
  3. Send an update and/or another recommendation if allowed. Some admissions offices request that you do not send additional materials, but if allowable, you may want to update the school on any positive changes in your resume—for example, winning a regional science bowl, being selected for a lead role in the spring play, becoming the captain of the softball team, or securing an internship at a tech company over the summer. Be sure to write an email and include this information, along with brief affirmation of why college X is still your dream school.

    Note that waitlists are often not ranked, but they aren’t random. Maybe after looking at the incoming freshmen class, the school discovers that the orchestra still needs a harpist or that the lacrosse team is short a goalie or that there are no students hailing from the territory of Guam. Highlighting your talents and experiences may help you catch the eye of an admissions officer looking to balance the incoming class at a point when their admissions priorities may be shifting.
  4. Stay in touch with the admissions representative for your area. You should make sure they know that you are still interested in attending their college. Additionally, since the need for financial aid may play a larger role in admissions decisions for students on the waitlist, your admissions representative should be aware of what you are able to contribute to your college education. Often, colleges need more students who will not need financial aid, as they award much of their financial aid money during Regular Decision acceptances.

While we always encourage students to be proactive in the admissions process, hounding the admissions office at a waitlist school is likely to make both you and the admissions officers a little crazy. We suggest that you take a deep breath, do what you can, and move forward with confidence that you are a qualified student (after all, you were waitlisted!) and will shine at the college in which you ultimately enroll.

Junior Achievement Entrepreneurship Workshop and Incubator -- Deadline -- Jan 6th

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.

To learn more about JA, visit For more information on this specific workshop, contact us at

Dates: Every Saturday starting Jan 21st to April 15th
Time: 1-3pm
Location: ILUMIN Education Office - 955 Benecia Ave, Sunnyvale, 94085
Cost: $250/student** 


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 11, 2017.


** - Make check payable to ILUMIN Education and bring on the first day. Majority of funds will be donated back to Junior Achievement.

College Essay Brainstorming: Creating a Life Map

Elton Lin

One of my classes for my Masters of Teaching program at BIOLA had us complete a “Life Map.” It was a framework and tool to help us identify significant moments in our life that helped inform our view of the world and ourselves. It was a really moving assignment that helped me to see in one big picture view everything that was important in my life. 

As I started teaching college essay writing, I realized that I needed a tool to help my students first identify the events that made them who they are. So I adapted the Life Map tool as a college essay brainstorming exercise. 

When we think about core memories, I want you to think of Inside Out. Riley, the main character, experiences a life event that gets logged as a memory. If it’s especially tinted with an emotion, that memory (signified by a little ball that records a short video of the event) becomes a Core Memory.

A Core Memory then becomes a part of Riley’s Long Term Memory and eventually fuels one of her “Personality Islands.” 

Here’s a clip of that whole process here.

I love that movie in so many different ways, but my favorite thing is how it’s a really creative (and fairly accurate) way to represent personality and memory to children. So with this life map, what I want you to do is ferret out your Core Memories. 

Use the following exercise to brainstorm out all the your important life moments and your “Core Memories.” 

1. List!
Grab a sticky note pad. For the next 15-20 minutes, as fast as you can go, fill out one life event or core memory per sticky note. Try to get through as many sticky notes as you can. 

What are some clear and important memories you have?
•    Times you moved
•    First day of ____
•    Last day of _____
•    Family vacations
•    Family troubles
•    Important classes
•    Important extracurricular
•    Start or end of a job or program or extracurricular activity
•    Start or end of a hobby
•    Successes and wins
•    Disappointments and hurts
•    Major changes or shifts in mood or relationships
•    Family or cultural traditions
•    A day when everything changed

2. Map!
- On a blank sheet of paper, create 3-4 columns to represent every 3 - 4 years of your life. For example, this student broke it up into these years:  0- 10, 11 - 17, 18 -22, 22+. 


- Place the sticky notes in chronological order. If you want to, you can rewrite your negative experiences in a different color, so you can see the frequency of negative events in your life or if one era of your life had more positive or negative experiences. 

- Circle the most important life events that have made some lasting impact today. These events will be the topics for your college essay. 

It’s important to begin first with the important stories you have to share and then figure out which prompt to answer—it’s a more organic and authentic way of writing a heartfelt and honest college essay.

Here’s an example (I know, she has more than 2 colors and her ages aren’t very clear, but you can get an idea of what the final product looks like):

3. Write! 
Now you will have a large sheet of paper with a ton of sticky notes on it—each one containing an important Core Memory. It’s these memories that will become the building blocks of your college essay! Pick one memory and start writing your first draft.

Congratulations - you've completed the most challenging part of the essay process and now you're well on your way to completing your essay! 

- John and Lynn Chen

If you have more questions about brainstorming college essays, or want to chat with an Ilumin Counselor about how to craft the perfect application please contact us here