Archive for the ‘College Applications’ Category

How to Choose Your Summer Programs

November 26, 2012 1 comment

How to Choose Your Summer Programs

By James H. Choi
Source Link version: Summer Camp를 선택하기 전에 아셔야 할 사실

Summer programs for high-school students come in two categories: commercial and academic. Of course, both camps aim to teach students at some level, but their primary objectives are different.  Commercial camps are out to make money, whereas academic camps want to teach students.  The easiest way to know which group a summer program belongs to is to look at how you found out about it.  Did you receive advertising, like a colorful brochure?  If so, the camp is commercial.  Commercial camps spend their money on advertising.  Academic ones spend their money on scholarships for students, thus you won’t find out about academic camps by sitting in your house.  You’ll have to diligently search for them or else know someone in-the-know.

It is not that one type is good or bad, it all depends on your goal.  There are many reasons to take summer courses.  One could be to enjoy the summer.  If this is your goal, you could take any program that put an emphasis on the play side.  But if you’re doing the summer program to improve your chance of MIT admissions, then only the hardcore, top academic programs will be of use.  Attending a commercial summer program proves only that you have money and time, which are not qualities top universities seek after.

But even then, not all academic camps are equal.  Broadly speaking, some are academically passive; others are active.  Passive means classroom lectures, and the only students have to show for is a grade.  Active means students perform their own research, or create something that is uniquely theirs.

In passive academic camps (such as EPGY and CTY), you follow a predetermined curriculum.  These camps are basically an extension of your high school (except you might be in a different city).  Doing well in such programs proves you have the patience and ability to sit and take classes which is already proven by your school GPA, but it doesn’t show anything about your creativity or motivation to do things that are not required of you.

Active summer camp programs are different.  These camps can make the difference in being admitted to a top school like MIT or Harvard or not.  In active academic camps, you decide your own program and perform your own research.  Your study is not predetermined.  You pick a topic, and you explore it further with assistance of the local teachers and professors in the program.  The top programs are generally free, or do not cost beyond the student’s means because they provide financial support that includes round trip airfare.

Then why in the world would people join ineffective and expensive passive programs when there are killer free active programs?  Ah, there is a catch, of course.  The free active ones are furiously difficult to get in to.  The admissions competition is so fierce, it’s actually harder than getting into MIT.  In fact, among tens of graduates from those problems I met, I have never seen anyone who was not admitted to MIT later as well.

So how do you prepare for those programs?  If you go and read the application requirements you might be astounded to find the things they ask for.  The application process is just as rigorous as — and good training for — applying to college.  You have to meet academic requirements, you have to be a top-notch student, you have to have great teacher recommendations, and you have to have a great transcript and test scores.  But even all those credentials alone do not get you a spot.  Because everyone else has them too.

So what else do you need?  The thing that boosts your application, gives you an edge is your track record showing that you are the type, i.e., your previous research experience.  During summer vacations, you should join a camp that teaches you how to do research, or do it on your own.  Yes, it is the Matthew Effect all over again.  You need experience to gain experience.  Thus, in your earlier summers, you need seek out active camps  that will teach you to produce something: A research paper.  It’s level is not as important is its existence.  It must be your research — with your own ideas in it and your own name on it.  Chances are you will have to be mentored to take your first step into this world.  That explains why so many of these students are professor’s children.  But once the Matthew Effect kicks in, you can become ever more self sufficient and self propelling cruising not only through college and graduate school but also through your career.

If you must do it alone, then you are better off doing the activities I described in How to be Accepted to MIT 1 (How to get free passwords) than going to passive summer camps.

So, spend every one of your junior high, and high school summer with a goal of making into one of these free active summer camps that practically guarantees your spot at MIT.

When you do apply for these great active camps, make sure you take advice from those who have been through the camps before because there is no second chance.  The application process is lengthy and involved, and there are many ways to make mistakes that will disqualify you.  We know this well because we have an ex-admissions officer of a very prestigious active summer program on our staff.  Please note that most active summer programs end their application processes by early February.

Choose your summer programs wisely from early on.  It will change your life.

Categories: Summer Programs

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 3

November 23, 2012 2 comments

 The Other Side of College Campus Tour 3

By James H. Choi
Source Link

Continued from:

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 1

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 2 College criteria students should be looking at are rarely found in campus tours — and they’re often misunderstood anyway.

As for the valuable university details, which sometimes slip into tours and upon which students should be basing their college choices — assuming they have any choices — students hardly ever understand the meaning of the terms used.  They are simply not likely to understand terms such as “faculty-to-student ratio,” “faculty availability,” or “undergraduate research opportunity.”

Therefore, during a campus tour while all this hard-to-internalize information is being thrown at them, students are of course likely to be daydreaming about that gift shop that awaits them at the end of the tour. (One student I took to a tour thought “undergraduate” meant an “underachiever” or someone on academic probation, and a “graduate” was someone she could be if she behaved appropriately at college.  For her, the admissions officer who kept discussing admission requirements for “undergraduates” wasn’t saying anything meaningful to her. There’s a snapshot of the campus tour scene for you.)

10. Campus tours are not “tours.” They are not “family vacations.” They are “missions.”

The college tour is a singularly stressful experience.  Many students guided by their parents are in un-cheerful moods because they’d rather be on real vacation. Trips often correspond with weekends or school breaks which reminds them that they should be having real fun that they are entitled to.  If they visit campuses in a peer group (which is how I take them), their mood is significantly better because they can ignore the tour more easily.  Their favorite time is at night at the hotel.  As their guide, I’ve had to quiet students down, break up their games, and get them to sleep on time to make sure they can wake up the next day to arrive on time at the next university — all to get to the next information session that they don’t care for.  In other words, I managed to foul up their mood.

If you go as a family, this type of tour exerts a great deal of stress to the family.  In no other vacation does a family cover so much distance in so little time while under so much time pressure.  Finding parking space in a new city under time pressure alone is enough to let the crack show.  Parents also discover that the only active interest their students show on any college campus is the gift shop.

Families must not approach the campus tour as a “tour” or a “vacation” but rather as a “mission.” This is “work” with a specific goal, which in the end is likely futile because a tour’s goal is supposed to be to help a student decide what school to attend, but the choice might likely never exist.

11. Wrong questions, wrong goals

What high school students should be thinking and deciding is what their career is going to be.  College is a stepping stone to reach that career goal.  If one can’t pinpoint a career, how does one then choose the best school for obtaining it?

But that’s a difficult question for anyone, especially for a high school student who still doesn’t have all the data.  Campus tours draw emphasis away from this salient and difficult question and substitute it for an easier but false one: “If  just need to focus on the vibe and comfort of the college, then your life will be fine.”

As many unemployed college graduates can attest, finishing college does not guarantee a thing.  To add to the insult, there are many high paying jobs/careers that go unfilled because the lack of qualified candidates.  Sometime, somewhere, somehow a massive number of students took a diverging path from these promising careers.  That fork in the road could have been the campus tour that blinded them from the real question.

12. The time and money spent visiting campuses could be better spent actually deciding and preparing for career.

College campus tour is not a magic and it will not solve any problems, i.e., it won’t work as a motivation tool, it won’t substitute as a career selection.

Yes, it is useful for those rare students who will have to choose among many admissions offers.  However, those students can do the tour AFTER they are admitted.  There are special gathering specifically for them offered by every college.  Our director Mrs. Monica Lee is a parent connector at MIT whose mission is to offer the inside information/story to those who are already accepted.  Thus, even for the top students, college tour before admission is not likely to change anything other than their closet filling up with college-branded apparels.

If you have money to spare, sure, college campus tour is as good as any other way to spend it.  However, if you are juggling a zero-sum budget, the time and the money can be better spent on exploring the real world to discover the career that would fit the student’s talent and interest.

Categories: College Campus Tour

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 2

November 23, 2012 2 comments

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 2

By James H. Choi
Source Link

Continued from: The Other Side of College Campus Tour 1 Students pick what college they want to go to based on what they hear about the school — before ever seeing it. 

From what I’ve seen, most students know what college they want to attend not because they visited or saw it, but because of the college’s reputation and the word of mouth from those around them. In other words, if a high-reputation and respected college accepts a student, he or she wouldn’t care if the dorm looked like a dump. That student would go. That student would be grateful that to be able to go.

6. Campus tour to choose the right college?  Will you have a choice?

The premise of taking many college campus tours is that your student will get to choose the one at which he or she would like to study. The key word here is “choice” — but will your student have a choice?

For most students, they would be lucky if they got accepted by one dream college; it is highly unlikely that any one student would be accepted by two dream colleges and have to make a “choice.”  Of course, such cases exist. I advised one student who had to choose between — get this — Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford.  But he/she was a rare case.  Most students will gratefully study at the campus of the best school that accepted them.  Even if they get to choose, it will be most likely among the college they never toured.

7. Information sessions are positively unhelpful.

Perhaps the most important part of the campus tour is supposed to be the information session. Every guided campus tour has an information session, which is a forum where admissions officers and sometimes current undergraduates talk to visitors and answer your and your student’s questions.  This is also the part most students least look forward to. Most wouldn’t mind skipping the information session altogether to get to that gift shop faster.  On every tour, I had a student whispering to me “Can we skip the information session and go to the gift shop instead?”

But the talk itself is a sight to behold: Even competitive colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton talk during these sessions as if they are trying to sell themselves.  For instance, Harvard’s information session devotes about half the time to current Harvard students who explain their campus life, how great it is, what kind of activities they enjoy.  Details about Harvard’s club activities, sports, and all these other plain things leave students believing Harvard is a wonderful vacation spot!  You can easily miss the acknowledgement that the academics are competitive, which is mentioned only in passing.

How pointless!  All students I’ve ever taken to the Harvard information sessions would choose Harvard even if its campus were like a prison!  Despite this well known fact, the information session dedicates so much on promoting Harvard as if they the speaker was facing an skeptical or downright hostile audience.  Interestingly, there is hardly any mention on what it takes to be accepted to Harvard.  Those who entered the information session seeking specific information on the admissions requirements always leave empty handed.

8. Information-session speakers relentlessly positive, even when they shouldn’t.

Here’s a question that gets asked all the time at information sessions:

Student: “Can I apply without knowing my specific major?”

Admissions officer: “Sure! College is all about finding yourself, experimenting, and realizing what your potential is.”

The above might be the single-most asked question in all information sessions and illustrates the large number of students who are unsure what they want to study in college. Many go simply because this is their time to go. Our society’s clock is pushing them into college, not because they want to go or are ready to go.  Nonetheless, every college’s answer to the above question is a resounding, “Sure!”

Harvard released statistics regarding how many students are admitted under an “undecided major.”  For the class of 2016 admissions, that number is 0.7 percent.  That’s right, less than a percent.  However, a much larger percentage applies as “undecided,” I was told unofficially.  Applying and accepted as an undecided major is likely to lower your chances drastically.  I asked about this to a Harvard admissions officer, and her reply was: “Undecided major is a someone who will excel at any major.”  In other words, “undecided”  is not for those who are not sure what they are good at.  It is for those who are too good in too many fields.  You would not have noticed from that cheerful “yes” reply.

No matter what outlandish questions you ask, the admissions officer’s response is usually positive and ends in “you should apply.”  You need to recognize that the main point of the college information sessions is to get your student to apply.  The more of them apply, the lower the admissions rate.  The lower the admissions rate, the higher the ranking.  If you ever walked out of an information session full of hope, then you know the information session was a success.

Continued: The Other Side of College Campus Tour 3

Categories: College Campus Tour

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 1

November 23, 2012 2 comments

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 1

By James H. Choi
Source Link Sabio Parents,

If your budget doesn’t allow you to take your student on college campus visits, don’t worry.

Your child will not be at any disadvantage. The upsides of college campus tours are well-known, endlessly repeated by those in the tour business and those who want to bring students to the college by impressing a future applicant (i.e. your student).  But these people have nothing to gain by mentioning the downsides of the tours.

So nobody has mentioned them — until now.  Please allow me to count the ways.

1. The college campus tour does not work as a way to motivate older students.

If a student is old enough to realize that he/she does want to go to college (i.e. a junior or senior in high school), then it is too late.  Top American college/university admissions require notoriously long term planning — starting at 6th grade.  What these juniors and seniors realize on the tour is how lacking they are.  Therefore the college visit results in a feeling of despair and regret and perhaps a depressive “down” feeling.

Sure, some of them are already prepared and these tours would help them select the campus they like the most.  However, these students will get in anyway without the tour, and impression they get from these tours would not reveal much about what they will actually face once they are enrolled.  I will not mention these “will get in anyway” types of students for the rest of this article.

2.The college campus tour does not work as a way to motivate younger students to study harder.

Now, if a younger students (i.e. someone in 6th or 7th grade) visit those campuses, that is an ideal age because there is still time to do everything to qualify them for these elite universities. But here is another problem: These students are too young to care.  They probably care only about the campus gift shops. For these students, college campus tour is only an sub-optimal, pointless, boring vacation destination.  It is an unreasonable to expect a child disinterested in books to be impressed by massive volumes of books in singularly hushed air of a university library.

3. A student is rarely the right age for a college campus tour.

To work, a college campus tour must be taken when students are at the right age —such an age is a balance between having the right number of years left in high school and the right maturity to appreciate the opportunity — but overlap is very thin, thin to the point that it does not exist.  Even in the unlikely case that the students get motivated to study harder to get into a particular college, you have to ask yourself about their motivation:

First, “What did the student see that they liked so much?”  At the campus, students see only one season out of the four. If the students are impressed with the summer scene, they could be depressed with the winter scene, and vice versa.

Second, “What did the students actually see?”  Buildings! Is there a building so impressive that you would bet your life (or your student’s life) on being inside for four+ years?  If so, should they choose their career also based on buildings?

4. People, not campus buildings, shape students at college.

The actual influences colleges exert on students is done by the people there, not the buildings at all. Yet the only people you meet on a college campus tour are admissions officers, or current students selected by admissions office — people who are chosen to make good impressions on potential applicants, people you and your student will never see again.

The famous professors and Nobel-prize winners of illustrious universities? You will not see them during your college campus visit; in fact, your student will not see them during his or her first college years. (They are busy doing research. Who has time to speak with college undergraduates?)

On a college campus tour, the representative will guide students along the facilities and might poke their heads into some classrooms or take a tour of the dorm, but these are — or should be — minor points in deciding one’s university.  The most important factors — how students will actually gain academic knowledge (e.g. teachers and curriculum) — is completely omitted from a campus tour.

Continued (how to get free passwords)

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 2

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 3

Categories: College Campus Tour

How to be Accepted to MIT 1

November 17, 2012 4 comments

How to be Accepted to MIT

By James H. Choi
Source Link


Many mathematically and scientifically interested students want to go to MIT.

And yet, most of them end up preparing for it as an ordinary student — volunteer for disadvantaged people here, club activity there — without showing any special sign that they are interested in science and mathematics.

But how do you show such an interest, and possibly talent, in those areas?  Of course, you can win Math Competitions and Science Competitions.  But what if you didn’t get a chance because your school didn’t participate in those, or if your science project was too advanced to be understood by a judges at your regional science fair?  There are countless ways and regions you may not win any prizes even though you have the drive and the talent to succeed in the field. is a way.  Listen carefully and follow because this piece of advice comes straight from MIT’s admissions officer for my question: “What if a talented student never had a chance to win any prizes?”

Start your science/math research blog.  The earlier you start, the better it is because most fakes start in their high school senior year when they finally realize that they don’t have anything to show for it.  A science/math research blog that was started in 6th grade and kept up to date can only be come from a truly motivated student.

Here is an example of what MIT is looking for created by my student William Kim.  He ended up going to Standford and he didn’t apply to MIT.

The research reports on your blog don’t have to be advanced, they don’t have to be successful.  For those who are studying in my SR classes should post your homework result up on your research blog.  Explain the algorithm you used but do not post the code because new students might copy them.  In fact, some of the research items you see in William’s blog are homework assignments from my class.  Of course, he added more of his own research as well.

Have at least one new research topic, progress and result posted every month.  Continuous, sustained interest speaks volumes about your true interest in the field, a level that a college application essay cannot match no matter how eloquently it is written because essays are just words, whereas what you have is deeds your track record that others cannot hope to match in their high school senior year.

So, start yours today.  There are many free blog services to choose from.  I have been using WordPress and I am happy with it.

For those who are looking for a way to get started, I recommend my SR 90 for 5th grader to 8th grader, and SR 100 Science Research courses for those who have finished pre-algebra at least.

Categories: MIT

What If College Tuition Were Free? You have to be rich to afford it.

May 15, 2012 1 comment

If college tuition were made free, ironically, only the rich will be able to attend.  Here is why.

What If College Tuition Were Free?
You have to be rich to afford it.

By James H. Choi
Source Link

What if college tuition were free?  In Brazil, this daydream was the reality.   Universidade de São Paulo (USP) — the best university in Brazil, and the best in Latin America according to US News Ranking — is practically free.  Students pay no tuition, a few fees, and cheap, subsidized lunches (which where 10 cents while I was in high school).  The logic is simple: Brazil offers the finest education to anyone capable of taking it, as proven through dint of their hard work, regardless of their financial background.

Of course, this free university tuition has unintended consequences.  USP is, despite being free, filled with students of rich families.  The school chooses its students based on scores from Vestibular, USP’s admissions testing system.  Vestibular is the most intense entrance exam in the nation that is conducted in phases.  A student’s university admission depends solely on these tests’ scores alone.  No GPA, no extra-curricular activities are considered.  In a way, it is a very logical and transparent process.

To score high on these tests is to be admitted, but it is also to have prepared well.  Those institutions that prepare students well for the Vestibular charge a lot.  Therefore, USP admits students in droves from mostly just a few expensive high schools.
I know this well because I attended one of those high schools myself: the venerable Colégio Bandeirantes.  At my school, students were so well prepared, some of us would take Vestibular at the end of the second year (as opposed to normal third year) to show off their precocious intelligence.  (This was a pure showmanship.  They could not enter the university because they did not have a high-school degree.)  In the end, USP and other nearly free-tuition universities become packed with students from rich families who have paid extensively for preparation up to high-school years.  This is the irony: To enjoy free tuition, you must be rich.  “Matthew Effect” strikes again.

To make free university tuition democratically accessible, high-quality high schools would have to be open to students of all economic backgrounds.  Once again, only some students would get admitted to these, and so this would spur competitive and expensive middle schools to shape students for the free high schools.  Elementary schools and preschools would follow suit.  And by the time students’ are competing to enter preschools, you have a new problem on your hands: The students’ fates begin to depend on their lives before they even enter elementary schools.

Friends of mine who are now professors at USP tell me the system is pretty much the same as it was when we attended; in fact, they say the favor toward the rich has worsened.  Those who are in power and thus benefiting from this system have no motivation to change it.  Thus, the working class people are paying for the tuition of higher class families.  Who would have thought a free college education could become a model for social injustice?

Nor is this phenomenon unique to Brazil.  According to The Economist: “The biggest single supplier of undergraduates to the University of Edinburgh was Eton.”  Eton College is the British equivalent to the Philips Academy in the U.S.  A prestigious high school famous for being attended by the children of the rich and influential, and producing influential figures.

Nowadays, the college tuition is an extremely controversial topic in many countries.  At the time of this writing, a “Half-Price Tuition Movement” is afoot in Korea complete with candle-lit protests, and the Chilean students are demonstrating for “free high-quality universities for all.”  North American universities are always mired on this controversy, and once-free British universities are now going through pains after they recently decided to charge university tuition.

It seems to me that every system has its own flaws and the best we can hope for is to select the system that is least bad.  Beyond these vague words, I have no wisdom to offer.  I would like to hear your actual experiences in the comment box below.

Categories: College Tuition

Did You Read Your School’s Mission Statement?

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Did You Read Your School’s Mission Statement?

By James H. Choi
Source Link

Dear Sabio Parents,

Often parents complain a school didn’t prepare their children for college-entrance exams.  The complaints are legitimate: the lack of preparation is the main cause students perform poorly on the ACT and SAT, even though they received — unjustifiably — high report-card scores on high school subjects.

Ironically, some of these parents left countries like Korea to escape the competitive nature of the mother land’s school system, only to find themselves complaining about the uncompetitive U.S. education system.  We should be careful what we wish for, indeed.

What these parents should have done first off was to read the mission statement of their children’s school.  (If you haven’t done this already, I urge you to do so immediately.)  Mission statements of all organizations, including that of of high schools, are full of highly abstract hyperboles.  I’ve written my department’s missions statements (and the vision statements) in my corporate days, and it was an exercise in word arrangement that must include “world-class,” “customer satisfaction,” “high-quality,” and “maximize shareholder value.” Without these words, the mission statement seems empty.  The corporate mission statements are meaningless with them included as well, because it is like “eternal happiness”: an ideal that the organization would strive for, not a specification of the final product.  In other words, if it is in the mission statement, it may happened.  If it is not in it, then it won’t happen. take a look at your student’s school’s mission statement. It may not even mention “high scores,” or “standardized tests.” It may not even mention “college.”  Why? Because it is not their mission.  That’s right.  These schools do not care if your child goes to college or not, much less if they go to MIT/Harvard.  Most high schools mission statements are geared toward “producing upstanding citizens ready to perform all civic duties.”  A well-rounded upstanding-citizen doesn’t need to attend college.  In addition, the production of well-rounded citizens is not a zero-sum-game; why not offer an environment where students can stop and smell the roses?  That’s why the life of some American high school students seem less hurried, enjoying their lives more fully.  Admit it, that’s why you move to the United States.

So now that you realized less competition leads to less competitive results, ask yourself, “Is this enough?”

Yes, becoming a civic minded citizen is indeed a necessary condition for all human beings, but that alone may not cut it for what you expect from your child.  Do you also want to raise a high performer who becomes admitted to MIT/Harvard?  Then don’t expect schools do the work that is not even in their mission or vision statement.  Your child’s education has to be supplemented by teachers who share your goal.

Sabio Academy still doesn’t have a mission or vision statement because I (one of the founders) never overcame the “mission/vision statement writing” trauma of my corporate days.  Sabio Academy would rather be judged by its track record.  Yes, our students are admitted to MIT/Harvard every year.  Of course, track record is no guarantee of future performance, but it sure beats not having one, or having only a cliche-filled “mission/vision statement.”

Categories: College Applications
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