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Case Story: Columbia University

Admission Result: Columbia University, Early Decision
Student Name: Alicia Y.
Student Region: New York
GPA/SAT/ACT: 4.0/Test Optional

            Allicia went through a difficult time in her early teen years. She chose to write about this emotional struggle and her desire to advocate for those with similar journeys. While colleges are compassionate towards such situations, how such a story should be told can yield contrasting admission results.                           

           Under our guidance, Alicia successfully created a compelling narrative marked by resilience and vulnerability, allaying any concerns the admission committee might have had about rejecting her as an applicant–a delicate balance, indeed. She reflected upon the valuable lessons her experience had taught her, allowing her to transform into a strong, graceful and confident young lady excited for what lies ahead. With an essay brimming with inspiration, Alicia earned admission to Columbia University through Early Decision.

Essay Excerpt:

…..It was during this exasperating period that I took on a new purpose of reflecting on life through nature. Watching a horse happily munching carrots from my hand with butterflies fluttering their dainty wings around my head reminded me of the simple joys in this taxing society. Such details had gone unnoticed by me in the past, yet they now made up the most inspirational parts of my daily life……reaching the summit of the South Kaibab Trail after a strenuous hike left me gasping at the beauty of my surroundings. Using my hands to push myself over, I stepped up on my right foot, then my left—the cotton candy clouds hovering over the tricolored rock ridges mesmerized me. My deep inhalation of the majestic rock formations lifted the heaviness off my shoulders.             Walking through the red-dusted, Mars-like desert, I craned my neck up and saw eagles gliding over the valley. The vast sky guided my eyes to a vision of hope during this turbulent phase…..I began writing to jot down my life in detail…..Writing became my new superpower to engage with the world.….opened my eyes to the power of storytelling and the opportunities that accompany obstacles…..Producing raw narratives of those who have recovered from adversity—whether physical or emotional—conveys vulnerability and radiates inspiration.

Case Story: Yale University

Admission Result: Yale University, Regular Decision
Student Name: Jenny H.
Student Region: New York
GPA/SAT/ACT: 3.8 / 1500

          Having grown up in a family of Chinese fast-food workers, Jenny was the first in her family to attend college. Though she had many expectations of success placed on her by her family, she hadn’t the slightest clue about how to proceed with her application. In addition, she did not consider her extracurricular activities particularly worth mentioning since she spends the bulk of her time assisting the family in smoky kitchens. 

          We guided Jenny to dive deep into her story and Jenny was able to zero in on a central aspect that had previously eluded her: her identity and advocacy for Asian-Americans. Initially uncertain on how best to articulate her story, Jenny eventually composed an empowering essay about her family. Jenny earned acceptance into Yale University–an example of just how powerful articulating one’s story can be.


Essay Excerpt:

“You don’t care. It’s fine, just go back to work.” My Mandarin was clipped, tinged with spite.            Dad’s hands clenched around the styrofoam tray. Mom’s face darkened. The words had been intended to provoke.            Forget about the customers, the restaurant. Talk to me.             Then the tray went flying, showering us with bits of rice and chicken.           What? My brain registered dully. It wasn’t what I expected.           “Get out.”           I only meant to push them a bit over the edge. I wanted us to open up, to reach a mutual understanding.           We never had time to talk. Orders ring in left and right. Mom would plaster the same courteous smile on her face before turning back to the customers. The rapid retorts in broken English and Mandarin on the tip of my tongue would dissipate, washed away by guilt.            "Get out.” Dad roared. No explanations, just sheer anger.            I stumbled back, paralyzed by overwhelming rage.           Then I was running, further and further away from them, from silence, from imploding pain and unfinished conversations.

Case Story: Dartmouth College

Admission Result: Dartmouth College, Regular Decision
Student Name: Laura L. 
Student Region: New York/New Hampshire
GPA/SAT/ACT: 3.8/32

            Laura’s application process did not start out smoothly. Right from the outset of the essay writing process, she experienced significant anxiety and firmly believed she needed to conform to a specific image in order to cater to the preferences of each admissions committee. With our counseling, Laura gradually came to understand that an authentic self is the best ticket to admission success. Laura is a talented writer, easily seen through her vivid descriptions of a chicken coop and her transition from a Manhattan “Gossip Girl” to a “Countryside gal” in her common app essay.

            Yet, even with her witty and insightful essay and solid credentials, she was rejected in her early admission to Stanford University, as well as the subsequent EA admissions to several highly-selective colleges. This just further proves the level of competitiveness and unpredictability in the college application process. Defeated and panicked, Laura persevered through the process with our support and received an acceptance letter from Dartmouth College in the Regular Decision, continuing her newly-acquired New Hampshire identity!

Essay Excerpt:

There I stood, ankle-deep in poop with hens clucking at me and their bright yellow eyes calling me out as an intruder. I faced my most daunting task: clearing chicken poop out of the coop. The droppings were frozen solid onto the wood; my wrist grew weary and the harder I scraped, the more the bits of poop came flying off, blasting my face and body. Suddenly, something began to reek. I noticed an unusual amount of feathers lumped into the waste. Then, it hit me: I was shoveling a dead chicken……the skull of the deceased chicken. After more than three hours of cleaning, I stepped back and admired my masterpiece. 250 pounds of chicken poop and one dead chicken later, the coop was spotless. Raised as a proud New York City girl, my family and I escaped to New Hampshire when the pandemic began. When people heard that I lived in Manhattan, they would say, “You live where Gossip Girl was filmed? That’s so cool.” Yeah, it was pretty cool I guess. Now, more than a year later, my phone recognizes Sandwich, New Hampshire as home…..I abandoned the melting pot that is NYC, brimming with diversity and authentic cuisines from different cultures, for a small, overwhelmingly white town with one type of food: American. As an Asian American girl, I stood out no matter how I tried to blend in…..Eventually my metro cards expired.

Case Story: Cornell University

Admission Result: Cornell University, Early Decision
Student Name: Fiona S.
Student Region: San Jose
GPA/SAT/ACT: 4.3/1490

              Fiona came to us in September with her heart set on Early Admission to one of the most elite colleges. It was very late for the Early Decision application by that point, as she and her family had spent the entire summer trying to tackle the task by themselves. Having made little progress besides a growing feeling of defeat and exhaustion, they sought our assistance. 


              Through our expert guidance, Fiona reflected on her past experiences and coalesced them into the tale of a musician. While many students demonstrate exceptional talent in music, Fiona's narrative revolves around her shift from being a violinist to embracing percussion, illustrating how this journey transformed her into an intuitive musician who trusts herself and music. Her realization culminated in an exceptionally exquisite essay, truly a feast for the senses. Through our support, she secured Early Admission into Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences. It all paid off!

Essay Excerpt:

…..Percussion taught me to surrender. The triumphant crashes in the finale of Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony symbolize a surrender to joy. The movement shouts at you, in Tchaikovsky’s own words, “Rejoice in the rejoicing of others.” Playing the crash cymbals, I sing with the brass like fireworks lighting up the sky, a glorious celebration echoing into the night. I learned to be bold and give myself to the music. I discovered faith in my own interpretation and existence. I began to create music with joy and confidence. Percussion evoked in me the acceptance to be myself, unapologetically.             With my quiet, careful side as the backdrop, I ventured into a newfound identity and a taste for exploration: playing the marimba as the concerto soloist leading the orchestra, articulating the jingle of the tambourine, and striking the snare drum with attitude. I played on the copper sides of the timpani to mimic the waves of the ocean, and wore bells around my wrists to shower a melody with raindrops. My music can be surprising and even mischievous, but also sensitive at times. Every instrument in the percussion family brings out a new side of me I was not even aware of.

Case Story: Columbia University

Admission Result: Columbia University, Transfer Admission
Student Name: Kaylynn C. 
Student Region: New York 
GPA/SAT/ACT: 4.3/1470

            For Kaylynn, beginning her college journey at Tufts University was not quite the plan. Disappointed with the detour, she planned to transfer out just one month after starting college. Our team guided her to reflect on her past application, her passion, life direction and transfer strategies while helping her fully embrace the present as it is crucial for students to rise to their full potential within their current environment in order to gain an advantage in the transfer application. 


            Kaylynn, hard-working and anxious, had the misconception that she had to impress the admissions committee to gain acceptance. With our guidance, Kaylynn learned that she is worthy of any college’s acceptance and that college admission does not equate to her self worth. Her newfound authenticity and self-acceptance gained her a transfer admissions offer from Columbia University. While we are delighted with this outcome, our greatest pride stems from assisting her in reshaping her life narrative.

Essay Excerpt:

In third grade, my family migrated from an ethnically diverse neighborhood to an affluent Long Island community outside of New York City. Our home was modest compared to nearby mansions, worthy of being featured in The Great Gatsby…..Playing catch-up in the game of inclusion became a strenuous marathon. I was not accepted by anyone, including myself. During the next eight years, I alternated between being a pale plant struggling for sun and a make-up artist sanitizing my identity with gaudy red lipstick. Gradually, my eyeliner pencil sketching on my cheeks transformed into a brush gliding on a linen canvas.  I began to search for meaning and answers from painting. Light-waves reflected galaxies of stars, carnivorous flowers, and question marks.             Azure bodies of water appeared, and tranquil lakes on silvery pebbles and roaring oceans were showered in white. Light and dark shadows contrasted in the crevice of a chin, violet mingling with lemon. The colors stretched and unfolded, cheerful and animated, waning my emotional numbness. I learned how to laugh and cry again.  Through art, I created a space to escape to, heal, and eventually accept myself.…..I realized the notion of a monotone object is deceiving…..Just as shades of colors are multidimensional, so are people…..Below the skin deep surface of my eight-year old classmates, each had their own stories…..It was the collective environment that shaped them.             With this insight, I gradually reconciled with the past, choosing to understand and forgive. Most importantly, I forgave myself.

Case Story: Carnegie Mellon University

Admission Result: Carnegie Mellon University, Regular Decision
Student Name: William H.
Student Region: Greater Boston Area
GPA/SAT/ACT: 3.9/1530

          William came to the US at the age of 12. His father, with the best intentions, has expected nothing less than academic perfection since William was little. This was evident in William's impressive SAT and GPA scores despite English being his second language. However, his writing lacked substance and this wasn't solely attributed to the language barrier but rather to the constrained relationship he had with his father.


          His initial essay draft primarily emphasized his gratitude for his family's sacrifices. Nonetheless, the dynamics within his family portrayed a significantly more intricate narrative. Through our work, William was able to reflect on his upbringing, coming to understand that conflicting emotions can co-exist and reconcile with the relationship he had with his father.In the end, he was able to free himself and come to terms with the relationship between them. William earned admission to Carnegie Mellon University's Electrical and Computer Engineering Program, just as his electrical engineer father wished for. A win-win result, indeed! 

Essay Excerpt:

My father is a perfectionist and has held high expectations for me since I was a child.  I always followed his demands but deep in my heart, questioned such a necessity.  One day, I—then a three-and-a-half-foot tall first grader—defied him.  “What is the difference between a 97 and 100?” I asked after being scolded for the “lost three points” on my test in the 0–100 scale grading system in Taiwan.  My father sat me down, telling me the story of how he and his family had fought poverty in rural Taiwan.  “Son, you need to be perfect to succeed,” he said.  I broke down in tears, first for being scolded, then for the pain my family had gone through.  That’s when I decided to be perfect, just like my father…..I understand where father’s perfectionism comes from—survival of the fittest.  For him, life has been an endless competition, and perfectionism is his answer to the world…..But, understanding where he comes from did not help with our escalating conflicts..…I continued to thrive in school with the collaboration from my community.             As A’s filled most of the spaces on my transcript, the conflicts between us gradually decreased.  I wasn’t sure if it was because my father had grown tired of counting the lost points or perhaps he had softened as he aged.  As for me, I have grown to be even more like my father: serious engineer, filial son, and, yes, perfectionist.  Yet, I know that we are also different: we belong to different generations, have different life experiences; and I have my own set of DNA to define my form of perfectionism.

Case Story: Carnegie Mellon University

Admission Result: Carnegie Mellon University, Early Decision
Student Name: Stephanie Y.
Student Region: San Francisco Bay Area
GPA/SAT/ACT: 3.83/35

          When Stephanie came to us, she was filled with self-doubt about her future–her former counselor had advised her to set her expectations as low as community college. The process of restoring Stephanie’s confidence was a gradual one. We provided a safe space for Stephanie to rebuild her confidence and encouraged her to take initiative in the writing process. Through our guidance, Stephanie discovered that not only is she brilliant in the STEM field, she’s also a talented writer and artist. 

          In her essays, Stephanie skillfully intertwined her childhood, family dynamics, friendships and aspirations. The result was not only beautifully written but also infused with her inherent humor, making it profoundly touching and often bringing tears to the eyes of every reader. Eventually, Stephanie transformed into a confident young lady who was able to believe in herself again. Stephanie secured Early Decision admission to Carnegie Mellon University to pursue her passion for computer science, which boasts the distinction of being the country's first-ranked program!

Essay Excerpt:

Since I was little, I didn’t believe in love. The cacophonous roar of dissenting opinions and rage-fueled insults filled my childhood.…my grandparents’ room was my little safe haven. Each night, snuggled in my grandparents’ bed, the stories would begin. My grandma’s tales were never completely accurate; she was always weaving in her own little details to the Monkey King or the newest drama on TV. My grandpa never stopped complaining about the inaccuracies…..The day my grandpa collapsed on his annual trip to Taiwan, my mom’s normally loud voice had reduced to a grave whisper. I remember straining to hear her for the first time in years. My grandpa’s sickness left him confined to a hospital bed oceans away from home…..I flew back to Taiwan alone to see my grandparents, amidst the white hazmat suits and the clear dividers of the quarantine taxis.           Over the three years I’d missed, my grandpa had deteriorated rapidly, but he still smiled at me the way he did when I was 5, and said “You’ve grown so tall!” (even though I was still 5’1”). Despite everything—my mistakes, the distance, the time that passed—he still loved me…..I never learned how to appreciate or maintain relationships. But I now know that love didn’t have to be romance, it was connections with people—connections that helped me overcome fears, change the way I think, and guide me in life. And as I look to the future, I seek to love.

Case Story: UCLA

Admission Result: UCLA, USC, Regular Decision
Student Name: Emma L.
Student Region: Los Angeles
GPA/SAT/ACT: 3.95/1480

            Emma is a hard-working student, but found the college application process overwhelming. She knew computer science was her passion, but lacked confidence in herself. Compounding the fact that writing does not come naturally to her, she chose a very difficult topic to write about– the recent and sudden passing of a close family member. Her essay started with this family member coming to her in a dream and tasking her with locating a missing key to a safe box, a futile task that had frustrated her family. 

          The writing process has been a very emotional one for Emma in processing her loss and grief. In the end, she came full circle, returning the genesis of her journey - locating that safe box key. This time, however, it wasn't just about that safe box. It was about having courage during hard times, allowing oneself to grieve and emerging strong on the other side. Emma chose UCLA to be her first choice school to stay close to her family while studying computer science and cybersecurity.  Emma, we are so proud of you!

Essay Excerpt:

“Uncle, where did you put the key?”             Uncle in my dream looked as he had two weeks ago: alive……14 days ago, … mom screamed at 911 at 5 A.M. Yet, it wasn’t enough. He passed in front of my frightened eyes. Since I was four, my “uncle,” an endearment, was, in essence, my stepfather, closer to me than my own dad. After his passing, I went about my days like a goldfish endlessly circling its 4-inch tank…..Then, I started experimenting with online gaming on the “Discord” platform…..Very quickly, I discovered a player group…..I wasn’t alone anymore. The bonding with my newfound online friends grew stronger every day…..It soon surpassed that with my school friends and I started questioning what was real and what wasn’t real in life…..I had believed that reality was only tangible and physical, yet, online friendships were as real as real could be. The line between real and unreal blurred in front of my eyes. …. I continue to live with his influence, advice, and even jokes, cementing him in my life. His physical presence ceases to exist, but he is as real as before and always will be. Maybe… the real and the unreal coexist, stepping into each other, crossing the lines and blending the two worlds I’ve become familiar with. As these worlds unite, they have become stepping stones to guide me…                 Through my uncle, I found my key.

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