General Trends in College Admissions

trends in college admissions
As a college counselor who has seen hundreds of high school seniors navigate the admissions process year after year, I get to spot some general trends. Analyzing data from the high school class of 2018 early admission candidate pool, I’ve identified four of the most important:
  1. GPA remains the most important academic factor in determining admission.
  2. SAT/ACT scores are becoming less important.

  3. Students must deploy a focused application strategy.

  4. Essays and interviews are becoming more important.


Trend #1: GPA remains the most important factor

Earning good grades in rigorous courses is still the most important factor in college admissions. For good reason: school performance over a period of years is the best indicator of whether or not a student will be academically successful at the college level.

Having the proven capacity to achieve at a particular college is a baseline requirement just to qualify for entrance to that college. The bar is set higher or lower depending on the school and the average achievements of applicants to the school, and most schools will not, at least publicly, specify a “cut-off” score.

Once this minimal academic standard has been met, students will be in the running for admission and non-academic factors come into play.

GPA and SAT scores

However, students who have everything going for them except academics – students with fantastic extracurricular activities and accomplishments, but without the grades and scores to prove they will be successful in college studies – will not be considered for admission.

It is important to understand that colleges don’t think of the GPA as a mere number. Rather,

they read a student’s transcript to see what academic choices the student made and what these say about character.

A desirable candidate demonstrates intellectual curiosity by taking the most rigorous courses available.

An ideal candidate thrives in these challenging courses and maintains a high GPA despite the difficulty of coursework.

By contrast, the applicant who habitually chooses to take a “regular” class when there are AP options available reveals a lack of the ability or the motivation necessary to flourish in a competitive college environment. Therefore, selection of courses is as important as performance.


Even if a high GPA alone cannot guarantee admission into a private college, a low GPA can guarantee a rejection.

Trend #2: SAT/ACT scores are becoming less important

The debate over the merits and demerits of the SAT, the most popular standardized test for undergraduate admissions, is a long-standing one.

University of Chicago

The University of Chicago made headlines when it eliminated the SAT requirement altogether,¹ but it is only the highest profile member of an ever-growing list of colleges taking this bold step.

NYU and Wake Forest

NYU and Wake Forest University are just a few of the top thirty universities to drop the SAT requirement.²

Top Liberal Arts Schools

Several top-ten liberal arts colleges, including Middlebury College and Bowdoin College (both tied for 5th) have also made this move.³
getting into college

Nevertheless, it remains important for SAT or ACT scores, when submitted, to fall within the average range of the target school.

An exceptionally strong score can help a student secure admission, although it will not do as much as an excellent GPA.

Good performances on SAT Subject Tests and AP Exams can also make a difference and help highlight academic interests and special strengths.

  • Students applying to top colleges as engineering majors, for example, should take the Math 2 and Physics or Chemistry SATs, along with AP courses and exams in these subjects.
  • And if a student does not score well on the Critical Reading or Writing sections of the SAT, performing highly on an English or History SAT or AP can help compensate.

As a matter of fact, in lieu of the SAT or the ACT, NYU currently accepts:

  1. Three SAT Subject Test scores (one in the humanities, one in math or science, and one subject of the student’s choice) OR
  2. Three AP Exam scores (one in the humanities, one in math or science, and one subject of the student’s choice).

Trend #3: A focused application strategy is crucial

When students apply to colleges, their task is to show who they are and how they are different from other students. A carefully developed application strategy is crucial to accomplishing this. A case study will help introduce this idea.

general trends in college admissions

Case Study: Tim, The Junior

When I met Tim, he was a junior hoping to attend one of the most selective universities as an engineering major. Tim maintained perfect grades and a well-rounded extracurricular profile through the end of his sophomore year, all while attending one of California’s most competitive public high schools and participating in a good number of science-oriented activities (Robotics Club, a summer engineering internship, etc.).

At the beginning of his junior year, his goals seemed attainable. However, in the first semester of junior year, Tim earned Bs in core engineering classes -AP Calculus BC, AP Physics and AP Computer Science – though he attained As in AP U.S. History and Honors English.

Could Tim still target the most selective universities as an engineering major?

Unfortunately, probably not.

Tim’s high school was known for its unusual strengths in math and science. As a result, Tim was surrounded by classmates with equally good extracurricular profiles who were also targeting Ivy League schools as engineering majors. And many of these students earned solid As in AP Calculus BC, AP Physics, and AP Computer Science, the very classes that gave Tim trouble.

Since GPA is the most important factor in admissions, Tim’s Bs significantly decreased his chances of getting admitted to the most selective schools as an engineering student.

Tim still had a shot at Ivy League colleges as a non-engineering major.

This would, however, require a significant shift in application strategy – a decision not to be made lightly. A change of application strategy affects course selection, test selection and target test scores, summer activities, essay topics…even the choice of teachers to write recommendations.

So Tim had a tough decision to make.

Should he target Ivy-level schools as a non-engineering major or should he shift his attention to other colleges where he could study engineering, though at the expense of brand name?

Note that although colleges do not generally require students to declare majors until the end of sophomore year, they do consider an applicant’s intended major when assessing his or her academic and extracurricular record.


It is also important to know that many universities have separate colleges for the humanities and for engineering.

Students are admitted to a specific college, and different colleges can have different requirements and sometimes significantly different admission rates.

For example, in 2018, Carnegie Mellon admitted 14% of applicants to College of Humanities and Social Sciences but only 5% of applicants to the School of Computer Science.


Students admitted to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2018.


Applicants admitted to the School of Computer Science in 2018.

Although it is sometimes possible to switch colleges after matriculating, there is no guarantee that such internal transfers will be permitted.

Now in Tim’s case, we recommended that he continue to pursue his long-standing goal of applying as an engineering major.

Not only was engineering Tim’s clear area of interest, but changing direction as a junior would have been risky.

  • Tim had been prioritizing math and science courses and choosing extracurricular activities with an engineering focus throughout his high school career.
  • Shifting application strategy would have destabilized the coherence of Tim’s “identity.”
tim case study engineering
Let us now generalize from the case of Tim to see what a focused application strategy does.

Applying for college is like applying for a job.

When seeking a position within a specific company, a job-seeker must tailor his or her résumé as closely as possible to match the job being applied for. In the same way, students must be strategic in writing their applications.

From matters small (the ordering of items on a list of activities) to large (the choice of essay topic), an applicant must present a coherent self-portrait of a student who will fit in at a particular school.

Trend #4: Essays and interviews are becoming more important

Remember that getting into college is an art as much as a science.

Two key components falling under the first heading are:

1. essays
2. interviews

Both provide opportunities for students to express their unique personalities, share their passions, and show parts of themselves not on display anywhere else in the application.

The selection of essay topic is a critical part of an application strategy.

Although many colleges use their own essay prompt, all of the topics essentially boil down to the same elemental question:

“Who are you?”

college admissions test scores

Obviously, nobody can fully answer this question, least of all in a 500-word essay! But for colleges, getting some sense of an applicant’s identity is crucial. After all, when a student matriculates into a college, he or she will be someone’s roommate, someone’s classmate, someone’s student.

Colleges look for students who will complement the school culturefit into the social fabric of a school, and make meaningful contributions to community life.

Now for most college applicants – and for all applicants who have done due diligence in constructing a focused application strategy – essay topics should emerge readily from extracurricular experiences.

It is important for students to see their essays as opportunities to reveal something new about themselves, not to re-present their résumés in paragraph form!

Essays are a lens through which colleges can see what a student’s values are and how the student views and reacts to the world.

What the essay does in written form, the interview does in person. And just as essays must be drafted and re-drafted before being submitted, so, too, students must prepare for the admission interview.

There are two key questions that interviewers will ask:

  1. “Who are you?”
The first question, once again, is “Who are you?” In developing and deploying an application strategy, students will have grappled with this question in many different forms. If they have done their work properly, then they will have no problem knowing how to answer this question.
  1. “Why do you want to come to my school?”
The second key question is, “Why do you want to come to my school?” Answering this question successfully requires research and preparation. Students must have a knowledgeable and school-specific answer to this question up their sleeve.
In this blog post, I presented four of the most important general trends affecting college admissions. 

Stay tuned for our next post to keep reading as I highlight a few developments that have specifically affected the University of California (UC) admissions process.


1. Anderson, Nick. “A shake-up in elite admissions: U-Chicago drops SAT/ACT testing requirement.” Washington Post. 14 Jun 2018.

2. “National University Rankings 2019.” U.S. News & World Report. 10 Sept 2019; For a comprehensive list of colleges for which the SAT is optional, see the FairTest website (
3. “National Liberal Arts College Rankings 2019.” U.S. News & World Report. 10 Sept 2018.
†. New York University Admissions Office. “Standardized Tests.” Web. 27 Sept 2018.
‡. Carnegie Mellon Undergraduate Admission. “Undergraduate Admission Statistics.” Web. 28 Sept 2018.

Related Posts

Class of 2023 College Admissions Trends:

Analyzing Surprising Results

Spring 2023 Education Expo

College Admissions Today: Your Personality, Technology & Essays

Meet former Admissions Officers from Harvard and Yale at a special in-person event near you! Join an experienced panel of former admissions officers and FLEX consultants from top colleges including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Stanford, USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley as they discuss the importance of personality and character in the holistic review and help students, alongside their parents, develop a successful college admission strategy.

Additional Topics:

· An Analysis of Current Admission Trends for the Class of 2023

· ChatGPT Impact on College Essays

· Panel Discussion: Successful College Essay Case StudiesPlus, special promotions available for Expo attendees.

Seating is limited. Save your spot now!

Middle Schoolers:

Maximize Your Summer

Why Admissions Officers Look for Personality in Essays

UCLA & Brown Admissions Officers Share Insights

Why A+ Students Don't Get 5s On AP Exams

How AP exams have changed, how colleges use scores, and how FLEX can help

The New "Perfect Profile"

For Getting Into The UCs

ACE Preview Workshop:

College Essay Topic - Common App Personal Statement

Winning Strategies For Getting In:


Webinars for 6th - 9th Grade Students

Personality Testing: The Newest Trend in Post-Pandemic College Admission

Webinars for 6th - 9th Grade Students

Prepare for Success in High School, College & Beyond

ACE Preview Essay Workshop

UC Insight Question

  • B.A. Biology and Asian Studies – Bowdoin College
  • M.A. Biological Sciences – CSUEB
  • SAT Math
  • ACT Math and Science
  • AP Biology
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Physics
  • AP Calculus

Akimitsu Makino

Master Instructor

Aki graduated from Bowdoin College with a B.A. in Biology and Asian Studies.  Upon graduation, he gained experience in ophthalmic clinical research, where he was fortunate to co-author publications and co-invent a patent.  While working in the clinic, Aki pursued a master’s degree in the biological sciences at CSU East Bay, where he completed a biotechnology certificate and was one of the few students to be granted a visiting scholar position at UCSF as part of his master’s research for one year.

Aki’s passion for helping students overcome challenges in math and science is demonstrated in his extensive tutoring experience.  From supplementing a student’s school curriculum to designing a customized course; for nearly a decade, he has helped students realize their goals.  In his free time, Aki enjoys learning new subjects and topics, all of which he utilizes when teaching students.

ACE Preview Essay Workshop

Why My Major?

Extracurricular Activities & Summer Programs

The Importance of Research

  • University of California, Riverside – PhD in Sociology 
  • University of California, Los Angeles – BA in Gender Studies
Areas of Specialization
  • Students looking to gain admission to top-25 colleges and universities
  • First-generation college students and transfer students
  • Students interested in graduate school and/or research
  • Students who are passionate about social justice work
  • Crafting extracurricular profiles to assist students to stand out
  • Merit-based scholarships and awards, including prestigious national titles
  • Students who’ve had to overcome adversity, including learning disabilities

April Cubbage

Master Consultant

Dr. April Cubbage has sat on the graduate admissions committee for UC Riverside and evaluates scholarship applications for UCLA. She earned her BA degree from UCLA, where she was named a UC Regent Scholar. She is a nationally-decorated speech and debate champion and has won over $150,000 in merit-based scholarships. She was also named to the All-USA Academic Team and won the prestigious Harry S. Truman Award.


When she is not counseling students at FLEX, April also works as a Professor of Sociology. She earned her MA and PhD from UC Riverside and has spent the last 15 years in the higher education ecosystem.


April has advised and assisted dozens of students in applying for college and getting them into their dream schools, such as Stanford, NYU, USC, UC Berkeley, UCLA and UCI. She is passionate about guiding students to reach their greatest success and has extensive experience doing so. She frequently mentors students on research projects that are accepted and presented at local and national conferences.


April is excited to bring her compassion, enthusiasm, and insider knowledge to help students attain their college admissions goals. She is a great motivator and specializes in crafting profiles and guiding students into activities that tell a story of the student’s success.

Changes & Trends: 

Analyzing Early Results for the Class of 2023

  • B.A. Psychology & B.A. Criminal Justice – University of Maryland
  • M.A. Legal and Forensic Psychology – UC of Irvine
  • SAT English
  • ACT English
  • English
  • AP Psychology

Sarah Kim

Associate Instructor

Sarah Kim graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park with a B.A. in Psychology and a B.A. in Criminal Justice/Criminology. She currently studies at the University of California, Irvine pursuing a Master’s in Legal and Forensic Psychology. There, her research focuses on rapport and support building in interviews with adolescent victims of sex trafficking. She takes her research focus on rapport building to reach students individually in a gentle but focused manner. When not working or doing school work, she loves to read, dance, and spend time with her dog.

Sarah has been tutoring for 7 years with experience in K-12 general English as well as SAT/ACT Test Preparation. She specializes in the reading writing components of standardized tests. Her extensive background in tutoring has allowed her to be considerate of all students’ needs–whether that be young children learning how to read or high schoolers wanting to succeed on their SAT. Sarah believes that each student should be met where they are and strongly believes that every student can succeed.

  • B.S. Economics – Arizona State University
  • M.A. Educational Leadership and Administration – UC Davis
  • Master of Education – Arizona State University
  • Ph.D. Sociocultural Studies and Educational Policy – Arizona State University
  • English
  • Spanish
  • AP Spanish

Carmina Mendoza

Master Instructor

Dr. Carmina Mendoza is an education scholar with 25 years of experience in the public education sector. Her research and teaching have focused on Spanish instruction at different levels–elementary, secondary, and higher education.  Dr. Mendoza has decades of experience, both as a teacher and as a researcher of Spanish immersion programs in Arizona and California. 

Dr. Mendoza is also an active adjunct professor at Santa Clara University, teaching courses at the Masters of Arts in Teaching and Credential program. In this program, Dr. Mendoza has taught graduate level courses in Spanish to students who want to add a Spanish/English bilingual authorization to their teaching credential. 

Dr. Mendoza is also a published author. She is the author of the book Transnational Messages: Experiences of Chinese and Mexican Immigrants in American Schools.  She has also written chapters in edited volumes and articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, including the High School Journal and Multilingual Educator (publication of the California Association for Bilingual Education).

  • B.A. Social Sciences, Emphasis Sociology – New York University
  • ACT English and Reading
  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP European History
  • AP Psychology
  • AP US History
  • SAT Verbal

Sara Delgado

Associate Instructor

Sara has a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with an emphasis on sociology from New York University, and an Associates of Art in Sociology from Fullerton College. Sara’s past experiences as an educator and tutor range from Elementary to College age students. She provided peer-led supplemental instruction during her time at Fullerton College; during this supplemental instruction, she assisted students with understanding concepts and assignments in English courses taught at the school. She currently works as a long-term substitute teacher for local high schools. Sara’s main motivation to pursue a career as an educator is to support students and provide them with a fun and conducive learning experience that will set them up for future success.

  •  B.A. Economics – CSU Long Beach
  • M.A. Economics – CSU Long Beach
  • Economics

Sami Shamroukh

Associate Instructor

Sami Shamroukh received his B.A. and M.A in Economics from California State University, Long Beach. As a graduate student, Sami focused on econometric research, creating and using mathematical models to understand economic systems. His projects have centered on the connection between an individual’s financial literacy and their savings rate, as well as the impact of ethnic diversity on police spending.

Sami has experience teaching economics as a graduate assistant for undergraduate courses as well as an economics tutor, specifically for micro/macroeconomics at the entry and intermediate levels. Sami enjoys teaching students by letting them work problems out logically until the student fully understands how to dissect the problem for themselves. The most important thing for Sami is that any student he has the fortune of teaching is able to walk away feeling they have a deeper understanding of the material than they had before.

  • B.S. Computer Game Science – UC Irvine
  • AP Computer Science A
  • Computer Science: C/C++
  • Computer Science: Java
  • Computer Science: Python
  • Math, Lower Level (Alg2 and Below)
  • Pathways – STEM Coding

Theodore (Teo) Lee

Associate Instructor

Theodore (Teo) Lee graduated from the University of California-Irvine with a B.S. in Computer Game Science. He has been tutoring computer science for the last 5 years, helping those new to the field understand and develop their computer science skills. In addition to tutoring, Teo is President of the local Association for Computing Machinery. He has led many team projects developing software, and he has won numerous prizes in the many competitions he has attended.

When teaching students, Teo likes to implement practical examples and explain concepts using visual models and diagrams. In the field of Computer Science more specifically, it is especially important to understand how things work “under the hood,” so Teo strives to equip his students with multiple ways of thinking about a problem, thereby developing their own style in navigating the various technical routes toward achieving a solution.

  • B.S. Business Administration in Marketing and Finance – UC Berkeley
  • M.S Education – CSU East Bay
  • Multiple Subject Teaching Credential – CSU East Bay
  • Single Subject Teaching Credential English, History Social Science, Science – CSU East Bay
  • AP Macro and Micro
  • ACT English Reading Science
  • SAT Verbal
  • AP Gov
  • AP Lit and Lang
  • AP Environmental Science

Rick Denny

Master Instructor

Rick attended San Francisco’s Lowell High, qualifying as a National Merit Finalist. After graduating from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Denny spent 15 years marketing and managing tech startups that were acquired by Amazon, Microsoft, Time Warner, and others for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Seeking to make a meaningful difference in students’ lives, Rick earned an MS in Education, and seven California teaching credentials including single subject English, history and social science, and science. Since 2007, Denny has taught and tutored diverse learners in English through AP Language and AP Literature; social science through AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, and AP US History; and science through AP Environmental Science. Rick has also mentored students in individual college-level research projects.

Since 2013, Denny has helped students excel on standardized tests, especially the SAT and ACT.  Rick particularly enjoys individual tutoring because he likes getting to know his students and their interests, customizing instruction to meet their needs, and contributing to their growth and success. His tutoring superpowers are listening, analysis, patience, and humor.

  • M.A. Engineering Economic Systems and Operations Research – Stanford
  • B.A. Natural Science Area, Emphasis in Biology – Johns Hopkins
  • ACT English and Reading
  • ACT Math & Science
  • Biology
  • College Essay
  • French
  • Math, Lower Level (Alg2 & Below)
  • SAT Math
  • SAT Verbal

Reem Habbak

Master Instructor

A Bay Area native, Reem earned her B.A. at Johns Hopkins University in Natural Science with an emphasis in Biology. She then returned to the Bay Area for a master’s at Stanford University in Engineering Economic Systems and Operation Research.

Her tutoring career officially began as a peer tutor at the Tutorial Center at Mountain View High School. In college, she volunteered to tutor inner-city children through the Johns Hopkins Tutorial Project. Her teaching continued at Stanford, where she taught graduate level Dynamic Equations.

As a tutor,  Reem is amazingly friendly and upbeat while still being systematic in her assessment of her students’ needs and progress.

  • B.A. English, Philosophy – University of Hartford
  • Ph.D. English – UC Irvine
  • AP English Language & Composition
  • AP English Literature & Composition
  • AP Psychology
  • FRMC – Humanities

Michael Mahoney

Master Instructor

Dr. Michael Mahoney holds a PhD in English from the University of California-Irvine, where he has extensive experience teaching university courses in College Writing, English, Philosophy, Film, and History. Michael is widely recognized for his ability to engage students. He has received multiple campus-wide awards in recognition of his excellence as an instructor. In addition to his teaching, Michael’s research has also been recognized for its innovative approach to interdisciplinarity. His doctoral work has received support from endowments in fields as diverse as literary criticism, medical humanities, and science and technology studies.

Michael believes strongly in a student-centered approach to teaching, one that emphasizes active engagement with core concepts in order to achieve specific learning outcomes. His goal is to equip students with the skills to think critically, meaningfully, and independently about texts, ultimately helping them gain a sense of mastery and command over their use of language. Drawing on nearly a decade of experience teaching college writing in various disciplines, Michael also aims to help students reach their full potential in developing compelling and insightful essays.

  • B.S. Mathematics – Harvey Mudd College
  • AP Calculus
  • College Math
  • SAT Math
  • Math (lower and upper level)

Elisha Dayag

Associate Instructor

Elisha Dayag is a PhD student in Mathematics at UC Irvine. He received his BS in Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College. For the past five years, he has taught and tutored a wide range of students and topics: everything from 6th graders to college students doing calculus and beyond.

As a tutor, Elisha feels that math instruction should be tailored to a student’s specific needs and help soothe any anxieties they may have regarding mathematics. He further believes that anyone can be proficient in and, more importantly, find joy in doing mathematics given enough practice and the right guidance.

  • B.A. English, Minor in European Studies – UCLA
  • M.A. English – CSU Long Beach
  • ACT English and Reading
  • AP English Language & Composition
  • AP English Literature & Composition
  • AP European History
  • AP US History
  • AP World History
  • Pathways – English & Writing
  • SAT Verbal

Chelsea Gibbons

Associate Instructor

Chelsea Gibbons holds a B.A. in English with a minor in European studies from UCLA and an M.A. in English from Cal State Long Beach, where she specialized in 18th century British literature. While pursuing her Master’s, Chelsea worked as a managing editor for the school’s academic journal and taught as a graduate assistant for numerous literature and history classes. Outside of the university setting, Chelsea has instructed high school students across the humanities, and specifically in the test prep environment: her teaching background includes AP English Language, AP English Literature, AP European History, AP US History, AP World History, college application essays, and standardized test prep (ACT, ISEE, PSAT, SAT).

Chelsea views the classroom as a democratic space. Her students are active participants in their own learning, guided as they are through thoughtful discussions and assignments. She strongly believes that the development of critical thinking and the promotion of a global perspective makes humanities classes crucial to every student’s education, no matter what their major or academic focus.

  • M.S. Physics – New York University
  • M.S. Applied Mathematics – CalPoly University, Pomona
  • M.S. Physical Chemistry – CalPoly University, Pomona
  • B.S. Physics – CalPoly University, Pomona
  • AP Calculus AB/BC
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Physics 1
  • AP Physics 2
  • AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science: Python
  • Math, Upper Level (Trig and Up)
  • Pathways – STEM Coding

Andres Cardenas

Principal Instructor

Andrés Cárdenas is an accomplished scientist and STEM teacher. He holds multiple Master’s degrees: one in Computational Physics from NYU, another in Applied Math from CalPoly, and one in Physical Chemistry, also from CalPoly.

After working as a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Andrés spent 8 years teaching AP Physics at New York City high schools. His passion for science, in part, explains his love for teaching: his classroom enthusiasm is immediately visible,  something his students find contagious. Andrés believes that a robust STEM education starts with a student’s sense of wonder and a desire to discover; and his curriculum work reflects an emphasis on connecting concepts with theory organically—be it in mathematics, physics, chemistry, or computer science.

  • B.A. Political Science – University of the Pacific
  • Ph.D. American History – Brandeis University
  • AP English Language & Composition
  • AP European History
  • AP US Government & Politics
  • AP US History
  • AP World History
  • FRMC – Humanities

Alexandra Lough

Master Instructor

Alexandra (Alex) Lough earned her PhD in American History from Brandeis University and a B.A., with high honors, in Political Science from the University of the Pacific. She is currently pursuing a Single Subject Teaching Credential in Social Science from National University. Alex has extensive experience teaching and tutoring advanced high school and college students. She has taught Analytical Writing and Freshman Composition at the college-level and has been tutoring students in AP US, World, and European History for the past eight years. 

In addition to teaching, Alex has a background in academic editing and publishing. She serves on the Board of Directors and frequently writes for the American Journal of Economics and Sociology and is a contributing editor of the six-volume book series, The Annotated Works of Henry George (Rowman & Littlefield). Alex enjoys creating and using her own content in her work with students. In 2016, she co-founded LectureSource, Inc.—an online marketplace for advanced high school and college course materials.

How to Build Your Extracurricular Activities Profile for Stand-Out College Applications

Summer Planning - Making the Most of Your Time

School may be out and you may be in vacation mode, but summer is a great opportunity for students to gain valuable experiences outside the classroom and to enhance their extracurricular profile.

A student’s extracurricular profile has become a significant factor in college admissions, speaking volumes to a student’s intellectual curiosity, personal excellence, and character. So how do you go about building one? Should a student display a wide variety of interests or deep interest in a single field? Do colleges care about the quantity over quality of activities? How can you distinguish yourself from other applicants? This is the time to showcase to colleges your passions and accomplishments outside of the classroom.

Join FLEX as we discuss what an extracurricular activities profile is, the relevance of extracurricular and summer activities, and how to build them seamlessly into a robust and cohesive application profile! 

Pre-Med and BS/MD Programs -
What It Takes to Get In:

Is There a Doctor in the House?

What Sophomores & Juniors Should Be Doing Right Now to Prepare for College

Senior year may seem like it’s far away, but if you start your college application planning now, you will reduce stress and reap the rewards of a seamless and quality college journey.

In this webinar, we will share how a little foresight in specific areas will help you achieve your college goals. Topics covered include: 

  • Choosing Classes Strategically
    • Did you know that public schools and private schools calculate their GPA differently? Learn how to select classes that will optimize admission to your target college.  We’ll also talk about the importance of taking Honors/AP® courses, as well as college level credits in high school.
  • Building Your Extracurricular Activities
    • What you do outside of class both in school and off campus is an important part of your college application journey. We’ll provide strategies on how to not only best keep track of your extra-curricular activities now but also give you insights on which activities can enhance your college application.
  • Preparing for Standardized Tests
    • Students should actively plan and prep for standardized tests well before their senior year. We’ll share how you can best approach your PSAT®/SAT®/ACT® and what you should start doing now to maximize your success on the target test date.

Attend this free webinar to learn what Sophomores and Juniors MUST know about college applications and how you can get a winning start!

Changes & Trends:

Early Results For The Class Of 2023

  • BSC. Mechanical Engineer – University of Alexandria
  • A.S. Mechanical Engineering – Diablo College
  • B.S. Mechanical Engineering – UC Berkeley
  • AP Physics
  • Math (lower and upper level)
  • SAT Math
  • ACT Math and Science
  • AP Calculus

Maikel Masoud

Associate Instructor

Michael holds a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley and another from Alexandria University in Egypt. And he is currently pursuing a Master’s in Robotics at the University of Maryland.

Michael is passionate about education. He believes that he can help make every student love Mathematics and Physics – even those who have had a hard time coping with the nuances and complexities of these fields. Michael has taught widely throughout the Bay Area. He has been an instructor and STEM tutor at Diablo Valley College, as well as working in that capacity with students in private schools in San Francisco and in Berkeley. Having served in the US Army as a Combat Medic Specialist, Michael is experienced in aiding individuals when they are under extreme stress and in need of a calming, motivating presence. Michael is generous and kind, and particularly enjoys connecting to different cultures and people of all backgrounds.

  • PhD Sociology – University of Southern California

Alfredo Huante

College Essay Instructor

Alfredo Huante holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Southern California. He has taught several undergraduate courses, introducing students to or advancing their understanding of the social world. Alfredo has published works in academic journals and
websites and has ample editing experience. Alfredo excels at helping students translate their experiences into engaging, written essays by adjusting to each student’s specific needs.

  • B.A. English – Stanford University

Cristina Herrera Mezgravis

College Essay Instructor

Cristina graduated from Stanford University with Distinction and awards both in fiction and nonfiction for exceptional work in Creative Writing. Her application essays were published in 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays and 50 Successful University of California Application Essays.

She taught English to elementary school students while studying abroad in Paris, ran a creative writing program for high school students during her senior year at Stanford, and currently volunteers as an ESL tutor with the Palo Alto Adult School. Cristina worked for two years at an Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup, prototyping a new mobile app for teachers and students, and curating unpublished books, stories, and deleted scenes by New York Times bestselling authors.

Her experience in admissions consulting began by helping friends and family highlight the passions that set them apart as individuals and select the colleges that were a right fit for them. Students she advised were admitted to Stanford University, USC, and UC Berkeley, among others.

  • B.A. English – Santa Clara University
  • Masters of Library and Information Science – San Jose State University

Sara Fernandes

Assistant Director of College Essay

Sara attended UC Berkeley and transferred to Santa Clara University after deciding she wanted the opportunity to work with faculty on research. While at Santa Clara University, she helped Professor Judy Dunbar research and edit her book The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare In Performance . Sara then went on to obtain her Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and graduated in the top 1% of her class.

She has used her undergraduate and graduate education to pursue her passion of teaching research and writing to students. Sara has over five years of experience teaching and coaching, over two of which are with FLEX College Prep. At FLEX, Sara has successfully taught classes in SAT Verbal, ACT Verbal, middle school writing and English classes, college essay, and AP English Language and Composition.

She is committed to staying current with trends in test prep and college admissions as well as setting realistic goals for each student so that he or she can achieve success.

  • B.A. US History and Philosophy – UC Davis
  • M.A History – San Francisco State University

Nicholas Dawes

College Essay Instructor

Nick Dawes earned his BA in US History with a philosophy minor from the University of California, Davis, and an MA in History with a concentration in cross-cultural contact from San Francisco State University. While Nick was growing up, many in his family were teachers and school administrators across the South Bay, including Fremont Union High School District, so he is intimately familiar with the academic landscape of the Bay Area.

While in graduate school, he lectured in undergraduate courses, acted as an associate editor of an academic journal, and published his own original work. After graduation, Nick worked in standardized test prep, AP subject tutoring, and he most recently taught at a Bay Area private school for five years. He believes that students learn and work best when they have a productive relationship with their instructor.

In his essay coaching, he works to help students dig deeper into who they are as individuals and what motivates them in order to find the compelling, unique stories in each student. Nick has worked with students on their college admissions essays for the last 9 years, helping students gain admission to top UCs and other prestigious top 20 public and private institutions across the country.

  • Doctoral study in Human Development and
  • Psychology – Harvard University
  • M.A. Applied Child Development – Tufts University
  • B.A. Anthropology – Boston University

Martha Crowe

Master Consultant & Instructor

Martha Crowe has worked with, for, and on behalf of youth for three decades, as a social worker, child advocate, nonprofit director, consultant, and for the past eight years, as a professor, researcher, and medical writer at SDSU. Helping people tell their stories has been at the heart of each phase of her career. Martha loves getting to know young people — to hear about what they care about, what they are good at, and what their dreams are for their futures. And magic can happen when they trust her enough to help them tell their stories in an authentic and compelling way that both honors who they are and convinces admissions counselors to accept them.


Martha believes in taking a personalized approach with each student, tailoring her time with them based on their individual writing skills and learning needs. Her approach is always based on genuine care and concern combined with concrete action items and deadlines. For the past four years, Martha has helped students get into a variety of colleges, as well as honors programs within those colleges, from tiny to huge, rural to urban, California to the East Coast: UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, UC Davis, Northeastern, UMass Amherst, University of Michigan, Syracuse, Macalester, Santa Clara University, Pepperdine, University of San Diego, Loyola Marymount, Cal Lutheran, Cal Arts, Claremont McKenna Colleges, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois-Urbana Champagne, among others.


Martha grew up in Kansas City and joyfully left for Boston after high school, attending Boston University, Tufts, and Harvard for undergraduate and graduate school. She moved to SoCal in 2004 to spend time with her brother after graduation, and like so many others, forgot to leave. Most importantly, she’s a mom to three kids, who are, at the time of this writing, 18, 16, and 12, and an auntie to 58 nieces and nephews (true story) and too many great nieces and nephews to count. In her spare time, Martha volunteers with High Tech High, Miracle League, and Meals on Wheels, is an avid reader, and loves hanging out with her kids.

  • B.S. Mathematics – UCSD
  • M.S. Psychology – King’s College London (In Progress)

Helena Chen

College Essay Instructor

Helena is a Masters student in Psychology with extensive experience in the education sector, where she has worked as a teacher, consultant and student advocate. She started tutoring students in high school and supported herself in college as an SAT instructor. With a mathematics background but still very much interested in pedagogy and mentorship, Helena decided to leverage her analytical mindset and ability to problem-solve by continuing to work in college admissions consulting–advising high school students and their families on the complex college admissions process. Through this work, she continued her passion for teaching others how to write and hone their narrative voice, which brought her to FLEX as a college essay instructor.

  • B.A. English/Creative Writing; Minor: Music Industry and Cinematic Arts – University of Southern California

Gabriel Block

College Essay Instructor

Gabriel graduated magna cum laude from the University of Southern California with a BA in English/Creative Writing. He honed his writing skills through writing-intensive programs at USC and the University of Melbourne in Australia. After graduating, he spent four years in the music industry working for Sony Music Publishing, where he engaged in daily writing assignments and excelled at working with others and building trusting relationships. Gabriel has years of teaching experience; he brings a warm energy and first hand expertise in writing successful college essays. In the classroom, Gabriel values trust and joy. With a genuine interest in others, he builds trust through keen listening and clear and open communication, and asks for the same, in return. By having fun with the material and leading with positive reinforcement, he brings his best to the classroom and gets the best from his students. Most importantly, Gabriel believes in pursuing what you love. He can’t wait to learn what makes you who you are and to help you convey your authentic self to your dream school.

  • M.A. Private School Leadership – Columbia University
  • M.F.A Writing – University of San Francisco
  • B.A. English, Creative Writing – University of Houston
  • B.S. Communication Studies – University of Texas

NDidi Anofienem

College Essay Instructor

NDidi is originally from Houston, TX, born and raised, and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA. She obtained her MFA in creative writing from the University of San Francisco in 2017. Prior to that, she earned a Bachelor of Science from University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Houston. She is currently a graduate student at Teachers’ College, Columbia University, pursuing a Master of Education in Private School Leadership.

Ndidi has worked with students of all ages since 2003, moving into a focus on middle and high school students in 2015. Ndidi specializes in teaching essay writing, speed reading, and reading comprehension skills. She believes in student choice and autonomy and uses evidence-based practices. In the past, she has helped dozens of high school students get into their dream schools as a summer college essay instructor, including admissions to Spelman College, Howard University, Harvard University, University of California, and University of Texas at Austin.

Northern California Info Banks September 17th

  • UC Berkeley – BA in English
  • Santa Clara University School of Law – JD
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission to highly-selective schools
  • Students seeking admission specifically to the Ivy League
  • High-level students
  • Athletes

Dan Kwon

Senior VP of Admissions Consulting & Principal Consultant

Dan has over 7 years of experience working with students interested in a wide range of schools. A Bay Area native, Dan graduated from Mission San Jose High School. While at the Santa Clara University School of Law, Dan was a Judicial Extern for a United States District Judge. Prior to joining FLEX, he worked at a specialty scientific instrumentation technology company.

During  his collegiate years, Dan played volleyball for both UC Berkeley and SCU earning a League Championship and 2nd Team All-American Honors. He later went on to coach at Mission San Jose High School and Archbishop Mitty High School, earning league, section and state championships. Dan also co-founded and directed a successful junior club volleyball program that earned multiple JO bids.

Dan’s students have been placed at top-caliber universities, including all of the Top 20 private schools.

  • University of California, San Diego – PhD in Literature
  • University of California, Berkeley – BA in English

Alexander Chang

Senior Associate Consultant

Alex has nearly a decade of experience mentoring and teaching students. During his time as a PhD student in Literature and adjunct professor at UCSD, he developed the ability to bring out
the best in his college undergraduates, and for the past three years, he has focused his attention on counseling, mentoring, and tutoring students at the high school level.

In his current role as an Associate Admissions Consultant, Alex seeks to cultivate students not just academically but also holistically. He leads students toward a more contemplative life where they are able to reflect deeply on their own values, ambitions, and experiences. His goal is not merely to help students develop compelling profiles on paper that would earn them admission to an elite university, but also to help them develop into individuals who have the curiosity and passion for learning.

Alex is proud to have been part of the journey of students who have forged their way into such prestigious institutions as Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Wellesley, NYU, UC Berkeley, Georgia
Tech, and Caltech. As somewhat of an errant intellectual, Alex’s continued academic interests include varied topics such as data science and the humanities, critical theory and the neuroscience of language, and colonialism and the universalization of the nation state. When not reading or writing, he might be found enjoying a run in the park — but, realistically, you will find him reading or writing.

  • Stanford University – BS in Biological Sciences
  • Westminster Seminary – MDiv in Counseling and History
  • English
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking best fit school environments
  • Students interested in interdisciplinary fields
  • Scholar athletes & scholar musicians
  • Building personal narratives

Tiffany Lu

Chief Director of ACE & Senior Principal Consultant

Tiffany has over a decade of experience at FLEX as a science and math instructor and academic counselor. She has previous work experience in the fields of land development, children’s ministry, and oncology research.

Tiffany has guided hundreds of students to selective schools during her tenure at FLEX, but she most enjoys finding the best-fit school environments for each student. She encourages students to focus not only on application strategy and outcomes, but also on personal growth through the application process and on goals beyond the undergraduate years.

An avid reader, Tiffany is always up for a good hike and enjoys noodles of all shapes and sizes.

  • UC Irvine – MA in Art History
  • UC Irvine – BA in Art History with a minor in English
  • English (native proficiency)
  • Korean (conversational)

Jaimie Joo

Associate Consultant & College Essay Instructor

Since her days as an undergraduate, Jaimie has had an insider’s perspective of the college admissions process at the University of California system. She has worked as a Campus Representative in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and as an Academic Advisor in the School of Humanities at UC Irvine, where she gained invaluable insight into the admissions and counseling process. Because of these experiences, Jaimie understands the importance of fit when selecting and applying to colleges. Additionally, she has been able to work with a diverse group of students, including international students and first-generation students.

With all of her students, Jaimie strives to help them gain entrance to a college or university that will not only set them up for career success, but will also help them find joy in learning. She hopes she can help her students feel empowered in their own skills and abilities.

Jaimie is also a FLEX College Essay Specialist, which allows her to bring out her students’ most authentic and compelling selves. She has a proven track record in producing high-quality storytelling with her students and finds that writing is a necessary strength for any major.

In terms of admissions, Jaimie has worked with students who have been granted admission to John Hopkins, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine.

During her free time, Jaimie volunteers for an Asian American art collective. She enjoys reading, writing, and talking about pop culture.

  • University of California, Irvine – MA in Education
  • University of California, Irvine – BS in Biological Sciences
Areas of Specialization
  • Students interested in STEM, Business or the Social Sciences
  • Students seeking admission specifically to the University of California
  • Students seeking admission specifically to selective private schools
  • Students with international educational experiences.
  • Finding the right “college fit” and matching students to their dream school
  • Crafting unique and compelling college essays

Bernadette Saldana

Associate Consultant

Bernadette has been working with high school and college students for over 10 years. Prior to joining FLEX, she taught and counseled international high school students in multiple countries on navigating the college application process in the US, and her students have received acceptances to top-tier private and public colleges. Coming from academically challenging educational contexts herself, she understands the difficulties and challenges that many students face in trying to stand out at a competitive high school.

As an Admissions Consultant and College Essay Instructor at FLEX, Bernadette takes a compassionate and hands-on approach, expertly guiding her students through the complicated and often stressful process of applying for college. As a result, Bernadette has had great success helping students write essays that are distinctive, compelling, and reveal their true passions and identities. She also regularly presents webinars on standardized testing changes and college trends in the COVID-19 era.

Bernadette has successfully helped students gain admission to the Ivy League, top 30 schools, as well as the UC campuses with the most selective majors, including selective majors such as Computer Science, Biology, Public Health, and Neuroscience. She specializes in helping students of diverse backgrounds and interests find their best fit application strategy and school list.

  • B.A. Computer Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley
  • AP Computer Science A
  • Computer Science: Java
  • Computer Science: Python
  • Math, Lower Level (Alg2 and Below)
  • Math, Upper Level (Trig and Up)

Dickson Tsai

Master Instructor

Dickson Tsai graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Computer Science and Linguistics, and he is currently a software engineer. While at Berkeley, he worked as a teaching assistant for numerous computer science courses. In addition to teaching undergraduates, he also tutored high school students online in AP Computer Science and on the SAT, reaching the Top 10 in “Super Helpful” ratings at a top online education service platform.

Dickson cares most about cultivating a growth mindset in students, since an internal desire to improve leads to a stronger, healthier motivation than any external reward. He emphasizes a mastery of fundamentals through highly interactive activities like drawing program visualizations for AP Computer Science. 

Through this and other activities, Dickson works to accurately assess his students’ understanding and provide timely, actionable feedback. That way, students can gain the confidence to reason on their own from first principles.

  • B.A. Cinema and Media Studies – Carleton College
  • PhD Art History – Stanford University
  • ACT English and Reading
  • AP English Language Composition
  • AP English Language Literature
  • AP Art History
  • College Essay
  • Creative Writing
  • SAT Verbal

Henry Rownd

Master Consultant

Henry’s passion for education is demonstrated in his extensive experience teaching high school students at Stanford University’s summer program and Stanford undergraduates. Over the past 5+ years, he has worked with many students to develop more sensitivity and subtlety in their writing. He has also worked individually with high school and international students taking a wide array of Stanford courses over the summer, though he specializes in English, Art History, and Film Studies-his PhD being a strange mix of all three.

Henry thinks of writing more an artform than an algorithm, a way of thinking and feeling more forcefully about the world rather than a simple means of delivering information. How we write changes what an experience might mean. As an admissions reviewer, Henry has seen just how many applicants are crippled by a too-standard, high school curriculum approach to essay writing, one that does not allow them their own voice.

Henry hopes that his students will not only succeed in their high school essays and college application essays, but that they will develop skills that will benefit them in their college coursework and beyond.

  • B.A. Creative Writing – SFSU
  • English Enrichment
  • College Essay

Ashley Rodriguez

Associate Instructor

Ashley attended San Francisco State University where she received her BA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry. As an avid writer, Ashley developed an interest in poetry at a very young age, after immersing herself in the collections of Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. Throughout her college experience, Ashley participated in numerous workshops where she was able to sharpen her skills in playwriting, poetry, short stories, novels, and essays. She worked as an Editor for Transfer Magazine, SF State’s literary publication, where she read and edited hundreds of submissions and selected the best pieces to be published. After college, Ashley worked as an Editor for an appraisal firm, interned as a writer for a travel magazine, and became the lead writer for a video game startup, here in the Silicon Valley.

Her passion for writing developed into a drive to educate youth on the English language. From Creative Writing to grammar and vocabulary, Ashley enjoys helping students hone their writing skills and prepare them for college. For over 5 years with FLEX, she has tutored students in essay writing for college and graduate school applications, with a focus on Architecture, History, Interior Design, Art, STEM, Social Sciences, and more! Ashley is a taskmaster who ensures her students complete coherent, authentic, and strategic essays well before application deadlines.

  • B.A. Linguistics – UC Santa Barbara
  • M.A. Eastern Classics – Saint John’s College
  • ACT English and Reading
  • AP English Language & Composition
  • AP English Literature & Composition
  • AP European History
  • AP US History
  • AP World History
  • SAT Verbal

Steven Peterson

Associate Instructor

Steven Peterson earned his B.A. in Linguistics with emphasis in Japanese from UC Santa Barbara and his M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College, Santa Fe. His research focuses on the history of language and literature: he presented on classical philology at the West Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium, for example, and his linguistic work has been published in the interdisciplinary journal Western Tributaries. In his spare time, he enjoys learning new languages and memorizing classical poetry.

Steven has extensive experience successfully teaching the humanities: he prefers to teach history as a series of vignettes rather than a mass of dry facts, and he loves using his linguistic background to reveal to students the grammatical “DNA” lying behind the English language. He has an in-depth knowledge of the SAT and ACT (as well as several of the AP tests), and specializes in preparing students for the Verbal components of standardized testing.

  • B.S. Mathematics – Stanford University
  • M.S. Mathematics – San Jose State University
  • Ph.D. Mathematics – UC Santa Barbara
  • SAT I & II Math
  • ACT Math
  • AP Calculus AB and BC
  • Computer Science (Java, C++, & Python)

Matt Lazar

Principal Instructor

Matt Lazar specializes in mathematics, including Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Precalculus, AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Discrete Mathematics. He is also familiar with higher level mathematics including abstract algebra, complex analysis, real analysis, differential geometry, differential topology, and point set topology. In addition, he has experience in editing math textbooks. Matt Lazar is capable of teaching introductory computer science languages, including the languages of C++, Java, and Python. Within the area of computer science, Dr. Lazar specializes in two dimensional and three-dimensional computer graphics.

At FLEX College Prep, Dr. Lazar would like to transfer his skills in mathematics and computer science to his students, so that his students can become successful in their education and their careers. Matt’s exceptional teaching ability is also shown in his AP track record, where the average AP Calc BC score of his students is 4.9, with 90% of his students earning 5s. His passion for math has enabled students across the ability spectrum to achieve their Calculus learning goals.

  • B.S. Social Science – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
  • B.S. Computer Science – University of Maryland
  • M.A. US History – George Mason University
  • M.S. Computer Information Systems – Boston University
  • Teaching Credential – Seattle Pacific University
  • AP European History
  • AP U.S. History
  • AP World History

Jim Johnson

Principal Instructor

Jim served four years in the United States Army and was a Systems Engineer for Lockheed Martin for 29 years. Since retiring in 2007, he has been tutoring AP and non-AP United States History, European History, World History, essay writing and SAT preparation. He has also taught History and Geography part-time at a small private school. During his military service and Lockheed employment, he lived in Japan for two years and in Great Britain for 19 years and traveled in Russia, many western European countries, Scandinavia, China and Korea. Living abroad gave him the opportunity to see history through the eyes of several cultures and enhanced his understanding of history and his ability to communicate history to students.

  • B.S. Molecular Environmental Biology – UC Berkeley
  • ACT Science and Math
  • AP Biology
  • AP Calculus AB/BC
  • AP Chemistry
  • Math, Upper Level (Trig and Up)
  • SAT II Biology
  • SAT II Math 2C
  • SAT Math

Klaus Aichelen

Principal Instructor

Klaus graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S. in Molecular Environmental Biology. He is FLEX’s Instructor Trainer and Supervisor and is also the head of Math and Science Curriculum. He has over 11 years of experience working with students in the Los Altos and Cupertino areas in biology, chemistry, physics and math. His passion lies with introducing students to the wonders of math and science and helping them develop an understanding of the fundamental concepts necessary to succeed.

In 2012, Klaus started FLEX’s Biology Olympiad program which allows students to explore various disciplines in Biology, build conceptual understanding, and succeed on a very challenging exam. He has also overseen the creation of FLEX’s math curriculum for the SAT and math and science curriculum for the ACT. Klaus enjoys teaching students what these exams test for and how to develop the key strategies and techniques to score at their full potential.

As the head of FLEX’s AP Programming, Klaus has phenomenal success in motivating and coaching students towards 5’s. Since 2014, every student who has followed his 3-month study plan has achieved a 5 score. One would be hard-pressed to find another instructor in the Bay Area with more experience in AP preparation.

  • UC Santa Cruz – PhD and MA in Sociology
  • University of Michigan – Certificates in R Programming; Bayesian Analysis; Intermediate Regression Analysis; and Statistics, Probability, and Advanced Calculus
  • UCLA – MA in Education
  • UCSD cum laude – BA in Ethnic Studies (Honors Distinction) and BA in Psychology
  • English
  • Cantonese
Areas of Specialization
  • Students who have experienced personal and/or academic challenges
  • Underrepresented and/or first generation students
  • Transfer students
  • Students in need to direct feedback and guidance in writing effective college application essays
  • Students seeking admission to highly-selective schools who ultimately value fit more than prestige
  • Students seeking admission specifically to UCSD, UCLA, UCSC, UIUC, University of Michigan, Duke, and Dartmouth.

Yvonne Kwan

Master Consultant

Yvonne has 14 years of teaching and counseling experience: 10 in university settings and 6 in the private college prep and consulting industry. She is currently ladder-rank faculty at San Jose State and teaches classes in sociology and Asian American studies. Previously, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College where she taught, conducted research, and mentored students. 

Given her research and experience, Yvonne approaches college prep and admissions through a personalized and holistic lens—all the while keeping a keen awareness about students’ local context, college admissions trends, and family needs. Yvonne takes a hands-on approach with all her students. Her objective is to have students learn about themselves, their passions, and practical needs as they navigate the tumultuous process of determining the right college fit.

Yvonne’s college placements include but are not limited to Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, UPenn, Cornell, Duke, Northwestern, NYU, Brown, Pomona, CalTech, MIT, Georgia Tech, Michigan, CMU, USC, BU, BC, Vanderbilt, Rice, Wake Forest, Emory, and the UCs.

During her free time, Yvonne makes wheel-thrown pottery, rock climbs, serves on the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Task to build support for SJSU students, and advocates for immigrant rights. She works hard to not only give back to the communities that have been integral to her scholarly and personal growth but also impart critical thinking skills to all her students.

  • BA in Political Science, minor in Conflict Studies – University of California, Irvine
Areas of Specialization
  • Crafting unique admission strategies
  • Art students and students submitting a portfolio/audition
  • Students with complex high school situations
  • Students applying to top-50 schools
  • Students with special needs
  • International and transfer students

Ryan Vatan

Master Consultant

Since 2016, Ryan has been helping students at every level gain entry to selective colleges. He has extensive experience guiding students through the complicated pre-collegiate process — from advising them on high school courses, extracurriculars, college selection, and admissions essays, to everything in-between.

Many of his students have been accepted into some of the world’s most competitive institutions. These include traditional universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and USC, as well as more unique schools like West Point, Rhode Island School of Design, and Amherst College. Ryan works to ensure that his students matriculate to schools that are not only a good academic fit but also provide a supportive and empowering community.

Ryan is an inspiring and motivating counselor. It is crucial for him that his students do not experience the college application process as only stressful but as an exciting time of opportunity. He works closely with his students to take advantage of local resources to develop a bespoke unique admission strategy for each of his students.

In his free time, Ryan works with his local LGBT Center and the International Rescue Committee, helping to ensure that those who need it most have access to higher education. He also likes to explore the world through travel, D&D, SCUBA, and backpacking with his friends and family.

  • New York University – MA in School Counseling
  • University of Southern California – MS in Global Medicine
  • University of California, Los Angeles – BS in Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, minor in Chinese
  • English
  • Chinese
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission to highly-selective schools
  • Students seeking admission specifically to the University of California
  • Students seeking admission to BS/MD or BA/MD programs
  • International students

Jay Zhang

Principal Consultant

Jay has over 9 years of experience working as a consultant in college admission. He has previously served as an application reader and interviewer for the UCLA Alumni Scholarships Program. In addition, Jay is a certified Strong Interest Inventory counselor who can help students discover and explore their interests to determine possible majors and careers.

Having gone through the process himself, Jay understands the difficulties and challenges coming from a competitive high school in California. As an admissions consultant, he takes an informative and nurturing approach. Jay aims to work collaboratively with parents and students to craft an individualized plan to help students get into their dream school or program.

Jay’s college placements include but are not limited to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, UChicago, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Emory, Carnegie Mellon, NYU, Boston College, Michigan, Georgia Tech, UIUC, and all the UC campuses.

During his free time, Jay likes to run, watch movies with friends, and discover new food to eat. 

  • UC Berkeley – BA in Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Biola University – MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • English
  • Korean
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission into health-related majors
  • Underrepresented students
  • International students
  • Students who have experienced personal challenges in their lives

Sunny Song

Senior Master Consultant

Sunny has been with FLEX since 2013 and worked with over 140 students to help them achieve their different educational goals. Prior to that, she worked for a non-profit organization developing English language teaching materials for underprivileged children around the world. While completing her master’s program at Biola University, Sunny spent two years in China as an English language teacher and counselor for less fortunate high school students.

As a counselor at FLEX, Sunny’s goal is to help students find the right college by navigating them through high school and the college application process. In doing so, she strives to be a nurturing mentor who encourages students to grow in all aspects of their lives. Sunny believes that the high school years are an important time for students, not only to prepare for college academically but also to grow holistically so they can become more independent and responsible and eventually be prepared to leave their parents’ nests. 

Sunny has assisted students interested in Health, Business, Journalism, Engineering, Computer Science, Environmental Science, Arts, Education, and more. Her college placements include but are not limited to Princeton, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Carnegie Mellon, USC, University of Michigan, University of Texas-Austin, and all the UCs.

In her free time, Sunny enjoys doing simple sewing projects, spending time with family and friends, and hiking at Big Basin Redwoods Park.

  • Yale University – BA in Sociology (Intensive)
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission to highly-selective schools
  • Students seeking admission specifically to Yale, Cornell, Brown, NYU, UC Berkeley, or UCLA
  • Humanities and Social Science students
  • Transfer students
  • Students needing guidance with high-level writing in college application essays

Ben Robbins

Director of Admissions Consulting

Ben has been in college admission consulting since 2015, but his interest in the nexus between high school and college started during his time at Yale. His published senior thesis explored the local cultural factors that affect the college application behaviors of rural high-achieving students in Nebraska, his home state. In addition to his work as an admission consultant, since joining FLEX he has served as a College Essay Specialist, ACT/SAT Curriculum Developer, and all-around verbal instructor. He is currently the Director of Admissions Consulting, managing both the NorCal and SoCal Consulting teams.

Between his time as an undergraduate at Yale and his years of consulting experience, Ben knows what sets apart the most competitive applicants for elite colleges, among others. With his background in teaching and creative mindset, he helps students to understand how they can explore different interests deeply. Ben is very intuitive and can put even shy or nervous students at ease.

Ben’s college placements include but are not limited to Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Rice, Pomona, Brown, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, NYU, UCLA, and UC Berkeley, as well as selective Aviation and Art programs.

Ben enjoys keeping up with family and friends around the globe (London to Singapore!), singing in a men’s chorus, and understanding the stories all around him.

  • University of Southern California – Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • University of California, Los Angeles – BA in Psychology (Honors), minor in Education
Areas of Specialization
  • Guiding students in competitive high schools determine their academic and personal path
  • Academic counseling and career exploration
  • Specialized majors: Engineering, Arts/Architecture, Theater/Film/Television, Nursing, Business Mentorship and strategic major selection
  • Mentorship and strategic major selection
  • Transfer and international students
  • Students who have overcome challenges and obstacles in academics and their personal lives
  • Helping students write compelling college essays
  • Mental health, social and emotional learning resources
  • Students seeking admission to Top 100 colleges, including public and private universities
  • UC Admission expert and best practices for filling out the college application

Daisy Oliver

Master Consultant

Daisy Oliver has 16 years of higher education and career counseling experience, 11 in a university setting and 8 in the college admissions consulting industry, respectively. She is a former UCLA Admission Officer — specializing in freshman, transfer, and international admissions — and has reviewed almost 20,000 UCLA freshman and international student applications. Over the last several years, she has delivered hundreds of presentations and workshops to thousands of students and parents in the US and China.

Daisy has also worked as a Community Director in UCLA Residential Life and as a Career Counselor at Long Beach City College, where she gained experience in program and project management, community organization administration, strategic planning, and leadership development. She is devoted to preparing generations of young adults for various career pathways.

As an Admissions Consultant, Daisy has extensive insider knowledge of what colleges look for in students. She has helped thousands of students from various backgrounds thrive in collegiate settings. She takes an honest, clear, and intentional approach with students. Her desire is to connect them to various resources and guide them to the college that best matches their personality, dreams, and career aspirations. 

Daisy’s college placements include but are not limited to all of the UC’s, Cal States, USC, CMU, UPenn, Duke, Stanford, Columbia, Tufts, NYU, University of Chicago, Northwestern, WashU St. Louis, Rice, Harvey Mudd, UMich, BU, University of Iowa, Pomona College, and Emory.

In her spare time, Daisy serves as Strategic Planning Chair of a non-profit organization in south central Los Angeles. She also enjoys tanning at the beach, playing the guitar, and exploring new restaurants.

  • B.A. Sociology – UC Santa Barbara
  • M.A. Sociology – UC Santa Cruz
  • Ph.D. Coursework & Research – UC Santa Cruz
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission into highly selective, research-oriented universities and programs
  • STEM students targeting Top 30 schools
  • Interdisciplinary profiles
  • UCs (including Berkeley EECS)
  • Students seeking to build a strong research profile
  • Crafting exceptional scholarship and admissions essays
  • Students managing and navigating adversity
  • First-generation college students
  • Students who are driven to do social justice/activist/community work

Justin Obcena

Senior Master Consultant

With over 10 years of teaching experience in higher education, Justin knows what it takes for students to succeed and thrive. After receiving his BA from UCSB, Justin went on to earn his MA in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. Justin has also enjoyed his time at the University of Cambridge and Columbia University. Privileged to travel to over 25 countries, Justin brings a unique global lens to the work that he does: seeing problems from multiple angles and finding new solutions and insights.

Justin’s mentoring experience includes roles in student affairs, research assistantships, university teaching, as well as serving as a resident advisor, where he helped freshmen navigate the crucial transition to college life. At FLEX, Justin has worked as an essay specialist in addition to his position as an admissions consultant. Justin’s mentoring style is one of tough love and high expectations. He calibrates his feedback accordingly while still pushing each student to be the best versions of themselves. Justin’s students can expect honest, prompt, and detailed appraisals that will push them past their comfort zone so that their college applications can shine.

Justin’s students have been accepted into schools such as: Stanford, CalTech, MIT, Columbia, Dartmouth, UPenn, all UCs, USC, John Hopkins, NYU, Northwestern, CMU, Swarthmore, WashU, CalArts, Pitzer, UBC, and UMich.

When he isn’t mentoring students, you will likely find Justin engrossed in books, savoring delicious food, watching an NBA game (go Warriors!), or jamming out to show tunes.

  • Cornell University – School of Criticism and Theory, with distinction
  • UC Irvine – PhD in English (ABD), emphasis in Critical Theory
  • UC Irvine – MA in English
  • University of Southern California – BA in English (Honors), cum laude, minor in Art History
  • University of Kent at Canterbury, UK – University Diploma, with merit, in English and American Literature
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission to highly-selective schools
  • Underrepresented students
  • Transfer students
  • Students who have experienced personal challenges in their lives
  • Crafting effective college application essays

Paul Lin

Admissions Consultant Director & Principal Consultant

Paul has 24 combined years of teaching and counseling experience, 12 in a university setting and 12 in the college prep and educational consulting industry. He is a former professor in American Cultures and Asian Pacific American Studies at Loyola Marymount University and has also taught courses and advised students at UC Irvine. He has also delivered numerous conference papers around the country and has published a scholarly article on James Joyce and Irish colonial subjectivity.

Given his extensive experience, Paul has a deep understanding of what colleges are looking for in a student. As an admissions consultant, he takes a direct, honest, and strategic approach with his students. His objective is always to guide students toward the college that’s the best fit for them — rather than just the best known one — because he believes doing so will better set them up for future success.

Paul’s college placements include but are not limited to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, UPenn, Cornell, Duke, Northwestern, UChicago, UC Berkeley, USC, UCLA, and Carnegie Mellon.

During his free time, Paul likes to travel, eat good food, and learn about wine.

  • Harvard University – BA in Social Studies, magna cum laude
  • Cal State LA – Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, K-8
  • UCLA – M.Ed in Educational Administration, Preliminary Clear Administrative Credential
  • English
  • Mandarin (basic conversation)
  • Taiwanese (basic conversation)
  • Spanish (conversational)
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission to highly-selective schools
  • International students
  • Transfer students
  • Connecting students with local groups and businesses
  • Crafting effective college application essays

Judy Liang

Principal Consultant

Judy has over 21 years of experience as an educator, working with students spanning preschool to high school. A native of the San Gabriel Valley, she graduated at the top of her class from La Cañada High School and went on to earn her BA in Social Studies, magna cum laude, from Harvard. There, she was awarded the Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship to teach English at a private boarding elementary school and magnet high school on the outskirts of Beijing, China.

Judy’s experience with her own three daughters — combined with her elementary and high school experience and her years at FLEX — allows her to observe the educational spectrum from birth to high school graduation. As a daughter of immigrants from Taiwan, Judy understands the challenges many immigrant families face as they navigate the educational system in the US. She strives to help families and students make informed choices and attend a university that best fits their talents and personality.

Judy’s college placements include but are not limited to Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, MIT, Princeton, UChicago, Cornell, Brown, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, USC, UCLA, and NYU. During her “free time,” Judy is busy taking care of and driving her daughters, elementary and middle school-aged, to their activities. When she has time to herself, she loves to exercise, eat out with her husband or friends, and serve the special-needs adults at the church she attends.


  • Williams College – B.A. in Comparative Literature (Spanish Certificate, Africana Studies Concentration)
  • English
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Spanish
  • Hokkien/Min Nan Dialect
Areas of Specialization
  • Students seeking admission to highly-selective universities and liberal arts colleges
  • Students with artistic talent and/or interest in creating supplemental portfolios
  • Crafting effective application essays
  • Students undecided on their college major
  • International students
  • Private K-12 schools
  • Students interested in graduate school

Corbin Chu

Master Consultant & College Essay Instructor

Corbin graduated from Williams College with a degree in Comparative Literature, certificate in Spanish, and concentration in Africana Studies. With more than ten years of experience counseling students from middle school to applying for medical school, Corbin’s college placements include: all Ivy League schools, UChicago, Rice, and all of the UCs—in addition to top 20 engineering and business programs, also helping students earn millions of dollars in scholarships. 

He is a caring, yet firm, counselor whose approach is methodical, creative, and strategically personalized to each student’s needs and goals. Having worked at his college’s Writing Center, at a local high school, and at a test prep academy, Corbin additionally brings multiple years of teaching experience to the FLEX team.  Given his background growing up in a multicultural family in Southern California, Corbin gets along well with students and families from diverse backgrounds.

Those who know Corbin think of him whenever there is good sushi. When not advising students, he can be found traveling across the globe, listening to podcasts, or brushing up on his Japanese and French.