Writing A Great College Application Essay: What Not To Include, Unnecessary Questions, And Discussing Emotional Health In Your College

Writing A Great College Application Essay:

Application Essay

As you plan, outline, brainstorm, and draft your college application essay, you may be wondering, “How can I write a great college application essay?” You may also be wondering which topics you should not include in your college application essay or if it is okay to ask questions throughout your application essay. 

If you are looking for guidance in selecting the proper subject matter or tips for writing a great college application essay, then use this article as a point of reference for advice and strategies to make your application stand out to the college admissions board reading your work. 

Tips To Help You Write A Great College Application Essay

  1. Make Sure That You Fully Understand The Prompt

Before you begin writing your college application essay, it is imperative that you take the time to fully understand the prompt. Every question posed in the application prompt is important and failing to answer one or two parts of the prompt can be detrimental to your first impression as an applicant. 

Always read the entire prompt. If you have any questions about what the prompt expects from you, then work with your college admissions counselor or ask a teacher to gain a specific understanding of what you need to include in your writing. 

Some students only answer one of the questions posed in the prompt. This is a major mistake. 

Here is an example of a Common Application prompt that you may choose to write about: 

“The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

If you write an entire essay about the lessons you have learned without reflecting on how the “challenge, setback, or failure” affected you, then you will have failed to answer the full prompt. Do not just tell a story about an obstacle you faced. You need to answer the two questions: how did it affect you and what did you learn?

Avoiding specific parts of an essay prompt leaves an impression that you are avoiding the question or that you do not care about the prompt. To give the reader a deeper understanding of who you are as a person, be sure that you fully understand the prompt and answer every question posed by the admissions board. 

  1. Talk About Yourself

To write a great college application essay, you need to talk about yourself. Many students will err by recounting an event, telling a story about their hero, writing about their struggles, and discussing their accomplishments, without taking time to reflect on how these things have changed who they are as a person. 

You need to be specific in providing information about yourself to the reader. Remember, the goal of your college application essay is to provide a personal view of who you are. The admissions officer reading your essay has all of the data about your grades and academic history. 

The college application essay is your opportunity to insert your voice into the application and give the reader an introduction to who you are. Significant space on the page should be dedicated to talking about how an event shaped you, or what core values you live by, or how a person, place, or thing has shaped the way you live your life. 

As you select your college application prompt, consider both the story you can tell as well as the personal reflection you can offer to your reader. If you struggle to find a prompt that suits these criteria, consider the things that are most important to you, and ask yourself “How has this thing shaped my life?”

  1. Write About Something Important To You 

If writing about yourself feels like a daunting task, you should select an essay prompt that allows you to write about something important to you. Writing an essay based on what you think your reader wants to hear will be obvious. Be genuine about the things that matter to you! Writing a great college application essay requires you to be honest. 

College Application Essays: What NOT To Include

There are several key topics that students should avoid when writing a college application essay. Here is a breakdown of some subjects that may be taboo for your personal essay or weaken your first impression to the college admissions board reviewing your application. 

  1. Information You Have Already Provided In Your Answers To Short Response Questions

You should not repeat information from your short answer responses in your personal essay. Consider each writing prompt (for long or short answer responses) as a new opportunity to personalize your application. Any chance to insert your voice and your story into your application is unique. 

Repetitive information will be seen as lazy and careless. With such a small window of opportunity for the admissions board to get to know you, it is crucial that you take any chance you can get to deepen their understanding of who you are as a person. 

  1. Overly Personal Subjects

You should avoid focusing your college application essay on overly personal subjects. Some students write their college application essays about breakups or romantic partners, and these writings typically fail. 

Remember, your goal should be to share information about yourself, including your goals for the future or your core values. Your reader should have an understanding of how you will impact their school and the role you will have on their campus. Overly personal subjects, like romantic relationships, can limit your ability to talk about who you are as a person. 

  1. Controversial Or Polarizing Topics

Writing about overly controversial or polarizing topics risks alienating your reader should they take an opposing stance to your claims. Ask yourself “Is this topic central to who I am as a person?”  If a topic interests you and is relevant to a discussion of your values and morals, consider if it is overly controversial or polarizing. 

  1. Cliches

Essays about sports stories, travel stories, and volunteer trips struggle to stand out as unique. Many, many students will write about their championship game, a sports injury, encountering different cultures in their travels, or their experiences volunteering. Because these are such common topics, it is hard for one essay to stand out from the rest. 

Asking Unnecessary Questions In Your College Essay: Is It Okay?

Some students will format their essays around rhetorical questions. Keep in mind that your college application essay will likely have a word count. Are the rhetorical questions in your essay more impactful than the direct statements you can make in their place? It is okay to ask questions in your essay so long as they are necessary to the structure of your writing or the points you want to make.

Can I Discuss My Emotional Health In My College Application Essay?

If you are considering writing about your emotional or mental health in your college application essay, then you should consider how you plan to accomplish the goal of your college essay with the discussion. Your college application essay needs to provide the reader with an understanding of how you will fit into their campus. What positive attributes will you bring to their college or university? Why are you a good fit as an applicant? Can you answer these questions in an essay about your mental health?

The most important question to ask yourself is “Are your mental health struggles an important part of the discussion of who you are?” Writing about mental health can be extremely difficult. If you do choose to focus your college application essay on your emotional or mental health, be sure that your reader understands that your mental health is crucial to understanding who you are.

Many applications will offer space in the short answer questions for any details that you were not able to discuss in the rest of your application. If your mental health impacted your grades, you could use the Additional Information short answer question as an opportunity to bring this part of your life to light. If you want to talk about how mental health has impacted your life, but do not want to write an entire essay about it, then consider inserting the information into the short response portion of the application. 

FLEX College Prep offers admissions consulting and support throughout the college application and college essay process. Our online services provide guidance throughout any portion of the essay writing process. If you are looking for strategies, tools, guidance, and support throughout your college essay brainstorming process, college research & tour planning, resume prep, and college essay writing, then consider FLEX College Prep’s Application and College Essay support package. Through this program, you will work with admissions consultants and essay specialists to ensure you submit the best application essay possible.  

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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.

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Education
  • B.A. Psychology & B.A. Criminal Justice – University of Maryland
  • M.A. Legal and Forensic Psychology – UC of Irvine
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  • 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.

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  • B.S. Economics – Arizona State University
  • M.A. Educational Leadership and Administration – UC Davis
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  • English
  • Spanish
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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).

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  • B.A. Social Sciences, Emphasis Sociology – New York University
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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.

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  • Computer Science: Java
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  • Math, Lower Level (Alg2 and Below)
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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  • BSC. Mechanical Engineer – University of Alexandria
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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.

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Education
  • 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.

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

Sara Fernandes

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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.

NicholasD
Education
  • 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.

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Education
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  • 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.

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Education
  • 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.

Flex College Prep
Education
  • 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.

Northern California Info Banks September 17th

An Inside Look at Flex College Admissions
jaimie
Education
  • UC Irvine – MA in Art History
  • UC Irvine – BA in Art History with a minor in English
Language(s)
  • 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.

dickson
Education
  • B.A. Computer Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley
Subjects
  • 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.

AshleyR
Education
  • B.A. Creative Writing – SFSU
Subjects
  • 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.

MattL
Education
  • B.S. Mathematics – Stanford University
  • M.S. Mathematics – San Jose State University
  • Ph.D. Mathematics – UC Santa Barbara
Subjects
  • 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.