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Showing posts with label College Admissions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label College Admissions. Show all posts

September 9, 2019

Do You Want to Go to Stanford? Take Risks.

It's as true in college as it is anywhere else: If you want big rewards, you have to take risks.

The typical high schooler just wants an A in AP Calculus and maybe a job as a manager someday. Those are small rewards, and they come only after you do exactly what you're told to. If you take that path, people will tell you what to do for the rest of your life.

At Stanford, the expectations are totally different. Look at what's published on its Web site:

Study shows Stanford alumni create nearly $3 trillion in economic impact each year
Stanford University has long been known as one of the world's leading centers for innovation and a breeding ground for the entrepreneurs who created – and continue to shape – Silicon Valley. Now, for the first time, a study puts into perspective the sheer scale of the university's economic impact, not just in Silicon Valley and California but across the globe.
The word innovation appears 10 times in that article. Entrepreneur shows up 14 times. Founded is seen five times (companies founded twice, organizations once, firms once, and legendary founders once).

Stanford rewards risk-taking. It wants students who will enhance its reputation as a leading center for innovation and add to its $3 trillion in economic impact each year.

Stanford has entrepreneurship classes. That's the sort of thing that should make you salivate. Keep a hanky on you just in case.
High schools don't make innovation opportunities part of their normal curriculum. You have to seek them out. That's what makes you an entrepreneur.

Check out Paul Graham, the startup founder with a degree from Cornell and two from Harvard. He's written some insightful articles, including one titled Inequality and Risk:
Why not just have the government, or some large almost-government organization like Fannie Mae, do the venture investing instead of private funds? 
I'll tell you why that wouldn't work. Because then you're asking government or almost-government employees to do the one thing they are least able to do: take risks
As anyone who has worked for the government knows, the important thing is not to make the right choices, but to make choices that can be justified later if they fail. If there is a safe option, that's the one a bureaucrat will choose. But that is exactly the wrong way to do venture investing. The nature of the business means that you want to make terribly risky choices, if the upside looks good enough.
If you're studying for a history test, yes, you should worry about failure. That's a low-risk, low-reward activity. If you decide to goof off, you'd better be able to justify your decision later.

You can't treat your Stanford application like a school test. An exception might apply if you're a star athlete or math competition champion, someone who's already taken risks and proven herself on the battlefield.

My rooommate at Stanford was a risk-taker. He programmed and hosted Stanford's first social media network — two years before Mark Zuckerberg founded the precursor to Facebook. I watched him do it from his 120 square foot bedroom. (Since then, Stanford may have become even more entrepreneurial.)

Don't worry too much about success. Put my roommate's accomplishments next to Zuckerberg's and ask yourself whether the former's seeming failure makes the idea any less remarkable.

The first attempt to innovate is usually underwhelming. Look at Brownian motion, the random movement of dust and pollen grains, which a biologist first observed in 1785. (Dust particles move without being pushed, but they're not alive?!) The research was set aside until 1880, when someone was able describe the observations mathematically. Scientists started to apply the equations in diverse ways, ranging from evidence for the existence of atoms to a pricing theory for stocks and options. An observation about dust (!) that failed to generate results for 95 years eventually led to Nobel Prizes in both physics and economics.

Apple's 1993 attempt at a hand-held computer failed, only to set the groundwork for the launch of the PalmPilot four years later and, eventually, the iPhone.

Failure is normal. Don't punish yourself. It creates great learning experiences that you can write about in your application essays.

To succeed, you have to fail. To fail, you have to start.

Pick one or two extracurricular interests and drill down deep. Get noticed. Blog about your progress every week. Have opinions. Disagree with your teachers (the ones who are okay with it).

Let people see you catching fire!

August 26, 2019

Summer Science Programs (Bay Area)

Update: I've added a link to my Quantitative Finance course.

Check out these summer science programs for high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Quantitative Finance course
This curriculum starts at a fairly basic level (introduction to diversification, trend following, and relative momentum) and culminates with advanced reading in academic papers. 
  • A deep-seated interest in how financial markets work
  • An A grade in either precalculus or high school statistics (AP Calculus AB or AP Statistics preferred)
  • Ability to commit a minimum of six hours per week to finance homework

John Muir Summer Internship Program
The John Muir Health (JMH) Summer Internship is an eight week, full time, paid internship for high school students entering their junior or senior year, with an interest in pursuing a health care career. Students are hired as temporary JMH employees, are placed in a single department for the eight weeks and perform clerical work (no patient care) in that department. At the end of the internship, interns receive a performance appraisal, just like all JMH employees. Students completing the summer internship with a passing grade will receive high school elective credits.

Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program
The Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR) is an eight-week program in which high school students from diverse backgrounds are invited to perform basic research with Stanford faculty, postdoctoral fellows, students and researchers on a medically-oriented project. The goals of the program include increasing interest in biological sciences and medicine in high school students, helping students to understand how scientific research is performed, and increasing diversity of students and researchers in the sciences.

Stanford Medical Youth Science Program
Stanford Medical Youth Science Program is a five-week residential enrichment program focused on science and medicine that is open to low-income and underrepresented minority high school sophomores and juniors who live in Northern and Central California.

Santa Clara University's Summer Engineering Seminar 
The School of Engineering at Santa Clara University is pleased to announce its 28th annual Summer Engineering Seminar (SES) program. This special summer experience is for current high school sophomores and juniors who are interested in exploring the field of engineering. The program is designed to acquaint participants with the engineering profession, the academic expectations of college, and the nature of life at a university. 
NASA Education Associates Program 
The NASA Education Associates Program (EAP) offers students, post-docs and faculty paid internships that allow students the opportunity to work with scientists and engineers on NASA projects. The NASA EAP is a unique workforce development program that provides hands-on experience for participants in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and other academic disciplines. The NASA EAP is a year-round program and has a variety of time frames available. 
NASA Internships
NASA Internships are educational hands-on opportunities that provide unique NASA-related research and operational experiences for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students as well as educators. These internships integrate participants with career professionals emphasizing mentor-directed, degree-related, real-time world task completion. During the internship participants engage in scientific or engineering research, development, and operations activities. In addition, there are non-technical internship opportunities to engage in professional activities which support NASA business and administrative processes. Through these internships, participants leverage NASA's unique mission activities and mentorship to enhance and increase their professional capabilities and clarify their long-term career goals.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission High School Internship Program
Bay Area
MTC provides approximately 30 High School summer internships.  These positions are located throughout the nine counties of the SF Bay Area:  Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma. Each internship is for a maximum of 250 hours and is between the months of June thru August. 

Sonoma State University: Summer High School STEM Internship Program
Rohnert Park, CA
Since 2008, this program has matched top Sonoma County high school juniors with faculty mentors at SSU to collaborate on research projects in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In addition to $1,000 stipends, students are given opportunities to work on challenging research projects in state-of-the-art facilities and interact with faculty and SSU students in the university environment. These students then act as ambassadors to relay the highlights of their work to their classmates, friends, counselors, teachers, and principals during their senior years.

Summer Youth Intensive Program (SYIP)
Berkeley, CA
SYIP is intended for the most accomplished high school students who are passionate about learning and doing scientific research in chemistry, biochemical chemistry, material science, or related fields and who are focused on maximizing their future success in college.
Selected students are paired with an assigned mentor in a faculty research group. The mentor provides 9 months of remote coaching. Students learn about the mentor’s current research, strategies, and aims in preparation for a 4-week on-site internship in the assigned mentor’s research laboratory.

Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology
Berkeley, CA
The Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) is an eight-week paid summer science intensive for economically disadvantaged high school sophomores and juniors. The program seeks to broaden students’ understanding of biotechnology, microbiology, and biofuels. In addition to completing a research project, the program also exposes students to career exploration and preparation for the college application process.

Berkeley Lab: K-12 Programs (article)

Summer Research Program at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute
The CHORI Summer Research Program is designed to provide an unsurpassed opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the world of basic and/or clinical research for three months during the summer. The program pairs students with one or two CHORI principal investigators who serve as mentors, guiding the students through the design and testing of their own hypotheses and methodology development. At the end of the summer, students present their research to their peers just as any professional researcher would do.

UC Davis Young Scholars Program
The UC Davis Young Scholars Program is a summer residential research program designed to expose approximately 40 high achieving high school students to the world of original research in the natural sciences with emphases on the biological, environmental and agricultural sciences. To be eligible for the summer of 2017, students must be currently enrolled as sophomores or juniors in high school. UC Davis Young Scholars Program participation is not limited to California students. Participants in the 2017 UC Davis Young Scholars Program will work one-on-one with research faculty and research groups in state of the art laboratories for six weeks. Each student will work on an individual project and prepare a journal quality paper and symposium presentation about their work. In addition to scientific research, the UC Davis Young Scholars Program strives to introduce participants to the climate and culture of living and working on a university campus. Staff make every effort to model the experiences that participants will have during their first years of college.

August 23, 2019

Q&A: How much do college admissions consultants charge?

Update: I've added a link to the $10,000 open offer.

Admissions consultants typically charge $100 to $500 an hour. That sounds high but has to be placed in context with other professionals' fees.

For example, a Merrill Lynch financial adviser typically charges about 2% per year of your $300,000 brokerage account, which amounts to $3000/hour if you meet with him two hours per year. You're likely to just be placed in funds that track with index funds anyway, so there's probably not much value added from security selection. (By the way, if you put your clients into strategies that will add value, please contact me. I have a $10,000 open offer than you can claim.)

Plumbers, electricians, and even lawyers are cheap by comparison.

If an admissions consultant can help you secure scholarships or schools with programs you didn't otherwise know about, I think it's worth the money.

Take the time to interview a couple of counselors and then decide whether you'd prefer to hire someone rather than do the job yourself. Start here:

Audrey Slaughter (A Road Map for College)

Kristen Fang (Admissions coaching and preparation for investment banking careers)

May 31, 2019

Four Ways to Create a Presence on the Internet

When you type your name into Google's search engine, what do you find? That's what colleges will see.

A social media presence can either help or hurt you. Whether you're applying for a selective program or building a reputation that will help you find a job later, it's important to present yourself as a knowledgeable member of the community.

Start by filling out in the blank in the sentence below:

"I want the world to see me as ________________________."

Here are some examples: "the owner of a growing yard care business," "a budding expert in food chemistry," "the go-to person for information about new home sales in Walnut Creek, CA"

All of the examples above can be self-fulling prophecies. If, for example, you start a blog and post pictures of and information about every newly built home that sold in your home town from 2017-2019, you will become an expert in your niche of the real estate market.

You won't have any trouble finding information for new posts, and if you do a good job, Realtors will start linking to your blog as a convenient source of information. Google will use those links to raise your rankings in its search engine. Colleges will perceive you as an expert because, for all intents and purposes, your dedicated work will have made you one. The blog might even kick-start your career.

Start by creating focus in your existing online presence. Privatize or erase any content in your social media accounts that would distract people from the image you'd like to create. Remove any posts that are politically motivated (unless you specifically want to become an expert in politics).

Doing this will leave you with no choice but to become better at the things you are allowed to post about. You'll have to interact with people who share your interests in order to keep your accounts on-topic, which will eventually lead to future job opportunities and project collaborations.

Here are four great places to build your online presence:


LinkedIn is specifically designed to help people build and search for online resumes. A well-constructed profile is also the fastest way to get onto the first page of search results when someone Googles you. (The first result when you search for my name is my own LinkedIn profile.)

This is the place to start if you have any prior work or research experience in your field. Here are some resources to help you create a profile that will get people's attention:

Why You Should COMPLETE Your LinkedIn Profile

Please Change Your LinkedIn Headline Now.. Here's Why and How

LinkedIn All-Star Status Rocks & How To Reach it in 7 Steps

12 Steps to Reach All-Star Linkedin Profile Status

How to Fix LinkedIn's Biggest Annoyances


More than any other option in my list, Twitter feels like the social media platforms you're used to. It has a slick Web site, easy ways to find interesting accounts to follow, and an app you can add to your phone if you feel like getting addicted.

Twitter's 140-character limit for posts will force you to express your ideas as clearly and concisely as possible. This makes it easier for people to respond to what you're saying when they're browsing on their phones.

If you have a longer idea to express, you'll have to break it up into a logical sequence of easily digestible posts, like this series about stock market volatility:

The best way to get followers is to be helpful to others:

  1. Post insightful material. Even if it's just research summaries like the one above, you're helping others who have less time than you do.
  2. Interact with others by asking and answering questions. This gets you involved in discussions where you can get noticed. Stay friendly and be willing to acknowledge both sides of every issue. You're most likely get a response from someone who has less than a thousand followers, so don't be a fanboy/girl.
  3. Be consistent. Post ten high-quality links a day or one high-quality article a week. You want to be noticed as someone who has done this for a long time by the time something you post does get attention.

You'll have to do it for a few months with slow progress - perhaps gaining one follower a week - until someone decides to share your posts. In the chart below, you can see that my own account added a large number of followers on May 22, with only slow progress during the rest of the month. Be obsessed with doing good work, and the followers will eventually come.

Finally, check out Alex Dainis's Twitter account, which she's using to market herself as a future college professor. Carolyn Bertozzi, one of my former professors, also has a pretty active Twitter presence.


Here's a high school student who has made a YouTube channel with study aids for college-bound students. She now has 68,000 (!) subscribers and adds a thousand more each month. It's not hard, but she's been doing it very consistently for years.

That channel - along with her stellar grades, test scores, and essays - helped her get into several Ivy League schools (but not all of them).


If you're the quiet type who likes nothing better than to write long articles and revise them until they're perfect, a blog is a great place to start. Unlike social media, a blog is completely under your control and can even be given its own "dot-com" domain name. My own Web site, for example, is a blog. Did you notice?

Keep in mind that, unlike Twitter and YouTube, there's no easy way for users to click and follow you, and you'll have to generate a lot of content in order to attract traffic to your site. For this reason, a blog is possibly the most challenging - and most rewarding - way to leave your mark on the Internet.

Start by posting a few articles or book reviews on your Blogger account. If you write one high-quality post a week for a few years, you'll have an impressive collection that you can refer to in your college application essays.

The Importance of Identity

People have short attention spans, so remember to keep your content focused. If you have two interests, create a blog for one and a Twitter account for the other. You can always link to both in your college application, but you'll never recover a follower who chooses to click away from your content.

Have a good time writing!

May 16, 2019

How to Get Noticed: 7 Steps to a Vibrant Social Media Presence

Are you dedicated to a hobby - building computers, organic gardening, finance research - that would help you get that internship or jazz up your college app if only someone knew?

You can get the attention you need by starting a blog or Twitter account. If you post consistently for a year or two, you'll start to show up when someone Googles your name. It's a great opportunity to present your work to the world.

Follow the steps below to get started!

1. Stick to your knitting.

Choose a subject to write about and stick to it. 

Make it your goal to help others by putting all the information about your hobby in one place. The consistency and usefulness of the information you post will get you noticed.

Politics is divisive: stay away from it!

2. Create a blog or Twitter account.

If you enjoy writing long-form content like essays and articles, start a blog.

If you like posting short thoughts and interacting with other people, consider starting a Twitter account. Make sure to do a few Twitter searches first to make sure that there's an active community for the subject you're interested in writing about.

For example, a search for tumor imaging agents pulls up posts from nine years ago with no likes, comments, or retweets. (It's really hard to get noticed if no one is looking, right?)

Twitter search for 'tumor imaging agents'
Twitter search: tumor imaging agents

Results for AMC math competition, swing dancing technique, and writing sonnets are similarly uninspiring.

A search for deep value stocks, on the other hand, suggests that there's an active community that might even have a sense of humor:

Twitter search: "deep value stocks"
Twitter search: deep value stocks

Results for replication crisis in science and Python coding are also encouraging.

3. It's more important to start than to make everything perfect.

Make a commitment to do at least one thing every day. Make an account first, then set up your template or profile, and then work on your content a little bit at a time. Try not to take a break, as it will be hard to get started again.

4. Put your best stuff up front. 

You can do this on Twitter by making a table of contents of your best work and pinning that post to the top of your feed.

Twitter "table of contents"

On Blogger. a sliding window can be used to showcase your work.

Blogger "sliding window"

5. Post brief summaries of articles you read. 

This is like putting snacks out at a party: people who don't have enough time to read articles themselves will follow you just to get the summaries.

The summaries don't need to take more than a couple of minutes to write. You can grab the most interesting quote from each article or post a few bullet points in order to save time.

Twitter summary of someone else's blog post
Summary of someone else's blog post; here are some other examples: 1 and 2.

Twitter summary using bullet points
Summary using bullet points

6. Post long-form explanations of books and scientific papers.

This is a more advanced technique and will really show that you know your stuff. Work through the paper or book in order and put a Post-It note at any places you want to come back to write about later.

If you summarize a paper, include screen shots of the original charts and data tables along with brief comments to help readers understand what's going on. (If you summarize a book, include page numbers instead.)

Summary of the finance paper Buffett's Alpha

Notice that I misspelled Warren Buffett's name and made a grammar mistake in the example above. Since Twitter doesn't allow you to edit posts after you've made them, you have to be willing to live with imperfection.

7. Answer other people's questions (but don't be a troll). 

The goal is to be helpful without being annoying - a fine line to walk sometimes, so work on doing it well. As you get to know other writers, you'll figure out which ones welcome back-and-forth discussions.

Link to your summaries if the material is relevant.

Once you have enough followers, you can also generate interesting discussions by asking open-ended questions.

Enjoy yourself.

You'll read more interesting stuff and have more summaries to write if you like what you're doing, so don't be afraid to have fun!

January 23, 2019

Free Web Site Help AND a Free Tutoring Session

On January 28, the Contra Costa Small Business Development Center is offering a free three-hour seminar about building a Web site through Wordpress.

In the interest of helping students build an online presence, I'm offering a free tutoring session to any current or new student who attends. The link below has the seminar's location and time.

Web Site Building Basics: Building and Publishing Your Own Web Site

After the seminar, please contact me about tutoring and include the words "Web site building seminar." I'd be happy to help you with test prep, math, or chemistry. Alternatively, you can use the free session to learn how to use your new Web site to market yourself to colleges and potential employers.

June 4, 2017

How to Choose Extracurriculars

If you want to go to a top school, your extracurriculars need to show a focus that sets you apart from all the other applicants with straight As and 1500 SAT scores.

If your main extracurriculars reflect random choices, busy-work, or short-term commitments, what does that say about who you are as a person?

Do your current extracurriculars - and your current life - provide experiences that set you apart as an exceptional individual? Have you been truly challenged? Have you made choices that helped you grow up? That's what you want to write your application essays about.

You poor thing!
If you're a freshman or sophomore, this is a perfect chance to look at the U.C. essay prompts below while you still have time to choose activities that reflect your true interests. How would you answer each of these questions in 350 words or less? What life experiences would you use to as evidence support your answers?

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

6.  Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, so I'll let Super Tutor Brooke Hanson do it for me:

April 13, 2017

College Admissions: Start a Blog!

One way to make your college application stand out is to create a Web site. I've previously mentioned the Lafayette students who created Local Helpers and the seventh grader in my computer class who wrote Zach's Art of Architecture.

It takes guts put yourself out there. Guts are impressive. (A piece of intestine here, a bit of kidney there...)

Fortunately, your content doesn't have to be completely original. Some of my students started by posting their class notes, book reviews, and English essays online.

What's your favorite class? Put your study tips in a blog. If your work is good, give colleges and future employers a chance to see it.

The site you're reading right now exists because a consultant told me to create it. I could tell clients that I'm a good tutor in my sales pitch (blech 😣), but I prefer show them through my writing.

This guy really, really needs a blog. He also needs a better phone.
Consider creating a blog on a subject you've always been curious about. Do you like thinking about stocks and bonds? You could do some reading and post book reviews. Hop on the Web and find some suggested reading.

Here are a few comments about the finance books from this list:

Michael Lewis is a former investment banker who used to work at Salomon Brothers, whose CEO at the time was John Gutfreund. His candid autobiography allegedly destroyed Gutfreund's career. Lewis really knows how to weave a story, whether he's chronicling the 2008 crash (The Big Short) or describing how the Internet is stripping power from corporations and giving it to individuals (Next: The Future Just Happened).

Are you a World War II buff? Read Barton Biggs's Wealth, War, and Wisdom. Biggs lists the investments that survived the devastation of the war. Here's a spoiler: Bonds lost most of their value due to inflation, art and gold were stolen by the Nazis and given to Hitler's friends, real estate kept part of its value (the land, not the bombed-out buildings), and stocks did the best, especially for people who bought during the war when stocks were really cheap.

Learn about Hetty Green, history's most successful female bond trader. She was infamously miserly and homely but also very intelligent.

Mr. China is the autobiography of one of the first men to buy shares of companies in China. The owners of the companies cheated him by funneling money into other investments, leaving only shells of the original businesses behind. He'd been right about China's emerging capitalist transformation but wrong about the best way to invest in it.

When Genius Failed is the story of Long-Term Capital Management, the hedge fund founded by Nobel Prize winners. They became overconfident of their mathematical models and didn't test their theories thoroughly enough. The fund made a lot of money in the beginning, but as it grew, it had to take bigger and bigger risks to maintain its return. A relatively minor market crash eventually took the fund out because it was so leveraged that it couldn't sit through market volatility.

Expand each of the paragraphs above into a new blog post. Put one of those up every week. After two years, you'll have a hundred reasons for any business school to drool over your application.

This is what the admissions committee will do when it sees your blog.
If you've read one book a week for two years, you probably know more than most finance professionals do. (Yes, I'm talking about vice presidents and licensed brokers who don't actually have any time to read.) You can go into your college interview and actually answer questions. What a thought!

Finance isn't your thing, you say? Find something you do like — astronomy, art, accounting, alliteration — and post one blog entry a week.

Create your blog today.

In two years, amaze the world.

April 2, 2017

How to Make Your College Applications Stand Out

Are you applying to top schools but worried you're not going to get in?

The very best schools can choose from a large pool of students with straight A's and high test scores. For example, U.C. Berkeley's 75th percentile GPA is 4.30, and its 75th percentile ACT score is 34. Berkeley only admits 17.5% of the people who apply.

What could possibly set you apart?

Top schools aren't looking for just anyone. They want students who will become famous: future entrepreneurs, Nobel Prize winners, and world leaders. If you become an amazing success, your fame splashes back to your alma mater and makes it even more desirable.

These values show up on the front page of Stanford's Web site:

Stanford Live Turns Five: Performances are just the beginning of world-class visiting artists' involvement with students and faculty.

They're also at University of Chicago, which would be my dream school if I could start over:

Rajan returns to UChicago: Chicago Booth economist looks ahead after leading India's central bank.
As a student/graduate/staff scientist/professor/visiting artist, are you going to enhance your school's reputation?

Your application essays need to show that you're a caterpillar who could turn into an rich, famous, Nobel-Prize-winning butterfly. You can write like a future Steve Jobs if you have the potential to be one.

Read this John Hopkins essay about Venus flytraps. You can see the attributes of a great scientist in the applicant's writing: curiosity, creativity, resourcefulness, tenacity, and eloquence.

That could be you, but you need to have something to write about first. An unfocused set of extracurriculars isn't going to provide life experiences that make good essay material. It's much better to find one or two things you really enjoy and spend hundreds of hours exploring those fields.

Dig a small hole, but make it deep.

That means you're going to have to get weird. It's abnormal to be obsessed about Venus flytraps, but it'll get you noticed. Not all of the attention will be positive, but what do you care? You want to go to college with people who are passionate about the things you love. That's way better than getting stuck with a bunch of classmates who forced themselves to do random stuff they hated.

A group of Lafayette high school students recently started a business called Local Helpers. They intend to use the money to pay for college, but they can also use Local Helpers to showcase their creativity and entrepreneurial drive.

Is starting a business in high school weird? Kind of. Is it impressive? You bet.

You have to take risks to stand out. Do you love math? Start a tutoring business. Write a blog. Enter a math competition. You might fail, but even that would provide a good growth experience to write your essays about. It sure beats writing about the time you spent volunteering at soup kitchens when you'd rather have been doing multivariable calculus.

I gave this advice to my seventh-grade computer programming class in 2011. One of my students started a blog, Zach's Art of Architecture. He's continued writing articles on it for the past six years and is now an architecture major in college.

Like Zach, you have to do something unusual to get noticed. Take risks. Become the unique, edgy person your dream school wants you to be!