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Category: Life Prep

How to Fight Procrastination for a Happier You!

You procrastinate. And, worse yet, you feel terrible about it. You feel that it is inevitable. You might even feel guilty or have fights with your parents about this. Procrastination isn’t your destiny. It’s something you can hack. Yes, the scientific evidence shows that you can change your brain – and you can change from being “a procrastinator” into someone who can feel good about completing tasks. What do neuroscientists and behavioral economists know, and that you might not?


1. Calendar Your Week – Record Your Time

keeping track of your time and calendar how your week is structuredWhere does your time go? Many high school students don’t realize that they are possibly busier than adults because of the time they spend in classes, homework, extracurricular activities, working, volunteering, and hanging out with friends and family. Who has time for simple things like sleeping and drinking water?



How much of your time is already spoken for? Figure out how much time you are actually busy – and then block off that time on your calendar. Mark down your entire week, seven days. Yes, this means when you are leaving home for school – your transportation – and the actual time you spend in classes, your breaks, and your return home. Mark all of your time, including your social time with friends and family. Mark your chores, exercising time, volunteering, or working. And mark the regular time you spend on homework – for this step, break down the amount of time you actually spend on each class, on the various days of the week.


Note: If one week feels too long, just fully mark one school day.


Read more: Back to School: Get ready for a great academic year!


2. Reflect on What You “Got” Out of Your Time

    • Do you feel good about how you spent the time?
    • Did you relax?
    • Did you learn something?
    • Did you accomplish some task you wanted to tackle?
    • Did you spend time on the relationships you treasure most?


If you were not satisfied, which could be the case if you were hanging out on Discord / YouTube / TikTok, the good news is – you have the power to CHANGE how you spend your time.


So, think about whether you want to make any changes to the ways in which you are spending your time. For example, one of my students put her least favorite class’s homework at the end of the night. How well do you think she could focus then? By marking all her time and seeing how effective his routine was, and where she could improve it, then, she moved that classwork earlier in the day so that she could approach it with a fresher brain.


Reflecting is the most important thing. One of my students told me that he wanted to spend more time with his parents because he realized that he would be attending college, and those family dinners that he was taking for granted now will be a precious thing he will miss when he is older. Wow!


Reflect, reflect, reflect – and you may notice some patterns! Use those patterns to inform how you want to set goals and ultimately schedule your life.


3. Now, Timebox Everything You Do

plan out your task and prioritizeWhat is Timeboxing? And why would this help you? “Timeboxing” refers to mapping a specific time to a specific task. That’s it. So, now – timebox all of your activities that you definitely want to spend time on, each week. Try to map out the next 7 days. Think about – how would you like to spend your time?


Really. Timebox it all. Having very clear boundaries about how much time you spend on each activity will actually help increase your motivation. This also helps you prioritize how you spend your time. What if you want to attend a party? You will have to timebox it, and that might mean you move around other stuff. One of my students uses the “label” feature on the Clock app on his iPhone to clearly manage his time. This is one of the things he has done to have a smoother school semester.


The research shows that timeboxing helps reduce stress and distractions and increase focus! But is it all work and no play? That brings me to my next and perhaps most important point: reward thyself.

Read more: Setting up Routines for High School


4. Put A Reward into Your Weekly Calendar to Hack Your Motivation

This might seem like a weird thing for me to discuss – fun – but if you want to hack your brain, neuroscience research shows that if you have a reward system that reinforces good habits, you are more likely to be successful in changing your habits. Some of my students like to play sports with friends, lift weights for “me” time, or even schedule a regular trip to the mall with friends.


Why would I encourage such habits? Hopefully, when you were reflecting on step #2, you figured out how much of your time you dedicate to activities that are truly rewarding, fulfilling, and fun. But in case you didn’t, I am calling this out as a step of its own to make sure you don’t forget to build in a reward – because it’s not intuitive. But it IS important – and the science bears this out.


Because then, you are looking forward to something in your week. Better yet, it would be ideal to have something you look forward to doing, every single day. Neuroscience research studies showed that even anticipating a reward – not even receiving it yet – releases dopamine and improves performance.



Examples (these are real-life ones, drawn from actual former students of mine):

 1. Working out at a gym with friends immediately after school
 2. Keeping Friday nights open for friends and family
 3. Walking to the park with the family dog
 4. Solo biking for miles and miles
 5. Playing with video games old friends each week at the same time to stay in touch
 6. Movie night with family


5. Why This Works: The Brain Science of Rewards

First of all, self-control is not infinite – you have a finite quantity. Yes, just like pennies and minutes, you only have so much impulse control – it truly is a concrete thing. In fact, every time you push yourself to do something, you are engaging in “impulse control fatigue” – a fancy way of saying that you get tired of doing stuff you don’t enjoy doing – and are more likely to take impulsive actions – like binge-ing on video games, YouTube or terrible snacks – out of sheer exhaustion because you have been doing actions which require you to behave yourself. Does this sound familiar?


To counteract this impulse control fatigue, you can hack your brain by pairing a “reward” like the examples I listed above, with the things you find difficult to do (but which might be better for you in the long run). This can help motivate you so that you are better able to focus on your tasks – because you are focused on the fun.


You can also do this on a super small scale, for particular actions you find difficult, not just your schedule. One economist Dr. Katy Milkman coined the term “temptation bundling” to describe what happens when you pair something you find difficult to do, in her case, hitting the gym, with something enjoyable, such as audiobooks. Once she set out a “rule” that she could only listen to audiobooks when she was at the gym, she found that she started to look forward to going to the gym to find out – what would happen next? And as a result, she built a steady habit of working out.


5. Continue to Reflect and Refine Your Routine

This is something you can adjust at least once each semester. Be ready to make adjustments along the way.


To reiterate:

 1. Calendar Your Week
 2. Reflect
 3. Timebox Everything
 4. Include Rewards
 5. Reflect and Adjust


I hope you enjoyed reading about your brain and productivity and hope you found it empowering. You can do it!!!

At Insight Education, our counselors do more than just help you with your college list, college essays, and applications. We help you build stronger study habits and life skills – Learn more and schedule a meeting with one of our expert counselors today!


Written by Meilin Obinata

This article is written by Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Meilin Obinata.

Meilin Obinata is a Senior College Counselor who enjoys learning from her students. She believes education is a creative endeavor and creates a space that allows students to explore new ideas. As a Bay Area native who grew up in Santa Cruz, she is familiar with the local schools. Read her full bio here.

3 Insight Tips to Stress Management

As you progress through high school, you may start picking harder courses, taking on leadership roles in your extracurricular activities, and working on challenging projects over the summer. You are probably even doing all of these while trying to find times to hang out with your friends and spend time with your families.


That’s when it hits you – stress. You’re stressed about getting a good grade. You may be anxious about your upcoming AP exams and finals. You’re worried if you’ll be accepted to the summer research you really want to do. For rising high school seniors, you’re stressed about the college admissions process on top of everything else.


In this article, Insight College Admissions Counselor Priya Singh shares some common causes for stress and what you can do to manage stress.


(Much more of a visual/audio learner? Check out Priya’s video HERE)


What causes stress?

There are many factors that cause stress. For one, it could be environmental. For example, if your desk is really cluttered, your brain is going to feel cluttered. Your stress level can go up when you can’t make sense of your physical space. Also, whatever you see in your environment gets mirrored in your brain. If you see a messy desk or a messy room, the dread of cleaning or the disorienting feeling of clutter can increase your stress level.


Keep a Good Posture

bad posture can add more stressThe other cause for stress is, surprisingly, your posture. When you’re sitting in a slumping fashion, you’re constricting the flow of your circulation. Let’s take a step back and think about how your body is structured. The main component of your body is your spine, and your energy runs through your spine. If you think about it, many people can survive without an arm or a leg. However, if something happens to your spine, your energy gets blocked. Think of your spine as a straw. When you tighten a rubber band around it, it’s harder to drink tea or boba through the straw. Therefore, keeping your body straight and stretching your spine are very important in stress management.


Why is your spine so important? Your biggest nerve runs parallel to your spine. It runs from the base of your skull and goes all the way to your legs. When you breathe, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems get energized with your breaths.



Whenever you’re sitting for a prolonged period of time, take 5 minutes to do some breathing exercise. Inhale through your nose, feel the air pass through your throat, and fill your belly with air. After the long, slow inhalation, exhale just as slowly. Repeat this for 10-15 times. You can do these deep breathing exercises with your eye closed. Definitely do not do them while you’re on your phone scrolling through TikTok. The goal is to focus on your breathing and keep a quiet mind.


You should do this breathing exercise for every 45 minutes you spent studying or scrolling on your phone. It really helps to slow your heart rate and calm your mind. If you’re really short on time, you can do this during your drive or your morning shower. Doing this simple breathing exercise 6-7 times a day can be helpful in stress management.



Let’s not Forget about Exercising

Have you ever felt slow and tired after sitting at your desk for a while? That’s because your blood circulation slows down in your body when you stay in the same pose and concentrate for so long. It’s your body’s way of telling you, “Let’s change things up!”


The other important tool in stress management is physical exercise. There are many forms of exercise, and you can choose to do what makes you happy. For example, you can jog or power walk around your neighborhood during a study break. You can do stretches or yoga. The main goal is to increase blood circulation so that you feel energized.


Final Advice

Declutter your room, keep your posture straight, take deep breathes, and exercise. These practices may sound simple, but they are effective. It’s also important for you to understand that you’re not the only one feeling this way. Every student experiences anxiety before a big test like the AP exams or the final exams. We all feel stressed before a deadline, whether it’s college application or a work project. It’s important to learn healthy ways to cope with your stress, and we hope this helps you in your journey in your high school and college admissions journey. More importantly, we wish these insights help you in life.


Need help getting ready for your AP exams or studying for your finals? Check out our 1:1 private tutoring for AP and academic subjects for students of all grades.


Want to strategize your college admissions plan? Contact us to schedule a meeting with our College Admissions Counselor for a 1-hour personalized college planning session!



Written by Priya Singh

This article is written by Insight College Admissions Counselor Priya Singh.

Priya Singh is a College Admissions Counselor and also an avid yogi. She often uses yoga and meditation to help students with learning and stress management during the college admissions process. Since 2014, she has helped many high school students, including students with learning disabilities, to reach their best-fit schools. Read her full bio here.

Beyond College Admissions: Why Extracurricular and Summer Activities Matter?

Community service, student internship, and summer research – these days, high school students are trying to pack too many extracurriculars in their resumes, hoping to impress the admissions office. It’s common knowledge that other than a strong GPA and standardized test scores, colleges are looking for students who have devoted time in the fields of their interests. In this article, we will explore what other benefits students gain through their extracurricular and summer activities experience.


Time-Management Skill

Ask your parents or any adult and they will share the importance of time management. The ability to prioritize, focus, and balance your time is key to a less stressful and more productive life. College admissions officers know this, too! That’s why they want to see how you use your free time through extracurricular and summer activities. Once you’re in college, you’d be expected to juggle classes, activities, and social commitments. It’s good to get a head start now and learn how to manage your time and balance your life.


Community Service

It is more than just a graduation requirement or a checkmark in your college applications. Community service gives you the opportunity to give back and help those in need. At Insight, we encourage our students to think about how their skillsets can better the world around them. Whether it is tutoring kids or planting trees, volunteer work can expand your worldview. You may even find a cause that you wish to study further during college. Plus, it feels good to help others and give back!


Read more: Don’t Seek Summer Internships Just to Impress Admissions Officers 


Leadership Experience

Many extracurricular and summer activities offer the chance for you to take ownership of a project (or a piece of a project). Keep in mind that you don’t need the title to be a leader. Even if you aren’t the team captain or the club president, you can still be a leader. Leadership can be seeing a project from start to finish or guiding your teammates through a rough time. Building up leadership skills is important, not only in your college admissions but also in your career path.



Extracurricular activities and summer programs are excellent for expanding your network beyond school and family. You can meet students who share the same interest or adults who can mentor you. The friendships you build through these activities can help you throughout your life. Other than letters of recommendation, you may know just who to call for an internship or career advice.

Read more: The Value of Networking


Career Exploration

By exploring different activities, you may discover a few fields or potential career paths. Knowing your likes and dislikes can help you narrow down your majors and your college list. Beyond college admissions, these opportunities offer you an early insight into what the potential job entails and what skillsets you will need to excel in those fields.


Concluding Thoughts

While extracurricular and summer activities take time and effort to plan and participate in, there are so many benefits to getting involved. If you are not sure what you should do, we’re here to help! Schedule a 1-hour college planning session with our counselors today!

Every fall, Insight hosts a Summer Opportunities Fair for the Bay Area Community. This event is free for all students and parents to attend. Click HERE to learn more and sign up!

A Lesson from the Pandemic: How Project Management Skills Lift Introverts  

We in the United States glamorize extroversion – being outgoing, so much so that Susan Cain shook the world  some years ago  with her  book,  “ Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking .”  Why?  Because her premise – that introverts have special gifts to offer society  – is a message we do not often hear.  Certainly, introversion does not sound like a precursor for leadership at first glance! 


After 2020 and now at the beginning of 2021, with the pandemic encouraging us to live online, we are discovering how very useful certain introvert traits can be. In this post, Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Meilin Obinata shares her insights on leadership, introverts, and project management in this pandemic and how her students have acted as leaders in various anti-intuitive ways, and what is possible for you in this current environment.



What is Project Management? 


The Project Management Institute defines project managers:


Project managers cultivate the  people skills  needed to develop trust and communication among  all of  a project’s stakeholders: its sponsors, those who will make use of the project’s results, those who command the resources needed, and the project team members.



alarm clock image courtesy of pixabay.com


While project management may seem only applicable to workplaces but in reality, it is about finishing things on budget, on time. Does all that sound…introvert-friendly?   (Yes, it is!)  Let’s take a look, shall we?   





Project Management as  a Concept Model of  Leadership


At Insight, our counselors often use a scrum-like method in our meetings with students. “Scrum” is a word we in the Bay Area used mostly to refer to a style of organizing software development into time-boxed goals. How does that work in Insight counseling meetings? During our 1:1 meetings, we prompt students by asking them questions to get them to reflect on their own progress, such as: “what did you do?” “What are you going to do?” “How might you need help from me?” In guiding our students through a self-reflecting process, we are instilling a sense of ownership. This helps to build the students’ confidence and allows them to learn from their mistakes. team work courtesy of pixabay.com


Leadership is Bringing out the Best in Others  

Over the years, I have worked with students who have trained newbies on their robotics teams or even mentored adult volunteers as they repaired bikes. I’ve heard from students who have attempted a top-down approach before realizing, for example, they prefer a more democratic style that includes the input and buy-in from others.


angry businessman courtesy of pixabay.com


This kind of leading – which is focused on bringing out the best in others much like one’s favorite condiment  – is different from traditional or default notions of leadership. Perhaps what comes to mind is the image of someone who is shouting into a megaphone, browbeating an audience to bend to the speaker’s will.  Yet, that kind of guidance is the very opposite of what many people need!


What Are Introverts? 


According to Professor Cain’s website

Introverts are more sensitive to external stimuli (an introvert will salivate more at the taste of lemon juice than an extrovert…) and need quiet time to recharge.


So, What Are Introverts Good “At”? 

handshake laptop courtesy of pixabay.comIn an online world, typing out a thoughtful reply or thank-you email will help introverts shine in a way they might not be able to do when they are attending classes/meetings in person.  So true!


Time Magazine published  the article  “ The Surprising Benefits of Being an Introvert ”  back in 2018, which included:


The skill of choosing your words wisely is just as beneficial online as it is in person. Introverts are more effective  on social media  because they’re less prone to knee-jerk reactions than extroverts, says Kahnweiler. >


While this is a very broad view of introverts and project management skills, I want to encourage you – just because we can’t have in-person interaction doesn’t mean you can’t step up as a leader. Now that you have gotten to this part of the blog post, are you eager to flex your project management and leadership skills? I know you are!



On-Time, on budget, with other people –  Things  to Try


  • MAKE ZOOM BETTER:  Next time you are in a Zoom breakout room for class, if you see people who are not participating, can you draw them out or include them somehow?  See this blog post about online school etiquette for more tips/ideas for helping your schoolmates.

  • NO OFFICIAL TITLE, NO PROBLEM: Even if you are not an officer of a club, you can do things by rolling up your sleeves to influence people for the better. Can you teach someone even a mini-skill? One of my students prided himself on being the best hot-dog wrapper – he sold hot dogs at sporting events at a local university for a charity every weekend. It was very important that he wrapped the hot dogs well since nothing is worse than a hot dog unprotected from the elements!  He was the go-to person when newbies needed to learn how to wrap these hot dogs. That could be you!

  • CALENDARS, SPREADSHEETS, BUDGETS,  OH MY: Do you know how to use a spreadsheet, or are good at managing a calendar/schedule? Is this a skill you could perhaps use to help your family organize its time better, or perhaps help your clubmates/teammates /etc. somehow?

  • START TINY:  But,  you protest, you don’t have much experience influencing other people. How about tackling something extremely small – why not challenge your friends in some small ways?  Amy Brennan blew my mind when she mentioned using maple syrup to make her coffee more autumnal!!!  It made me think about how people can challenge each other with simple things such as beverage combos.


Hope you enjoyed this alternative view of introversion – not as a weakness, but a hidden strength! 

Written by Meilin Obinata

This article is written by Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Meilin Obinata.

Meilin Obinata is a Senior College Counselor who enjoys learning from her students. She believes education is a creative endeavor and creates a space that allows students to explore new ideas. As a Bay Area native who grew up in Santa Cruz, she is familiar with the local schools. See her full bio here.

Hidden Benefits of College Admissions Interview

By now, you’ve submitted your applications, and you may have the option to interview with college alumni. You might wonder whether or not they’ll positively affect your admission decision. More importantly, honing your interview skills goes beyond college admissions.


Continue reading

How to Combat Zoom Fatigue

If you are finding yourself exhausted between classes, office hours, webinars, and social time all on Zoom, you are not the only one. Over the past few months, “Zoom fatigue” or “Zoomed-out” have shown up more and more over social media and Google searches. Most importantly, it is probably showing up in your home. 


Why do we find video calls so draining? One of the reasons is that video calls require us to hyperfocus on conversations and facial expressions to absorb information. Unlike in-person, you cannot rely on body language or whispering to your neighbors to catch up if you daydream for a few minutes. In addition, the close-up, constant stare at a person’s face is uncomfortable and exhausting. 


But if you think the hyperfocusing improves our concentration, think again. On screens, we are used to chatting with our friends, checking emails, scrolling social media, and viewing Zoom in the Brady-bunch view. Our visual sense is overloaded with distractions and stimuli, all screaming for our attention.  


Thus, we are all Zoomed-out by 3 pm – if we even make it that long 


If this sounds like you, read on. Here are three simple tips to help you manage Zoom fatigue: 


1. Avoid Multitasking 


This was also true before sheltering in place. Studies have shown that doing multiple tasks at once diminishes performance. You are not being more productive by planning your research project during math class. In fact, it is counterproductive.  You will have to work twice as hard on your own to make up the content you missed during class. 


Insight Advice: The night before, print out everything you will need. Before class starts, close all your tabs, turn off notifications, and put away your phone and tablet. During class, take notes by hand. This will help you break the constant gaze and improve your recall. Also, avoid the chat function in Zoom. You cannot be focused on your teacher if your eyes and mind wander to the chain of messages being sent back and forth. 


2. Maximize Zoom and Choose Speaker View 


Research shows that you tend to spend more time staring at your face during video calls. On-screen distraction also involves staring at your friends and trying to figure out what’s in their background. These drain your focus and energy. 


Insight Advice: Maximize the video call window to block out other apps. Choose speaker view, so you are focused on your teacher and class materials. Avoid the temptation to look at your friends. 


3. Schedule Breaks and Commit 


This is another bit of advice that you will keep hearing throughout your life. Research shows that breaks can help you physically and mentally. Just like athletes need a good recovery stretch after a big game, we need to build-in productive breaks. 


Insight Advice: Every week, plan out your week ahead and schedule in breaks. For every two hours on screen, you need at least 15 minutes off-screen. Challenge yourself to commit to taking breaks. During your break time, walk away from all your electronic devices and opt to do something active. Take a short walk. Dance to your favorite music. These activities will help you recover quickly and boost your energy. (And your mood, too.) When you eat lunch, do so without a screen. Play some music or eat with a family member and allow yourself to just focus on the break. Think back to when recess was truly recess for you! The same advice follows when school is over. Take a break from screens and the pressure of school for at least 30 to 45 minutes before diving into your homework. 



These tips may be hard to follow at first but challenge yourself. Using these pieces of advice will help you study smarter, feel less stressed, and have more energy for other activities. It’s stressful to enter a new school year with a new norm, so why not make virtual school a little easier for yourself.  



Insight Alumni Shared Their Stories

How Covid-19 Has Impacted Insight Alumni

This is a special one. At a time of uncertainty for all of us, five former Insight graduates have taken the time to share the details of their experiences in college during the pandemic. There have been highs and lows and their experiences range from adjusting to the challenges of returning home again unexpectedly during freshman year to dealing with the uncertainty that surrounds college graduation and finding a job in an evolving climate.


Thank you to everyone for your contributions and for sharing this invaluable information, which will be especially impactful to current high school students and to those heading to college for the first time next fall.



High School Class of 2019

University of Michigan

Major: Computer Science (declaring in Fall 2021)


I recently concluded my freshman year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I returned home to the Bay Area this spring after all in-person classes were moved to remote instruction. Michigan’s administration aimed to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and began discussing online class formats before there were any confirmed cases in the state or on campus. On Wednesday after we returned from Spring Break (March 11), all students and faculty received an email that classes for the remainder of the week would be canceled, and that remote instruction would begin the following week and continue through the end of the semester. This kicked off a whirlwind of events as thousands of students and staff members on campus had to immediately adapt to the new situation. Our Housing Department kept the dorms and dining halls open for students but strongly urged that we leave campus. My friends and I all moved out of our dorm within the next 4 days and returned to our homes before online classes started that Monday.

It was definitely difficult to cut my traditional freshman year experience short and balance saying goodbye to all of my friends while also juggling packing and storing my items in a matter of hours.

Thankfully, all of my professors were very understanding in the midst of this unprecedented transition and supported me with homework extensions, updated exam formats, and truncating course syllabi. The University also offered a partial refund on housing to students who moved out of the dorms by the end of March. The biggest stress reliever for me was the introduction of a new Pass/Fail grading system that the University implemented to avoid negative penalties for students whose grades might have been affected throughout this time. Those in charge of my extracurricular activities also tried to remain active as we navigated the transition to students being off-campus. I am a part of the student government, and we began to conduct all of our meetings virtually. Similarly, I am on the Web Team of the school newspaper, and fortunately, we have been able to continue to work on individual projects remotely.

Obviously this rapid change has been confusing, scary, and unexpected, but I also feel very well supported by Michigan’s administration and faculty.

Stay healthy, and Go Blue!



High School Class of 2018

Case Western Reserve University

Major: Nutritional Biochemistry & Metabolism


Hello all! My name is Adam and I attend Case Western Reserve University, where I major in Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism with a minor in Business Management.  I recently finished my sophomore year and had concluded my wrestling season right before the COVID-19 outbreak.

All of my classes from that point on were online, and I was given the option of Pass/Fail or to receive grades.

This has been a challenging time as I had to adjust to working at home; typically I study in the library on campus. All of my classes resumed via Zoom meetings, which required an adjustment but ultimately was pretty laid back. One of my professors even hosted a cooking session after class, which was fun. Ultimately, everyone is in the same position right now, and I feel that my professors were very understanding.

Rather than counting down the day for things to return to normal, I used my time to be productive myself.

I have kept busy by studying for the DAT (dental admissions test), exercising, and organizing my materials and room to study.  There are various ways that students can be productive during this time, including virtual volunteering, learning something new online, and exploring a hobby like art, cooking, or exercise.


For any personal tips or advice, feel free to reach out!



High School Class of 2018


Major: Computer Science


On the last Friday of winter quarter in early March, all students at UCLA received an email informing us that the administration had decided to give remote instruction through the entire spring quarter. I was eating dinner with my friends at the time, and while in the back of our minds we knew that this was inevitable given the circumstances, it didn’t hit us until then that we would not be seeing each other for half a year until the next school year in late September, at the earliest.

The next week was finals week, and while finals week already is almost unbearably stressful, I also had to worry about moving out on short notice and making sure that all my business was in order before leaving my dorm for the last time.

It wasn’t until I had arrived home, had taken my online finals, and had spent a few days relaxing that I could reflect and think about the impact that the Coronavirus outbreak would have on my college life. Like most students, I will be moving into an apartment during my third year. This reality meant that I would be missing the last quarter of my opportunity to live on campus in the dorms.

I would be missing my last quarter of enjoying the renowned UCLA dining hall food, living next to all my friends, the late-night work sessions in the common rooms, the conversations in the bathrooms; in essence, I would be missing part of the quintessential college experience. I wouldn’t get to finish any of the year-long projects I had worked on for my clubs, or even have a proper send-off for the graduating seniors, who have probably had the toughest experience out of all the students.

Taking a moment to think about how I’m only in college for a few short years, this realization was honestly pretty depressing. Being locked up at home during spring break instead of seeing all my high school friends as I expected did not help either. However, I am hopeful that good results will come from this experience. I know that I have invaluable time in college still to come, and I hope that I can make the most of it after learning the hard way how precious time is. As I continue to think about what has transpired, I have learned a lot about myself.



High School Class of 2016

University of Southern California

Major: Accounting


As a senior in college, Covid-19 significantly changed the reality of my last few months in school. Leaving USC to live at home has regrettably taken away the chance to say goodbye to my friends, roommates, and professors. It also altered a number of milestone experiences that I was looking forward to. Although USC postponed in-person commencement activities in favor of a virtual celebration, it didn’t feel the same. Zoom classes during the spring were at times tricky due to connectivity issues, but what I missed most were the classroom and school spirit.

That being said, I’ve noticed that I and many other seniors have learned to adjust to our new reality. And while I understand that this was not ideal for us, it had to be done.

We’ve learned to use other means of staying in touch with our loved ones and continued to adapt throughout the spring, and now into the summer. These circumstances have brought teachers and students closer together in a way, as we all mutually shared the frustrations that came with online classes.

Although this season was rough at times and not what I anticipated, the communal effort of everyone coming together made it easier.



High School Class of 2015

UC Riverside

Major: Economics/Administrative Studies

I graduated in March 2020, just as COVID had started to affect schools and the workforce. I count myself incredibly lucky to have graduated when I did, though this timing definitely presented its own challenges.

UC Riverside pivoted to online instruction during finals, and hiring was slowing as I was interviewing for full-time jobs at the time. I also had to figure out how to pack up an entire apartment alone and move home for good in the matter of a few days.

During this time, I realized the importance of a support system. Isolating alone, across the state from my family, and during such a critical and anxiety-inducing time in my academic career, would not have been possible if I hadn’t reached out and asked for help when I needed it. It also showed me the value of all of the preparation that I had done throughout my college career.

I would have had a much harder time finding a job during these conditions if not for the steps I had taken months and even years in advance.

Here are a few things that I did that I believe helped me to get a job during uncertain times:


1. Apply for jobs before the recruiting season begins, and apply aggressively. 

I started my job applications the August before I graduated, which put me in the job applicant pool before many of my peers. When you apply for your first job out of college, only a small fraction of applications will lead to interviews. For perspective, I applied to more than 500 jobs and got around 10 interviews. During the months leading up to graduation, I had a goal to apply to at least 20 new jobs a day. This helped me hold on to my head start when COVID started to affect job prospects.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of informational interviews. 

The most valuable advice I have received at the beginning of my career has come from asking people in my industry about what they would recommend I do to set myself up to succeed.

3. Don’t be shy at your internship! 

Introduce yourself to everyone you can at your company. Ask a million questions. Set up coffee chats with people who have the kind of role you hope to have in the future. Take on challenging projects that you’re not sure you can handle – then work hard, learn lots, and meet the challenge! Your internship can be one of the most important places to grow, put your skills to work, and figure out what you want your future to look like. Take advantage of it.


Concluding words

Thank you so much to our wonderful former students who took the time to contribute their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, both positive and negative. This has been an unprecedented time for everyone, young and old, and your advice to younger students and to your peers is invaluable. Remember, we all have to make choices every day that impact our lives and the lives of those around us. This has been a time of growth and a time you will likely remember for the rest of your lives. Think about your choices, reflect on what has worked and what has not, and know that the team at Insight is always heard to support you.


Written by Zach Pava

These interviews were conducted by Insight Senior Counselor Zach Pava.

Zach has guided hundreds of students throughout the college admissions process. His extensive writing background includes essay contributions online and in print, sports blog work, and film reviews. He heads up our Boston Insight Office. Contact us to schedule an initial consultation with Zach today.

Insight counselor Jenny H shared her lessons learned from preparing for ACT tests

Standardized Testing: A Reflection

I feel like there are certain activities that will always make me a little—okay, very—nervous.  These include riding a roller coaster, watching a horror movie, and lastly, taking standardized tests!


Standardized testing was not my forte, and I felt like this was the most daunting aspect of the college admission process in high school.  For those of you who feel the same way and/or are in the midst of studying for the SAT / ACT test, I am motivated to write this blog post to reflect on my experience. In doing so, I hope that you will gain some insight into how to better prepare for these tests moving forward.


Insight counselor Jenny H reflected on her studying for the ACT test prep


What I Did Adequately

Even though there were some parts I would have done differently, there were a few things I feel like I did adequately.   


1. Be Determined

If there’s one thing I am at peace with, it’s that I was determined and worked hard to do “well.” My desk was piled high with practice books, and you would constantly find me in the library furiously scribbling into a notebook for hours.

For the majority of us, determination is a crucial component in doing well on the SAT / ACT. This is also the attitude you will need to succeed in college and beyond, so I hope that you will continue to develop this mindset while studying for the SAT / ACT.

2. Be Prepared on Test Day

On test day, I had everything ready: multiple pencils, an eraser, a calculator, etc. Even though I was nervous about the test, I knew I had everything I needed which at least alleviated a little bit of stress. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to come equipped with all materials on the day of the test!

If you are taking the test in-person, I also recommend visiting the testing site before test day if possible.  In case of unexpected circumstances—heavy traffic, you wake up later than expected, etc.—you’ll at least know where the testing site is instead of frantically searching the day of.


3. The Score Doesn’t Define Me

I wasn’t the best test-taker which reflected in my score, but I didn’t believe the results implied that I was a failure or predestined to fail in college.  I chose to be proactive in my studies and present on my college campus which wouldn’t have been possible if I’d given up because of my standardized test results!

Thus, if you don’t do “well” on the SAT or ACT test, don’t give up on yourself. Work hard in college! Consequently, identify and cultivate your gifts so that you can better yourself and serve your community. 


What I Could Have Done Better

However, there’s more to getting a “good” SAT/ACT score than just determination. The following is what I feel like I could have done better prior to the test and after receiving my score.


having structure and strategy for your test prep is key


1. You Sure About THAT Test, Jenny?

In retrospect, I wasn’t as mindful as I could have been when deciding which standardized test to take. If I had done a more thoughtful job, I might have gotten a score that more accurately reflected the effort I put into studying for it.

Thus, choose the test that you’re taking with careful consideration; one way to help you decide is to take both the SAT and the ACT diagnostic tests. At Insight, we offer both ACT and SAT test assessments so you can know which test is for you.


2. Don’t Just Study! Learn HOW to Study

As I mentioned, I had the determination to succeed. However, besides whatever guidance was offered in the practice books, I didn’t understand how to strategically approach each problem. If I could rewind, I would enroll in an SAT / ACT class to acquire these skills.

I recommend reaching out to a trusted individual in your support system who is skilled in taking standardized tests, as they might be able to offer some advice. Even better, if you have the financial means, I encourage you to take a class or find a suitable tutor who can offer valuable insight on creating a study plan and how to effectively navigate taking these tests.

We offer SAT and ACT test prep classes at Insight. The instructors not only review the topics and concepts, but they also walk you through test reviews and time management. You can click here to find out more.


3. Make an Action Plan

Given that I self-studied, I was fully responsible for learning all the materials before test day. I vaguely remember that I created a general plan, but I should have had a more elaborate schedule with more definite deadlines to ensure that I was completely prepared before test day. 

Consider making a schedule if you feel that it’ll help keep you accountable. I recommend using a planner so that you can refer back to the milestones you set.  Appropriate deadlines include noting when you plan on taking a practice test or reviewing vocabulary words. By breaking the task into smaller ones, it could make studying for the SAT / ACT feel more manageable.

Note: It’s okay if you occasionally veer off schedule! You might find yourself having a busier week than you originally anticipated, and instead of compromising your health, you can always adjust your schedule to make up for any material you missed. Remember, your well-being should always come first!

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Ready, Set, Take the Test!

4. Take Practice Exams That Replicate the Testing Environment

Besides lacking the tools to successfully attack the exam, I also took practice tests in conditions that did not fully reflect an actual testing environment. As a result, I question if this was an effective way to study in hindsight. 

When taking a practice exam, it’s important to replicate the testing environment: don’t eat snacks, listen to music, play with your phone, and give yourself ample time to solve the problems (In other words, use a timer that reflects the time constraints you have on each section when taking the actual test). In doing so, you will ideally grow more accustomed to the conditions you will experience on test day.


5. Find Other Opportunities to Highlight Strengths

Given that my score could have been better, successfully highlighting my strengths were even more crucial when I applied to colleges as a senior in high school. While I tried to do so at the time, I’m now more aware of different opportunities, like working a part-time job or starting personal projects, that I could have participated in.

Everyone has strengths including yourself. If you are struggling with standardized tests as I did, I encourage you to find safe and reputable opportunities to showcase your strengths and interests on the college admission application. Your Insight counselor can provide some resources as well!  


Concluding Thoughts

In essence, it’s not only important to have the heart to study but the knowledge on how to study for these tests.

However, know that your SAT/ACT score is just one data point that colleges will consider, so it is not the end all be all. Remember, the SAT/ACT is something, but it is not everything. Moreover, a mediocre SAT/ACT score does not suggest that your doomed to fail nor does a stellar SAT/ACT score guarantee a perfect GPA in college. That’s partly influenced by your attitude and work ethic.

So work hard, study wisely, and good luck! You got this!


Written by Jenny Huang

This article was written by Insight Counselor Jenny Huang.

Jenny graduated from UC Berkeley after transferring from UC Santa Barbara. Her unique “inter-UC transfer” experience inspired her to become a mentor and a college admission counselor.

How to find your college match if you have learning challenges

Finding Your College Match If You Have Learning Challenges

Have you ever wondered how to find a good college match if you have learning challenges?  In order to answer that question and provide insight, I conducted interviews via email and phone with Gabrielle E. Miller, Ed.D., Assistant Vice Provost, Learning Services and Executive Director of the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center at the University of Arizona and Julie Yindra, Director of Student Access Services at Hofstra University.  Both of these women are experts in the field of university services for students with learning challenges at two of the most highly rated and respected university programs for students with learning challenges.  Dr. Miller and Ms. Yindra provide invaluable insights into how to choose a college if you have learning challenges and offer details about their university’s programs for students with learning challenges.


What are some tips to find a good college match for students with learning challenges? 

Dr. Miller:  With thousands of colleges to choose from, finding the right fit can feel like an overwhelming task, especially if you don’t know where to start or what to ask. That’s why, even before diving into the college search process, I recommend that students with learning challenges spend some time asking themselves some questions to ensure they have a good sense of what they will need from a college.

As students reflect on their past educational experiences, they might start by asking themselves questions like: What types of academic support and adjustments have I found to be helpful thus far? Do I need extra test time, tutoring, study apps, regular meetings with an advisor? Do my parents or teachers have anything else to add? Write down the responses and start organizing them making special note of those things which are most important to you. Also, ask yourself about the type of college experience you would like to have. For example: Do I want to attend a school near my family or go out-of-state? Do I want to attend a school specifically for students with LDs or would I be more comfortable at a traditional college?

This self-reflection exercise will help form the basis of an individualized checklist that you can use to narrow down your selection and then take to colleges to make sure that their level of support matches up with your unique needs.

After having asked themselves some tough questions, the next step I recommend is for students to turn around and start asking probing questions of the colleges they are considering. These days, a lot of information can be gathered quickly online or with the help of college guidebooks. Other insightful details you’ll need to contact the colleges to get. You can use a spreadsheet or notebook to keep your findings organized.

knowing your needs and asking universities the right questions can help

Here are some additional questions you might find useful while remembering to adapt them to your personal circumstances.

        • How often do students meet with support staff or tutors?
        • Are the staff and tutors specifically trained or experienced in working with students with learning and attention challenges?
        • What percentage of students graduate within 6 years?
        • How many students attend this school?
        • What kind of sports and extracurricular activities are available?
        • Is support available for online classes?
        • How long has the school or support program been around?
        • What degrees does the school offer?
        • Is the school well known or ranked for my major?
        • How do you help students as they prepare to transition into the workplace or graduate school?
        • What is the average starting salary of recent graduates?
        • What is the surrounding community like?
        • Can I come and tour the campus and different programs?
        • Can I talk to students enrolled in the program or alumni to get their perspective?

Ms. Yindra:  Go visit the campus, ask to meet students, ask to meet with the office that provides accommodations—the manner in which they offer accommodations, and how, makes a big difference.  If they begrudgingly hand you a form to fill out or if they are truly interested in helping and getting to know you, makes a big difference. 

Many communities have private K-12 schools for students with learning challenges.  Take advantage of these schools as resources and ask them where they’re sending their students to college.

In addition to visiting campuses, use the Click Test. 

The Click Test is going on a university’s website and figuring out how many clicks it takes to get to the learning challenges part of the school’s website.  This can be very telling.  Is the learning challenges page of the website front and center or does it take many clicks to find it?

how many click does it take you to the information you need

Also, search for colleges that are looking for students with learning challenges.  Reach out to someone who works in the learning challenges program and they should get back to you.  The speed with which they get back to you can also be very telling.

What specifically does the SALT Center offer for students with learning challenges?

Dr. Miller:  The SALT Center offers a suite of comprehensive services designed to maximize student engagement and success at the University of Arizona.

For most of our students, this success grows out of a close relationship with their specific Student Support Specialist, an experienced professional that meets with them every week to implement an individualized learning plan, help them explore study strategies, stay organized, and navigate the complex college environment.

Students also benefit from our robust array of tutoring services. With around 100 peer tutors on staff, we’re able to offer one-on-one and small group tutoring appointments for almost any undergraduate class at convenient times throughout the week. Students can also visit our drop-in tutoring labs for help with most reading, writing, math, science, and business courses. Our CRLA certified tutors are specifically trained to help students with learning and attention challenges and endeavor to create a learning environment that facilitates independent and lifelong learning.

know what support the university can offer you

Another popular service that we offer is our educational technology support. Students can consult with a student Tech Coach or the Educational Technology Coordinator for help with a specific tech concern or explore different apps and tech tools to get better organized or study more effectively.

For students experiencing significant emotional health concerns, we’re able to offer our in-house psychological services. Generally, our psychological team assists with issues related to anxiety, depression, stress, grief and loss, substance abuse, sleep disorders, and managing life in college. These confidential meetings with qualified staff provide students with a clinical assessment, treatment plan, additional supportive strategies, and if deemed necessary, referral for outside resources.

Throughout the semester we also put on a variety of workshops designed to give students the opportunity to learn new skills and academic strategies, provide a better understanding of their learning challenges, and explore ways to adapt learning strategies to best suit their individual learning styles.

In addition to our core offerings, students are also provided with various opportunities to develop their social and leadership skills in both formal and informal settings. These include regular outings with a member of the university faculty, career readiness events provided with assistance from SALT Center alumni, small-group social skills workshops for students needing additional focused support, and opportunities for employment as a SALT Center Ambassador, Peer Tutor or Tech Coach.

What specifically does the Program for Academic Learning Skills (PALS) offer for students with learning challenges?

Ms. Yindra:  PALS is a comprehensive fee-based program.  PALS pairs students with a Learning Specialist.  Students have regular one on one meetings with their Learning Specialist to discuss better ways to write a paper, better ways to study for a test, etc.  They really do a deep dive into the student and get to know the student well.  Learning Specialists do not necessarily tutor in a particular subject per se, but it is the job of the Learning Specialist to make sure the student gets connected with a tutor from whatever particular subject the student is struggling with.  The Learning Specialist helps with learning skills and acts as the student’s caseworker and helps them coordinate all of their support team.  Learning Specialists help students organize and manage their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules, etc.

What sets the SALT Center apart from other universities’ support services for students with learning challenges?

Dr. Miller:  Since our founding in 1980, our approach has been widely recognized as one of the most effective in helping undergraduates thrive in higher education. I feel that much of this success is a result of our unique position as one of the world’s only comprehensive academic support programs housed within a top tier research university.

As an integral part of the university community, we have long been at the forefront of developing and pioneering research-informed interventions. We have strong national and international research partnerships and a history of collaborating with researchers from around the globe. Bartlett Labs, our in-house research division, orchestrates these efforts and strives to ensure that our students are benefitting from the resulting discoveries.

As part of our commitment to providing students with the highest quality support, we also make it a priority to invest heavily in the professional development and continuing education of our staff. We work closely with our campus community of educational and wellness practitioners to provide relevant training and opportunities for collaboration and exchange. Additionally, we are continually evaluating our approach and processes adjusting them to ensure that we are not only in compliance with best practices but setting a new standard for excellence.

Lessons gleaned from decades of LD research inform everything we do all the way down to the design and construction of our award-winning, 21,000 square ft., building. Our center was custom built to meet the unique needs of our staff and students and integrates the latest in educational technology systems, collaborative work areas, and modular learning spaces spread over three different levels.

SALT is a program by university of arizona

Students at the SALT Center also have the benefit of attending a university filled with some of education’s brightest minds from across the academic spectrum. Most professors are keenly aware of our efforts and are eager to learn how they can enhance their instruction to better work with students who learn differently. To amplify our impact and raise awareness of our mission, we regularly meet with instructors and advisors from across campus, holding training and forging partnerships that open doors for our students to be better understood and valued as important members of the learning community.

The last thing that I would say sets our program apart is the degree to which we partner with students to foster their self-awareness, confidence, resilience, and growth.

Many of our students view the SALT Center as their second home and spend several hours a week with us where they are taught to embrace their hardships and learn from their failures. A growth mindset is at the heart of everything we do, and we often hear from alumni that their time at the SALT Center altered the trajectory of their lives giving them the self-confidence and attitude to thrive as adults.

Click Here to Learn More About SALT.

What sets PALS apart from other universities’ support services for students with learning challenges?

Ms. Yindra:  The way that PALS is structured—it is a very long-term commitment.  Many students meet with their Learning Specialist all four years, while others attend regular meetings for the first year and then feel confident enough to tackle the rest of college on their own. 

However, PALS is always there for students with learning challenges.  When you’re a junior or senior and applying for an internship or a graduate program, PALS Learning Specialists will write recommendations for students, etc.

Another thing that sets PALS apart is that it is embedded in the campus community at Hofstra, where we communicate and collaborate across all departments at Hofstra.  The Learning Specialist is not only in close communication with the student but also with tutors and all across campus.  This sets PALS apart from other programs.  Our PALS program generates an 85% success rate in terms of freshman to sophomore year retention.  The graduation rate of students in the PALS program is the same as, or sometimes slightly higher than, the graduation rate of the general population at Hofstra.

Click Here to Learn More About PALS.

Written by Jason Katz

This interview article was conducted and written by Insight Counselor Jason Katz.

Jason has helped hundreds of students gain admission to their best-fit universities. In addition, he wrote more than 170 college admissions/college life columns for the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News. 

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