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Episode Notes

Episode Title: Competitive Colleges: Ben Stern of IvyAchievement on Counseling International Students.

Episode summary introduction: International students nurture dreams of making it to a competitive US College. It requires planning, discipline and a lot of hard work for a chance to get one of the coveted spots in these colleges. Counselors’ expertise and experience can make a difference in the outcome.

Benjamin Stern is the founder and CEO of IvyAchievement, a college counseling firm shares his approach.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • What is IvyAchievement?
  • About the students in India, Vietnam and others
  • COVID-19 Impact on College Admissions

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Birth of IvyAchievement [2:15]
  • First Trip to India to meet Students and Parents  [6:11]
  • Types of Students Counseled [10:55]
  • Students in different Geographies [16:05]
  • Getting Started with Counseling Sessions [20:34]
  • Impact of Test Optional to College Admissions [23:27]
  • COVID-19 Uncertainty and College Students [27:16]
  • COVID-19 & College Experience [32:24]
  • Sweet Spot: Competitive Colleges [36:54]

Our Guest: Benjamin Stern, Founder and CEO of IvyAchievement, USA focuses on international students applying to US Colleges from India, Vietnam and others. IvyAchievement students have been accepted to top universities in the US.

Memorable Quote: “This is my first ever trip to India. I get into Delhi. That day had a high of, I believe, 46 degrees!

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat  0:12 

International students nurture dreams of making it to a competitive US College. If the chances of being accepted by an elite US school are 1 in 20, then international students have a 3x steeper hill to climb!

Hello & Welcome to this episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.

Benjamin Stern is the founder and CEO of IvyAchievement, a college counseling firm based in the US.

Ben channeled his Ivy League background into counseling, to add value to students in India, Vietnam and beyond, in their pursuit of competitive colleges like the Ivy League.

Interesting fact: Ben gave up Law to pursue college counseling.

And No, Ben doesn’t regret giving up Law!

To hear about this and more, let’s go over to Ben Stern!

Venkat  1:16  

So Ben, let me start by welcoming you to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters. Really appreciate you making the time.

Ben 1:27  

Great to be here.

Venkat  1:28  

Sure thing!

So, as I think we chatted, the audience is really, you know, all college bound students, we are particularly focused on students, international students who are looking to apply to the United States. And we've been focusing on Asia and the Middle East, at least at this point in time, but obviously [if] anything, these kind of conversations are beneficial to just about anyone. So with that, I just thought we could start off by talking about your firm IvyAchievement. Just a little bit about what you do, and some history, that'd be awesome.

Ben  2:15  [Birth of IvyAchievement]

Sure, so, so, I started IvyAchievement five years ago now, I had left a job as a lawyer in California, I had actually moved out to California with a law firm. And then I left my job it wasn't wasn't for me.

I left my job, actually, a few months later, and I needed to pay the bills. And, you know, I knew that college counseling and college essay editing was something that you know, people would pay for. And so I started helping people, helping people online on I saw it on Reddit, some Facebook groups, people really needed help with their essays. So I started, started doing essay reviews. This was in October, November timeframe. Doing essay reviews and then charging for essay editing. I did some public publication experience writing experience I did very well in my, in my writing my verbal SAT writing SAT. And I went to law school. So I had a lot of, you know, writing experience. And students found that I was adding value. I was hoping to add value.

I did a full, I did a full cycle of applications and had some pretty good results. Students got into NYU, USC when he got into Harvard. Right, it helps. And, you know, I realized that this could be a scalable business. So I decided to get together some board of advisors to help me to basically, basically to put on my website I made, I made I created a company created I created a website with a brand. Hmm, I chose IvyaAchievement. Not sure it was the best choice but Now it's recognized brand, we're gonna stick with it for the time being.

And then I started to look for funding. And I was first putting the or I was ,I was planning to put together a board of advisors and then look for funding after that. So, so somebody that I, I had a, somebody who I wanted to be on, on my board of advisors, and he was a friend from law school, we had a, we were casual friends. And I had, I wanted him to be my board of advisors. I asked him if I could, if we could get together for brunch. He was living in New York at the time.

And we had brunch, and I was telling him about what I was doing. And I was telling him that a lot of the students that I had helped were in India and there was a really, there was a really strong demand in India for this kind of thing.

So I was telling him that you know, it would be really great to be able to go to India and, you know, do marketing there. And, you know, I have this little vision for a scaled, scaled business.

And, you know, he asked me, he was, he was pretty successful entrepreneur. And he asked me, so how much money are you going to try to raise? And at that point, I didn't know. I was I was just still putting together my board of advisors and then gonna come up with a business plan.

And you know, I told him I didn't know he said, Well, you should figure it out. And I'm like, suddenly right now he said, Yeah, sure. And I literally we were at brunch I literally did math on a napkin how much I was gonna need for, you know how much I was gonna need for marketing to hire somebody full time, travel. And I came up with a number and he said, I can make that happen.

Well, and that's not like he wrote a check the next day, but I ended up getting a few investors together. He helped to get a few investors together and you know, they funded IvyAchievement for our for first year, for the first business efforts and so, a few months later I was in India. 

Ben  6:11  [First Trip to India to meet Students and Parents]

My first trip to India, I visited, I had full time, I had one person working full time at IvyAchievement and one person I hired just for the trip.

My first, this is my first ever trip to India. I get into Delhi. That day had a high of a believe of 46 degrees, that was it was 2016 This is 2016 Yeah, the first year I did this was 2015, 2016. This is this is 2016. In May, yeah, hottest time of the year. It was quite an experience. Delhi, Mumbai. We visited Delhi Mumbai, Lucknow Jaipur, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai.

Venkat  6:53


Ben  6:54

Very, very first trip to India.

Venkat  6:57  

It was a grand tour. Then you got all the big...

Ben  6:59  

Yeah. Was, and we had events, we visited schools, we were able to promote it, and get a lot of attention and we were able to pick up students from from each place and we by then we were pretty well known. Even there I was pretty well known even after the first year and we had students we had students come from came from Chandigarh to Delhi, and one of them ended up one of them ended up being a very successful student getting he got into multiple Ivy Leagues.

So fast forward a bit. I've been back to India several times since then, I visited several of the cities, primarily I visit Delhi and Mumbai each time, but I've also been now to Bangalore since then. And done Chandigarh as well. So in addition to those cities, we have been to many cities in India.

So primarily, primarily we, we've assisted the students in India and also Vietnam. I had another business contact in Vietnam, that, that started an IvyAchievement Division in Vietnam. So we have operations there as well.

Venkat  8:06

Fabulous! Fabulous!

Ben  8:07  

Yeah, I went a little long on this.

Venkat  8:11  

No, no, no, this is fascinating. This is fascinating. I mean, you know, the motivations and then the, you know, how you get going and what's the rocket fuel here, Really important. So no, thanks for sharing. I mean, that's really, really interesting.

And so here you are. So, obviously, this is what five years now into it right about...

Ben  8:35  

Yeah, it was. If I can add, I would add that yeah, it was really important. I think I've done it was really important to visit those places. Because we, I really got a sense of the diversity of Indian families, certainly, certainly families, you know, both ethnic socio economic you know, attitude and English speaking and attitudes towards, in politically, really really a wide diversity of families. And it was really important to become attuned to the culture, you know, in India and I had really very little knowledge, I had, to in the, one Indian-American, one Indian working for me, but very little knowledge and got a lot of, got a lot of experience very quickly.

Venkat  9:19  

Well, that's, I mean, absolutely, I mean, your feet on the ground, nothing like understanding the customer.

So then, you know, do you do, do students, I mean, are you counseling students in us as well? Or are you just focusing on India and Vietnam? Where are you today?

Ben  9:40  

We do have students in the US. I've had a few families, a few students. And we have families of students in the US who just use our Essay Services. Because we have an online we have a, we're a full-time Counseling Component. And we also have an online Essay Submission Component where students can submit essays, get reviews, get edits to their essay, so we have more American students through that channel. There's a lot more competition in the United States and a pretty, it's a pretty saturated market.

So I decided to, to focus on the international market, but we do have students in the US and most of our students in the US not all but most of the students in the US are referrals or referrals from, from families and other countries. So Vietnam and India, often, often ethnically, you know, they are relatives or friends, from originally from India or Vietnam. And they're first generation immigrants and the kids are sometimes second generation immigrants. They were born, they were born in the US so they were American citizens and pretty, pretty American sounding and typical American high schooler, pretty much but, but their parents happen to be from, you know, from another country.

Second generation immigrants and first generation immigrant families!

Venkat  10:55  [Types of Students Counseled]

What are the types of students that you end up counseling, I mean, just in terms of what grade do they start, how soon, how, you know, how early? And then how do you go about that?

Ben  11:05  

Sure. So if it were up to me, you know, students would start in, you know, ninth grade, he really even the families aren't often coming to us or thinking about it by then.

In, you know, in general, you know, we start with students who are in 11th grade in India, because the school years begins in April, you know, April, April, May, sometimes as early as March, we're telling them sort of, in the beginning of their 12th grade, is when is often when they come to us and we have we have families who have been working with us since as early as ninth grade and currently, you know, some some ninth grade 10th grade families as well. Generally, they'll come to us in 11th and 12th grade and we'll start working with them.

And the way, we, the way, we structured is that we have guidance, the guidance 11th grade and then they can choose from a selection of packages, depending on how much help they need later on. So we try to be flexible and try to offer the most value.

In terms of the kinds of, you know, kinds of students in India, it's mostly two things, mostly students who are interested in computer science, or students who are interested in commerce in business, you know, they, there is finance and, and broadly economics, if, you know, they're targeting schools that don't offer a business administration or finance degree, but they're interested in going into business someday. We do have students who are interested in other things in, in either addition to or instead of students who are interested in the Biological Sciences, Psychology. Other social sciences are pretty rare besides Economics. And then in Psychology, but we have students who are, broadly the two big categories are Computer Science and Business.

Venkat  12:52  

Got it. So roughly, so you start somewhere around the 11th, typically you think you'd love, obviously love earlier, but 11th is when it starts and what, and so do so, by that time they've kind of, I mean, it's a little too late to shape their extracurriculars. So it's probably mostly about helping them through the application process. Right? I mean, if you are in 11th...

Ben  13:21  

Yeah, well, we can, we sometimes, depending on, depending on how early and 11th we can do a sort of an intervention to focus on extracurricular activities. You know, we certainly can.

And a lot of the a lot of the college application process is about spinning the extracurricular activities as much as it is about amassing a resume. But we do we do help students in the in the process, and we come up with a success plan, trying to cover all the categories of extracurricular activities that they need, you know, where to bolster their application where you know, where necessary, if they already have their testing done, it's easier for them to spend time with Extra curricular activities, but we do we do help them hone and sometimes, sometimes what not to do is as valuable information, valuable advice as what to do.

Venkat  14:15  

Yeah. I agree. So, um, so couple of things so, you know, so once, once they I mean, obviously nowadays you're not visiting, you don't have people on the ground there, right. This is all done on video calls and all the interactions correct?

Ben  14:33  

Well I do have, we do have somebody on the ground and in Delhi, she's in Delhi. She was living full time in Mumbai, but she moved back with her family and in Delhi.

So they she will meet with families. She will well before the COVID she was meeting with families. And so we do, I do have somebody full time there. And she will always travel with me when you know when I'm there so we do have somebody on the ground. We don't have a full time office now. But we do have, we, do open office when I go visit there.

So we do have, you know, ground operation, right now with COVID, everything's been online!

Venkat  15:08  

Okay. Okay. How big is your team right now? I mean, roughly?

Ben  15:14  

So we have right now, I'm the full time counselor and we have one full time person that I just mentioned in India. And then we have, we have various, we have various other other specialists who we are in as needed. So we have writing specialist right now to about four or five writing specialists who are active and ready to work with students. I already have some of them have already started working with students.

We have an athletic advisor who helps out with our student athletes. So he's, he has his own athletic consulting service and we contracted him. So he's part of our team as well. And right now we're onboarding some for interviewing, especially for Business School. Interviewing is area of demand we're looking at.

Venkat  16:05  [Students in different Geographies]

So one, one question that I've been just thinking about here is, you know, you're dealing with students in India and Vietnam. Just as a matter, of course, how, you know, what are the differences between these students? I mean, what do you find different? Obviously, each country and each region probably has its own strengths and weaknesses, but how would you characterize them?

Ben  16:31  

Sure. Well, before I get into that, I will, I will say that we have students from many other countries. So...

Venkat  16:39  

Ok. So, so that is even broader, that would be even nicer. So if you give us a short sort of a broad feel for, yeah...

Ben  16:43  

It happens to be mostly NRIs in the country. So and, we've had enterprise in Bahrain, and in the UAE, and Indonesia, Singapore, and then we've had we've had students from, from Hong Kong, other countries, other countries as well.

Hey, I had a student from Kazakhstan last year, two years ago, student from Belgium for who was applying to the graduate programs. So we have, we have a lot of different countries but the main, the main, you know, have been Indian community and Vietnamese community.

It's a very good question. How they're different. So, I find that well, first of all, in Vietnam, the parents very rarely speak English. In, in India, usually the parents will speak English enough to be able to communicate, they're often more comfortable in, you know, in their mother tongue. But, but it's easier to communicate with the family. So, in Vietnam, we have a team that communicates with the families in, in Vietnamese Generally, the communication with our families in India is done in English.

Families in India, have a, usually a better idea of the admissions process. And there are a lot More of the big... the big thing is that in India, there are a lot more opportunities for extracurricular activities generally. And we were getting students who are more involved in extracurricular activities and sort of know, you know, know what's generally what's good for college. Or even if they don't know what's good for college, they've been very active outside the classroom, there's more of a culture of that, in the, at least among the people who, you know, who come to us. There are certainly, you know, certainly a lot of Indian schools with very few extracurricular activities, and we work with families to build a profile like that.

But in Vietnam, a Vietnamese students will have a much lower, much less involved extracurricular profile.

Expectations of families are also pretty different.

In Vietnam, in Vietnam, basically, they expect a little more hand holding through the whole process and a more rigid structure to things, whereas Indian families are very happy. very happy with a more informal guidance and advice when necessary.

Venkat  19:05  

Okay. Now, are the, I know Indian families are probably very deeply involved to the point of micromanaging the process. However, the Vietnamese families, I mean, our parents?

Ben  19:17  

Well, they will, you know, look for a counselor that they trust. And you know, they will, it's really the premise of your question. I'll challenge the premise of your question.

We have, we have a wide range of parent involvement. You know, I had I had a parent who wanted to meet with me with me and not even have the kids, you know, meet with me, because the kid was busy. And, you know, I told him, that's not really how we do things. It ended up being ended up being that I, I basically caught the once I did meet with the kid found out that the parent have actually been writing his essays. And I pointed that out so that we can really have that, and actually the left these, they just stopped communicating. They didn't ask for a refund or anything, but they stopped that the, the father actually stopped communicating is one of the very rare times we've had somebody withdraw from consultation.

But that was, that was sort of an extreme example where he is doing all of the school selection and planning and and even the essay writing and application. You know that that was something I ethically heavily like couldn't stand for.

Venkat  20:28  

Yeah, yeah, totally understandable.

Venkat  20:34  [Getting Started with Counseling Sessions]

How do you guys, kind of, set expectations with parents and students? I mean, the student shows up says, For the parents, depending, students and parents, they have some kind of a dream school or targets or in I'm guessing, in some cases, no idea.

Maybe that's a good place to start. How often do people show up saying they don't know what to do versus very, very clear about where they want to go. Obviously then work out the process. So when students do normally come in, it's usually in between.

Ben  21:05  

Yeah, it's usually in between, they'll have a few schools they think they want to go to.

But while we have it what often, often and this is, is one of the challenges a lot of families come to us with, with no, unable to afford a full college education.

Most families in the United States that's majority can't afford a full college education. Of course, there's financial aid available.

You know, a lot of a lot of parents want to, you know, want to have their child get into the best possible school, right, and also get financial aid and lower the cost. Right. So finding the right balance of schools to apply to, some of which would offer financial aid, some of which would not.

And, you know, as many of your listeners may know, the vast majority of schools have the vast majority of schools applying for any financial aid reduces your chances of getting in. So finding the right balance is, is tough and so we, occasionally a family with financial aid will say, Hey, you know, I really want to go to Carnegie Mellon University or UC Berkeley. Well guess what UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon don't offer any kind of financial aid or scholarships whatsoever. And so sometimes I have to manage their expectations with those kinds of schools. 

We definitely have a range of families that, you know, some, some have a list. Here's a list of schools, you know, we want to apply to generally, generally, though, that's not a finalized list and they're open to suggestions from, from us.

Venkat  22:37  

Yeah, that's what I was going to say. Then I'm assuming they come in with what might be an initial list but then obviously, you are going to validate it in some way before go forward with something or you know, change or provide better options, as the case may be.

I did notice on your site that you know, your testimonials that there are lots of students with scholarships and financial aid, so you are working pretty aggressively to help students find the money. Right? It looks like.

Venkat  23:08  

Yeah, that's right. So, so, students often want to know, you know, other scholarships that I can apply to, for most countries that are really not external scholarships. We don't really help with external scholarships, the scholarships that are provided are given by the universities themselves.

Venkat 23:22

Got it.

Venkat  23:27  [Impact of Test Optional to College Admissions]

Now, from a, admissions point of view, you know, a big change that I noticed was that, you know, I guess a lot of universities have gone test optional, standardized test optional. So that's going to change the equation somewhat in their admissions process, right, at least the requirements process. So, how do you see that changing in the actual applications of students?

Ben  23:52  

Sure. Well, you may want to may want to ask some of your colleagues who are you know, are in admissions currently, but I don't think they thought this through.

I think that this was a premature not necessarily premature decision. But I believe that a decision that they I think that colleges and the administration's don't really appreciate the consequences of.

There are a lot of test optional colleges, but there are not a lot of test optional colleges for international students and I speaking with respect international students, that's true in general. But it's written certainly within with respect international students. There's just such a range of, of high school curricula and high school, high school policies and behaviors and grading, you know, grading habits, and there's so many different things that it's really the only way to truly compare international students to one another is his standardized test scores. The only fair way.

And so right now, we're we're left with a sort of a void in the ability to compare students to see how will college prepared they are because even though the SAT and ACT are not perfect test by by any stretch, they are rough, you know, the colleges have relied on them and, and do rely on them for, you know, for telling whether students are prepared for college.

I know you had sent me a list of questions before, and and one of, the one of the main things that, the main things in admissions that, that family should think about is how do I demonstrate that I'm ready for college. That's what a student should. How do I demonstrate that be ready for college that's why APs help. That's why standardized tests help. That's why IB students have an advantage. You know, that's why playing, playing sports that are offered on college campuses can help, help that you're ready for college and, and you're ready for the academically and, and for campus life.

That's why that's why summer programs in the US can help not necessarily because of the name but because you're prepared for college. experience. So there's, there are fewer, much many fewer metrics to, to tell whether students are ready for college.

Venkat  26:10

So I think what you're basically saying is that it may end up not being a permanent thing, a temporary thing, just because of the situation that...

Ben 26:23

I don’t see it being feasible. I don't see, I, I think that colleges are going to track and they have ways to track to see, you know, how students with, you know, how grades are, you know, colleges is a little imperfect, because there's imperfect because there's, you know, curves and things, but colleges do to track these things. And they correlate test scores with grades and they, they correlate the high school GPAs with grades. And they're going to see how students do. You know, in a few years, my feeling is that colleges are going to want to go back to testing.

I mean, not all colleges, not all colleges. University of California has been very bold. I think that for international students, I think they're going to have a lot of trouble identifying international students who are college ready.

Venkat  27:16  [COVID-19 Uncertainty and College Students ]

Okay, so I'm switching gears a little bit. Want to talk about the present. So here we are in the midst of COVID-19. Have you seen any impact to counseling? college going kids? I mean, what's the state of mind you think?

Ben  27:34  

Sure. So there's a lot of uncertainty. That's the one certainty is that there are there's a lot of uncertainty.

And colleges and especially parents... actually the COVID pandemic occurred at a very interesting time for admissions, where it is not going to affect the admissions cycle very much. It's going to accept..effect the enrollment cycle a lot, the admissions are not going to work so much differently. The admissions were already done by the time, by the time the pandemic was recognized and things were shutting down, the admissions were basically done.

Now how to manage what happens now? That's a different, that's a different question. And we're helping, we're helping our families do that, especially with some new development yesterday. For your, you know, students attending online universities, online programs that are online programs that are online only anyway. High Schools included these apply to high school students, will have to leave the country if they're already in the US and won't be allowed in the US. So that's causing a lot of a lot of angst right now because a lot of colleges haven't... haven't announced, really, colleges have only started, recently started announcing what they're going to do.

So there's a lot of uncertainty with that, with enrollment. We're helping our families that we've been working with through that. that's one thing.

Venkat  28:57  

So if I can stop you right there, and ask that next question. I mean, just a follow up on that. How, what is the general, with the students who are admitted and who were all teed up to attend college or the other, How are they reviewing or viewing that process? I mean, do they want to come and Fall 2020? Or do they want to take a gap year or defer it? What's, what's happening with those kids? You think?

Ben  29:24  

So most, most families, most students who have gotten to the school, want to start school already want to start a school, but the process of online classes where you're in a totally different time zone. You know, if you're attending live online classes, that's really not so feasible if you're in Vietnam, which is 11 hours. Yeah, I mean, India, which is nine and a half hours ahead. Yeah. It's very difficult.

So I've been encouraging and students have been taking deferrals. Well, right now, colleges haven't, haven't really announced yet. So they haven't really had to make a response. But I've been encouraging deferral. Where possible, you know, it's a different word possible because you don't really want to be paying all that money for just an online education.

And if you have the option, then you should take it now what to do during that time is a different story. You know, during a gap year travel is usually very popular, but not as feasible this year.

But I've, I'm not encouraging students to enroll in online courses as long as they have the option and most, I anticipate that most colleges will give an option for deferral.

Venkat  30:33  

Okay, so that that sounds fair. Okay. So, yeah. So just thinking ahead. Now, is this sort of impacting students who want to apply for the 2021 fall,  for the rising seniors right now? I mean, do you how do you see their view changing about applying to us colleges or do you think this will pass and they are all betting on this thing behind us, COVID 19 being behind us.

Ben  31:00  

Sure. And I think we're seeing the families that, were the, would have been sort of set on the US are exploring more options. Demand for US, I don't think has gone down, but but certainly exploring other options has gone up. Whereas it was sort of been a foregone conclusion in conclusion that a school,  that a student would go to the US, now you know, Canada, stay in India, Singapore, Hong Kong, other places that might, you know, have controlled COVID better, might be open to international travel.

Honestly, there's, it's that uncertainty with, you know, will the US be able to get the pandemic under control. And will international travel even be, you know, allowed? And will campuses be open in Fall 2021?

I didn't think that would be a question. A month ago, I do not think there'll be a question the US was, was heading in the right direction with COVID, COVID cases but in the past month, we've,  you know, been increasing. Now, even if you if deaths are not increasing, and a lot of the results are because of increased testing, we're still seeing not as positive results in many parts of the US as, as other countries have, you know, gotten things under control. So I think there are, there is more uncertainty now, this month [July 2020], then there even was a month ago.

Venkat  32:24  [COVID-19 & College Experience]

So, how do you think colleges are retooling? I mean, not just for COVID? I mean, it sounds like there are some changes that are likely to be permanent from all the stuff that I'm reading or at least listening to.

So what is your sense of, you know, is it gonna change? Obviously, there will be changes, but how is it likely to impact international students? Is there or maybe, is it just going to be temporary? What, what's your, kind of,  gut feel about it?

Ben  32:57  

Sure. So, so college is really American college experience is almost uniquely vulnerable to this kind of, this kind of pandemic. Now, as it happened that, you know, colleges were able to send their students home and, and have a minimal disruption to their, you know, to their year because it happened so late in the semester.

But as a few a few thoughts on this. One in the American College campus experiences it has been part of American culture for a very long time. And is the there's a more and more emphasis on the community on the cohabitation students, students who live in dorms together and do not just go to class together but eat together and do extracurricular activities.

The reason extracurricular activities are so valued by universities is not just that they want students to jump through hoops. They want students who are going to be involved on campus, active on campus. That's why they want that's why they like eccentric activities because extracurricular activities are such an important part of, of college culture. So this kind of culture is especially vulnerable to, to orders the stay at home orders. And, and, you know, and then when people's health is at risk, you know, any, any attempt to mitigate, you know, mitigate people being together, is going to compromise the college experience.

So, you know, the question of, you know, how it's going to be affected, you know, as long as a college is college, the college experience is going to be affected a lot based on or on the basis of any, any kind of pandemic response, certainly, Now, the question of whether this is permanent or people don't want to go back to normal.

I'm seeing the United States be one thing, one part another part of the United States culture is freedom. Now there's, you know, people want to people, there's been a trend of that one of the reasons that you know, the United States has not been able to contain the virus is that people just want to go about their lives.

Now, the question is are universities, you know, are universities going to go to doing to indulge that? Or will they not? I think there are a lot of there are a lot of unanswered questions where students may want to assume the risk of families may want to assume the risk, but professors may not want to assume that. And that's that's a big there was an article in The New York Times this week about professors who, you know, who were protesting schools’ decisions to reopen.

Venkat  35:34  

Yeah, and especially in Georgia, I think wearing face masks are optional and stuff like that.

Ben  35:38  

So that's, unfortunately, yeah. Fortunately, colleges can set their own, you know, set their own policies on campus. But, but yes, there were the places where there might be a more rapid spread. I can certainly understand why professors, you know, especially older professors would be very concerned.

Venkat  35:58  

Right, right. The average age The professor's like 55 or something?

Ben  36:02  

Yeah, that's what he said that, the, the article says that the average age of a tenured professor is over 55.

Venkat  36:08  

Yeah, yeah.

So yeah, I mean, I think it's like 5000 different decisions as far as colleges go, each one’s going to make their own.

Venkat  36:22  

Cool. So before we close out on this particular podcast, I mean, there's so much to talk about.

Ben  36:31

Sure, of course.

Venkat  36:32

I think we should continue to have conversations on this. I just wanted to give you a chance to sort of talk about the sweet spot, what are the kinds of opportunities you're looking for, What is IvyAchievement, sort of best suited for, for the audience, and, you know, whatever you think, whatever else, if you think may make sense to tell them?

Ben  36:54  [Sweet Spot: Competitive Colleges]

Sure. So we primarily help students, families and students who want to get into competitive universities. We're not an agency, that we're not paid by universities to, to place students, we don't get paid for placements. We really, we really have a, an interest that's aligned with the families to get into, you know, the best possible program for the student and to try to get into a program that's affordable for, for the family.

So we're working with students who are looking for, you know, roughly in the top 100 schools in you know, say the US News rankings or you know, those not necessarily that particular ranking but generally recognized as the competitive schools, the United States you know, with, with admissions rates, it'll 50% in and below.

Now, we definitely specialize in helping students who are at you know, are looking for Ivy in the top, you know, the very top schools. We have a lot of experience with that. I attended two Ivy League colleges [Columbia University, Yale University]. Many of our writing specialists are Ivy educated, we really I don't, it's not the only criterion, but going to elite school does help in getting hired as a specialist for IvyAchievement.

So we and then, of course, it's in the name IvyAchievement. So we can add, I think we can add the most value for those kinds of families who are, you know, who are seeking the, you know, the top levels.

However, however, you know, we, we do help families, you know, apply to a range of, of colleges and students apply to a range of colleges and, and, you know, very often even if they get into a higher rank college, very often it's, it's appropriate to go to a, you know, to a low rank one that's, that's more affordable. And so we also help, we also help identify those opportunities.

Venkat  38:50  

Very good. Very good. So Ben, this has been very insightful and helpful. I think, I got a good feel for, for, personally, for your business, and I see a lot of passion. You gave up a law career to do this. So...

Ben  39:09  

That I wouldn't consider a big sacrifice. Not exactly. You'll meet very few former lawyers who, who regret their decision to leave law. I don't know one! There are a lot of former lawyers out there.

But I do, I do like, sometimes the interrogation. And my interview, my interview process is, is derived from how lawyers interview witnesses, and I find this very, very effective. It's a lot of fun, sometimes, sometimes intimidating. A lot, a lot of stories, but now's not the time.

Venkat  39:44  

Very good. So, on that note, I'd like to thank you for joining me on this podcast. I think it's been great and hopefully, we'll have a lot more conversations in the future. Thank you so much.

Ben  39:59

Thank you for this opportunity Venkat.

Venkat 40:00  

Sure thing, Take care. Bye.

Ben 40:03


Venkat 40:07

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Ben Stern of IvyAchievement. I was particularly struck by Ben’s commitment to understanding his students and their families in India and Vietnam. His passion to guide students to the best possible colleges comes through.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email counselors at almamatters.io [counselors@almamatters.io].

Thank you so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

Students, India, College Admissions, Extracurricular, College Essays, Ivy League Colleges, College Counseling, Counselors, Counseling, fitment, Vietnam, parents, online counseling, International Students, Pandemic, COVID-19, Deferral Year

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