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Episode Notes

Episode Title: Counseling with Admissionado: Athena Lao on Rolling up the Sleeves to Find the Right College.

Episode summary introduction: College counselors have enormous power to do good, to guide students to the right college destinations.

Athena Lao, Head College Mentor at Admissionado, talks about their hands-on approach to counseling.

In particular, we discuss the following with her:

  • What is Admissionado?
  • About students in the US, India, China
  • College Admissions in the Pandemic World

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • How Athena got into Counseling [2:18]
  • Birth of Admissionado [4:23]
  • Counseling Successes so far [6:25]
  • Counseling is a Long Game [9:19]
  • Extracurriculars Idea Gen [13:38]
  • Domestic vs International Students [16:07]
  • Sizing up Students from India and China [20:49]
  • Navigating Student Expectations [26:00]
  • COVID-19: Impact to Counseling and Admissions [30:09]
  • Road Ahead for Students in 2020, 2021 [39:19]

Our Guest: Athena Lao, is the Head College Mentor at Admissionado, College Counseling firm that works with college-bound students in the US, China and India aspiring to apply to US Colleges. Admissionado has successfully helped students land in the top US universities over the last decade.

Memorable Quote: Athena wants to “help students who are very motivated and be able to reach the dreams they have set for themselves.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat  0:12 

College counselors have enormous power. The power to do good. A multi-year collaborative effort. In uncertain times, like the one we are in, a counselor’s expertise can help guide students away from diversions and dead-ends, and lead them to the right college destinations.

Hi! Welcome to this episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.

Athena Lao is the Chief Mentor at Admissionado, a US-based College Counseling firm. Admissionado counsels students in the US, India and China.

As Athena puts it, she wants to “help students who are very motivated and be able to reach the dreams they have set for themselves.”

To listen to, and feel the energy and commitment to counseling, let’s go over to Athena.

Venkat, Athena  1:15  

Hey! [at the same time]

Venkat  1:20  

Well, did it in unison, so it must be good!


Athena  1:23  

Good sign for the, for the podcast. Exactly.

Venkat  1:26  

Absolutely. So, welcome to our podcast College Matters. Alma Matters.

Athena  1:34

Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Venkat  1:37  

Absolutely. So yeah, so, you know, gives us a chance to sort of chat about what you do about Admissionado, how it got started and, you know, get a chance to reflect on what's working, what's not working. Yeah, it's a good time to. These days at least, it's a good time to reflect so…

Athena  2:00


Venkat  2:02

So cool. So I think, I think it’d kind of, be great if we could get started with just maybe with you, how you got into this college counseling, and then a little bit about Admissionado, how it got started?

Athena  2:18  [How Athena got into Counseling]

Yeah, sure. Um, so I guess a little bit about myself.

I started in college admissions counseling as a sort of a side gig. So my full time job is helping run educational exchange programs for students who want to study in the US from different countries, and students from the US who want to go abroad.

And before that, I actually been, I received a Fulbright grant. So a grant to do an English teaching assistantship in the country of Bulgaria, in Eastern Europe. And I loved that experience because I got to work with super talented motivated high school students who had aspirations to go abroad. And I not only got to teach them English and help them with speech and debate and these other activities, but I also was able to work with them on their essays and applications to universities around the world.

 And so I loved this experience, because I think that, especially at that time of your life when you're a teen, and you're not exactly sure what you want to do, but you know that there's so much possibility ahead.

I think that's a beautiful time to be alive. And for me to be able to support that was, I think it's one of the best experiences I ever had. And it's not that I wanted to, to just replicate that experience, but I wanted to have some of the echoes of that in my own work, working with students through Admissionado. So that's how I got into college counseling. With Admissionado, and for me, I just see it as an extension of helping students who are very motivated, be able to reach the dreams that they have set for themselves. So that's how I got into it.

Venkat  4:18  

What’s, what’s the story about Admissionado?

Athena  4:23  [Birth of Admissionado]

Yeah. yeah. So I will be sharing our, our collective lore. I was not there for the birth of Admissionado, unfortunately, but I can definitely share the origin story.

So Admissionado was started in 2007 as the love child of two Brown University graduates, Jon Frank and Raj Patil. So John, after Brown went to Harvard Business School, and so he brought so he has this sort of left brain as we say, analytical quanti- mind. Raj, on the other hand, graduated from USC film school, after Brown And so he brought sort of the right brain creative, artsy side.

And they were approached by different friends to help with applications to various graduate programs. And they said, Sure, why not? And then putting their different approaches together, they came up with this way of focusing on people's stories and helping them craft their narratives in very unique ways. They were able to turn that from the sort of entrepreneurial love child into something bigger.

And they started working. They became a really well known platform for helping MBA applicants.

And then in 2010, they will, it was told to me that they stumbled upon the China market. And they, they realized that there are a lot of high school students in China, and just like in many parts of the world who wanted to apply to schools abroad, they set up an office there and they learn through that process how involved families were in the process, and how much it was, how holistically they could help all students prepare for their college applications.

And so they've just kept getting bigger and bigger on the college side from there. And then I arrived around 2017 and started working with them. That's Yeah, so that's a little bit about Admissionado.

Venkat  6:25  [Counseling Successes so far]

Now as they started looking more at sort of the undergraduate programs, what, what kind of a) success that they've had and how, you know, and what kind of students etc, they counseling. So maybe the first one first, how have they done? How, what do the outcomes look like?

Athena  6:47  

Right, so um, I think so we've measured this number once before, so the success rate meaning, how many students, or what's the percentage of students who when they work with us, get into at least one school that they really wanted to get into. So at top school, and the number that we came up with was 96. So 96%!

Venkat  7:08


Athena  7:09

And so that's a great rate. Right? Thank you for the Wow. But, But here's the thing is that we understand that in this business of college admissions, counseling, a lot of companies, you know, like to put that number out there and say, Oh, look at our 96% or 98, or 100% success rate, and join us because of that. And we realized when we thought about our mission and our values and what we wanted to highlight about our company, we didn't want to highlight that success rate, because for us, that's not one that's not the point. The point is to really help students, whatever their profile is, whatever their aspirations might be, get into the best school for their profile, and that might not necessarily correspond with what someone else says might say is, you know, the top school, the best school or whatever?

And the second thing is that when you, when you say that your standard is this 96% success rate, for example, then you start, I mean, of course, not all companies do this, but I think there is a sort of a tendency to say, Oh, we have to maintain this rate And that means you aren't able to share a higher quality of a service as you might with the students because you're trying to maintain that rate.

And so for us, it's really important that, you know, no matter who comes to us for help, whatever their situation is, that then they're happy with what we're able to provide them and support them with. So I guess you could say that if that's our new metric, then our success rate is 100%.

Venkat  8:47

Absolutely, absolutely!

Venkat  8:53  

So let's transition to sort of philosophy or approach to counseling. So you know, students shows up, What, What is, you know, what does it look like for, I don’t know, Let's, I don't know, when you typically find students coming to you, maybe in the, you know, a junior or sophomore year of high school. But what, what did that journey look like?

Athena  9:19  [Counseling is a Long Game]

Yeah, yeah. So actually, to your point about when students come to us, we're seeing, especially in the past year or two, that family, younger and younger students are coming to us. So ninth grade, I even had someone who start, started as an eighth grader

Venkat  9:46


Athena  9:47

so yeah. Great. I mean, for me, I think that's a great time to start because you're, you're, you know, thinking about really big questions and setting goals. And, you know, we're helping ask questions of you that will frame your high school experience in a way that it might not have the same impact if you only start thinking about them in 11 grade or 12th grade. Right?

So we welcome anyone who's coming to us at any point of time in the process. But yeah, so in terms of how we actually work with students, I think a few things that we really focus on.

One is this idea of holistic preparation. So we really, we know that a lot of students, you know, get caught up in the numbers game, they think, Oh, I need this SAT, I need all A's. I need to meet this standard. And that's what's going to get me in. But the thing is, that's really a threshold. 

So yes, for some schools, you need to know for a lot of schools, you need to know what their average test scores and GPAs are from other incoming candidates. But what we really work on with students is the differentiators.

And so you know, we think what is it that you are passionate about? What is it that you know, not only you're passionate about that you're talented at and that we can help you maximize, the opportunities available in your community in your region, so that you can show up colleges later that you did your very best at that thing to care about.

So that's something that we really work on with students, you know, from whenever they come to us. I think the other trait that we try to hone in students is resilience. And, you know, resilience can mean a lot of different things. Maybe grit, you know, Angela Duckworth’s famous term is relevant here. But yeah, I mean, we try to teach students that, you know, if you want to go to a top school, and I say this as someone who had the privilege to go to Harvard and attend for grad school, you need to know how to look for resources, how to be proactive, how to have that spirit of saying, Oh, well, everyone said give up, but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to find an alternative. And so you might not know how to do that. And that's okay. That's what we're here to help students do. But we really want to make sure they have that spirit and apply that to all the different activities that they're involved in their schoolwork, etc.

And so if they do that, then, you know, once they get to that dream school that they've been seeking, they'll be able to achieve so much more because they're not intimidated by you know, the assertiveness of their fellow classmates and they'll feel that they can find they can find the way whenever they might encounter an obstacle. So that's really important.

We try to think about the bigger picture, the long term, not just can you get into the school, okay, our job is done. Good luck. It's much more than that. 

So when a student signs up with Admissionado, they get assigned one mentor who works with them throughout the course of their high school career, however long they're working with us. And you know, we're, we're really I mean, I don't want To be super dramatic here, but we can be anything from a guru through a physical trainer, may be not a physical trainer, maybe an emotional trainer, I'm not sure. But you know, we're, and no disrespect to people who are professionals in the world of therapy and counseling, but, you know, we do try to ask to have that spirit of asking questions and really, you know, understanding what you need, and how you can get there.

So, you know, we'll inhabit whatever role that the student needs us to, and we're maybe even what the parent needs us to do, so.

Venkat  13:38  [Extracurriculars Idea Gen]

So, I guess you’ll help them with extracurriculars, or help them sort of brainstorm the, you know, ideas, what they could be doing, assuming that came coming early, you know, like maybe at the start of high school or maybe 9th or 10th because that seems like an area where lots of kids can struggle, because there's not that much available.

So how do you help with that I mean, is that purely in the brainstorming sense, or do you also roll up your sleeves and do more things with them on that?

Athena  14:12  

Yeah, I mean, it depends on the student because again, that, that one to one relationship, that's what it looks like is unique to that mentor-mentee sort of pairing. But we will roll up our sleeves, I guess you can add like gardener, I don't know, whatever, your add whatever other positions, but that might entail, but if we so we if a student says, you know, this is the school that I attend, here's what I currently do, I'm not really sure what else to do. Totally understand that is a common dilemma.

So we work with them to identify, you know, what are the clubs available at their school, if they're interested in a specific subject area, like Math for example. Then what are the clubs, The classes that they can take to reach the highest level? What are competitions they can join? What are ways they could work with other students or help their teacher on something? How can they maybe even pursue research in the subject that they want to do that in the future?

I mean, the possibilities are endless. It's just a matter of imagining it in the first place, before you can make it reality. So that's what we do. And then once they, if they, for example, want to come up with a project that, and lead a project, then we'll help them figure out a project plan, will ask them questions about it. It will teach them how to communicate with people so that they can move forward with their project. I think anything where we can provide guidance on how you know, this is you, how you communicate with people in this area or in the real world, quote, unquote. That's what we want to help them do.

So Yeah, we just give them the tools to succeed, I'd like to say.

Venkat  16:07  [Domestic vs International Students ]

So let's talk a little bit about students then. I mean, you mentioned, I mean, obviously, you want students as early as you can find ‘em or get ‘em.  So,  so what is, you know, looking over the last almost a decade now, right, what's the general distribution of students? I mean, where are students from geographically I mean, domestic and international, what's sort of a general breakdown of that?

Athena  16:39  

Yeah, there, it's about 60% International and 40% domestic meaning, from the US. And when we say International, most of our students are from India or China, but we have a sprinkling of students from other countries as well.

Venkat  16:55  

Okay, so that's a, that's a pretty big, pretty good, so you have domestic, India and China. So you have, what is it, probably 70% of the class right there!

So, so, um, so let's so you know, so that was an interesting thing. I always like to sort of see what are the challenges and the pluses of strengths of students, domestic versus International. I mean, what are you, what do you find typically, are areas that, you know, one group is strong on the other group is challenged and other and vice versa? In some broad strokes, anything to share?

Athena  17:38  

Yeah, sure. I think that I think one of the advantages that domestic students have over international students is that they've been maybe even if not directly, so they have been more exposed to the system that American universities and the ways of framing things, let's say, um, that can help them maybe know a bit more instinctively what to put on an application or how to explain themselves.

So that's something that I think a lot of Indian and Chinese students and other international students, you know, the, the system is, it rewards different, different things. And so I think that is something we work with, particularly with our international students is, how to how to imagine so let's let's say this, but maybe what they'll come in thinking differentiates them from the rest of the pack is not actually a differentiator, because that activity, I'll take Model UN, a great activity. I recommend everyone do some sort of public speaking debate like this, but winning an award and that being the President of that even while that's impressive, it doesn't actually differentiate you as much as you know any other candidate, because It's an activity that a lot of people have participated in.

So we have to think, okay, that is wonderful. Keep that up, if that you're passionate about that keep going. But what are some other ways you can differentiate yourself? What are some other aspects of your life that you really care about that, you know, we haven't really heard that story before. And that in combination with Model UN with all these other parts in your profile, we can come up with a way we can come up with a way of thinking about your profile, and sort of spinning your narrative so that you really do stand out.

So this idea of what really differentiates the student is an important one to ask because at the end of the day, we do want you to get into the school you want. And if we don't ask those hard questions about, is this really making you stand out, And if we're not honest about the answer to that, then we're not doing our job. So we think about that a lot.

Um, you know, I think another thing too is that there are I think there's a tendency to think that, you know, if you saw one student, if you saw a friend or a family friend, do X, Y, and Z, and they got into Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, whatever, then you need to basically mimic that, and you'll be on your way to success. And that is so tempting. We say, don't do it, don't step away.

Um, and, you know, really think again, what differentiates you from the rest of the pack, not how can you copy your friend or whatever. But how can you really think about what you want and what you bring so that your application stands out? And it's not just a copy? Because you know what, they already have that person attending their school. They're not going to want another one.

Venkat  20:44  

Right. Right!

Venkat  20:49  [Sizing up Students from India and China]

Now how does, what do you find between India and China, students, what do you think broadly differentiates them or you know, what's, what's different about them?

Athena  21:01

From each other?

Venkat  21:02  

From each other. Yeah, yeah, India and China.

Athena  21:04  

Um, I think that, I think from what I've seen, and you know, this is my Yeah, my right. So it's so if one of your listeners out there vehemently disagrees with me, I am happy. I'm all ears to hear.

I think from what we've seen, Chinese students and families tend to, to want the whole package from the mentor. So they say, okay, we're going to invest this much and just do it, like do everything, just get it done. Whereas that's not really the case so much with Indian students and families. Indian families, I think, tend to ask a lot more questions, let's say, which is great. I love it. It is a bit of a different approach.

I think to the, the, I think what they share is sort of similarly is that there is a sort of I think movement towards business or STEM majors, especially among the male students, you know, that's very common. Usually you have, your your stereotypical profile, let's say is the student who wants to pursue, you know, a business degree or something in that field or someone who wants to pursue, you know, a science and usually engineering degree. And then among our female students, you know, we'll see that but then we'll also see some humanities mixed in and, you know, the ways that maybe talk about their schooling system or what opportunities they have available. That's a bit different between the countries but um, yeah, I mean, there, there are a lot of maybe smaller nuances here and there that differentiate them, and, and that also overlap between the two countries and many others. But yeah, that's, that's a little bit of what I've seen, from my experience.

Venkat  22:56  

So So do you think schooling is any How different is the high school or in China versus India? Just broadly? I mean, in terms of preparation, do you find that they are, you know, evenly prepared or you think that there's, you know, they're good at some, not so good. Some other areas? I mean, we found anything...

Athena  23:18  

Right. Yeah, I mean, I think I think broadly speaking, there are the similarities are, you know, usually students are coming from, from systems where memorization and this ability to remember a breadth of information is encouraged. Not necessarily original scholarship, let's say or, you know, bringing your voice and your unique voice to, to the table that's not really rewarded as much at the end of the day because you have to take a test that's timed and you know, you have to do that.

So that is, I think this goes back to my earlier point when I say that when I said that domestic students sometimes are better prepared for the way for the holistic application process, not that Indian, Chinese, whoever students are, can't do it, obviously. But they, sometimes it's just a shift in that frame that unique because you're so used to school rewarding different types of knowledge.

And then I think to that, I mean, in terms I mean, in terms of prep academic preparation, they're definitely, I mean, just as they're just as prepared, if not more so prepared for the actual academic subject. And I would say, um, but, But, uh, I think other than that, I think sometimes the expression of ideas through especially in writing, and what it means to write this personal statement, I mean, you know, I guess that's why companies like us exist, because we provide the support in that.

Without having to think Like, okay, if the, if the prompt is to write about a problem, this is one of the common app prompts, you know, a problem that you, you can't, I'm paraphrasing, I'm sort of paraphrasing this, that you can't stop thinking about that, you know, engrosses you all the time, you know, what is that problem? Why, why do you care about it? Um, you know, so the ways that maybe they would be inclined to answer this question are very different than what we find with American students who might not truly kind of go creative right away.

So, you know, we we help students think I say think past the first level of what they want to write about, you know, get it on the paper, the raw feeling that you have, but know that you're probably going to throw that most of that idea away and and dig a little deeper and choose the next or the next idea after that. Um, so yeah, those are some some patterns that I've seen from students.

Venkat  26:00  [Navigating Student Expectations]

So now let's talk about a, an interesting challenge, I would think. So this is all about setting expectations, right? It means students coming in with their dream schools, I want to do this, I want to do that. And you as counselors, your job is to be to help them be successful, but also calibrate their expectations. Right.

So, how do you guys approach that? I mean, how do you go through that process? What? What are the feel like? How do you, how do you make sure that the student and parents I'm sure parents get heavily involved, especially in Indian and Chinese students, I'm sure with Indian Chinese students Anyway, I'm sure. How do you, I mean, I yeah. How do you, how do you sort of address that? I guess that's, that'd be very interesting to hear.

Athena  26:56  

Sure. Sure. I think that the strategy is different depending on the student's age. So when there are, they are in 11th or 12th grade, it's a little bit easier. Or they maybe have some schools in mind. And we start with that list.

If they're coming to us at a younger age, I actually don't start, you know, talking about schools necessarily. I don't mention specific school names because, if possible, I want the student to have as much ownership in that process of, of learning about schools of deciding which schools sound interesting to them, and then saying, Yes, that's the one that I want to apply to.

We do always, based on majors, they might say, or subject areas they might be interested in, I do share a list, but an initial list for them to cull down, but I do try to give the student owner as much ownership of that decision as possible.

So that said, Now your question is ok, What if a student comes in and says, you know, Harvard or bust?

Venkat  28:04  


Athena  28:04  

Admissionado, Harvard or bust? Go? Um, so, you know, I think, I think it's unfair, it would be a lie for me to ever promise or for any college admissions counselor anywhere to project that they can get you into a school.

And, yeah, we don't, we will never promise you that we can do this thing because everyone, you can see the stats on the internet, you know how hard it is to get in. And what we can provide is the, the kind of thinking that you need around it, the strategizing you need, so that you can maximize your profile and the ways that you present yourself to the school.

So we will provide all of the support that you need to to present your best self. And at the end of the day, we will see where that takes you. Now we're not going to say you can't do it because obviously some people get in, right but, we, we really Make it clear that you know this is here are the numbers, here are the facts. And let's start. Let's start with the data. Let's see what we're up against. Try to reach the threshold that we talked about that I mentioned earlier. You know, this is the average GPA. This is the average SAT score. Here are some other things that you'll need to think about to make sure that those don't work against you. And then let's really think deeply again, about those differentiators. And what will put you ahead of the pack.

And then finally, when you're writing your essay, when you're presenting your profile in all these different elements of the application, you know, what are ways that you can make every part standout and show some different aspects of you. You want everything to be a revelation of sorts to the admissions committee, you want to be something where every time they go down to the next line, they're reading the next essay, they're learning something about you that they would have not known before. And hopefully it's something positive, Yeah, that's what we tried to do. And that's how we set expectations.

Venkat  30:09  [COVID-19: Impact to Counseling and Admissions]

Let's sort of move on to how COVID-19 is impacting things around or changing things for everybody. So I thought, I thought it'd be interesting to just start with, how is it - Is it broadly impacting the counseling business? Have you seen any change, things more or less the same? Overall what's the feeling?

Athena  30:38  

I, it's been a pleasant surprise, that business has not really changed at all. If anything, I think I've, I've seen some uptick in interest from families, especially from the US who want to start thinking about the process now. And maybe life has slowed down a little bit. So there's time to think about this.

From the international from international families, there is definitely a bit more hesitation questions about, you know, the political volatility of the US what could happen. And you know, some families are choosing not to risk it at this time. But for every one family that makes that decision, there's another family that says, we'll try. We'll try going for it for, you know, for the twenty... academic year 2021, 22. So, no net sort of change. And with COVID I mean, you know, the big news is that everyone's going remote. This is a big change from the past, but all our services were done remotely.

We always connected with students through a Skype call or a zoom call. So I guess we were ready for that. Yeah, we felt lucky in that regard.

Venkat  31:57  

Good. So you know, so your approach and process infrastructure was already there.

And so, so how do you how do you think colleges are retooling? I mean, and I asked this in the context of, you know, you see, a whole bunch of colleges are test optional. Now, the UCs have gone down, they are doing away with standardized tests and going, maybe going to something else. And I don't know that's the start of something or not.

But you know, the initial when you were talking about these thresholds, one leg of that threshold might disappear. And right, and so you're left with GPAs, which, again, internationally may not be all that standard. So I think there's some challenges coming up. So, how do you, how do you think this is gonna impact the way colleges look at things, admissions in particular, and how you will approach counselor, what are your thoughts on that?

Athena  33:03  

Yeah, so I will sort of put on both of my hats at the same time here from college admissions counseling, but also working in international higher education. Yeah. So, I mean, one we can't really, we can't predict.

Venkat  33:19  

Of course, of course not.

Athena  33:20  

But, uh, yeah, so but, um, I think, as, as schools, I think in these next two years or so, even though schools have maybe officially said this, you do not have to take these tests in order to, you know, be considered for us, which is great for equity and for access, I do think having if you have a strong score, in the standardized tests, like the SAT or ACT, or even the subject test, that's considered that will help you. Because that is an additional data point that shows that you have for whatever this Whatever the score means you got one of the higher scores on it. And they're not going to ignore that they're going to say, okay, like, that's another check. That's another point that we can use to show that demonstrates that you are ready for the academic rigor of this university.

So I think that, broadly speaking, if a student has the opportunity to take those tests, if they are applying in the next, you know, two years or so, and they can do well on them, then they should go ahead and try to do that, in addition to you know, making strong grades, etc.

But the good thing is that because there is more flexibility and an understanding that there are a lot of things beyond student's control, because of COVID that they don't have to stress about. They don't have to stress out as much about it as they might have previously, when it was completely, totally required, and they had no choice but to take it and they know that everyone's present thing, the same information. So I think that's, that's one way of sort of looking at it.

I think that that's how I personally think that's how admissions officers will consider that information. I do think though, kind of long term, universities are going to see, you know, from their admissions offices, how, how, how much more difficult it was to make a choice when you remove sort of a gatekeeper OR gate, you know, to citing that information.

So, I think that if they don't come up with some other alternative ways of kind of deciding... differentiating students from one another, I mean, it'll be quite difficult for them because they already get a lot of applications as it is. And just having that data point is really helpful for them.

So it remains to be seen what they'll do in the long term, but I think if you're a student listening to this And you're trying to decide what your best strategy is, that's what I would say, take, take one of those tests if you can. But if you can't, then, you know really think okay, well, what are what are the other aspects of my profile that I can really lift up and highlight to show that I'm ready for that university experience.

Venkat  36:20  

So to ask this question differently, do you think students who don't take the test? Are they going to be at a disadvantage you think, admission-wise?

Athena  36:32  

Yeah, that's a great question.

I think that if they are, if they have weaker grades, if, if other numerical elements of their application are on the cusp, or weaker, and their teacher recommendations are not very strong, I think that combination is unhelpful. Yeah, to their application, and you know them also, not having In a test score to show other ways that they've achieved academically, it that it's not good.

So I think if, if they, if the student has a profile where their grades are strong, they have a teacher, they have their two or three teachers that can speak to how well they're doing in class. And then in the subjects that they've expressed interest in studying further, they have some accomplishment or some other evidence of engagement, then I think that this will make up for what it, mostly for what they are not showing in those tests. But if they don't have those factors, then I think it will be quite difficult for them.

Venkat  37:42  

Hmm. Yeah, I mean, I do, I do think that there's going to be a challenge I, I did a podcast with the admissions director of one of the UCs, UC Santa Barbara. And so they received 110,000 applications, right? So they said that they, I mean, I guess the UCs have always been somewhat downplaying the standardized tests. And they had, you know, readers to read every, every single application. So the written material just takes on a lot more importance, so that they can learn about you. Yeah...

Athena  38:24  

yeah. I mean, they're, they're having, you know, they're, I always tell my students that they're, and they're trying to have this some picture of who you are in their mind, right, and trying to imagine what you would bring to the campus, if you were to matriculate there. So everything that you write about that you present, has to help build that picture and really show that 360 degree view of, you know, what you're what you're going to bring. So again, all of these different data points.

They're either showing how you're academically prepared for the experience or they're showing You know, how you engage in the community writ large. And also maybe what traits or what other areas that they offer on their campus that you might gravitate towards. So you have to think about all of those for sure.

Venkat  39:19  [Road Ahead for Students in 2020, 2021]

So, you know, we've talked about COVID-19, And so there are a whole bunch of students ready to go to college in the next month or two, and then students who are, you know, the rising seniors in high school who are looking to apply for fall 2021?

How, you know, you guys see a lot of students, what's the general thinking? First with the current students who are about to go to college? What is their, what's going through their minds?

Athena  39:51  

Yeah, I think with the students who are about to enter college, I think there is definitely a degree of uncertainty about the what could happen? How their, how long their studies might take? Even that basic question is not? I don't know if you can answer that. Right, right. Um, how will they take their test? Are they ready to do a few more months, maybe a year who knows of schooling online? And how will they take advantage of the, of what this picture in their mind, you know, this is what I get when I go to college. These are all the new friends that I make. These are the crazy and interesting moments that I have. When I meet random people in college that define my experience, you know, what that looks like? is it's very different and no one knows what the answer is.

So I completely understand any sort of anxiety or nerves that students might be having right now. But I think for the large part, they are, you know, they're sort of just going through it and they're saying, Okay, well, this is what I'm doing next. I'm gonna make the most of it. So I think that a lot of students are much more resilient than I think we sometimes give them credit for. And I know that they will find their way. And you know, hopefully, hopefully it will be maybe through the winter of 2021, that things will be more precarious and maybe after that, things will get better. But, you know, who, who knows?

Venkat  41:25  

Yeah. Unfortunately, that is the truth. Yeah.

Okay, Athena, this has been very, very good, a lot of in depth discussion, a lot of detail and a lot of insights. So I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about your approach to counseling about Admissionado and sharing your thoughts as well.

So thank you so much. Thank you, hopefully, hopefully, we'll have some more deeper discussions on some of these topics as we go forward, but For now, thank you so much.

Athena  42:01  

I appreciate it. Have a great day and thank you for the opportunity.

Venkat  42:05  

Sure. Take care. Bye, bye.

Athena  42:06  


Venkat 42:12

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Athena Lao of Admissionado. I hope you were struck by the drive and desire to help students in the US, China and India not only to find the right colleges to get into, but to also thrive there.

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

College Counseling, US Colleges, College Admissions, SAT, ACT, Counselors, Harvard University, Study Abroad, India, China, Extracurricular, Mentor, Fulbright Grant, Brown University, Harvard Business School, GPA, International Students, Domestic Students, Model UN, Common Application, Common App, College Essays, COVID-19, Test Optional Colleges, Test Optional.

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