We’ve been there.
Stanford, Columbia, Duke, UPenn, Caltech, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Cornell, Berkeley, Wellesley, UCLA, USC, NYU. These are just some of the universities where students of our College Admissions Mentorship Program (CAMP) have been accepted. How is it that we are able to consistently send our modest students to such outstanding schools? Perhaps as a former admissions officer, I was privy to highly coveted secrets of the application process? Or perhaps, blessed with a mighty intellect, I impart my vast knowledge as a Princeton valedictorian to enrich the students’ minds?
Hardly. The truth is, all of my CAMP students have been far more qualified and accomplished than I ever was during my high school years. But what would someone who could barely manage a 2.0 GPA in his sophomore year possibly know what a student with a 4.0 needs to rise above the cutthroat competition? How do I help students aim for a perfect score when the digits of my own first SAT score could have passed for a month and day of the year? What gives me the right to help a student apply for an Ivy League when my own alma mater was barely considered a top 50 school at the time I attended?
Yes, I have made every possible mistake that a high school student applying for university could. But it is precisely because I have blundered so badly that I am able to not only anticipate the frequent misconceptions held by parents but also empathize with students who flounder through the intricacies of the admissions process. It is because my recommendation letters were so impersonal and cliché that I now help students build an intimate rapport with their teachers to receive outstanding endorsements. It is because my personal statement was a bland account touting my mundane successes that I now collaborate with students to develop insightful essays which demonstrate growth, compassion, and maturity.
Evaluating these desirable qualities are why colleges have admissions officers instead of mere machines that compute a student’s academic statistics. As important as grades and test scores are, what a university truly wishes to know is how well you know yourself. What have you done to further your ambitions? How will you contribute to the world with the knowledge you will have obtained? Where will you be and what will you be doing ten years from this very moment?
Confronting such introspective interrogation is daunting, but it is because we can establish meaningful relationships with our students that we are able to foster what is necessary for their acceptance to such competitive and prestigious schools as Wharton and Stern. At AKME, we value critical thinking, that a student should not simply ask ‘what’ but also ‘why,’ that an education is meaningless in of itself unless it is utilized to address the crucial issues we as a modern society currently face, that we must give back to the communities which have been so indispensable to creating the beings we are today, and that there is a difference between knowing and understanding.
I say that AKME enriches a student’s education, but that does not mean we are interested solely in higher numbers, for education is an exalted ideal that extends far beyond the plane of discrete quantities. Education does not end upon receiving a college diploma, nor does it end after obtaining a graduate degree. It does not end when one is hired, promoted, or retired. Education is life itself, and that, truly, is what AKME enriches.
We know what it’s like.
My academic experiences have been quite contrary to my brother’s in that I did everything a student should do in order to enroll at a top university: my weighted GPA soared well above 4.0 (owing particularly to the fact that I took five concurrent AP courses in my junior year), my SAT scores including subject tests were nigh perfect, and my extracurricular was a firm leadership position at a non-profit environmental advocacy organization. After my brother failed to meet my parents’ expectations, a tremendous burden was thrust upon me to restore the “honor” of our family. In that regard, I unquestioningly did all that was required of me, and sure enough, by following the system, I was accepted to UC Berkeley.
No wild exultation accompanied my acceptance letter. I did not experience the elation that a student ought to feel when admitted to a top school. I simply breathed a sigh of relief that I would not be a second failure, another mark of shame. With the same perfunctory manner that carried me through most of my academic life, I approached university as simply the next level of education to be completed and followed the pre-med track in accordance with the wishes of a father who himself was an accomplished organic chemist. By exploiting courses that fulfilled multiple prerequisites and taking several summer courses, I managed to graduate a year early, a magnificent achievement according to many. Having now finished my undergraduate studies, what great triumphs would I accomplish next? What laid in store for this student of seemingly unlimited potential?
Nothing. The following year was spent mostly sitting in my room doing absolutely nothing. I was lost. I possessed a degree in a field in which I had absolutely no interest in furthering at graduate school or turning into a career. By treating university as merely another rung of the educational ladder to be stepped upon, I had entirely missed the greater purposes of attending a university: the essential intangibles whose value outshined anything that could be produced by such relatively mundane minutiae as the letters of a grade, the numbers of a GPA, or the words of a diploma. Yes, we go to college to learn different specialized fields, but before we even decide on a major we will have already been committed to studying the most important subject of all: ourselves.
The independence and freedom we are afforded at a university is what affords us the invaluable opportunity to explore new interests, to discover our passions, and to mature into cultivated beings of empathy and wisdom. These qualities cannot be quantified and so are overlooked in the traditional educational system. Why must humanity be supplanted rather than complemented by the callous regurgitation of cold facts? This very question is what prompted my brother and I to build the foundations of what we now call AKME.
At AKME, we consider our greatest successes not the vast improvements our intensive course students see on their test scores nor the prestigious universities to which our college mentorship students have been admitted. We take immeasurable pride in the very things that cannot be measured: when students stay after class purely to converse, when students drop in to say hello because they happened to be in the area, and when students ask us about our experiences, about how to deal with their own personal problems, and about how they should proceed in life. The bond that is forged in such an exchange is indispensable to humanity; without humanity, a teacher is no different from an audio textbook.
We are not simply teachers: we are companions, older siblings, parents. We do not simply teach: we discuss, debate, collaborate. We feed our students’ minds with one hand and nourish their hearts with the other because we at AKME do not simply prepare students for their academic futures; we prepare students for their futures.
Head of Curriculum Development