15% of California National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists are Elite Students

This year's National Merit Scholarship semifinalists have been announced, and of the 2,014 semifinalists from California, 332 of them are students at Elite. 

National Merit Scholarship semifinalists are selected based on their scores from the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). This group of semifinalists represents less than 1% of high school seniors in the United States.

You can find a complete list of California National Merit Scholarship semifinalists at The Mercury News.

Congratulations to all the National Merit Scholarship semifinalists and to all our students at Elite!

Posted on October 13, 2016 .

When It Comes to Colleges, the Biggest Name Doesn't Always Mean the Best Fit

What’s in a Ranking?

When the U.S. News & World Report (USNWR) released its much-anticipated annual college and university rankings in September, there weren’t many big surprises. In fact, what is remarkable about this year’s rankings is just how consistent they are with those from recent history. 

For the sixth consecutive year, Princeton tops the list of “national universities”; Williams takes the top spot among liberal arts colleges for the 14th year in a row; and the University of California, Berkeley keeps its grips on the top public university spot for the 19th straight year. In the midst of applications season, as millions of high school students around the globe look to these rankings for guidance, it’s worth asking the question: what exactly makes these schools so exceptional, year after year?

To answer that question, let’s look at USNWR’s methodology. The publication ranks schools based on seven weighted criteria designed to measure “academic quality”: 

  1. Graduation and retention rates (22.5%), which measures what percentage of the first-year student body stays on for a sophomore year and eventually graduates. 
  2. Undergraduate academic reputation (22.5%), based on the opinions of university administrators and high school guidance counselors. 
  3. Faculty resources (20%), a measurement including class size, faculty salary, the degrees earned by faculty, student-faculty ratios, and proportion of full-time faculty. 
  4. Student selectivity (12.5%), including SAT and ACT scores of admitted students, the number of students who graduated at or near the top of their high school classes, acceptance rates. 
  5. Financial resources (10%), measuring the average spending the university devotes to each student. 
  6. Graduation rate performance (7.5%), the percentage of students who graduated as compared to USNWR’s projections. 
  7. Alumni giving rate (5%), the percentage of alumni that donated money to their alma maters. 

While all of these criteria are useful factors in measuring the integrity and prestige of colleges and universities, what’s left out—indeed, what would be nearly impossible to measure—is the quality of education that you, prospective college student, will benefit from over the next four years. 

What’s absent in any sweeping ranking system like the USNWR is the question of fit. Truly, the only measure that matters in choosing a school is where you will thrive—where you will find your passion, your peers, and the beginnings of not only your career but life as an adult. This is a question that no ranking system can answer for you.

What’s in a Name?

While prestigious names like Princeton, Williams, and UC, Berkeley have the built-in advantages of name recognition, such institutions are not necessarily the right fit for most students, even some of the “best and brightest.” According to William Deresiewicz, former professor at Yale University and the best-selling author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014), the best education for most students will not come from within the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. 

“Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think,” Deresiewicz explains, “but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions.” In other words, while many of the top-ranked schools in the country do help prepare students for professional life beyond college (especially through name recognition), they’re not always the best places to foster genuine knowledge and understanding—key, transferrable skills not only for developing the life of the mind, but for navigating the ever-changing global economy and job market of the 21st century.  

But aren’t the top schools supposed to be the most rigorous? According to Deresiewicz, not necessarily: “There are exceptions, of course, but professors and students have largely entered into what one observer called a ‘nonaggression pact.’ Students are regarded by the institution as ‘customers,’ people to be pandered to instead of challenged.” As Deresiewicz explains, admission into the Ivy League and similarly prestigious universities is a reward for a job-well-done in high school, but it does not necessarily translate into the best college education.

To understand why this is so, it’s important to understand who makes up the faculty at the top universities—at the likes of Princeton and Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago. The majority of professors at these institutions are hired and promoted for their research and hardly (often not at all) for their teaching. As a result, the highest achieving professors are often not the best teachers, since they are usually not incentivized to spend much time on their classes and their students. As Deresiewicz explains, “the profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be. The result is higher marks for shoddier work.”

Finding the Right Fit

If you’re interested in getting the very best education possible, chances are you won’t find it at the very top of the USNWR rankings. You’re more likely to find it in what Deresiewicz calls the “second tier—not second-rate—colleges” such as Reed, Kenyon, Wesleyan, Sewanee, and Mount Holyoke, where teaching plays a central role in hiring and promoting professors. Uninterested in competing with the Ivies for points on the ranking systems, these liberal arts schools are more focused on educating students than on padding admissions statistics and their endowments. 

You might also find your ideal education at a quality public university, from any of the University of California and California State campuses to the University of Michigan, University of Texas, or University of Maryland, to name a few. These schools often lose rankings points for having large class sizes, but such schools often feature a more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse student body. As most college graduates will tell you, you will learn just as much from your peers as you will from your professors. A student body made up of a diverse range of life experiences and perspectives would make for an invaluable contribution to your intellectual and personal growth. 

When deciding on which school to choose, it’s important to look beyond the rankings. What will I study? Which schools are particularly suited to my major? Which school’s faculty will help me learn most? Which school’s student body will help me grow? These are questions that you can only begin to answer by visiting campuses, speaking to alumni in person and online, and looking inside yourself to get a better sense of where and what you’ll want to be in four years.

In other words, finding the best fit means finding your own criteria for “academic quality.” 


Want to learn more? Sources I consulted in writing this piece include:

Nick Anderson, “U.S. News college rankings: Princeton, Williams and UC-Berkeley at the top, again” (Sept. 13, 2016)

Frank Bruni, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania (2015), excerpted here; see a talk by Bruni here

William Deresiewicz, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” (2014)

William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014)

Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities, and has taught writing and critical reading at Elite of Los Angeles since 2010.

Posted on October 5, 2016 and filed under College Admissions.

What's Up with the New University of California Personal Insight Questions?

The University of California has introduced eight personal insight questions as part of its application process/review. These questions are designed to elicit responses from students that align with one or more of the comprehensive review criteria that the UC uses to determine admissions.

Here are the eight personal insight questions:

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
  2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  6. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
  7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

Of the eight questions, students must select and respond to only four, so choose the four that you want to write about. Ideally, the questions you choose will allow you to put your best foot forward and let your personality shine through.

Each response has a max limit of 350 words, but there is no minimum. So, if you get your point across in fewer than 350 words, that is completely okay.

It is also important to note that you may not use the additional comments section to answer another one of the questions beyond the four you select. Many of the questions have two parts, so it is vital that you answer both parts (notably, numbers 1, 3, 5, and 6). However, all of the questions have equal value. And get this, writing style and grammar are not part of the review, but you should still (and always) aim to write responses free of spelling, punctuation and grammar errors.

Fortunately, your responses are considered in light of your application, so they will not be read in a vacuum. The whole point is to contextualize your high school experiences and accomplishments in order to enlighten the admissions reader as to why you would be a valuable addition to the UC community. 

Admissions readers are looking to see what they can learn about you, essentially conducting fact-finding missions. Stick to the facts and think, “Will a stranger understand me from this context?” Since UC admission review is a cumulative process, you want to convey as much information as possible to the readers. Treat your personal insight responses as your interview, and using your own unique voice, communicate the information that paints you in the best light possible.

So, what exactly are the UCs looking for?

  • Direct responses to the questions – get straight to the point and elaborate, no flowery/metaphorical language
  • Greater authenticity – maximize the student voice (I, my); use your everyday vocabulary
  • Total clarity – Who are you and what is the context of your accomplishments during your 4 years of high school?
  • No guessing – Any relevant information that reflects individual circumstances and adds depth to the application (they can’t assume anything you haven’t told them)

Remember, this is your application, and if you don’t shine the spotlight on yourself, no one else will. The best person to authentically tell your stories is YOU!

Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite of Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."

Fall Test Prep and College Application Workshops are Here!

The school year is underway, and Elite's Fall Session classes are here! Give your students the academic edge they need with one of our many autumn offerings.

Contact your local Elite branch today to schedule a free diagnostic test and consultation to find which programs are right for you.* 

Fall Session classes include:

SAT Prep

Elite’s SAT Reasoning Test Prep Program consists of a weekly practice test and three lecture classes covering Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. In the lecture classes, students  review the practice test with experienced instructors and continue their learning through a series of lessons containing exercises designed to develop their reading, math, grammar, and writing skills.

AP Tutoring

Advanced Placement (AP) Courses offer students an opportunity to earn college credit and strengthen their college applications. Elite’s instructors are the best around, and many are AP high school teachers or college instructors who are experts in their fields.



The Elite PSAT Program is designed for students in 9th and 10th grade who want to get a head start on preparing for the PSAT and SAT. PSAT Boot Camp offers a set of three interlocking classes (Critical Reading, Writing and a Math class previewing Algebra II) taught at a pace more suited to younger students.

SAT Subject Test Prep

Elite provides comprehensive preparation for many of the SAT Subject Tests consisting of weekly practice test sessions and review classes with instructors who not only are knowledgeable about their subjects but also understand how to help students prepare effectively for the SAT Subject Tests.Click here to learn more about SAT Subject Tests.

ReadiPrep™ English

Aimed at students in grades 5-9, ReadiPrep™ English focuses on developing studies’ critical reading and thinking skills through an interconnected course of study involving reading comprehension, vocabulary and grammar studies, persuasive writing, and test skill development.

College Application Workshop

College admissions are more competitive than ever, and a finely-crafted essay can be the part of your application that distinguishes you from the crowd. In Elite's College Application Workshop, students learn how to write unique, memorable, and powerful application essays. Teachers meet with students individually to proofread, critique, and revise multiple drafts, helping students create polished and compelling personal statements. In addition, teachers can provide step-by-step guidance in listing extra-curricular activities and completing college application forms.

*Classes and schedules vary by branch. Check your branch's fall schedule for details.

For class schedules and registration info, contact your local Elite branch today!

Posted on August 31, 2016 .

Summer Boot Camp in Shanghai

This summer, Elite China offers the same top American academic preparation and counseling services for all students in grades 3 to 12 at our two Shanghai locations:

Pudong: No.1789 Yunshan Road; 021-61945586
Xuhui: No.406-1 West Jianguo Road; 021-60293805

Contact your closest campus for more information or visit eliteprep.cn

Posted on May 16, 2016 .