Wednesday, July 13, 2011

High grads, Ivy Leaguers, share insight to success

Jenny Le and Shawn Du know what it takes to get admitted to an Ivy League university.

Le just completed her freshman year at Harvard University, and Du has finished his first year at Princeton University.

Now the 19-year-old Clear Lake residents, both summa cum laude graduates of Clear Lake High School, are reaching out to high school students in their community with similar goals.

Le and Du created an Ivy Exam Club that has allowed students to take free proctored SAT exams Fridays at the Freeman Branch Library, 16616 Diana Lane, Clear Lake. The final session is July 22.

"We really believe test prep is key (for successfully applying to college), and it's not fair if students can't afford it," Le said.

"The SAT is one of the easiest ways to improve your application," said Du, who said he's been enjoying the opportunity to help high school students this summer and offer them advice. "It feels great, personally."

Le said she remembers her own efforts to make herself a competitive applicant.

"It helped having someone I could talk to, so I could understand the process," she said.

"Because most of the high school students who take the course are from the Clear Lake area, too, we can talk and share stories. We're able to connect to the students and give them one-on-one attention."

In her case, it was her older sister, Ngoc Le, who encouraged Le to work on grades, take challenging courses and prepare for the SAT.

At her sister's urging, Le worked with her on the vocabulary portion in sixth grade. Middle school may have been a bit early, Le said, but she would encourage students to start preparing no later than the ninth grade.

"Test preparation is a gradual process," said Le, who is considering a career in business or in law.

Du urges students to practice for the SAT as frequently as possible.

It also helps, he said, to get involved in extracurricular activities.

"As long as you have a few, as long as you're passionate about them, colleges like that," he said.

By their senior year of high school, students can do little to dramatically change their grade point average, he continued, but they can improve their applications by devoting effort to their essay questions.

"Everything else is just numbers," Du said.

"The essay is what sets an applicant apart.

"The most important thing is to be sincere and personal."

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