College Applications Getting Accepted

With colleges starting up all over the nation, Big Brains would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our former students that are beginning university and to wish them the best of luck. This last year was a banner year for Big Brains students as a group and individually. In particular, a number of students that had been members of our Robotics teams (Mindstorm Masters in First Lego League; and, WASABI Robotics in VEX Robotics) were seniors. We were happy that many of them chose to have Big Brains help them with the application process.


Starting in their Junior year, we worked with KT, ES, PH, ZZ, IK, GH, TO to improve their SAT and ACT scores without having to waste hours and hours grinding thru SAT practice problems and taking and re-taking tests. In one case, our student increased his SAT scores over 400 points between his first and second taking of the SAT with just 22 hours of studying!!!


Throughout High school and, in particular, during their Junior year we were able to guide our students to volunteer opportunities and in competitions (Robotics, Math and DECA) to bring “stand-out” factor to their applications.


When we finally began developing lists where these exceptional students would apply, we dealt with factors like cost, major, school size, scholarship opportunities and simple geographic preference. Each and every kid was able to find exciting options that were affordable (after all, there is no reason to apply to a school if there is no chance a student will be able to afford it) and provided variety and opportunity (Again, there is no point in applying to a school if it doesn’t have a unique factor that would entice a student over their safety school). Among the unique schools that our students applied to were Davidson College (NC), Olin (MA), Oberlin (OH), Whitman (WA), UBC (BC) and Purdue (IN).


After developing our lists came the hard, hard work: writing essays and applications. We developed unique positionings for each student, polished their lists of activities into finished “Brag Sheets” and chose the right essay questions to minimize the number of essays that each student had to write to complete their list of applications. The essay writing process is never easy but some solid research on positioning and re-using applications can make the process much much easier.


After months of hard work, both by us and our students, the applications were sent in and, eventually, acceptances were received. We are incredibly gratified to say that every student we worked with got into at least one of their top two choices! The list of acceptances is humbling: Princeton, Harvard, Yale (2), Stanford (3), MIT, Cal Tech (2), UC Berkeley, UW, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, Pomona, Rice. Clearly, all the hard work was worth it and we expect great things from our students in the years to come.

Beginning Reading DC

DS was brought to us after a Parent-Teacher conference in which his teacher indicated that he had fallen clearly behind the rest of the class. DS’s parents were shocked because DS’s older brother had always been an above grade-level reader and DS had started reading earlier than his older brother. When we tested DS, we found that his basic phonics skills were excellent. He clearly knew all the letters, knew their sounds and could sound words out. His struggles all seemed to start when presented with material in context. He struggled to read even simple sentences with anything approaching rhythm and fluency; he often substituted similar looking  words or had to break rhythm to laboriously sound out unknown words. With wrong words popping into, and long pauses in the middle of sentences, DS had a terrible time achieving comprehension.


When we conferred with his parents, they confirmed, that DS had been an early reader, showing all the signs of a Sight Reader. In other words, he had learned to recognize basic words as whole units, rather than as collections of separate sounds. Sight reading is particularly common among precocious kids. Usually these kids are the ones that start to read particularly early and, naturally shift from sight reading to phonics reading as the difficulty of thier books increases. Occassionally, kids like DS get stuck after their sight reading stills max out they haven’t developed phonics skills. This definitely appeared to be the case with DS.


We started DS in our Big Brains Education’s Beginning Reading program at the level of Dipthongs (double vowels) and Digraphs (th, ng). DS easily grasped the phonics but struggled with slowing down enough while reading to sound each unknown word out instead of just guessing. As the weeks passed, he slowed down, got his phonics skill fluency up, then was able to speed up and start working toward reading fluency. Now just 4 months later, he has graduated from the Beginning Reading Program and has started the Reading Program where we focus on Vocabulary and Comprehension skills. His reading is smooth and rhythmic. Making this transition from phonics material to content material will slow his progress for a couple of weeks but, his teacher reports that he is already at or above grade level. We fully expect him to be a full-grade level above grade level within 4 months and then he should continue to race ahead from there.



David Zook

Director, Big Brains Education Enrichment