Expert SoFlo Tutor Raymond Lu traveled across the country to attend USC as a Presidential scholar. He received a 36 score on the ACT and wrote his essays centered on his passions in education. Read on to learn about Raymond’s application journey and his tips on succeeding on the SAT/ACT.

Raymond Lu, USC ’24

How did you approach your college applications?

I used a semi-conservative approach when applying to college – this meant applying to a lot of reach schools but also a lot of target schools so I could have choices when it came time to commit. I applied to 15 schools total, with 8 being universities like Northwestern, USC, Vanderbilt, and Duke, and the other 7 being schools like Boston University, Northeastern, UCONN, and UPitt. I mostly applied to schools that I would have fun and be happy at, since I knew all of these top universities would have great academic and professional opportunities, and I didn’t have any niche academic interests. 

Why did you choose USC?

I chose USC because as a kid who grew up in suburban Connecticut, I wanted to go out and see the world. New England felt like such a bubble, and I thought in order to be a more mindful citizen and human being, I had to experience something new. The combination of school spirit, diversity, and beautiful weather in a research university with thousands of accomplished professors was perfect for me. All in all, I wanted a place where I could grow as a person and have fun, while also finding my academic and professional passions. 

What was your testing journey like?

My parents signed me up for an SAT course in the summer before my junior year, but the test format never seemed to fit me. I switched to studying for the ACT and was lucky to receive a 36 on my first attempt. I self-studied with online practice tests and the official ACT book, which I thought was the most useful resource. It was really helpful to talk to my friends’ older siblings who had taken the test, and also seeking advice from online forums, which I used to help create my study plan. 

What did you write about in your college application essays?

When I applied in 2020, I actually wrote my main personal statement about Taylor Swift. I wrote about how my taste in music evolved and eventually tied that into my growth as a student throughout high school. I think the main goal is to find a passion or interest that is unique to you, and tying that into the aspects of your personality and academic interests that you want college admissions committees to see. In my supplemental essays, I also wrote a lot about my cultural identity and my unique struggles with this aspect of my life, so I think writing about deeper, more personal traits can be a great way to stick out. 

Did you apply to any scholarship programs?

I am a Presidential Scholar at USC, which has added a lot to my college experience. Honors programs like USC’s help you meet other students who have similar goals and aspirations, and it also makes housing and signing up for classes easier. All I had to do was submit my application before December 1, since many colleges simply have earlier deadlines for honors programs, without any supplemental essays.

Do you have any advice for students applying to colleges and taking the SAT/ACT?

My main piece of advice is to make your college application a narrative that makes sense. Admissions officers will look at every part of your application – your essays, activities, test scores, letters of recommendation, and think: does it all make sense? A lot of the activities you do in high school can seem very different, but you need to convince admissions officers that they all tie together. For example, I taught at my local Chinese school, was a freshman orientation leader, and volunteered at my local hospital. I tied all these together into the common theme of my passion for education and empowerment through teaching, and I used my essays to reinforce this idea. 

With the SAT/ACT, the only way to improve is to practice. There are only so many types of questions the test makers can throw at you, so if you do enough practice, you’ll be able to recognize and solve almost every question. Doing as many full length practice tests as you can and reviewing every mistake and uncertainty you had is the way to go.

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