In this series, we spotlight a student who worked with Vanguard on their college admissions process. Here is our interview with Shrayes, who improved his SAT scores by more than 200 points in the Vanguard test prep program. He applied to college for the fall of 2023 and was accepted to Cornell, UCLA, Emory, the University of Michigan, and Boston University with a full ride!
Why did you start working with Vanguard?
I’ve known the Sayani-Chans for a long time, but it was really about Vanguard’s results. When you look at the website, when you look at the Instagram, kids really improve their scores through the program.
What was your experience like in the test prep program?
I started SAT prep in the summer of sixth grade (sounds crazy, I know!). My very first teacher was named Christina. She was my favorite human alive–the kindest and sweetest. It’s so important that the Vanguard instructors aren’t just there as educators, but to make genuine conversations. Everyone I’ve interacted with at Vanguard, from Christina to [co-founder] Seaver [Chan] is there to really connect with students. Even just small gestures like giving me a smile before class really helped me take this four-hour test with confidence.
Are you happy you started the program so early?
Yes, absolutely! I joke that it was crazy, but in all honesty going through the program at such a young age not only really bolstered my SAT scores, but also bolstered my English grades, which helped me rank in the top 20 students in my high school. It really instilled college-level thinking in me, which is something I cherish in my life and helped me in everything from AP classes to the rigor of transitioning from middle school to high school.
Was there anything else you liked about the test prep program?
I appreciated that classes are very small. There were maybe four other people at most, which really allowed the teachers to get to know you as an individual. They helped me work on passages that were more difficult for me and drilled me on what I did wrong, until I did it so many times that it was actually hard to falter on the day of the test.
Why did you choose to also work with us on college counseling?
College is something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Ever since seventh grade I was dreaming about where I want to go, but wasn’t thinking about how daunting it can be. As a junior, having to go through this process without anyone guiding you through or giving you a thumbs-up on every piece of work would have been terrifying.
I’ve known Alina [the Director of College Counseling] since I was like 7, so she felt like more than a consultant, she was someone who grounded me through this whole process. Everyone at Vanguard listened to my worries and fears and treated me as an individual, not just a machine to get into college. Working with Vanguard supplemented my confidence, which is something I’m ever more grateful for.
What was the college selection process like?
I came in with really stringent expectations of how I wanted to do things–what my top schools were, which schools I wanted to apply to. It’s great to have a vision for who you are, but stubbornness can only get you so far. For example, the Ivies or Stanford has always been my goal, but I couldn’t picture myself at Dartmouth or Cornell. My college counselor encouraged me to take another look at Cornell, and I found that they actually had an amazing Asian Studies program and research opportunities. I’m forever grateful that Vanguard expanded my view, especially since I’m 99% sure I’ll be attending Cornell in the fall.
Was there anything else Vanguard helped you with during the college application process?
So many things. They gave me an in-depth rundown of the acceptance rates for different majors, which helped me decide which majors to apply for. In general they helped me understand what parts of my application I could leverage, and that propelled me into the essay process.
What was essay coaching with Vanguard like?
I might get emotional as I talk about this! More than an Essay Specialist, Katie was like a therapist. She helped me get all of my emotions out and structure it all together. I always prided myself on my writing as a journalist, but I can get caught up in it, I get too granular, or I ramble (as you can tell from this interview). Katie aided me with precision, concision, honing in on my language, all of the intricacies of writing. Katie valued me as a writer and saw where I was coming from as a writer.
In our last meeting, when she said we won’t see each other as much, I started tearing up! I’m so grateful she put up with me and my antics.
How did your essay turn out?
I love talking about this–I wrote about the incompatibility between Asianness and hopeless romanticism. I will consume any piece of romantic media, but in large part Asianness and South Asianness is missing from that genre. I discussed various pieces of media that have shaped me, from Jane Austen’s Persuasion to The Summer I Turned Pretty, and that helped me bring full circle the narrative of being an Asian Studies major. I was also able to humanize myself, and establish that advocacy, research, dialogue, is where I want to go with my life.
Do you feel like your writing skills improved from working with Vanguard?
Yes, definitely. As I was writing the essay, Katie helped me see that I was writing pieces of a bigger story about myself, almost like writing a memoir. The process emboldened my voice, and I actually modified the essay I used for UCLA and submitted it to a literary magazine–it was accepted and will be published in Adroit Journal!
Now for the most important question: did you get tickets for the Eras tour??
Oh my God. I did not get tickets at first, but then I was sitting in my journalism class and some third party tickets went on sale, and I didn’t even look at the price, I just checked out immediately. It was worth it–I got front row seats! I was right in front of her, and when I saw her walking down the runway, I just started crying.
That was actually a couple of days after I found out I got into Cornell, so I got into the Ivy League and saw Taylor Swift in one weekend. It was the best weekend of my life!