Do You Need a College Admissions Counselor?


Every year we hear dizzying statistics about the college admissions process. Thousands of students apply to colleges with single digit acceptance rates, and often it feels like a lottery ticket to get accepted. Amidst this madness, many parents find resources to help their child: academic tutors and college admissions counselors. The value proposition for tutoring is fairly straightforward: if the tutor has historically produced higher SAT or ACT scores, then they should be able to do the same for your son or daughter. The proposition for a college admissions counselor, however, is not so simple. As the founder of a college admissions consultancy, I will provide you with a framework for identifying the need (if any) for a college counselor.

The Process

The college admissions process is tailored to each individual and is intended to be highly personal. In fact, in my opinion, it is a discovery process for each applicant: why did they participate in those school clubs, and why exactly are they trying to apply to each college on their list? Moreover, the writing we are taught in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses is unlike the style needed for college admissions essays.

The College Admissions Essay

Great college admissions essays are clear, evidence-based, and yet emotional in nature. These essays find the core of a student’s thoughts and feelings, and often their beliefs. The best college admissions essays inherently show a student’s perspective to the admissions committee. Admissions readers are professionals at discerning intent and extent of an activity, but clear writing makes it easier for everyone involved.

A significant amount of time we spend with students is focused on this essay writing process.

• How do you actually find what you like to do outside of the classroom?
• How do you articulate your passion in an essay, and show it rather than tell?
• How do you keep it simple, tell a story, and be different than other candidates at the same time?

These are the types of questions we tackle on a student-by-student basis, and it often takes time.

Diving into college admissions essays right away leads to flowery essays with little substance and an often desperate tone. Countless times, we have seen perfect SAT scorers write essays about why they want to go into medicine to help the world without actually thinking about how they will do this, or why medicine is the right path for that goal. Being specific is important, but being specific takes deliberate and mature thought.

How College Counselors Help Students

College applicants often benefit from a direct mentor who has recently gone through the college application process because these mentors can offer a third-person perspective on college admissions essays. In addition, college counselors can back up these insights with data from universities and years of experience.

At Synocate, we also help students in two other areas:

• Understanding college profiles – who are the acclaimed professors, what is the personality of the college, what are the chances at admission
• Keeping track of deadlines – identifying teachers for letters of recommendation, explaining early action vs. early decision vs. regular decision, and keeping track of all the Common Application supplemental essays

Ultimately, college counselors are good for an additional introspective push, a mentor, and a time tracker. Our goal is to help students find themselves rather than force them into some mold, which seems to be a trend in college admissions today. This approach has worked wonders for us, with admits to all the Top 40 colleges and Ivy Leagues each year. It is a patient and simple approach. College counselors are coaches for students applying to college, much like tennis coaches or speech coaches.

Determining the Quality of an Admissions Counselor

There is also a variety of college admissions counselors. Most are single-person companies or even sole proprietorships that are founded by older individuals who graduated from college several years ago. These often fit the needs of those looking for any help on the applications, and who want someone local, with a bit more knowledge, and experienced.

But for those looking for robust support from multiple perspectives, choosing a team of college counselors is a better approach. We did not find this in the market, so we developed the Nexus Approach. Two counselors are assigned to each student, and report on each student’s progress at a weekly meeting. Similarly, when searching for a college admissions counselor, listen carefully to the depth of the counseling and assistance you will receive.

On the other hand, large tutoring companies have started to move into college admissions counseling as a natural ancillary service. These tutors are not specially trained in many of the skills needed for college counseling, and the organizational focus on tutoring often makes these services an amalgamation of knowledge that can be easily found on the Internet.

The approach we take is a hybrid, offering a primary counselor that tailors content to each student, and a secondary counselor who listens in and reports back to the broader team. This gives the primary counselor indirect feedback and allows each applicant to have multiple perspectives, heard from a single source, the primary counselor.

Sometimes testing a prospective admissions counselor on sample subjects can also be a litmus test.


A college admissions counselor is a useful resource. Beyond grammar edits, we hope to give students a toolkit for determining what they actually enjoy. Writing is an instrument of critical self-examination, and the college admissions essays are designed to make applicants think. Instead of sighing at these essays, we try to help students embrace the process.

Thinking through deadlines and specific essays can be overwhelming, and college counselors are great at handling this as well. Be sure to vet a prospective counselor closely, however, as there is a lot of variance in the quality and seriousness of college admissions counselors in the market.

Good luck, and feel free to visit us at for more articles on college admissions.

Surviving the College Admissions Hype


Over the next several weeks, thousands of high school students will hear back from colleges with one of three results: accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. High school seniors and their parents are anxious for the fated emails from universities.

For seniors, it feels like the culmination of hours of self-reflection and rigorous essay writing. For parents, it feels like judgment day on the quality of their parenting. In reality, it is a sometimes haphazard selection process where thousands of over-qualified applicants submit their profiles to more and more schools each year. The first step in overcoming the increasing hype is realizing the truth in this statement.

Admissions offices around the world have been busy with bi-weekly meetings where readers discuss the qualifications of students: measuring them with free form notes, quantitative scales on academic strength and extracurricular strength, and personality. If the two or three admissions readers agree on the strength of a student, they are admitted. At top schools, this often means applicants score in the top 20% by both readers.

Although undergraduate education offers students a chance to grow intellectually, socially, and culturally, it is our choices that really define who we are. On top of that, graduate or professional education offers another opportunity to attend Ivy League colleges or equivalent. Having this perspective, and speaking with college graduates themselves, will help ease the “end all” attitude around undergraduate college admissions.

Third, most students have diversified their mix of schools among reach, target, and safety schools. Spreading the risk across more schools is always better than concentrating on a single set (i.e. Ivy League) of schools. At this point, high school seniors can only focus on the present –grades, school clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities. In fact, ask many college students about 2nd semester senior year, and they will reflect fondly on the friendships and memories. High school students should try to cherish these remaining moments and realize all of the effort they have put in academically and socially into so many AP and IB courses.

High school, like college, is a time of intellectual and social growth. Senior year is particularly busy and stressful because of college applications. Applications are the next step to college, but it is not the final destination. In fact, college applications are more of a forced reflection – a time where admissions officers are asking students to think critically about their past and their choices.

Although it may be tough, understanding this perspective, speaking to college students, and enjoying the end of senior year is the healthiest way to approach these next few weeks. Good luck, and remember that each moment is a gift.

Extracurricular Activities: Finding Your Focus in College Admissions


Harvard University accepted 5.9% of applicants last year, and Stanford admitted 5.1% of applicants – the lowest in college history. High school students increasingly turn to extracurricular activities to differentiate themselves, and even with that, they must apply to more and more schools to diversify their risk.

In this cycle of ever-increasing competitiveness, what should students actually focus on? It is easy to say focus on what you love to do or do something you are good at. Those concepts, however, are often tied together. On top of that, helicopter parents, over-competitive peers, and over-stretched high school counselors do not offer unified advice for a busy high school student.

The Shotgun Approach

At Synocate, our answer is the shotgun method: trying 3 different activities in various fields and reflecting on them after 3 months. In this way, we create a “rotational” program for our students and help them realize their own interests, strengths, and weaknesses.

In this article, we will lay out the steps of the shotgun approach: engaging, reflecting, and iterating. This time-tested approach is featured in our book The Applicant and has been used with over 250 students individually.

Step 1: Engaging

The first step is to frame the activities, your mindset, and game plan

In the shotgun approach, students take ownership in finding and participating in activities. Students themselves reach out to professors for internships, local clubs for officer positions, and competitions. In this way, students can take ownership for their plan and learn time management and long-term planning. They also will be more engaged.

These activities should span across different “buckets”, or types of activities. There are four buckets in the framework: out-of-school, in-school, social work, and competitions. The actual number in each bucket is flexible and dependent on the student and available activities.

After an initial reflection, students devise a 3-month plan of activity management and tangible metrics they will use to measure each activity. Keeping a weekly log of reflections is helpful.

Step 2: Reflecting

The second step is to think deeply about each activity

After 3 months, the student should have a good sense of the people, the work, and the scope of each activity. Reflecting is just as important as doing the activity: it can take the form of a journal, a brainstorm, or even conversations with parents or peers. In fact, discussing thoughts with a school counselor or teacher can be a way to get to know them, which eventually reflects well in letters of recommendation.

Students should think critically about what they enjoyed most about each activity and how that connects to their personality or their previous experiences. Often, merit and happiness are correlated.

Step 3: Iterating

The third step is to use these experiences to inform future actions

Thinking is not enough – it is important to make those thoughts into a reality. After reflecting, develop next steps that can be measured either by time span or achievement. These goals can vary from making your own “dream” activities to starting again from scratch with three very different activities. The shotgun approach can be iterated upon many times, and often with great results.

The Dangers of a Narrow Mind

In order for the shotgun approach to work, two things must exist: an open attitude and a willingness to persevere. An attitude to try new things is essential to the shotgun method and to expanding one’s horizons. Often times, we speak with parents or students who are focused on just one school or a set of schools (usually Ivy League schools). Although it is good to have a focus, sometimes being so narrow-minded can remove students from what they actually would enjoy or where they would excel.

We have used the shotgun approach with 7th-12th grade students and it has worked wonderfully. Some students realize they actually enjoy robotics and pursue that, winning VEX competitions and other related competitions. Others realize that medicine was just a dream their parents had for them, and they pursue dance, turning that into a series of performances and focusing on specific styles.


The beauty of the process is that life is a rotational program. We view the shotgun approach as just the start to a series of experiences that young adults take themselves. Students take responsibility for finding these activities, following through, and ultimately reflecting. Using these tools, students will be equipped to find their focus, which often changes, in college itself. About 80% of college students end up changing their major at least once.

This long-term view of admissions is what really has made us successful and what can make you successful. Empower your child to explore, and give them the energy and perspective to do so. That is often easier said than done, which is why many parents approach us as a third party with experience and a passion for helping others.

Although SAT scores are important, understanding and evaluating a student’s core strengths and areas of interest are equally valuable and often underestimated. Using our shotgun approach and carefully selecting different activities across a spectrum of buckets is one way to create your own rotational program and explore interests. Some of those may even turn into professions. We have followed students over the years and found exactly that: when a student uses this approach and finds their passion early on, that budding interest sometimes turns into a fully-fledged profession.

Good luck and comment with your story below!

The Most Overhyped Component of College Admissions


What major should I chose? One of the most common questions we get about the college admissions process is the major selection. From our experience helping 5,000 students through workshops and individually through the process, we conclude that the major selection is the most overrated entry on the Common Application. Of course, there are exceptions where major significantly affects admissions chances, but in general, the choice requires 1/10 of the effort most applicants devote to the drop-down menu selection.

The Rationale

Anecdotal stories and confused seniors on College Confidential can create confusion about how much major selection actually matters. Because some students get in with a more esoteric or “easier” major does not correlate to the quality of the application, the luck with that particular reader, or the rest of their story

The major should generally tie to the story you are telling in your application, although it does not need to correlate completely. For example, if want to study engineering but love to write, a main Common Application essay about your work in writing and supplemental essays talking about your interest in communicating complex scientific topics simply works well.

The Perspective Approach works well in these cases because we help students fundamentally find what they love to do first. Focusing on writing Shakespearean essays without truly believing or loving what you are doing is mute. Instead, think deeply about what you and follow through with those activities.

The Solution

So now you activities that you care about and a story that revolves around a few different activities. Try to find commonalities between these activities and think about the types of majors that emphasize those skills. If you love to think critically about complex systems, maybe an engineering major is right for you. Alternatively, if you love to write, consider journalism

Many of the Top 25 schools allow you to switch between schools and majors, even if it is not easy. These switches can be made as late as the end of sophomore year of college.

This flexibility in the American system results in students changing majors three times on average in their undergraduate career (Ramos).

Colleges know this and that is why the major selection is not critical to their selection of students. Instead, they are looking for intellectual vitality, commitment and excellence in your activities, and ability to search and conquer pursuits independently as a thinker and student.

The bottom line here is to think about your story and where your primary strengths lie and choose a major that generally aligns academically and career-wise. You will probably change the major, but putting some thought into it at application time can help you figure out career options down the road, which is why it is there in the first place.


Seven and eight-year medical programs, Wharton at the University of Pennslyvania, and the EECS program at UC Berkeley are some of the exceptions to this rule. These programs are notably more competitive because of the number of applicants they receive and the focus of these students. As you can see, they often have a focus on a trade (medicine and business above, respectively) or are accelerated in some fashion.

Generally, students encourage students to apply to these programs and other more general programs within their whole college portfolio.


In the end, major selection gets a lot of attention because it is another lever that students have to decide to present. But actually most students change majors many times in college, and so statistically, it is almost irrelevant. Thinking about the major is important to figure out personal strengths and interests, and that is the reason it is listed on the application at all. In some cases, it is meaningfully impactful to admissions, but in 90% of cases, it is another question to prod students to the ultimate goal: introspection.

19 Year-Old Australian Stuns Nadal


19 year-old Nick Kyrgios stunned No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of Wimbeldon earlier this week, shining the spotlight on a rising star in tennis. Kyrgios, an Australian teenager, beat Nadal to the tune of 7-6,5-7,7-6,6-3.

Although Kyrgious was recently pushed out by Raonic with a respectable 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 in the quarterfinals on July 2nd, his second Wimbeldon showing proves that he is a young force to be reckoned with. Look out for him in the near future.

Here is why:


Kyrgios consistently served in the 110+ miles per hour range and rang up 37 aces against hard-hitting Nadal. With that match, he brought his total aces in this Wimbeldon to more than 100 (Chase).

On top of that, in his match against Nadal Kyrgios averaged 118 miles per hour in service (O’Shannessy).

Considering that Kyrgios is fresh feet to big-time professional tennis and the adjustment period to the speed of the game, especially on Wimbeldon’s fast grass, this pace is impressive. Kyrgios seemed like a natural, and we can expect him to excel on the surface in his future tournaments.


It was not just with shots like this:, but also efficiency combined with powerful shots. In his match against Nadal, this is how he matched up on winners and errors:

Kygrios: 70 winners against 31 unforced errors

Nadal: 44 winners to 18 unforced errors


With 60% more winners and 60% less unforced errors, Kygrios proved to be more consistent and drive points beyond his serve. Going forward, this may be a key to his game, especially if he wants to make a route in doubles play.


“We’re watching a young boy turn into a man,” observed John McEnroe (Mitchell).

Just a year ago, Kygrios was hoping to break 300 in USTA rankings, and after Wimbeldon, his ranking of 144 will most likely drop to single digits (McDonald). If he is able to keep his humility, Kygrios can go a long way from that number.

Finally, in telling fashion, the last teenager to defeat a USTA ranked #1 player in a major tournament was Rafa himself.

If Kygrios is able to channel the public eye into productive partnerships, coaches, and training, his momentous win could spark a series of improvements to his game and eventual wins.


On top of that, Kyrgios is self-aware of his strength as a power player. In singles, he used that natural inclination to approach the net 126 during his Wimbeldon route, winning 64% of those points. Still, in professional tennis, there stands place to improve. That improvement can come from developing an equally-compelling backhand to match his powerful forehand or mix the variation of spin in his shots overall (ESPN).

What’s to come

For Kyrgios to break through the Top 20 eventually, he will need to round out his game beyond a strong serve and finesse. Maybe he can start taking notes from Federer. But it also may just be more experience at the professional level. Given his success as an amateur and now his big win over Nadal, Kyrgios should have the confidence to overcome the jitters even his mom picked up.

Kyrgios narrowly escaped a second-round loss from Richard Gasquet earlier this week, and mentioned he needed to play “loose” to beat Nadal, which he surely did (Chase).

From this perspective, it is maturing his game through more match time and learning how to handle the pressure of professional tennis.

With an aging Federer and oft-crippled Nadal, maybe it is time for another Big Four in professional men’s tennis. That shift may come from Kyrgios in five years, or from players hovering in the top 10. Either way, Wimbeldon is always a time of reflection and a stage for rising tennis stars.

As Boris Becker said after watching Federer win his first Grand Slam at Wimbeldon 2003: “The future has come”(Hayward).

Is Kygrios the future of men’s tennis, Australian tennis, or neither? Discuss below.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Harvard Business School: Digging Deeper on Shared Value



Efficiently handling externalities has been a subject of debate in law and economics for hundreds of years. From written deontological codes to Pigovian taxes, many scholars have formalized the way they think about these remedies. Creating Shared Value (CSV) suggests that companies can internalize inefficiencies creating social welfare and increase company market value at the same time. This theory particularly impacts property rights and specifically the notion that externalities are a tradeoff between profit and social good. Besides property rights, CSV has implications for other fields of law like torts, where it can be applied to justify action before accidents happen. For example, if a company develops cleaner ways of emitting its waste, it can reduce its tax burden (private welfare), its carbon footprint (public welfare), and potential future emission accidents (tort reduction).

Creating Shared Value can be defined by three actions companies can take. According to the seminal 2011 paper “Creating Shared Value,” Porter and Kramer define shared value as the “policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates” (Porter and Kramer 6). Specifically, they suggest that shared value can be created by: rethinking products and markets, redefining the value chain, and building clusters of companies, associations, and regulators (Porter and Kramer 7).

Practically, these methods often call for increased investment that results in long-term economic gain, new market entry, reorganized production lines, or budding partnerships. Porter and Kramer mention areas where CSV can be particularly helpful including energy use, employee skills, worker safety, and water use (Porter and Kramer 8). They conclude by stating that profit can have “social purpose” (Porter and Kramer 15) in addition to financial value, and suggest that CSV is the first step to a new type of capitalism. Because of the challenges they received questioning the actual implementation of CSV, Porter and Kramer followed with another article titled “Measuring Shared Value”. In this piece, they argue that CSV can be measured through intra-company efficiency, compliance, and social welfare targets. They use a variety of case studies of international companies implementing CSV to show its effectiveness. They conclude by tempering their earlier remarks and offering possible flaws of CSV (Porter and Kramer 16). Since that article, others including authors at Forbes, The Economist, and MIT Sloan Management Review have approached the subject, but Porter and Kramer have yet to release another paper.

At a fundamental level, creating shared value impacts property rights by making us reconsider the extension of rights that come with property, regulation of externalities and property, and the need for exclusivity in defining property rights. After we consider these three changes, we can generalize to how CSV makes us rethink the definition of externalities and the most efficient way to get rid of them. For the purpose of this article , we can break down our analysis in three sections: 1. CSV’s impact to property rights 2. Damages through the lens of CSV 3. Limitations of CSV and its effect on law Creating Shared Value offers a new way of thinking about welfare and externalities, and consequently affects our economic interpretation of the law.


In agreement with Miceli’s notion that the “primary economic function” of property rights is to internalize externalities, we believe that CSV can change the idea that internalizing externalities comes at a profit loss for companies. We can analyze CSV’s effects on property rights through three case studies, each of which demonstrates a different way CSV is actually implemented. In the first case study on Nestle, Nestle redesigned its product to increase profits and reduce waste, and forces us to reconsider the responsibilities that come with property rights. In the second case study on Intel, a new energy-efficient headquarters saves Intel energy costs and helps the environment, leading us to believe that companies should value internal regulation as a way of increasing profits. In the third case study on Yara, Yara’s initiative to work with local governments and organizations led to increased profits and job creation, prompting us to think about ways in which we can incentivize collaboration and economic growth through shared property rights. The nature of property rights is an extension of rights and expectations according to Miceli and Posner. This idea is affected by CSV. With property rights comes the expectation that individuals attempt to limit the externalities they create on neighbors. In a corporate sense, this could regard waste, pollution, or nuisance.

According to Miceli, the right of owning property also comes with the right not to pollute. But that right is not economically incentivized without damages or penalties. But CSV offers another economic incentive: increasing profits and not polluting by developing new technology or processes internally. In this sense, should we be incentivizing damages control or internal assessments to minimize externalities? CSV allows us to think in this vein. • Nestle’s Nescafe Plan results in decreased costs for Nestle and an eliminated externality of pulp waste.

  • Nestle’s Nescafe Plan streamlined the coffee process by redesigning its product chain (Nescafe 1). By working with farmers to redesign the pulping process–the stripping of coffee bean pulp–Nestle was able to reuse parts of the pulp and reduce water consumption. Farmers were able to work more efficiently and Nestle spent less for its raw materials and labor. Nestle also redesigned its related products to make use of the leftover pulp. Nestle further plans to expand technical assistance to farmers to increase their productivity. Relating back to the CSV theory, Nestle redefined its product, which allowed it to generate greater returns and help the local farmers. CSV then prompts us to reconsider regulation, in a property sense and more generally. Many argue that internal transaction costs are lower than external regulation (cost of information). If our goal is to seek the most efficient outcomes, perhaps laws should incentivize internal assessments of business processes, products, and externalities. Current laws do this in many cases, but CSV can be extended beyond simple cases of pollution. According to the theory, businesses should reconsider profit as including a social element. Some companies have even changed their financial statements to show their reduction of externalities in dollar amounts. Should companies be taxed more heavily if they pollute, considering it is an externality that they can efficiently avoid? Such questions lead us to consider the case for fewer, more targeted laws that allow for companies to reach efficiency.
  •  Through an analysis of its value chain, or key stakeholders and product pipeline, Intel has decreased its environmental footprint while also lowering its energy bill. Since 2008, it has reduced carbon dioxide emissions and reduced its energy expenditures by $111 million. Intel ‘s $1 billion plant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City includes a water-reclamation system that reduces water consumption by as much as 68%, reducing its environmental footprint and the cost of operating the plant. The plant also contains Vietnam’s largest solar array (Ives 1). Instead of giving praise to Intel, should we instead expect Intel to take these measures because it can increase Intel’s profits and help the environment? Finally, CSV challenges the notion of private property and the need for one of Posner’s three elements: exclusivity. In their initial article “Creating Shared Value,” Porter and Kramer suggest that shared value blurs the lines between for-profit and non-profit companies because of the redefinition of profit and externalities. In the same way, if property rights include the rights to the land and its use, perhaps a group ownership model may incentivize shared value and negate the need for exclusivity. Many companies focus on the short-term profits, and a redefinition of private ownership may help to elongate company time horizons. Companies that jointly own land will be economically incentivized to work together. Instead of maximizing land for a 20 or 30-year lease, these companies will jointly own land on larger contracts, forcing them to think long-term. Perhaps there is a way to apply eminent domain to corporations that are not applying obvious CSV practices for the sake of short-term profit.
  • Yara, the world’s largest mineral fertilizer company, has worked with governments, farmers, and African companies to improve farmers’ access to fertilizers and other agricultural inputs. With a $60 million dollar investment, Yara has collaborated with the African Union Commission, Grow Africa partnership, and New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to develop Africa-specific strategies for fertilizer distribution. Working with the Norwegian and local governments, Yara is supporting the development of roads and ports to give African farmers better access to materials; in Mozambique, this initiative is projected to create 350,000 jobs. Yara’s CEO Ole Haslestad states that these collaborative clusters of organizations have allowed for 40% deployment of the investment in one year (“Concrete Actions for a Real Transformation of Africa’s Agriculture” 1). In light of CSV, Yara has taken the initiative to create this cluster. Perhaps future laws can be refined to incentivize companies to create these clusters through funding or regulation. After considering the three changes above, we must reexamine how property is assigned and how it is defined (privately, regulated, with amendments). By changing the way companies view profit, CSV allows us to question the ways of aligning economic incentive with social welfare.


Because CSV implies economic incentive for precaution, liabilities become opportunities. Since all damages cannot be calculated and assigned before they occur, compensation may sometimes be more efficient after the fact due to transaction costs. Especially in the case of an oil spill or other externalities that companies unintentionally create, viewing damages through the lens of CSV can change our analysis of punitive damages and the nature of damages itself. Proponents of CSV would argue that restitution damages for externalities should be higher than they are today. Punitive damages are those extra, often uncalculated damages that go to set an example for future companies. It is often given to the breached party to compensate losses, and is usually a heftier fine with respect to the other types of damages.

In CSV cases, proponents would argue that companies have a contract with society to keep the environment clean, roads less noisy, and other such activities. In addition, companies have an economic incentive, and therefore should really never breach a contract unless they act irrationally. Therefore, a breach of contract with society is does not contribute to economic or social welfare. Because of that, punitive damages should be harsher and more frequent in some cases. Beyond affecting specific types of damages, we must explore why breaches of contact would occur in the first place. According to Porter and Kramer’s theory, companies have both an economic and social duty to internalize externalities, and therefore, in an ideal world, there would be few externalities. Most companies would act rationally and internalize externalities to improve their own efficiency and profits, and help society at the same time. But the very fact that law for damages exist and companies are creating externalities either means that companies are unaware of CSV opportunities or there are limitations to the theory in practicality. Overall, it is probably a mix of these two factors that contributes to the “tradeoff” many companies face between profit and social good.


Although CSV offers us new ways of thinking about property rights and damages, as well as other areas of law like torts, a critical look at the theory can reveal its limitations. Specifically, the motivations behind CSV, differentiating types of shared value, and limited scope present challenges to creating generalized forms of new property rights and damages. First, CSV pioneers may have been thinking about financial incentives and stumbled upon the societal benefit, marketing it instead as a thoughtful dual-purpose effort (Elkington 1). In this vein, some criticize CSV as repackaged Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and go as far as to say that both are marketing efforts to increase revenue, and are not really concerned with social welfare (Sadowski 1). Second, as noted by Porter, differentiating the drivers of social good in multi-partner value chains may be difficult, and therefore it is harder to determine how economic and social good relate.

Another complication of CSV is the differentiation of timelines between economic and social value creation.6 Firms may propose long-term social benefits for short-term economic benefit, and such differing timelines can make it difficult to correlate the two. Others argue that Porter is urging firms to take a long-term view of economic benefit through CSV, which is not realistic considering typical investor time horizons. In our observations, shared value examples have been applied in specific cost-cutting or long-term economic value creation, but the CSV theory claims that a reevaluation of any business can result in reducing internalities and increasing value. In the same way, critics have argued that CSV focuses on industry leaders in its adaption, but loses momentum as it is applied to smaller or different types of businesses (Beschorner 5). Further, CSV initiatives focus on a few opportunity areas that increase both social and economic value, but some believe that companies are often burdened with political agendas that necessitate a broader focus, making CSV unrealistic.7 The Economist builds on this idea by suggesting that CSV ignores many of difficult tradeoffs companies have to make in everyday business (Schumpeter 1). Beschorner suggests that if a business decision is acceptable to major stakeholders, ethical, and profitable but does not create social value, CSV implicitly allows for it. This in turn could make certain harmful business actions acceptable.


Overall, Porter and Kramer have created a valuable framework for rethinking the way business works in a broader social and economic sense. Their work has been the basis of several initiatives spearheaded by multinationals such as General Electric, and has caused some CEO’s to rethink their product pipelines and effect on others. Still, CSV leaves much to be desired in the form of actual metrics that prove the theory in a variety of contexts and in everyday business. Unraveling the intentions of these corporate programs can be complex, but is necessary for us to understand if CSV actually produces financial and social returns through the same policies. In the context of property rights and damages, CSV contests the idea that externalities create tradeoffs for companies between social welfare and profit. Instead, companies are economically incentivized to internalize inefficiencies, and our fundamental notions about exclusivity, rights, and expectations are questioned. In this new application of the theory beyond standard business practice, we see that CSV has implications beyond law to the core of business: decision-making. Ultimately, determining corporation intentions, which are the result of people’s decisions, can lead us to insights that shape the way we incentivize through the law. CSV is one such attempt at uncovering that black box, and we hope to see many more.

Maximize Your Summer


Around the nation, the summer sun dawns a new beginning and change of pace. High school students ask the perennial question: “What should I be doing?” The sun beckons out to relax — and yes, relaxation is very important, but summer is a critical time to build on extracurricular activities.

Having seen thousands of college applications through Synocate, the one major theme I see lacking throughout is a personal theme formed by these extracurricular activities. Actively seeking a passion, which can lead through college, is one of the gifts that high school summers give us.

Here are three ways to pursue or find a new passion during summer:

1. Competition Gear-Up
2. Academic Preparation
3. Round Out

In 11th and 12th, a focus on one of the areas with a secondary pursuit fills out the time and allows our brains to function in different ways. This fosters creativity and with good time management can garner better results in both pursuits.

Here is a more thorough description of each focus, followed by two examples to bring the concept to reality:

1. Competition Gear-Up

In this method, a student will focus on getting ready for competitions that range from August-January. We will break this down by general subject category:

Science: Students will usually work with a professor at a local university to build a project that spans one or two summers. These projects may derive from the professor’s interest, the student’s interest based on the professor’s area of expertise, or a mutual ground between these two.

Competitions in science range from ISEF (Intel Science and Engineering Fair), STS (Intel’s Science Technology and Society Competition), Siemens Competition, and others. The largest competitions are for entering seniors and have deadlines from September to December. The most competitive applicants usually spend at least one summer fully dedicated to a project to submit to these types of competitions.

Writing: Many writing competitions have deadlines in August and September based on the subject. The American Foreign Service Association, Ayn Rand essay contest, and National Peace Essay Contest are some good examples of national-level essay contests.

Olympiads: Serious contenders for the various Olympiads (Math, Chemistry, Physics, Biology) will start by spending the summer reading recommended books and practicing old exams. There are competitive camps that students are selected to attend in the U.S. that tailor candidates for the various competition rounds that ultimately lead to the international level.

Takeaway: In this approach, students should consider research, writing competitions, or a full focus on preparing for Olympiads. These types of competitions are usually multi-level and require more than a month of preparation.

With the second two options, I usually recommend that students couple writing with Round Out in the form of another activity. This way students can think in different ways — not just purely writing or academic, respectively.

2. Academic Preparation

For students in the 10th grade, I often recommend students focus on preparing for the first round of AP/IB tests along with SAT I. The majority of the time can be used towards taking a class for SAT I and supplementing that with external, weekly SAT full-length tests at home.

I also recommend SAT I preparation for 11th graders before their 12th grade summer if they want to re-take the exam. In this case, students should aim for the November test at the latest.

A third route is for students to continue academic preparation for SAT II and SAT I after the 10th grade summer and into 11th grade. I advise this for students that want more support during the year with their classes and opt to take the SAT I early in 11th grade with plans for re-take later in 11th.

Takeaway: Academic preparation is one of the most important focus areas because without solid numbers many students’ extracurricular activities mean a lot less. In Synocate’s strategy, we have a three-stage approach, starting with a base of academics.

3. Round Out

A third approach I recommend to students that want to further explore interests is Round Out: finding new passions through the shotgun approach or exploring alternative approaches to an established passion.

The shotgun approach we use is to have students try 5 or 6 activities over a few months and report which activities they enjoyed. We have writing exercises designed to help students reflect on why they enjoyed these activities, and these exercises can inform a major theme for the student.

To solidify these ideas, here are two examples:

Example 1

This student has an interest in physics and has done one year of research at a local university last summer. Going into the summer after 11th grade, he wants to continue in a similar vein.

In addition to continuing research to develop into a project via Competition Gear-Up for about 30 hours per week, this student should secondarily pursue Round Out.

We offered a route for him within Round Out:

Start a nonprofit that focuses on educating middle school students on different aspects of science. This would allow the student to demonstrate a community focus and strength in organizing people, which is not shown through his research. In addition, it would allow him to actually explore other paths in science.

Example 2

This student had an interest in the arts. She had done an internship at retailer focused on fashion management, but needed to build a more robust theme after 11th grade ended. Because there are not many competitions around this arts focus, we recommended her to focus on Round Out with a secondary focus on Academic Preparation.

For her Round Out, she partnered a new initiative that combined her existing internship with a local non-profit to provide clothes to the homeless. This she would focus for 15-20 hours per week.

For the other time, she had a secondary focus on preparing for the SAT I through weekly classes and two or three sessions with a local agency per week. In addition, she took monthly classes preparing for AP/IB and SAT II in Math, which can be done at any time after students reach a certain level in Math in high school.

Takeaway: With a primary and secondary focus, students should allocate at least 50 hours per week to these two focuses. Beyond that, students should explore other interests or relax. Two examples were provided of students that built their extracurricular portfolio during the summer and strengthened other aspects of their lives. This focus in turn helped both students with time management and had them meeting students they would have never met otherwise.

Summer is an important time for students from 9th-12th grade. Often students ask what they should be doing, and we have three major recommendations for students at Synocate:

1. Competition Gear-Up
2. Academic Preparation
3. Round Out

Students should have a primary focus on one of these areas and a secondary focus on another, with a goal of having at least 50 hours per week designated to either of these focuses. In this way, students can structure their time, stay motivated and meet new peers.


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Playing with status was one of the aspects I liked most about improv, as is definitely a strength. Getting out of the mindset that we are stuck in a particular status can be so rewarding and create humor on stage – which is amazing! I particularly enjoyed the games in which status changed half-way through or at another point in the scene.

Building on this idea, many of the aspects of improv: teamwork, status, positive attitude, etc. can be applied to almost anything else. This is by far the biggest strength of improv and something that I will take away with me forever. In this way, improv has really changed the way I think!

Offstage, I learned that status changes everyday and almost in every different situation. This gives me more confidence to take risks.



Developing narrative and characters in improv is surely a harder aspect of improv. Sometimes, I found myself getting caught up in wrapping a story rather than improvising, and switching between those modes can be tough. But with practice, that divide dissolves and it all becomes play, as I found out later in the quarter. Persevering during that initial stretch can be a limitation of improv because you either have to trust that it will work out or have a community that is working on the same things (i.e. my class!). But in any case, narrative is a very important part of improv and I clearly saw that during the SIMPS shows. It ties improvised theatre together and allows the audience to connect with characters. Returning to motifs, familiar symbols, or recognizable locations in long-form can be helpful.

If done well, narrative can definitely be a strength of improv, teaching us how to tell stories. Story-telling is at the heart of writing, theater, and one could argue much of life.