LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — For thousands of Las Vegas high school students, this is senior year! And on top of all the usual back-to-school stress comes the added pressure of preparing to apply to college. And with college admissions becoming more competitive than ever both parents and students are looking for ways to get an edge.
It is junior year for 16-year-old Sneha Sridhar. She is a student at The Meadows School.
"Yeah, future and college is definitely on our mind," said Sridhar.
Even with college at least two years away she's already feeling the pressure.
"I was like, I want to go to college! I just don’t know how to go about this entire system,” she said.
The college admissions process is a system that's been under scrutiny in the wake of a massive college admissions cheating scandal. Dozens of affluent parents including actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman found themselves entangled in Operation Varsity Blues, the largest college cheating case prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"I think anyone that does what I do is not surprised by that,” said Rebecca Sherer, founder of Cultivate Academics in Las Vegas. “I think what was really surprising to us at Cultivate was the level."
Sherer is a former teacher with more than a decade of experience in college admissions.
"So, the parents had this idea of what they wanted for this particular child," Sherer said. “And it typically had some sort of name or status behind it. And the students, quite a few that we saw, had interests of their own that were quite different from that.”
Cultivate Academics helps families navigate the college admission process.
"We took that scandal, the Varsity Blues scandal, and really kind of reflected on that. And it really has become a differentiation for us and what we do and our values."
While Cultivate Academics does help students craft and improve admissions essays and prepare for standardized tests; Sherer focuses on empowering students to pinpoint their strengths and interests.
“I really wanted to create a place where students can be authentic and could understand their own values,” she said.
Sherer said there are three things that have to be the focus when students are preparing for college.
1. Can they get in? Do they have the grades or test scores for admission?
2. Does the prospective school have what your child wants to study?
3. What is the campus culture like?
From there she says students have to be encouraged to demonstrate what makes them unique by merging their talents, interests, and skills.
"Where you feel like you are just a number you know, all of the SAT's and the ACT's and all of your grades,” said Sridhar. “They really help you feel like a whole human being and then present that to colleges."
It can be costly even though Sherer said she works with a wide range of students from all backgrounds and academic levels. Tuition can range from $1500 to a few thousand dollars a year.
“So, it is an investment. Just like college is an investment, “said Sherer. “You know, I liken it to when we purchase a home. That’s a huge investment. And very few of us would do that without hiring a realtor, a guide through that experience."