VIDEO: Eshika Nellore's TEDxMeritAcademy Talk

In August, Merit Academy hosted TEDxMeritAcademy at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.

Eshika Nellore was a featured speaker, and her TEDx Talk is embedded below.

“Get Your Shots!”
Worried that plagues and diseases will cause hundreds of thousands of people to die, Eshika will present a refreshing solution to stop the spread of these illnesses. She brings to light, logical explanations behind shots and how they help protect the body from these epidemics. Come see how she implements music, art and reasoning in her talk!

About Eshika Nellore : Eshika is a high school senior who is interested in studying medicine and public health. She founded Get Your Shots!, wrote a song and created a whiteboard video to prevent the return of eradicated diseases because there is a rise of people who are not getting immunized. As a volunteer in the Philippines, Eshika saw firsthand the recurrence of many diseases due to lack of vaccinations. While there, she educated indigenous people (Aeta communities) about a eating a high protein diet and washing your hands after using the restroom or before eating. In high school, Eshika was a speech and debate captain for expository speech and assisted a cardiologist. She is also a singer who has been vocally trained in musical theatre and opera for five years and has received awards in singing competitions.



UC Finally Relaxing Their Strict UG A-G Requirements!

Did you know that the University of California (UC) system has had some of the most strict (and ridiculous) requirements for eligibility? These requirements don’t require more difficult courses but particular science and math courses that have forced students to retake courses before applying to UCs.

Students have to take 2 years (3 years recommended) of college-prep lab sciences including or integrating 2 of these 3 subjects: biology, chemistry, or physics.  Starting in 2019-2020, students can take the following courses that will satisfy Area D in the A-G requirements:

  1. 1 year of approved interdisciplinary or earth and space sciences meets one-year lab requirement (1st and 2nd year lab science)
  2. Computer Science, Engineering, and Applied Science courses can be used as ADDITIONAL lab sciences (3rd year and beyond, but not 1st or 2nd year lab science)
  3. Online science lab sciences will be allowed (labs must be supervised by teacher and give students hands-on learning opportunities)

For Math (Area C), the following middle school math courses will satisfy Area C in the A-G requirements:

  1. 7th or 8th grade Algebra and Geometry courses will satisfy Area C requirements for Algebra and Geometry at the high school level.

Glad to see that UCs have relaxed their strict A-G requirements so students can take the classes they’re interested in at a time that benefits them.



Parent Loan Debt Has Tripled Over The Past 25 Years

With the high cost of a bachelor’s degree, many parents are taking out loans that they can’t afford to repay.  They can actually be delinquent on other loans and still qualify for the Parent PLUS loans. Hmm.  Why would lenders do that? In 1990, parents borrowed about $5200 annually; in 2014, they borrowed $16,000. Even worse, parents who really need financial aid often rely on the Parent PLUS loans after they’ve reached their limits with subsidized (government pays the interest while student is in college) and unsubsidized (interest payments start immediately) Stafford loans. These loans don’t have income-based repayment plans or loan forgiveness that they might have with federal undergraduate debt.

Underrepresented minority students are hit the hardest. When colleges don’t offer enough scholarship money and they reach their borrowing limits on government loans, parents are pressured to fill the gap between affordable loans and the total cost of the bachelor’s degree with Parent PLUS loans that they may never be able to repay. In 2011, the Obama administration tightened eligibility standards on the Parent PLUS loans to ensure that families could repay their loans.

Unfortunately, this creates an unfair advantage for students whose parents can simply write those tuition checks. Lower income families with students who have average grades and SAT/ACT scores often shy away from elite and private colleges because they know they can’t afford the costs and won’t qualify for merit-based grants. Many of these parents who are desperate to give their children a college degree often give up their retirement and any chance of establishing financial security for themselves. What’s really devastating is that many students never complete their degrees or they get degrees in careers that don’t provide a good return on investment (ROI). The ridiculous cost of a college degree needs to change to reflect what parents and students can afford. 



Brick and Mortar Colleges Offering Online Courses From Other Institutions

When online courses were first offered, there was much speculation about the quality of learning that might take place in such courses.  The biggest concerns centered around student interaction with students, as well as professors.  Today, smaller colleges and universities are working with online colleges to help students take classes when there are scheduling conflicts, replace bad grades, and graduate on time. 

Normally, students are responsible for finding online courses that their colleges will allow and handling registration, fees, and transcripts. But today, the College Consortium provides an online course-sharing consortium with over 650 colleges.  The best part, they handle registration, fees, and transcripts so the student’s home college will seamlessly accept and include these online courses from various other colleges right on the student’s transcript. 

The student’s home college pays for the registration and tuition for the online college course using the student’s regular tuition paid for that term. The home college benefits because they don’t need to offer obscure courses with low enrollment and the student graduates and moves on in a timely fashion.  The online college benefits because it increases its enrollment, and the College Consortium gets its fees from the home college for handling all of the moving pieces in this very complex program. Everybody wins!

It’s exciting to see creative solutions that help students improve their GPAs and graduate sooner.  Graduating just one semester sooner can save them up to $25,000!  I’m watching to see if there is a change in the quality of the student’s learning and education when students take online courses at different institutions all while receiving their diplomas from their home college.



Cloning Humans?

Money corrupts even the most ethical people.  We see this happening every day.  So why then, did universities around the world believe that they could research gene editing technology using CRISPR with an ethical code to not experiment with human cloning? CRISPR (or this technology) was first developed in 1987, and was hoped to revolutionize everything from medicine to agriculture. In 2017, I was appalled to find CRISPR used in virtually every university in American and around the world.  Hmm. What could go wrong?

In China, the first twin girls with altered DNA were born in November 2018.  At the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, He Jiankui used CRISPR to change their DNA to make them immune to HIV infection.  This type of gene editing is banned in the US because these DNA changes (good or bad) can be passed along to future generations.  Just last week, the Chinese university fired the professor for “seriously violating” government regulations.

Then, we find that an American professor at Rice University, Michael Deem, was involved in this research. ARGH! According to Kiran Masunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene-editing expert and editor of a genetics journal called this “unconscionable” and that experimenting on humans is “not ethically defensible.”

How are we going to prevent people from using this gene-editing technology to produce bionic people or to create a super race or gender? When asked if the genie was really out of the bottle, George Church, a Harvard Medical School genetics professor, responded, “Yes.”

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Online Colleges in Coworking Spaces?

The future of earning college degrees may resemble coworking spaces where students take online classes and meet up with fellow students and employees at tech firms.  This offers students the flexibility to listen to lectures and engage with fellow students in a social atmosphere.  They can also meet future employers by mingling with company reps in these open-space rooms.

Colleges are looking at new ways to offer 4-year degrees to larger numbers of students that is more in line with students’ lifestyles.  Today, students want to pick and choose what they study, when they’ll do their work, and with whom they’ll socialize.  By designing college courses to give the specific skill sets that students – and employers – seek, colleges will be able to enroll more students in what is becoming a competitive market.

These coworking spaces will become available across the country as well as on or near the brick and mortar campuses.  Georgia Tech and Northeastern are creating these programs now. Georgia Tech is calling these coworking spaces “Atriums,” and they’re expected to pop up in offices, retails spaces, and possibly shopping malls.

It’s exciting to see how higher education is evolving to align with what students want and what they can afford. 


Michael Bloomberg Gives Funds to Johns-Hopkins to Guarantee Need-Blind Admissions

Michael Bloomberg gave Johns Hopkins University a $1.8 BILLION gift to ensure that every student will be considered for admissions based on their individual merit – not whether or not their parents can afford the $250,000 cost of a bachelor’s degree. Kudos to Bloomberg!

Did you know that if you check that box on a college application that states that you DON’T NEED FINANCIAL AID, your child will increase their odds of receiving an acceptance letter.  Yup!  Colleges DO consider whether or not you will be able to pay their tuition (or qualify for loans) during the application review process.  And, this means that the rich get richer, and the poor remain poorer. 

Bloomberg said, “America is at its best when we reward people based on the quality of their work, not the size of their pocketbook.  Denying students entry to a college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity.  It perpetuates intergenerational poverty.  And it strikes at the heart of the American dream: the idea that every person, from every community, has the chance to rise based on merit.”



Congratulations? You Got A Deferral?

It used to be that students either received that large envelope – you know the ones – with “CONGRATULATIONS” written for everyone to see when you were accepted, or the small #10 envelope with a single sheet of paper kindly telling you how qualified you were but how they regretted their decision to deny your acceptance to their college. But today, many colleges are “deferring” students as a third option.  What does this mean, and what can you do to get admitted?

What does Deferral mean?

Some decent colleges will defer students that will ultimately get in if they do not fill their incoming class with students on May 1st.  Most colleges will move this “deferred” group into the regular decision pool for consideration.  Other colleges offer admission to a small group, rejection to another small group, and deferrals to thousands of students knowing that most of these students will not be accepted.  I find this cruel because these students continue to be strung along with hopes for something that will never materialize.  But for others, a deferral is easier to swallow and may be a nice way to buffer the rejection.

Every college is different so you’ll need to do some digging to find out what your real chances are of getting in.  Northwestern defers less than 2% of their applicants, while Georgetown defers everyone who wasn’t accepted during their early application process.  Last year, MIT deferred over 6,000 students and only admitted 248.

What can you do to bump your chances of getting in on a deferral?

  1.  Write a letter to the admissions committee
    1. Thank them for this opportunity
    2. Update them on your progress with projects and other activities
    3. Comment on your current grades
    4. Explain why you’re a perfect candidate for admission
    5. Add new information that is not on your application or essays
    6. Get another letter of recommendation from a different source
  2. Update your Resume or LinkedIn page
    1. Add new accomplishments since your application was submitted
    2. Add photos or videos
    3. Add links to articles, interviews, or other publications
  3. Give new documents
    1. Check first because many colleges explicitly state that they do NOT want more documents, and sending them will actually hurt your admission chances.
    2. Give only documents and information that is not on your application or essays
    3. Get another letter of recommendation from a different source

Continue to apply to colleges to increase your chances of getting into your top picks.  This will help fill your time so you’re not anxiously waiting for a few colleges’ admissions decisions.  Remember, there are over 4,000 colleges just in the United States, and I’m sure there are many colleges that would love to have you start next fall!


If You Need Financial Aid For College, Start Your FAFSA and CSS Profiles Now!

In order to receive financial aid for college, students must submit the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile. While all public and private colleges use the FAFSA, about 400 private colleges also require the CSS Profile. After you complete these online reports, the FAFSA and CSS Profile will send Student Aid Reports (SARs) to each of your colleges. You can start this process as early as October 1st and the sooner the better. Colleges won't give you a financial aid awards letter until they have received the FAFSA and/or the Profile.  They need this financial information before they make recommendations about what the parents and students could afford to pay for college.

You don't need a CPA to complete these forms, but they can be tricky.  Here are some tips to make it easier for you.


This application is online and everyone completes the same form. Billions of dollars are available in federal aid and Pell grants. This application is free.

1.  FAFSA Application Form (click on "start here")

2.  FAFSA Hotline: (800) 433-3243

3.  FAFSA Email:

4.  FAFSA Worksheet (to see what questions you'll be answering)

5.  FAFSA YouTube Videos 

6.  FAFSA Financial Aid Toolkit

7.  FAFSA Tips to Avoid Common Errors

CSS Profile:

This application form is individualized based on the colleges that you are applying to and how you answer the questions.  The information is used to determine how much the college will give in aid from their college funds, not federal funds. There is a nominal fee to file the CSS Profile plus a small fee for every college.

1.  CSS Profile Application Form

2.  CSS Profile (List of Colleges)

3.  CSS Profile Hotline: (844) 202-0524

Get started on this right away -- even if you haven't received your W4s or financial records. Remember, the sooner they have your information, the sooner each college will be able to make financial aid offers.

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Online Bachelor's Degree From An Ivy League College?

Finally, an ivy-league college will offer the first online bachelor’s degree!  The University of Pennysylvania (UPenn) will open an online program for undergraduates studying liberal arts starting fall 2019.  This is a game changer; and I believe it will be instrumental in making sure that a quality elite education can be had by everyone.  While the tuition is about $1000 less per course for the online classes, this is the beginning of a movement to keep education affordable.

UPenn is expecting about 500 students to enroll in their first online bachelor’s degree program next fall.  Of these students, they speculate that the students will be adults ages 25+. When students can continue to live at home in their home states and receive an ivy-league diploma, we’re going to see a shift in what it costs to get that coveted degree. 

With tuition at elite colleges exceeding $70,000 per year, parents really can’t afford to pay for college and prepare for their retirement anymore.  I’m hopeful that colleges realize that they need to start reducing tuition, offering online courses, and preparing students for the work force. Maybe UPenn is leading the way to encourage both ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in college education.