Elite Colleges Getting Even More Competitive

Reading Applications at Stanford....Good Luck

Reading Applications at Stanford….Good Luck

Competition for a spot at an elite college like Stanford or Harvard is getting even more intense.  This year Stanford admitted fewer than 5% of applicants according to an article in the New York Times.

What can applicants do to set themselves apart?  I was on the admissions committee for two years while at Stanford for my PhD.  After reading hundreds of application, I have some tips to share.

1.  First off, applicants need to have great grades and standardized test scores.  19/20 students will get rejected, so every SAT point and GPA decimal matters.  You can be an interesting person, but so is everyone else applying.   You MUST have top scores and grades!  Chewing Think Gum can help students improve performance to get those scores as high as they can be.  In a peer-reviewed study, students (Stanford students actually) were able to remember 25% more.  There is your leg up on the competition!

2.  You need to be passionate about something.  It really doesn’t matter what, but it needs to be genuine and it really needs to come through in an application.  It becomes clear very quickly whether your passion is real or just made up for an application.  If you are passionate about something it should show in all parts of your application.  For example, I love fly-fishing.  I didn’t just write an essay about it.  I worked at a fishing store, I traveled the country in search of monster trout and I was a member of a local fly-fishing club.  You can’t make it up, so if you don’t have that one passion, you really better have killer scores (maybe buy a whole case of Think Gum?).

3.  Being well-rounded is great, but you need to have something that makes you memorable to readers of your application.  Your essay is really important and only takes a couple of days compared your 4 years in high school.  Don’t be cliche.  These readers see thousands of essays.  They are looking for genuine material about what makes you you.  Be funny and honest.  Make your essay easy to read.  Don’t make any typos.  Have at least 2 people read you application.  Appeal to the school.  Find 3 distinct reasons why you want to go to the school to which you are applying and make them clear.  Great faculty, beautiful campus and location are not reasons.  Is there a particular faculty member or class you have heard about?  Is there access to special equipment only available at this school and no other? Spend an hour doing some research, it will pay off.

To all the prospective students just remember it is a numbers game.  There are lots of qualified students and just a few spots at top schools.  Even the brightest students will get rejected from many schools.  Don’t take it personally and know you will need to apply to more schools than you might think.


The Rise of Commerical Tutoring in America

This is not the face of the student.  It is the face of the parent when they get the tutoring bill.

This is not the face of the student. It is the face of the parent when they get the tutoring bill.

It seems like everywhere I go these days I see private tutoring centers popping up.  You’ve probably seen it happening too, but maybe haven’t recognized that these stores with funny names like Kaplan and Kumon are actually tutoring centers.  There are hundreds of other physical and online vendors as well with even stranger names like Alphascore, Grockit and Number2 that have been gaining traction.  There was an article on NPR from 9 years ago citing that commercial tutoring is a $4 Billion a year business, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the number is over $10 Billion today.

What is driving this trend?  Are our schools failing?  Has admission into college become so competitive that you need outside tutors just to compete?  I know from personal experience that competing at the highest level academically requires hard work, access to resources and every competitive advantage you can get.  While I’m not sure I would send my second graders to math boot camp if they were doing OK in school, I would make sure they had some test prep for the SAT and other critical exams.  And I would make sure they were sleeping well, exercising regularly and staying on top of their homework.  Chewing some Think Gum during exam time would also be readily encouraged.

While everyone can afford a pack of Think Gum, not everyone can afford private test prep.  It is outrageously expensive!  Private tutors can cost upwards of $75 an hour and and classes for grad school entrance exams routinely cost over $1,000.  There is no question that these classes help, but it does create a bit of an uneven playing field.  I was happy to hear recently that the College Board (makers of the SAT) is opening up their question bank to Kahn Academy to help offer free SAT prep.  This is certainly a step in the right direction.

Commercial tutoring is a trend that will only increase over the next decade as spots in top academic institutions become harder and harder to get.  Unfortunately, this means making the most out of every study session, standardized test and pop-quiz will be more and more important.


Report Says Medication Use Is Rising for Adults With Attention Disorder

Drugs to treat ADHD are on the rise

Drugs to treat ADHD are on the rise

A recent NY Times article by Alan Schwartz reports that the “The number of young American adults taking medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder nearly doubled from 2008 to 2012″.  Medications prescribed to treat ADHD include stimulants like Adderall and Concerta, as well as newer nonstimulant formulations such as Strattera.  In addition to ADHD, inattention can be cause by many factors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, and even anxiety.  In these circumstances ADHD drugs may be detrimental and excessive prescriptions have fueled a black market for ADHD drugs in high school and college students who use them to improve focus and and cram for exams.  Before reaching for prescription drugs, people with ADHD may want to consider alternative approaches to improve their memory and focus.

My Favorite Riddle


The Way to Truthtown

You’re trying to get to Truthtown, a place where everyone lives in paradise and has an unlimited supply of Think Gum.  You come to a fork in the road.

One road leads to Truthtown (where everyone always tells the truth no matter what is asked of them), the other road leads to Liartown (where everyone lies no matter what is asked of them).

At the fork is a man from one of those towns — but you don’t know which one.

You get to ask him only one question to discover the way.

What question should you ask to make sure you get to Truthtown?

Chewing on a piece of Think Gum might help you solve this one.  If you still can’t figure it out, the answer can be found on our website along with some other great riddles.

Think Gum on NBC News

We managed to get the full footage of when Think Gum was featured on the NBC Bay Area Nightly News.  Enjoy!

Here is the teaser from the segment: Forget Red Bull, there is a gum that can make you more alert and boost your memory.  A Stanford grad student says he invented the solution.  NBC Bay Area’s medical reporter has something to chew on in this story about Think Gum.

Think Gum on Fox News

I finally managed to get the original footage of when Think Gum was featured on the Fox Bay Area news a few years back.

Here is their teaser “Forget pizza and popcorn, the hot new item on campus for college students as they cram for midterms is Think Gum.  A Stanford University graduate student has developed Think Gum which he says helps boost brain power.”

Traditional Uses of Plants Found in Think Gum

Ginkgo biloba on of the Brain-Boosting ingredients in Think Gum

Ginkgo biloba (shown above) is one of the brain-boosting ingredients in Think Gum

By Lisa Offringa, Ph.D.


I am a medical ethnobotanist, which means I study plants that people use for medicine. Most of my work is cross-cultural allowing me the opportunity to work in countries outside of my own. My dissertation research focused on plants of Northern Thailand that are used to enhance memory and prevent cognitive impairment. For my research, I interviewed traditional Thai healers to determine what plants they used to improve cognition, then collected and tested these plants in the laboratory and in animal models. Laboratory testing was used to determine if these plants increased the levels neurotransmitters responsible for memory in the brain. Since my research was in Thailand, only plants endemic to the area were investigated. There was some overlap between plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine due to the proximity of these countries to Thailand, and the movement of people around South East Asia.  Two plants, Ginkgo biloba and Bacopa monnieri, found in Think Gum, are used in Northern Thailand to enhanced memory. Neither of these plants were tested in the laboratory, as they have substantial research to support their traditional uses.

Ginkgo biloba L. (Ginkgoaceae) is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to improve memory loss from abnormal blood circulation.  Similar to TCM, Thai Traditional Medicine is based on a system of elements and health is maintained by keeping these elements in balance. In Thai Traditional Medicine, it is used to circulate lom or the element of wind. Lom is the element believed to be responsible for the health of the brain (which is an earth organ) by circulating vital energy around the brain. Research by Krieglstein et al. (1986) found increased blood flow to the brain by subjects using Ginkgo extracts. Increased blood flow to and in the brain can protect it from neurodegenerative disorders as well as illness from hypertension.

Bacopa monnieri (L.) Wettst. (Plantaginaceae) is shown to improve memory and intellect in Ayurvedic Medicine, which originates in India. I discussed this plant with Thai healers, but because its use was already extensively documented in Thailand, no additional laboratory studies were conducted on this plant. It was found to have neuroprotective activity in the form of antioxidant protection against lipid oxidation in the brain (Limpeanchob, 2008).

My research also investigated the role of anti-oxidants on cognitive impairment. Since the brain has high levels of lipids, or fats, lipid oxidation can affect the brain and potentially decrease memory power. Consuming anti-oxidants can help to protect the brain from oxidation and therefore help to improve or maintain memory ability. Many plants have antioxidant protective attributes including blueberries. Increasing intake of fruits like blueberries was found to improve memory function in older adults and potentially prevent the deterioration of brain tissue (Krikorian et al. 2010). A number of other plants found in think gum, like peppermint and rosemary, have shown to have a positive affect on memory, but are found in the western hemisphere.



Krieglstein, J., T. Beck, and A. Seibert. 1986. Influence of an extract of Ginkgo biloba on cerebral blood flow and metabolism. Life Sciences 39(24):2327–2334.

Krikorian, R., M.D. Shidler, T.A. Nash, W. Kalt, M.R. Vinquist-Tymchuk, B. Shukitt-Hale and J.A. Joseph. 2010. Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 58: 3996-4000.

Limpeanchob, N., S. Jaipan, S. Rattanakaruna, W. Phrompittayarat, and K. Ingkaninan. 2008. Neuroprotective effect of Bacopa monnieri on beta-amyloid-induced cell death in primary cortical culture. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 120(1):112-117.


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