BEAM alumni

Welcome to BEAM’s College Prep Panel on Applying to College!

Six rising, current, and former college students from universities across the country joined BEAM's College Prep Week this August to share their experiences applying for college with BEAM rising 11th and 12th graders, currently navigating this process themselves.

Aisha BEAM '13 (Northwestern University) and Edson BEAM '13 (University of Southern California) will both start college this school year. They just recently navigated the confusing world of college applications themselves. Abdel BEAM '12 (NYU Polytechnic), Ana BEAM '12 (Barnard College), and John BEAM '12 (Fordham University) are all rising sophomores and can look back at their college application process with a whole year of college experience under their belt. Finally, Sylvia, BEAM staff and a graduate of SUNY Albany, rounds out our panel with an inside perspective on the SUNY system and the wisdom of several years of work experience.

The panel had a lot to say about their college application process, and answered many important questions: the how’s and the what’s, the in’s and the out’s, the up’s and the downs of getting into college. Our panelists talked about topics like choosing schools and time management skills. If you are applying for college or just want some advice, here are some of the questions and answers of our College Prep Panel!

From left to right: Abdel, Sylvia, Aisha, Edson, John, and Ana address rising 11th and 12th graders during College Prep Week.

From left to right: Abdel, Sylvia, Aisha, Edson, John, and Ana address rising 11th and 12th graders during College Prep Week.

How did you choose which colleges to apply to? What kind of things went into that? 

  • Aisha: I was looking for schools that were well-rounded. And schools that I could switch majors, because I knew I was coming in undecided. And schools that had good financial aid.

  • Abdel: I looked at three things. Money. Location. Major. Location: my parents wanted me to stay close to home. So in the city. In state you get more money, especially since NYU has a HEOP program that covers a lot of costs. In terms of major, engineering.

  • Ana: High school affected a lot. I wanted the opposite of my high school experience [at Brooklyn Tech]. Fewer men. Farther from home.

Can you explain a little bit about the common application? 

Sylvia is a Program Assistant at BEAM and one of her major roles is shepherding the current 12th graders through the college process.

Sylvia is a Program Assistant at BEAM and one of her major roles is shepherding the current 12th graders through the college process.

  • Sylvia: It is like a portal, where you can submit all your applications through this one website.

  • John: So it is very convenient.

In your later years of high school, say 11th and 12 grade, how do you split up your time? 

  • Aisha: It all depends on what your situation is like. For me I kinda figure out how to split up time in November [of twelfth grade]. It all depended on my schedule; if something was due for school I would just get it out of way right then and there because I needed to use all of my time for applications.

  • Sylvia: Something that I prioritized was taking care of myself too. It is important to take care of myself too. Having a planner is important so you can schedule around [taking care of yourself].

  • Ana: Time management is definitely important. That is something that I am still learning to do. It is something that I didn't know how to do in high school so I wasn't taking care of myself. So like keeping a planner I can't stress it enough.

Do you use a paper planner? What do you use? 

  • Sylvia: I had a paper planner that was really helpful for me. Now, at work, I use an app called Evernote.

  • Aisha: I use the reminder app on my phone. Because I procrastinate, I would make a fake deadline that is earlier.

  • Ana: I use a paper planner. I think writing down kinda speaks it into existence. If I don't write it down it's not getting done.

A note from BEAM: rising 11th graders who attend Saturday BEAM Next classes get some swanky planners, donated to us by Passion Planner. We may have extra planners for those not going to Saturday classes and 11th and 12th graders can request those!

How early should you start working on things and what should you focus on? 

  • Abdel: Start asking for recommendation letters. I'd say recommendation letters should be the first on your list to do. Personal statement. Start thinking about what you are going to write the summer before.

  • Sylvia: Just start thinking about your essay in your mind. They have the prompts on common app beforehand. So you can start getting ideas.

  • John: Making a spread sheet about yourself, everything you have done. Also... BEAM does give you a calendar of when things should be done. The earliest we started was January of 11th grade, drafting our essays. That is something you can start on just choosing which days, days you are going to thing about college applications, days you are going to study for SAT.

John starts early! Here he is at BEAM College Prep Week 2016 along with Zereena, also BEAM '12, who attends SUNY Binghamton. They're both working on their essays!

John starts early! Here he is at BEAM College Prep Week 2016 along with Zereena, also BEAM '12, who attends SUNY Binghamton. They're both working on their essays!

Did any of you let average grades discourage you? 

  • Edson: I didn't let it discourage me. Mostly because I am a very optimistic. Even if you are doing good, keep shooting to do better. Because what colleges care about is growth.

  • Aisha: I realized after all the college stuff was done and people started getting acceptances, I realized that grades are important but that isn't all they look at. They aren't just looking for a good grade, they are looking for someone who can bring something extra to their school as a person.

Someone mentioned something about being well-rounded? What if you don't have the time? 

  • Sylvia: There were small clubs that I was part of, and you know being on a club doesn't have to take too much time. So I think it is about finding your own niche, what you can do, what you enjoy and what your school offers.

  • John: Basketball. Cross country. Dancing. You can also list taking care of brothers and sisters at home as an activity.

  • Abdel: Volunteering. Working. It's not just sports.

How do you figure out how many schools to apply to? 

  • Aisha: I applied to too many schools that had a lot of requirements. My case was that 14 of my schools involved writing supplemental essays, sending extra stuff, it was also really expensive.

  • Abdel: There are three types of schools that you can apply too. Safety, reach and target. I would just say balance it out and make sure you are not overdoing it.

  • Sylvia: I think another way to narrow down your list is actually talking to people who went to the school.

What was something that you don't like about your school that you wished you looked at? 

  • Sylvia: How expensive it was.

  • Edson: The diversity of the school. USC is still a great school, but the diversity is kinda unbalanced. I wish I would have looked into it.

  • Ana: I kinda knew what I was getting myself into as far as the student body looked like and even the social life looks like. One thing that I wish I had known was how economically segregated it is.

How did you brainstorm your ideas for your essay? 

  • Aisha: For me, my high school they had for incoming seniors it was mandatory you needed to write two essays about things that you might want to. I didn't want to write about being undecided. But then I heard this song. And it was an awesome song. So I decided to write about being undecided. Because that song was about being undecided. I wrote two sentences and gave it to my teacher and she didn't like it because it was about being undecided. But I liked it so I wrote about that.

  • Edson: My teacher said think of something that is really personal to you. I was like I will write about tacos as a joke. Imagine a donut, a jelly donut, the way to structure your essay is to get down to the jelly. Like why you really want to get an education. So I wrote about how tacos are really personal to me. How such a simple food can be a luxury for people who don't have a lot of money.

Final words of wisdom? 

  • John: I think the thing that helped me the most was, I play a lot of basketball and I met upperclassmen through basketball. Meet people through whatever activities interest you.

  • Aisha: Don't psyche yourself out too much about certain statistics. If you really want to apply for a school then just go for it. For my school, I didn't look at the acceptance rate, and if I had I wouldn't have applied in the first place. And I am really glad that I did.

  • Abdel: Try new stuff.

From left to right: Abdel, Ana, John, Aisha, and Edson, each wearing college gear!

From left to right: Abdel, Ana, John, Aisha, and Edson, each wearing college gear!

Gravitational Waves Rock Scientists

by Dan Zaharopol

The Nobel Prize in physics was just announced for 2017, and the winners are three physicists who found proof of something called "gravitational waves," which were predicted by Albert Einstein a hundred years ago. They found these gravitational waves being generated by two black holes colliding a billion light years from Earth. Want to learn what they did and how? Read on!

Photo by Mysid - Own work. Self -made in Blender & Inkscape., CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Photo by Mysid - Own work. Self -made in Blender & Inkscape., CC BY-SA 3.0, 

The History

A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein developed the Theory of General Relativity. It said that the force of gravity, which holds us to the surface of the Earth and keeps the Earth orbiting around the sun (and, really, makes the whole universe work) is actually because massive objects literally bend space. If you put a bowling ball on your bed, the mattress will drop down. Roll a marble along the bed, and it will fall towards the bowling ball. That's how gravity works, too.

Einstein did a whole bunch of mathematical calculations and discovered something else: that if objects were speeding up or slowing down, or changing direction, then they would also give off gravitational waves. In other words, space would not just bend in a curve like the bowling ball, but you would actually get tiny ripples like when you throw a pebble into water.

The problem is that those ripples are really small, so nothing could detect them. There wasn't anything massive enough nearby to make gravitational waves we could detect, and because the waves get weaker the farther away you get, all the massive stuff was too far for us to detect.

Photo by NASA [Public domain]

Photo by NASA [Public domain]

The Detector

To fix this, scientists developed LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, funded to the tune of a billion dollars by the National Science Foundation, and put together by MIT and Caltech.

Here's the challenge: We have to somehow detect the fact that space is contracting and getting bigger between two objects - the two objects are getting just a tiny bit closer or farther away even though they're not moving. But the amount they're getting closer together is way too small: the two objects might get closer by 0.0000000000000000001%. You didn't read that wrong. That's one part in 10^15. You'd never be able to see that!

Photo by Kanijoman (Flickr: Laboratorio LIGO en Louisiana) [CC BY 2.0 ( )]

Photo by Kanijoman (Flickr: Laboratorio LIGO en Louisiana) [CC BY 2.0 (]

However, the farther apart two objects are, the more space there is between them. So they built LIGO to have tubes that are two and a half miles long. (Can you imagine that? In Manhattan, this building wouldn't even fit east to west!)

Even that far apart, the biggest gravitational waves we might see would still only change the length of the tube by less than the width of a proton (which is a tiny, tiny part of an atom). But using lasers, scientists were able to set up a system that could detect even so small a change in length.

Actually, LIGO wasn't just one observatory, it was two, one in Washington and one in Louisiana. They had to build two of these huge things because with just one, if something shakes the building (like a storm or a small earthquake or a tree falling), the detector might get a false reading. But with two, you can check to see if they both got the same readings, and know for sure that it was something from outside Earth.

The Discovery

On September 14, 2015, both detectors picked up a signal. Scientists rushed to examine them. Did they look like signals from two objects in space colliding, which might make a strong enough signal? Yes. Could it be an accident, like a tree falling? They did a lot of probability, and confirmed that the chance of both detectors getting the same signal at the same time was too small to be coincidence. It was real.

Photo by Charly W. Karl (Flickr: NSF’s LIGO Has Detected Gravitational Waves) [CC BY-ND 2.0 (]

Photo by Charly W. Karl (Flickr: NSF’s LIGO Has Detected Gravitational Waves) [CC BY-ND 2.0 (]

They analyzed the signal, and they were able to use it to track down what was happening. It was two black holes colliding. Black holes are what's left behind when a huge star runs out of fuel and collapses. One of these two black holes was 36 times as massive as the sun, and the other was 29 times as massive. Despite this, they were each quite small; much smaller than our moon! These incredibly dense objects were circling each other 250 times per second before they crashed into each other, merging into an immense black hole as massive as 62 suns. (If you did the arithmetic, the other 3 solar masses were converted into energy for the gravitational waves!)

Here's the big deal. Scientists figured all this out - how big the black holes were, where they were, how fast they were circling each other - all from the gravitational waves they detected. They used the math in Einstein's theory of relativity and solved it from there!

What It Means

One hundred years after Einstein predicted gravitational waves using a mathematical analysis of his theory of general relativity, we found them. It's amazing that science could make a prediction so long ago that would finally be proven now.

However, this is much more than proving Einstein's old theory. Now we can detect things about space using gravitational waves. We never would have found those two black holes without the gravitational waves, because you can't see black holes: they don't give off any light! But they do give off gravity, and now we have a way to "see" it.

Photo by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Up until now, basically everything we've been able to tell about outer space comes from one of two things. One is "electromagnetic radiation," which is a fancy word for light (it includes things like x-rays and gamma rays and infrared radiation, but it's all just different wavelengths of light). But electromagnetic radiation gets blocked by dust particles out in space, so we can't see very far with it. The other way to tell anything about outer space is math, using it to make theories about what must be there. But without seeing anything to confirm the math, we can never know for sure.

Well, gravitational waves aren't blocked by dust. They keep going regardless, because they're part of spacetime itself. Using them, we can see much farther out than we could before.

Because gravitational waves move at the speed of light, we're actually seeing what happened a long time ago. Those black holes were 1.2 billion light-years away, which means they collided 1.2 billion years ago - that's how long it took for the gravitational waves to reach us. Because gravitational waves aren't blocked by dust, we should theoretically be able to see them from as far away as we want, depending on how good (and big) of a detector we build. We should be able to see all the way to the formation of the universe, which we've never really been able to see before. It will take decades, but we can really start to understand how the universe began.

It's an exciting time time to be an astrophysicist. Well over a thousand scientists worked together on this discovery. Engineers built the detector. This is one of the most amazing team efforts in the history of the world, and it will be remembered for centuries to come.

Beginning to Navigate the College Admissions Process

When is the right time for 11th graders to begin preparing for college?


A year from now our current 11th grade students will know what college they will be attending in Fall 2018! How do they begin this journey?

On Thursday, May 11th, a group of our 11th graders joined BEAM at our first annual BEAM College Kickoff! They learned about what the College Admissions process is like and what they should be doing now in order to best prepare for the admissions craziness in September. We went through best practices of the application process and created a timeline of what should be done, from now until May 1, 2018, in order to maximize their chances of being admitted in to the most selective and prestigious colleges and universities. Our 11th graders are ambitious and excited to begin embarking on this journey to college. And we are here to guide them every step of the way!

In attendance were: Aisha, Aishat, Crisleidy, Emily, Mona, William and Vielka. See pictures from the event below and a small blurb about their journey to 11th grade and what their future plans include. 


Pictured here is Crisleidy. For two years she attended The Center for Talented Youth (CTY) and this summer she is attending the University of New Hampshire's Project Smart program, where she will spend five weeks studying space science! We intend to nominate her for Posse Scholars.  


Pictured here are: Emily and Crisleidy. Emily is the older sister of one of our BEAM 6 alumni who is attending BEAM 7 this summer! Though she is not interested in pursuing math, she plans to study criminal justice in college and wants to attend John Jay. 


Pictured here are Aishat and Vielka.

Vielka is an environmental science major at Brooklyn Tech and this summer, along with Crisleidy, she will be at UNH's Project Smart program studying environmental science. Vielka also loves Chemistry!


Aishat has attended summer programs at the University of Maryland and Brown University. This year she will be in France studying French culture. Aishat is currently taking Honors IB Math. 


Pictured here is Aisha. Aisha attends Manhattan Center for Science and Math and is currently taking AP Physics C and AP Calculus BC! She is a member of Minds Matters and attends their programs every summer. This summer, though, she will be in Spain working at a maker space!


Pictured here is Mona. She attends the Academy for Software Engineering where she has been connected to many computer programming related opportunities. Last summer she interned at Morgan Stanley in their Cyber Security department. This summer she is applying to work at BEAM 6! Mona is very interested in attending Barnard for college. 


Pictured here is William. William attends Bard High School Early College and is very interested in pursuing Law in his future. He was a Junior Counselor at BEAM 6 last year. He plans to attend college in New York City because he hates bugs and nature! (But that didn't stop him from having a great time at Bard College during his BEAM 7 summer.)


In late August, BEAM runs a week long College Prep program for our rising 12th graders. Students will get individualized assistance with college essays, supplemental essays, FAFSA (financial aid), and so much more! We hope to see many of our (soon-to-be) 12th graders there. 

BEAM 6 Family Lunch

This past Saturday, April 29th, our new BEAM 6 students and their families attended our Family Welcome Lunch to learn more about the program. Our BEAM 6 alumni joined us to talk to families about what it's really like to be a BEAM 6 student. Kai, Lismary, Maryam, Storm and Thays talked about why they chose to come to BEAM and gave our future BEAM 6ers some GREAT advice! Read more from our experts! 

question: Why did you decide to come to beam?

Math was too simple in my school. I wanted something to challenge me.
— Storm, 7th grade
I came to BEAM to learn advanced math because my school didn’t provide it.
— Kai, 7th grade

Question: What was your favorite part of beam?

It was great to be in a community with other students that love math too. I’ve always loved math but was never challenged.
— Lismary, 7th grade
In my school it is rare to like math. BEAM 6 allowed me to meet people that also liked math and be in a community of dedicated people.
You want students to have all the possibilities and BEAM did that for me.
— Thays, 7th grade

question: How is 7th grade like, After having finished beam?

I take a regents math class and I use what I learned in BEAM 6 to answer difficult questions.
— Maryam, 7th grade
Going back to my class was easy, but I also learned how to approach problems differently
— Kai, 7th grade

Welcome 6th graders! We are so excited to spend our summer with you.