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Ms. JD Pre-Law: Interview with J.Y. Ping, founder of 7Sage and PreProBono

Today's Ms. JD Q&A is with J.Y. Ping, an educator and social entrepreneur who founded 7Sage and PreProBono. J.Y. has a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA from Columbia University.

J.Y., you're the founder of 7Sage, which provides affordable online LSAT test prep. For example, you offer an LSAT Starter course, containing your entire core curriculum, for just $179, and your most expensive course is $749—a fraction of what test prep companies typically charge. What inspired your mission to "liberate and democratize education"?

J.Y.: One thing that inspired me was when I realized that statements like “X is a right” partially reduce to “increase access to X”. I believe that education is a right. Among other things, that means that there’s a need to increase access to education. So, I had just graduated law school and I was tutoring LSAT to make ends meet. I realized that with so many of my new students, I had to start from pretty much the same place. Basic lessons on formal logic, grammar, causation, etc. Often the student would forget what we had talked about the previous session and I’d have to repeat the same lesson in the next session. It all seemed so inefficient to me. We have this wonderful technology called the internet which reduces the cost of transmitting information to effectively zero. And a large chunk of education is information transmission. It made no sense that some students were paying me by the hour and others I couldn’t reach at all. I thought that I should record my lessons, toss them on YouTube and thereby increase their accessibility.

Other parts of education are harder to scale and increase access to. For example, when you’re physically in college, there’s a hefty reality that’s created by the fact that your classmates all show up to a particular place at a particular time to receive instruction on a particular subject from a real live person. That reality elevates and emphasizes the educational experience in a way that doesn’t happen when you’re online and the lesson is just one out of thirteen tabs you’ve got open on Chrome. I’m not sure there is a solution to this because I think part of what gives value to an educational experience is the price you pay to attain it.

How did you come up with the name 7Sage?

J.Y.: I didn’t. My friend from college and founder of Prime Produce, Jerone Hsu, came up with it.

But the rationale goes something like this.

Education has and always will be the legacy that is passed from one generation to the next.

The name 7Sage calls upon ancient cultural archetypes in both East and West, e.g., the 7 Sages of Greece, India, and China. It’s meant to represent an old-world emphasis on knowledge but also wisdom and virtue. This means we are interested not only in what students learn, but how they learn it, and why they want to learn it. For us, it’s a reminder to think about why we teach, to instruct wisely, and to instill virtue in our students.  

Together as one word, I think "7Sage" has a pleasant and interesting ring but the meaning isn't immediately transparent. The opacity conveniently mirrors the fact that 7Sage is a nuanced operation and will develop over time. In short, it's a name unique and strong enough to differentiate us.

When you were a senior at Columbia, you founded PreProBono, a nonprofit that offers free LSAT prep to public-interest minded pre-law students who are women, economically disadvantaged or minorities. (Applications for the 2017 PreProBono Fellowship are now open and close on March 20, 2017.) At what point in your own LSAT studying, did you decide to start teaching it—and then scale up into a nonprofit?

J.Y.: I first taught LSAT in my senior year. I had finished up my own LSAT and my girlfriend at the time was prepping for hers. I helped her. By that time, I had discovered my inclination towards teaching already. I remember having to figure out like an entire semester of Macro Economics and then explain it to my friends as we crammed for finals. I loved it. By the time I got to law school, as a project for the above mentioned Prime Produce, I decided to put together and run a session of PreProBono because it was exciting to do something new and all my own. At the end of the 16 hour weekend workshop – we only had a dozen or so attendees – some students came up to thank me, like very sincerely thank me, for teaching them for free. That connection felt good. So I thought I wanted to keep doing it. For the next three years, I spent more time on PreProBono than I did on my classwork.

It looks to me that you like to found and build things. Are you building anything else right now?

J.Y.: We’re expanding 7Sage. We’re running a talent search soon to find amazing teachers. We’re hoping to offer low cost SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, 1L Exam Prep, and Bar Prep courses.

What are 3 tips, LSAT-related or not, that you'd like to share with our pre-law readers?

J.Y.: Sure, I suppose I’ll share some not LSAT related tips since the related ones are all on 7Sage. These are some of the things that I’m trying to do myself. First is eat slow. It’s very important for digestive health that we chew our food thoroughly. Second is no screens after X p.m. where X is two hours before bedtime. Lastly, getting up early means going to bed early.

Thanks, J.Y.!

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