Emily Hong’s and James Seo’s families immigrated from South Korea to the U.S., giving them firsthand insight into the difficulties immigrant families face when navigating the American school system.

Hong and Seo’s desire to help other families in similar situations as well as help students reach their goals of attending a dream college led them to open Berkeley² Academy in 2009.

“One of our main strengths, not just us but our teachers [as well], is relating to the students,” Seo said. “… When we talk to students with similar backgrounds they’re able to give us more authority and believe us because we have been through it.”

The couple met while attending the University of California-Berkeley. After getting married, Seo started medical school, and Hong pursued a graduate degree in psychology.

However, the couple moved to Austin to take care of Hong’s parents, who were severely injured in a car accident. Hong graduated from Westwood High School and is familiar with the area, which has many Asian-American families.

“Going through high school and coming from immigrant families, we didn’t have much support from our parents because they don’t know the American education system,” Hong said. “We had to rely on ourselves. … We wanted to provide resources to the next generation of immigrant families.”

Berkeley² Academy’s focuses are test-prep classes, academic assistance, tutoring in all class subjects and college admissions assistance, Seo and Hong said. Their methods have paid off, Seo said, because out of 54 Westwood High School students named National Merit Scholar semifinalists, 33 are students enrolled in their test-prep courses.

Seo and Hong said at Berkeley² Academy they also aim to get to know their students and find the right college or university for their needs.

“We step in and become their own individual counselor and provide them with extra support,” Hong said.

Berkeley² Academy first opened on Anderson Mill Road. The couple opened a second location in Westlake in 2013. They relocated their Northwest Austin location to a larger facility in May.

“The reason[s] we moved into a bigger space [are] because we have other visions for our business, [and] to start a nonprofit to help underprivileged students and other programs we are thinking of [to help] the elderly or the Korean community to provide ESL services,” Seo said.

Areas of expertise

College consulting: Berkeley2 Academy offers the Steps Program for freshmen through juniors to get a head start on college admissions, and for seniors, the Gateway Package offers all-inclusive college application assistance. The Berkeley Package offers both services. Packages include college admissions, applications and essays, four-year planning, applying for financial aid, GPA management and academic counseling.

Tutoring: offered hourly one-on-one or in small groups for all tests and subject areas from elementary school through college

Test prep: SAT, ACT, Secondary School Admission Test, Independent School Entrance Exam, Advanced Placement and GRE graduate school entrance exam

Elementary and middle school programs: enrichment classes for math skills, reading comprehension and grammar as well as debate, book clubs and camps during school breaks

Berkeley² Academy

12871 Research Blvd., Ste. 105, Austin
Office hours: Tue.-Fri. 2-9 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.