• An immersive future-creation experience for teens.

  • In a nutshell: Dunce Academy

    We don't just help teens get into college (getting into college is the easy part these days.)


    Dunce Academy provides a fully immersive experience that walks students by the hand and gives them the tools they need to mold their future - not to be molded by their future. 

    (Yes, Einstein was a Dunce)


    High school is a tall order for any student. Within a very short time period, students must find out who they are as humans, what they like, and what they're good at, while, at the same time, meeting the demands of class assignments, friends, family, and extracurriculars.


    Supporting a student who is going through this time of life is a chore. As tough as it is, school counselors, mentors, teachers, and coaches do incredibly well with the resources they're given (and so do we parents).


    But let's face it. There are a lot of gaps that need to be filled.


    Our mission with Dunce Academy is to fill those gaps.


    We provide your student with an open and welcoming space and provide them with a fully immersive curriculum as well as the tools to plan for college and beyond.


    Our task is to help them explore who they are as human beings and to find and foster their true strengths and interests so they can get on a path after high school that works for THEM.


    We've abandoned the run-of-the-mill hourly rate relationship so common in traditional college planning settings. Although this may work for psychologists and attorneys, we've found a better approach.


    Instead, we want you to feel more like you and your student are an integral part of a special, club (because you are).


    Dunce Academy provides your teen with an immersive, all-inclusive community and space that fosters their growth, encourages self-exploration, and provides them the environment to thrive in today's uncertain (but opportune) environment.


    Take a look below. We hope you like what you see. And we hope to meet you and your student soon.

  • Dunce Labs

    425 Maestro Dr.

    Reno, NV 89511



  • About the founder

    aka "Chief Dunce" around these parts

    My Story

    Hey there,


    I'm Alex Ellison. Thanks for stopping by.


    Dunce was born in October of 2013 (two months after my daughter, Rory, was born) from two polarizing emotions of mine regarding the current state of education, particularly in the US...


    1.) Love
    2.) Rage.



    Getting to know each student I work with and seeing their unique (and brilliantly quirky) talents, skills, passions, and strengths is a constant source of inspiration for me. I love, love, love it (and I love, love, love them).



    But it also enrages me to know that many of them are fed myths of a prescribed, outmoded, unoriginal, unfulfilling, and uninspiring path that may have worked for their teachers (and teacher's teachers), but in no way fits into the world we're living in now.


    Love + Rage = Fuel to do this important work.


    Empowering students to walk a path - during and after high school - of their choosing sets my soul on fire.


    Dunce Academy is the next phase of my mission. This gives me goosebumps and I can't wait to share it with you and your student.

    The Resume

    Here's the professional bullet points you're probably wondering about...

    • Masters in Public Administration and Policy, Higher Education Emphasis, UNR (in progress)
    • Certificate in College Counseling, UCLA
    • BA, Northwestern University
    • Received the 2015 ThinkSwiss scholarship to research the Swiss Higher Education System.
    • Taught English in Austria through the Fulbright Commission
    • Worked as a Service Learning Coordinator in the Honors College at UNR
    • Worked as an Educational Consultant for Buckley Education Group
    • Member of NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors)
    • Member of WACAC (Western Association of College Admissions Counselors)
    • Member of the Northwestern University Alumni Admissions Council
    • Member of IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association)
  • About the Dunce Labs Office

    aka "The Lab"

    Dunce started out in the Reno Collective co-working space on the corner of Arlington Ave. and First St. smack dab in the heart of the Biggest Little City, Reno, NV.


    A little over a year later, we grew up and moved across the street into our own space at 425 Maestro Dr.


    We have a roomy space with exposed brick and a big table (which my dad made from scrap parts from Reno Salvage) where we hold workshops and meetings. It's also a space for Dunce students to work, read, create, or just hang out and chat. (Many a pizza has been consumed in this room.)


    We also have two private offices for one-on-one meetings.


    We couldn't get the whole office in one shot. To see more, you should contact us and make an appointment to swing by.

  • Dunce Academy Curriculum

    Depending on where/when your student comes on board, here's the path we'll be taking through the high school experience to get them prepared to take flight after graduation...

  • Freshmen and Sophomores - Engage

    As a Freshman, you’ll learn to engage in school and outside of school; you’ll gain the confidence to put yourself out there and make your voice heard. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to engage in your environment by creating something new.


    Here are a few specific things we’ll do together your Freshman and Sophomore years:


    • Discuss high school plan, including activities, clubs, level of coursework (AP, Honors, etc.),
    • Volunteerism and academic support
    • Identify priorities
    • Personality, career and interest assessments
    • Building a support network
    • Talk about expectations, hopes, fears and assumptions around college.
    • Sign up for and take PSAT.
    • Discuss high school plan, including activities, clubs, level of coursework (AP, Honors, etc),
    • Identify priorities.
    • Overview of school types
    • Discuss summer opportunities and programs.
    • Build resume and activities list to track involvement.
    • Create accounts with College Board and College Prowler.
    • Create a custom blog to discuss...well...whatever you want!
    • Conversations about aligning interests and goals with the college search.
    • Understand how college admissions works and demystify the process.
    • Create a summer plan to stay engaged and active.

    Juniors - Explore

    During your Junior year, you’ll explore colleges you’ve never heard of, interesting programs of study, and alternative paths to greatness.


    Here are a few specific things we’ll do together your Junior year:


    • Sign up for and take the PSAT (National Merit Qualifying exam).
    • Check in with academic plan and level of coursework.
    • Take proctored ACT and SAT and create testing plan (SAT, ACT, AP’s, Subject tests, etc.).
    • Develop list of criteria for college search.
    • Discuss good-fit college options and begin creating list (this is a BIG one).
    • Talk about college research methods and how to get questions answered.
    • Plan for summer.
    • Begin financial aid discussion.
    • Register for tests.
    • Continue creating college list.
    • Discuss major, minor and other program options.
    • Begin writing first draft of Common Application essay and honing writing skills.
    • Schedule and practice interviews.
    • Finalize college list with 8-10 schools.
    • Visit colleges and discuss pros and cons.
    • Arrange for interview, if applicable.
    • Study for 2nd round of tests, if applicable.
    • Finalize Common Application essay.
    • Begin independent scholarship search and discuss search techniques.
    • Create calendar with known due dates and deadlines.
    • Practice essay-writing techniques.

    Seniors - Execute

    You’re so close! As a Senior, you’ll receive the guidance and direction you need to submit applications, apply for alternative programs, and write essays that tell your story. In short, you will DO.


    Here’s a few specific things we’ll do together your Senior year:


    • Register for any tests that need to be retaken.
    • Create application accounts.
    • Begin supplemental and school-specific essays (these will all be kept in Google Docs. for editing and revisions)
    • Decide which schools to apply Early Action, Early Decision and Regular Decision.
    • Update calendar with due dates and deadlines.
    • Create checklist for each college to track application progress.
    • Identify 3 teachers/counselors to write letters of recommendation.
    • Finish and submit Early Action and Early decision applications, essays and supplemental materials.
    • Request transcripts be sent to all schools.
    • Send final test scores to all schools.
    • Complete CSS profile on www.collegeboard.com (only certain schools require this financial document).
    • Finish and send all Regular Decision applications, essays and supplemental materials.
    • Upon receipt of college offers, discuss pros and cons
    • Evaluate financial aid packages and discuss options for financing education.
    • Complete FAFSA.
    • Arrange for any final college visits.
  • Dunce Academy Membership Prices

    Simple fee structure. All-inclusive service. Easy peasy.


    Each year runs August 1 to August 1. Rates will be prorated according to when you sign up (except senior year). Save 15% when you pay upfront.


    One-time (non-refundable) initiation fee



    $1200 / Year

    *monthly financing available


    $1800 / Year

    *monthly financing available


    $2400 / Year

    *monthly financing available


    $2400 / Year

    *monthly financing available

    **Seniors must enroll before August 1 of their senior year

  • How does this work?

    5 simple steps to be part of the Academy

  • 1. Fill out the application

    At the very bottom of this page, you'll see a button that will take you to an online application that we designed for your student (with some information required from you).


    Be prepared. It's quirky, and it may take some time to fill out, but it's fun. This will give us a great idea of what your student's goals are and help us get to know them better. 

    2. Two-way interview

    If all looks good on the application, you and your student will be invited over to the Dunce Labs office in downtown Reno where you can check things out in-person, and meet me (yes, this is Alex Ellison typing this, I won't even act like some minion of mine did this for me) and whoever else is hanging out here that day. 


    This is not just a one-way interview where you ask questions and I sit and answer. I'll likely be asking just as many questions from you as you'll be asking of me.


    (This is a two-way relationship, and if I don't think I can help you and your student, I'd rather not accept a dime of your hard-earned money or a minute of your valuable time.)


    We'll be looking at a 45-minute session. If, at the end of our time together, you'd like to enroll in the Academy, we'll go to step 3...




    3. One-time initiation fee ($500)

    This fee enrolls your student in Dunce Academy and pays for their setup costs in the following:

    4. Enrollment

    Along with your initiation fee, you'll also take care of your membership fee. Whether you choose to pay for the whole year (from August 1 to August 1 - prorated according to when you sign up) or monthly payments, we're flexible.

    • Freshmen: $1200 (or $125/month)
    • Sophomores: $1800 (or $187.50/month)
    • Juniors: $2400 (or $250/month)
    • Seniors: $2400 (or $250/month)

    If you enroll for monthly payments, you'll be auto-billed every 30 days following your enrollment date.

    5. Start using us!

    Now that you're enrolled, you and your student can immediately begin using our services (which we'll explain below) and getting on track to build a path to college and beyond that works for you!

  • What else is included in my Dunce Academy membership?

    One-on-one counseling

    We provide a custom experience for each student, so one-on-one meetings will be the way we facilitate this. (You'll be provided with a booking link to schedule these upon enrollment.)

    YouScience assessment

    We'll do this on day one. The YouScience assessment helps us find the intersection of your student's aptitudes (what they do naturally well), interests (what they love to do) and career opportunities (what the job market needs). This way we know where we'll be headed in the months/years ahead.

    FitLearning assessment

    This academic learning assessment helps us identify your student's learning gaps early on so we can quickly remediate them. 

    Open office hours

    We'll open the Dunce Labs door once a week to work in an open group setting on one particular topic. One week it may be math, the next week, it may be college application essays. These are great ways for students to meet other students and work in an energetic atmosphere with others going through similar struggles.


    At least once a month, Dunce will host a workshop regarding a certain area of college preparation or high school prowess. Topics range from financial aid and gap year programs to finding weird schools and writing skills. Workshops are available for both parents and students (some of which are exclusive to only one of the two).

    Mentors and job shadowing

    Once we find a track for your student that suits them best, we'll do our best to find them as many mentorship opportunities that we can. These opportunities include job shadowing, internships, or just coffee with a cool mentor. We want them to start getting their hands dirty ASAP.

    Guest speakers

    Guest presenters will be regularly invited to share their expertise to Dunce Academy students in a small, intimate, open setting. We've built a solid roster that's still growing of local (and even non-local) business owners, workers, and thought leaders who enjoy sharing their knowledge and insight with eager students. 

    Quarterly group parent meetings

    Get together for these pre-scheduled quarterly meetups at the Dunce Labs office with fellow Dunce parents to discuss what’s working, what’s not working, where we’re going in the future, and maybe tell a joke or two.


    Yep. We throw awesome parties. All of which your family will be invited to. Need we say more?

  • What's not included in my membership?

    Just a couple things. Offerings below will be announced with the option to participate, but due to the higher cost, we're making them available as supplemental events so as to keep the general membership price at a reasonable level.

    West coast college tour

    We'll hop in a tour bus and visit 5 schools in 5 days all throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. We'll visit big schools, small schools, quirky schools, and famous schools. We'll focus on aspects of each school that your high school counselor may not have told you about and we'll discuss afterwards before we indulge in scrabble, ping pong, or whatever amenities our hotel may provide at the time. 

    Dunce Academy retreats

    As a way to get Academy students out of the classroom / office while meeting like-minded peers, we'll offer Dunce Academy Retreats twice a year in the Lake Tahoe area. Not only will these retreats be fun, but they'll also be (in true Dunce fashion) informative and transformational. We'll be bringing in speakers and experts to provide workshops and lectures to go alongside the adventures. 

  • FAQ's

    Fantastically asked questions.

    What's up with the name? Dunce? I'm not a Dunce.

    As you'd imagine, we get this occasionally (although most of our parents totally get the irony). The name of the company isn't poking fun at anyone for being a dunce. Our name arose out of our animosity towards so-called authorities putting labels on teens who are deemed by the system to be misfits when, in actuality, they're brilliant. Like your student.


    For more about our name, read here.

    I want to get my kid into Harvard. Can you do this for me?

    Here's what we say to this: Your student is better than Harvard. Seriously. A degree at Harvard is super sweet and all, but it's no guarantee for a successful career like it once may have been. 


    We don't 'get your child in' to any institution. That would imply that we'd need to mold your student to their needs and demands. And we don't do that.


    Instead, we foster your student's awesomeness in as many aspects of his/her life that we can so that the perfect college will come begging them to attend their school - not the other way around. If this school happens to be Harvard, that's fine. But there's so many other schools that work far better for certain types of students than Harvard. 


    Harvard schmarvard*.


    *This is a title of a great book, btw.

    I already know which school my student should go to. Can I pay you to just tell him for me?

    Last time we checked, taking bribes is illegal in Nevada. Besides, if you're already an expert in this area, we think you're best saving your money rather than spending it with us. 

    So... Are you college planners?

    Yes. And more. We love college. But we don't believe it's the right choice for every student.


    For most kids, it's the right choice. But for other kids, taking a gap year or heading straight into a career path or trade school is the right choice. 


    We like to keep your student's options open and pick the path that fits him or her. 

  • Our Partners

    The fearless organizations helping our students make a ruckus

    Holistic aptitude and career assessment.

    Revolutionizing the way students and young adults make decisions about their education and careers.

    Maximizing human performance in the workplace [and beyond].

    Helping people make meaningful contributions at work and achieve high levels of personal success while increasing business results.

    Academic remediation program

    Finding gaps in learning so they can be addressed and remediated ASAP.

    World class online tutoring and test prep experience

    Reinventing traditional tutoring by providing the best online test prep in the industry.

    Holistic tutoring

    Clever Minds is a Truckee, CA based holistic tutoring company.

  • Interested?

    Here's where to go from here...

    Okay, first thing's first. Click below to be taken to that online application / questionnaire. There will be ZERO OBLIGATION on your end at this point.


    The only thing we ask is that you and your student set aside at least 30 minutes to fill it out. It's fun and quirky, but it asks some deeper questions. Please encourage your student to be fully honest. This will help us get to know them as much as possible before even meeting them. It's the first step in ensuring that we're the right kind of peanut butter for your jelly.


    We'll reach out to you within 48 hours of submittal to give you the next steps. 

  • Let's get this ball rolling...

  • Have Questions? Contact Us!

    Don't be afraid to reach out. You + us = awesome.

  • Thanks for showing your interest...

    Just the fact that you're here tells us you're at least curious about ways to make your student's education more fulfilling and worthwhile. 


    And to that, we say...

    ...for being awesome.