How I Got Into UC Berkeley

Emma Yuan
Emma Yuan

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My name is Emma, and I’m currently a first-year student at UC Berkeley studying Business Administration and Economics. Before I was a Cal Bear, I was a high school student from a suburban town named Sammamish in Washington state. This is the story of how I got into UC Berkeley.

People always say that college is the time to explore and discover who you really are, but for me, that process started in high school, which I used as an opportunity to delve into my various curiosities. My extracurricular involvements included business clubs, tutoring, varsity sport, working with non-profit organizations, and many volunteer experiences.

When it all began

Thinking back to my college application process, I think it was the summer after sophomore year when “SAT” and “scholarships” became a part of my daily vocabulary. I attended a pre-college program in Washington, D.C. and prepared for standardized testing by studying SAT vocabulary on my own and attending private ACT preparation sessions. My junior year was a whirlwind of more ACT sessions, taking the exams, AP courses, and claiming more responsibility within my school organizations. During the summer after junior year, I took courses at a local community college and did a lot of traveling to mentally prepare myself for the upcoming school year.

Reality check

In all honesty, the entire college admissions process was a lot more grueling than I had imagined. As a seventeen-year-old, I had an incredibly difficult time balancing academics, extracurriculars, standardized testing, and applications. I worked with a private college counselor who provided a lot of customized help to me and alleviated a lot of my stress.

Going into senior year, I had finished all of my standardized tests (ACT and SAT II), finalized my list of colleges to be applied to, and started on a few essays. My list consisted of twelve colleges: 1 early decision, 5 “reaches”, 3 “attainables”, and 3 “safeties”. September to November was an endlessly repeating cycle of brainstorming, writing, editing; my main focus was on the ED application.

Pushing Through

Additionally, the scholarship applications and financial aid deadlines were fast approaching. With November came a rejection from my early decision school, and it meant more applications and more writing sessions. I remember sitting in front of the fireplace on Christmas morning, not opening presents, but instead wracking my brains for reasons the college I was currently applying to would want me. That was the final push. With the end of 2017, I welcomed the conclusion of the college application season.

I am by no means an expert in college admissions, but if I could leave you with three things that I wish I knew, they would be…

1. Timing is everything.

It’s never too early to start preparing for college, but don’t forget to take time to enjoy high school. That said, it’s never too late to try harder; colleges love a come-back story. They love seeing grit and resilience, so use your time in high school to show these schools that you’ve got what it takes to thrive on their campus. Don’t give up.

2. Thank the people around you.

Thank your parents for putting up with the grumpy, stressed wreck that you were when deadlines were approaching. Then, thank the teachers who wrote your letters of recommendation, and counselors who helped you navigate the whole process. And don’t forget to thank your friends for being there for you when you needed to rant about sitting through another 5-hour test.

3. Everything happens for a reason.

You are where you are right now because of those late-night work sessions and stress-filled days. While you are anxious and uncertain about where you’re going to end up next year, take a moment to relax, think about the work you put in, and know that, a year from now, you’re going to be exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Parting words

This is the story of how I got into UC Berkeley. Remember, there are going to be disappointments, tears, and some days when everything that could possibly go wrong does. But on the flip side of this difficult process, you will see your hard work flourish into fruition. And there is nothing more rewarding than that. Congratulations to the Class of 2022, you’re almost there.

For more help in the college admissions process, visit Empowerly.

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