Meet an international student from Foothill-De Anza College who earned admission to multiple highly selective universities.
Hi everyone, I am Anderson Lam, an international student from Malaysia, a graduate of a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area called Foothill-De Anza College where I completed two years of lower-division undergraduate courses. I achieved associate in science degrees in engineering, physics, physics for transfer, and mathematics for transfer.
I am preparing to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley, this coming fall as an electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) major. Go, Bears! I was also admitted to a few other top universities in the States, such as Cornell University, UCLA, UC San Diego, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, San Jose State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and UC Santa Barbara.
I am grateful
First of all, I am grateful to everyone who has helped me throughout my application period and provided me with the mental support I need. I would not be able to do this without the encouragement of my family, friends, mentors, professors, advisors, and everyone else! So, thank you all! Being admitted into Cornell University as one of the 20 transfer students from all over the world in the College of Engineering this year made me realize how competitive college admissions are and how much effort we have to put into the application and personal statements.
I am thankful that I am also one of the few Malaysian who got accepted into Cornell University from a community college as a transfer student in the notable electrical and computer engineering (ECE) major. Nevertheless, I am also proud to be accepted into my dream school, the United States’ number one public university — the University of California, Berkeley — which offers one of the world’s top three electrical engineering and computer science degree programs.
My application process
Looking back to the application period from November 2021 to March 2022, it was incredibly tough. Dealing with the heavy coursework, clubs and organizations, employment, friendship issues, and still having to brainstorm and write tons of personal statements really stressed me. However, I always tell myself never to give up and believe in Him. I eventually hung in there and successfully completed all my transfer applications before the due dates. I would say, do not and never give up! All the effort and hard work you put in right now into your application and life will definitely be paid off.
Take it seriously
Start early with your essays because you have a lot of exciting stories that you might want to include to “impress” the admission officers. I started composing my personal statements for the University of California five months before the application due date because of all of the pieces of advice my seniors and mentors gave. “Start early with your essays! ... Don’t waste time playing games; think about what you want to write… Never procrastinate with your application.” All these bits of advice still stick with me, and I am grateful for having them nagging at me all the time.
In fact, this is also what I always do towards my mentees: keep on telling them to start their application. I felt like what my seniors and mentors said was actually true! You do not have much time to write your personal statements anymore because you have to deal with many other things, especially coursework! Summer break is the best time for you to start thinking and composing! Think about what you want the admission officers to find in you, understand, and learn about you. Starting early is better than late; you do not want to be like those who compose their essays last minute and probably miss the opportunity to write the best essays ever.
What have you done outside academics?
Admission officers do not only see your essays to admit you. There are many other criteria as well, such as cumulative grade-point average (CGPA), your English proficiency test, completed and planned coursework, and most importantly, extracurricular activities! They are looking for what you have done outside of academics, such as clubs and organizations, volunteering, awards and honors, educational preparation programs, and others. Thus, do not only solely focus on getting an A in your class. Yes, you are right, getting an A is important, but building connections and growing in your soft skills are also vital.
Throughout my two years of college life, I have participated in various extracurricular activities, which helped me grow a lot in leadership, interpersonal communication skills, problem-solving, emceeing events, and others. Not many applicants did this, but I included more than 20 extracurricular activities in my applications, for example, Educational Preparation program: UC Berkeley Starting Point Mentoring Program; Honor and Award: Foothill-De Anza College district Emerging Leader Award; Clubs: International Students Connection; Volunteering: VolunFlex Non-Profit Organization; conducted research at Stanford University; mentor at multiple organizations and more.
Be a leader
I would oppose those who say solely the quality of the activities is important. To me, quantity and quality are both crucial because admission officers would want to see where you spend most of your time other than studying. I remembered looking at the UC Berkeley admission website and the criteria they are looking for in an applicant — leadership. Thus, you being an officer or founding a club or organization can help build your application a lot. If you do not find a club that interests you on campus, start one yourself! Be confident that you can handle it, although you might be shy, introverted, or timid. A lot of my club members also stepped out of their comfort zone to become my club officers or even started their new clubs on campus. This is not a time for you to just enjoy your life; instead, also build your portfolio and learn the necessary skills.
Believe in yourself!
Always seek advice from your college counselors, educational advising centers, seniors, and friends! I believe they would provide you with valuable information. Never stop dreaming of getting into a top university! You can do it; believe in yourself! You are already amazing for leaving your home country hundreds or thousands of miles away to start your college journey in a whole new place. If I can do it, you can do it too! Make some friends and enjoy your college life! And always remember not to stress out too much from the college application. You have your peers, friends, family, and others there for you whenever you need them.
I have never regretted attending Foothill-De Anza community college after graduating from high school in Malaysia due to all the fantastic and memorable experiences I had. Although I have chosen a totally different educational route compared to my high school friends, it still makes me happy whenever we have social gatherings because we all are still friends who had each other back during high school.
I am excited to explore the next chapter of my life and let the new adventure begin!
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