Last fall, I applied to UC Berkeley (my top choice), UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Irvine as an English major, and I got into all of them. After the celebration was over, I stepped back and thought about all of the hard work I'd put into this achievement. I had a strategy that stretched over years and used all of the resources available to me. The result: I got accepted into all four schools. Here’s what I did.
A little background on my journey: UC Berkeley has been my dream school since I was in high school. This spurred me into doing all the work necessary to achieve my goal! I maintained a 4.0 CGPA throughout my 5 semesters at my Bay Area community college. I took an average of 15 units a semester so I could finish my requirements as soon as possible, and I managed to finish my requirements there in one and a half years instead of the usual two. But, managing to complete all my requirements in such a short time wasn’t easy, and I needed to get my head in the game from my very first semester.
Semesters 1 & 2: Working with my academic counselor
My first few months were filled with lots of meetings with my academic counselor. It helped that I was so certain about my major and that I had a clear goal — this allowed me to sit down with her and plan out exactly what I needed to transfer. I showed up for each meeting with my trusty diary planner, Assist.org, and IGETC class requirement forms.
Because I decided early in the process which schools I wanted to apply to, we used Assist.org to figure out what I needed exactly (no more, no less) to fulfill the requirements for all four schools. I picked classes that simultaneously sounded very cool and would also fulfill the IGETC pattern. Soon enough, I had my next year and a half planned out with specific classes I would take each semester.
You don’t have to do what I did, but I do advise at least sitting down and talking to your counselor about whatever path you want to take or wherever you are on your journey — it always helps to have at least a rough plan of the direction you’re heading. And your counselor is a professional to help you with that!
Flexibility in each term
Of course, as each semester started, there were always some changes to be made to each semester’s plan. Sometimes, the timing of the classes didn’t align, so I had to switch some classes around, taking one class this semester instead of the next, and so on. However, despite these minor changes, my plan stayed relatively the same. I adjusted if needed but made sure I was still on track with my goal.
Semester 3: Working with my transfer counselor
After my first two semesters, I started to get even more serious and specific about my transfer prep. I started seeing a transfer counselor, instead of an academic counselor, who helped me less with planning my classes but helped me more with making sure I met each university’s requirements.
My transfer counselor helped me figure out all of the details: IGETC patterns, reviewing pros and cons of each university, and Language
Other than English (LOTE) requirements. I made an appointment to meet her twice each month, which might have been excessive, but it really helped me smooth out any kinks.
She also helped me meet with UC representatives so I could talk to them about any specific concerns I had about their universities. If you’re wondering if it’s really necessary to do all this, then the answer is no. I know people who haven’t met with a counselor once but got into UCs just fine because the information is online. However, I wanted to maximize the resources available to me to make sure I made no mistakes.
Touring the schools
If you’re able, I advise touring the schools of your choice if you can. I toured UCLA, and it was so cool getting to see the campus and the library and hear about the classes offered there. I also visited UC Berkeley’s campus more times than I needed because I just loved it there. I loved exploring the Berkeley area and college town and feeling the energy that it exudes.
It was a hard toss up between deciding between UCLA and UC Berkeley (even though Berkeley was my dream, I also loved LA and wanted to treat UCLA like a real option too, just in case I didn’t get into Berkeley). After touring two campuses, I realized I loved the idea of being in such a modern college town, where everyone went to the same school and was part of the same community. Whereas with LA, the campus felt small to me because it was only a small part of LA.
The application process begins
The application progress was stressful. In October, my school’s transfer center started hosting regular transfer workshops to walk students through the transfer application process according to different universities. With the UC application, I had to submit my grades and respond to four questions that explore different aspects of my life (aka Personal Insight Questions).
I worked somewhat backwards with the questions. Instead of looking at the list of question options and deciding which four questions would be best for me to answer, I had in my head a list of specific strengths and experiences I wanted to write about that would make me stand out against other applicants. With that in mind, I looked at the list of questions to see which questions would allow me to write about what I wanted.
A very important tip is to answer all parts of the question. Each Personal Insight Question is usually made of more than one part: “What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?” In this question, there are three parts, so make sure to address all of them.
Working on my essays
However, I also had trouble choosing the four perfect questions to answer. I turned to my transfer counselor, and she helped me. We brainstormed everything I should include in my application, working on things I needed to omit, add, or shuffle into another question’s response. (Be prepared, sometimes something you talk about in question 3 might be a better fit as the answer for question 4. Things like that.)
You only have 350 words to respond to each question, which was probably the biggest obstacle for a writer like me. Again, my counselor helped me with rounds and rounds of editing, refining the best ways to portray my strengths and the best things to talk about in my application. Take advantage of your counselors’ expertise! Most of them have been reviewing university applications for students for years — they know exactly what universities are looking for.
Again, taking advantage of my resources, I also sent my applications to a couple of my English professors to get their feedback. Keep in mind that revising your application and setting up appointments with your counselors and professors will take a lot of time. Get your first draft done at least three weeks before the deadline so you have time to plan appointments and not give any trouble to the people you’re meeting.
Obviously, my first bit of advice is to maximize your school’s resources. See your academic counselors as soon as possible to plan your semesters according to your transfer goals, meet with transfer counselors when the application date is two semesters away, and ask lots of questions. Make sure you’re meeting all of the requirements, plan your application around your strengths, and give yourself plenty of time to write it. Meet with your transfer counselor and professors to revise it, submit it on time, and get accepted!
Written by an international student who was successful in her goal to start her U.S. education at a California community college and end up at the university of her dreams.
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