The Journey- How I got to Cal (Part 1)

Published Monday, February 14, 2011 by Tarang

It is always difficult to pick which colleges to apply to because there are so many factors involved. There are quantitative factors such as grades and SATs, and then there are qualitative factors such as major programs and location. Just like any other high school student, I was confused as to which colleges to choose. I decided to use the summer between junior and senior year to create a list of colleges that were appropriate for me.

Before I get to that summer though, I must give a little background. I was a student at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, and my high school was fairly academically challenging and competitive. Most students ended up going to UC schools but a fair number also went to Ivy League schools, Stanford, and CSUs (particularly Cal Poly for engineering). Also, for economic considerations, many attended the local community college, Ohlone College, and then transferred after two years (for some reason mainly to UCSD). Thus, students from my high school went to a variety of different types of colleges, and so the opportunities seemed endless.

I had been a decent student up to that point. I had a good GPA (though not a 4.0 but I was never one for perfection) and good scores. I had participated in a variety of extra-curricular activities such as speech and debate, marching band, Science Buddies (a mentoring program), a biotech internship, and some South Asian cultural activities. I knew that I had the makings of at least a respectable applicant.

The other thing you should know about me is that I was influenced by certain childhood events, which led me to develop a fascination for certain schools. I was always influenced by my father’s alma mater: the University of Florida in Gainesville. Firstly, everyone loves Florida. Secondly, it’s the home of the Gators and Gatorade. I had been there once as a child with my father to visit the campus, and it was quite a nice change from California. California’s high population leads to crammed up spaces and worse traffic. UF was spacious and green with surprisingly large dorm rooms. The other thing that struck me about UF was its personal touch despite being such a large university. My father’s academic advisor still recognized my dad when we went to visit, even though it had been over 15 years. So that was the first university to enter my mind.

Two universities tied for second in my childhood days: UC Berkeley and Stanford. I was familiar with both having grown up in Northern California and both of them boasted of great academics. I had attended the annual women’s tennis tournament held at Stanford, and I had visited UC Berkeley often while my parents wanted to do some Indian shopping (Berkeley’s University Avenue is basically India). Both of them had beautiful architecture, including a bell tower (Cal’s is taller- just saying) and lush green lawns. Plus both were close to home.

And then of course there was UC Irvine, which is where my sister enrolled. I was there with her for her move-in day, and I liked how compact the campus was. Within 15 minutes, you could walk across the whole campus. There was an impressive Bio Sciences library, and the undisputedly posh Orange County setting. So many recreational activities were only a ten minute drive away.

With all these schools spinning in my head, I decided to make a list of criteria I would use to narrow down the schools:

  1. Admissions Criteria (realistic or not)
  2. Location/weather
  3. What had I heard about it from other people/from when I visited
  4. Major programs
  5. Dorms
  6. Tuition
  7. Hand-holding school or fend-for-yourself school

Finally, I sat to work that summer and eliminated schools based on these criteria; the first to go were the New England schools. As much as I loved the idea of trying my hand at the Ivies, I knew it was a slim chance and the weather was way too cold. Despite my liking for UF, the out-of-state tuition was too high. It didn’t make sense to pay that much when I could get a similar quality education in California. And slowly, I limited myself to only California schools because I knew I would survive best in Cali weather and save some money.

I decided to apply to six UCs: UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara. That was the easy part. Now the real question was would I be applying to the CSUs and would I put in the extra effort of applying to Stanford? Find out in part 2.


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