Tags: UC Berkeley
Institution: University of California Berkeley
Study: Major in math and public policy
High School Experience
I went to a very humanities focused school, so I improved a lot in writing and analysis, but we didn’t have a year-long computer science class or a statistics class until my senior year (I took the comp sci class). There were also not a lot of science options: you could take bio, chem, physics, the advanced (AP level) versions of those classes, or environmental science. Despite this, I never felt like I was missing much, As I had the opportunity to take linear algebra my senior year as well as game theory outside of school. Our robotics team is tiny, but since my interests do not lie in engineering, that was not an issue for me.
Math is my main interest, and I was interested in physics and computer science as well. my freshman year I taught myself algebra 2 so I could accelerate and take precalc sophomore year, BC calc junior year, and linear algebra senior year. I also chose the advanced physics class senior year, as well as advanced comp sci. I also took an out of school game theory class. That was about the maximum flexibility I had, as we had no course choices freshman or sophomore year and I had to take english and spanish all four years, as well as three years of history.
None of the courses at my school are technically AP courses because we don’t follow the curriculum exactly, but I call them AP-level because we could take and do well on the respective AP tests. because we don't technically have AP-courses, it is also normal to only take 2-4 APs, and some take even less. The course difficulties are all the same, it is just the choice of taking the test. I took APUSH, the English Lit AP, and BC Calc, and got 5s on all. I could have taken AP Physics C and AP Comp Sci this year but there was no pressure so I didn’t.
SAT Math 2: 800
SAT US History: 770
SAT Literature: 750
I was co-captain of math team for junior and senior year and a member for all four years, I was also in model congress, cross country, and I danced, all for all four years of high school. At my dance studio, I also substituted/taught classes and occasionally choreographed dances to teach, if you can call that a leadership position. I also tutored in math at an elementary school once a week from sophomore year to senior year.
I got along with my teachers well, one of the teachers I had written my recommendations was someone I had two years in a row and was part of an academic trip with him in the summer, so I trusted he would have good and detailed things to say. My second academic recommendation was my junior year math teacher and I'm pretty sure she liked me, especially once I started sitting at the front of the classroom.
I recycled lots of topics for colleges. I wrote about dance, computer science, mass incarceration (an academic interest of mine but not necessarily extracurricular), and cross country. In regards to why this school? I always wrote about how important community was to me as well as programs or clubs I was excited about. My personal statement was very lighthearted.
I think my essays were very good, which is thanks to my high school’s curriculum, as well as my college counselors. One of the advantages of my small school was that we had two college counselors for 60 seniors, so we had very personalized attention. I am also well-rounded, participate in lots of extracurriculars, and do well in school. I had strong test scores, but I don’t think those matter as much. I think the most important part is the essays.
The essays are what (I believe) will set you apart from other applicants. Don’t commodify your trauma, and don’t look for trauma to write about. If it feels right, then go for it, but definitely do not operate under the belief that that is a definite winning personal statement. write about what you feel best describes you; it can be anything. My essay was about how I used to believe in magic when I was younger and how I find magic in my life now. for supplemental essays, when schools say why this school? Really do your research and find specific things you are excited about. For other supplements, just make sure you are passionate. I'm not an admissions officer, but it seems to me it's very easy for them to spot when people fake their essays. Write about whatever you are interested in, because that is what makes you you.
My parents were immigrants but I wasn't first generation. I do speak another language (Russian) but I don't know how important that is. I am also part of the LGBTQ+ community but that didn’t come up on any of my applications except for Duke, because they had a specific (optional) question about it. Essentially, there were no special circumstances to consider for me.
Generally when you write supplements, you have to exert a bit of effort to come up with something to write about. For UC Berkeley, I didn’t have to think. the supplements just rolled out of my brain. My Why UC Berkeley? The supplement was two pages. They have a human rights lab that focuses on mitigating the effects of mass incarceration, so so many traditions (which I feel really emphasizes community), insanely strong STEM, lots of research resources, a beautiful campus, and are located in a city. there wasn’t much more I could ask for, really. I also applied for ED1 so when I heard back, I had to withdraw all my other applications anyway, so that choice was made pretty early on as well.