Tags: UC Berkeley
Institution: University of Califronia Berkeley
Study: Major in environmental science
High School Experience
High school is super super complicated. I was very lucky to have a super solid group of wonderful friends so that was a really great part of high school and I also really loved a lot of my teachers and was super excited to learn about things I’d never even heard of before. But there’s also a lot of people you go to school with who you disagree with or don’t like so there’s going to be negative experiences, too. And my school and district was run by terrible administrators so there was a constant battle for students’ needs to be represented in school policy.
I was in a program that focused on humanities and international studies, so my history and language arts classes were pre-picked for me every year. So I really only had a choice over my math and science courses and I tried to challenge myself as much as possible in those areas. I didn’t necessarily focus on one subject, I took chem, bio, and physics courses in science. I had some choice over math but there is sort of a predestined math track too so I mainly took calculus courses. I always say that I love STEM courses the most, but to be honest my favorite courses in high school were those in my humanities program so really I’m grateful that I got into that program at my school.
IB was not offered at my school. Throughout high school I took 8 AP classes (Literature, US Government, Physics 1, Biology, Spanish, Drawing, Calculus AB, and Calculus BC) and then 9 AP tests (I also took the AP US History test). My exam scores were:
Calculus AB: 5
Calculus BC: 4
US History: 4
The other four tests I took this year and haven’t gotten my scores back yet.
I took 5 SAT Subject Tests, not sure my exact scores on all of them (I think they’re stupid and unnecessary lol) but I got between a 610 and 720 on all of them.
In junior year I got super involved in environmental activism outside of school. I joined three local organization hubs in my city (350, Friday’s for Future, and Sunrise Movement). I also had some really great opportunities to be a part of panels and planning groups outside of those orgs. I think activism really defines my extracurricular experience, but I also played school water polo for three years as a goalie.
I had really positive relationships, though not super super close relationships, with the two teachers who wrote my recommendation letters. And then I had another recommendation letter from the president of the local chapter of 350, who I had a bit more of a personal connection to. I got a chance to read all three letters and I think it showed me how important the people you choose to write letters are. One of my teachers wrote more about me as a person, one wrote about me as a student in my school, and then my community leader wrote about me as an activist and so I think that I was fully represented between all three and that was important.
I tried to diversify my essays so that I wasn’t super repetitive, but at the same time I tried to really convey my interest in environmentalism and my adaptability as a person. I think it’s important to try to get personal in your essays, but to make sure you are conveying your ability to overcome challenges and have aspirations for the future. So even though I wrote a bunch of different essays, I did try to keep a theme of showing my drive to make positive change.
I think being a climate activist set me apart. Schools want to see that you’re well-rounded to an extent (i.e. good grades in a bunch of different classes) but they also want to see that you have a spike. A spike is basically something extracurricular that you’ve invested a lot of time into and that you’re super passionate about. I think me being a climate activist and having a bunch of different activities I participated in in climate activism helped to convey that I had drive and knew what I wanted to do when I got to college.
I think that it’s important to focus on school for sure, but also make sure that you’re taking the time to get involved in things outside of academics. Find an issue or a topic that you really really care about and find ways to get involved in that in your community. For me that was climate activism, but really anything you are passionate about there are resources and groups that exist for you to get involved. People don’t just care about grades and test scores anymore. They care that you’re someone who has drive and wants to make the world a better place, so if you can find opportunities to work in your community on that issue, and that it’s something you really care about, that will make you stand out. (It also was really helpful to me to be able to meet so many new people outside of my bubble and it helped me to better understand the world and find out what I want to focus on in life.)
To be honest I never really thought I’d go to Berkeley. I really wanted to go to a school on the east coast or in Chicago. I applied to fourteen schools total, 7 were public schools on the west coast and 7 were private schools, mainly on the east coast and in Chicago. I got into all the public schools, into one private school, was waitlisted at 4 private schools, and rejected from 2. I really wanted to go to the private school I got into as I wanted the small liberal arts school experience in NYC but I didn’t get enough financial aid so I committed to Berkeley. For what I want to study Berkeley really is the best place for me to be for activism and academics. It was disappointing at first since I really wanted to go to a small private school far away and instead I’m going to a school with 40,000 students that’s 1.5 hours from my house lol. I guess there’s still a chance I get off a waitlist and go to a private school, but I’m very grateful and excited to be a Berkeley bear now.