Kathleen - UC Berkeley - Class of 2016

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Writing my essays was very stressful, but it is an experience that I cherish. I learned a lot about myself as I summed up my life story and the lessons I had learned.

I moved to America as a high school freshman. I was assigned to an English learner class and was not enrolled in college prep classes. So going to a selective college felt like a dream to me. But I strived to do more and ended up taking many honors and AP classes throughout high school.

Hometown: Fullerton, CA

High School: Public

GPA: 3.59 / 4.08 (weighted)

SAT: 1870

Major: Biochemistry

Goal: Learn, grow, mature, and prepare for a future career



University of California, BerkeleyAttending
California State University FullertonAccepted
California State University Long BeachAccepted
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health SciencesAccepted
Scripps CollegeDenied
University of California, IrvineAccepted
University of California, Los AngelesDenied
University of California, San DiegoWaitlisted
University of Southern CaliforniaDenied
St. John's University Accepted
Northeastern UniversityDenied
University of the PacificWaitlisted
Freshman Year Update

My biggest challenge has been prioritizing my time between studying, clubs, friends, and my job in the theater box office. Going to the library to study in between classes (instead of going back to my dorm) has helped.

There are so many people on campus! I am most surprised by how different the people are, and how open they are about being different. I think anyone here can find a group where they fit in. I've met most of my friends through the Christian Fellowship.

I've only had one problem with finances: The school listed me as an out-of-state resident by mistake, and my tuition went from $8,000 to $65,000! I was able to resolve it, but it was really scary!

Sophomore Year Update

I'm really excited to finally find out what I want to do. I decided to go into nursing instead of pharmacy. It's a bit stressful because I took a lot of difficult classes that I didn't need that killed my grades! Right now I plan to get a bachelor's degree in a science field (not sure which one yet!) and then apply to a master's program in nursing.

My financial aid significantly decreased because I moved out of the dorms, which are more expensive than living off campus. But I am still able to cover most of my expenses with my two part-time jobs. It's easy to get caught up in school and stress. Sometimes I have to stop and remember that I'm in one of the greatest universities, learning from Nobel laureates, and befriending some of the smartest students in the world! It's a blessing that I cherish deeply.

Junior Year Update

I've been searching for a major that combines both science and humanity, and I think I've found it—public health! After meeting some upperclassmen in that major, I met with an advisor in the department, told him about my plans to go into nursing, and concluded that it was the major for me!

Now my classes are challenging, diverse, and interesting. And, I have more to talk about with my professors because I genuinely care about what I'm studying. Next year, I'll be done with most of my required courses, so I plan to minor in music.

Sometimes I wish I had applied to smaller schools because now I realize I enjoy small classes and more rural country. But my life would not be the same without Berkeley. I wouldn't have stretched and grown as much as I have.

Senior Year Update

To say college was challenging is an understatement! I'm happy it's almost over! But compared to freshman year, I feel a lot more anchored. I really love my public health major, and I've developed a solid group of friends and mentors who encourage and challenge me.

I just wish that I had more free time during college to do what makes me happy instead of always being stressed about my classes. If I were to apply to college again, I would do more research into how rigorous the academics are and whether I would have the time and energy for anything else.

Now I'm applying to graduate programs. I plan to become a nurse practitioner with a public health focus. This summer, I will be traveling and interning in Singapore.

Hoping my essay will get me in

I got 1400 on my very first practice SAT test, a poorer result than I had expected. After more practice, I got 1870. With that score, however, I didn't expect to get into the schools I wanted. But my counselor told me that the personal statement was also an important factor in college admissions. So I was determined to create an outstanding essay.

It took me a long time to figure out what to write. Every night, I would study with my friend Esther. Every time I came up with an idea, I read it to her. I shared my drafts with many friends, teachers, and counselors, and got a lot of help. I ended up writing about my aunt, who is a successful businesswoman but started her career from scratch. I connected her story to my personal journey moving from Taiwan to America, and how I could use her path to success as a model.

The roller coaster ride I'll never forget

I applied to many colleges, based on their location, tuition, variety of majors, and diversity of the students. I got into two schools that I liked a lot, but my parents didn't find them acceptable because they weren't popular among the "Asian community." Then I was waitlisted by University of California, San Diego and rejected from UCLA. But I was accepted by UC Irvine. That acceptance was a big relief to me. I had a college to go to!

My biggest hope was USC. The day their decisions came out, many of my friends found out that they were rejected. We were all at McDonald's, rocking back and forth, unwilling to face that bad news. But I had not yet gone home to learn my fate. When I did, there was a small envelope—a rejection. I cried the whole night. I had ugly, swollen frog eyes at school the next day. But when you hit a trough, that means you are about to climb back up. As a matter of fact, I actually got to the peak the very next day!

I woke up from a nap at five, remembering that UC Berkeley's decision was due that day. I was almost certain that I would get rejected. I refreshed my Berkeley page. To my shock, "CONGRATULATIONS, KATHLEEN, YOU ARE ACCEPTED!" showed up on the page. I was ecstatic, and so was my mom. She gave me a kiss on my cheek, which was very unusual for her, and she called all the relatives to report the good news.

My ups and downs

Writing my essays was very stressful, but it is an experience that I cherish. I learned a lot about myself as I summed up my life story and the lessons I had learned.

Getting rejected by a top-choice college on one day, and being accepted by another top college the next day was a heart-stopping experience. It was like being on a roller coaster ride for those two days!

What I learned

I learned things that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. First of all, grades are not everything. Second, experience counts, a lot. People say doing community service, being involved in clubs, participating in sports and music, and winning awards are important to getting into college. And I did all of that. But I participated because I enjoyed it. Learning what I enjoy doing helped me to grow and to understand what kind of person I am. Of course, it also helped me to write convincing personal statements!

The money factor

Being in a low-income family, I got grants and work-study aid. The remaining portion of my expenses will be paid by my parents. I hope to pay back my parents after I graduate.

My advice

As you search for colleges and write your college applications, especially the essays, take time to explore yourself. You might be surprised at what you learn!

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