Note: you can always skip the intro if you need help writing your UC Personal Statement. Advice & My Contact is near the bottom.
For how small this website’s community is – I’m always surprised when someone emails me (jonathan.gaurano [at] gmail.com) asking me to write an article. I appreciate it and like when you all do this because it helps me write something on this blog. Yes, I’m writing for you.
This person asked if I could write about I got into college.
Here it goes!
Before I Begin. Disclaimer:
As much as I could tell you how to get into college, I’m going to be honest with you that in my senior year in high school I applied to six universities and got rejected by five of them.
Those five universities were i) New York University, ii) Columbia, iii) Brown University, iv) Wesleyan University, v) Notre Dame.
Last minute I got accepted by UC Berkeley (it’s a story I will tell later). It is the only school in California I applied to because it was the furthest from San Diego & it was (and is) the number one public school in the world. I thought to myself that if I didn’t get into UC Berkeley, I would go to a community college and then transfer. I really wanted to go to this school & now I’m going to tell you how I got in – hopefully it’ll help you someway.
Why UC Berkeley?
It is number one for a reason. I’ve compared my time at UC Berkeley with others I’ve met and my bias dictates that there is no other place that will challenge your academic drive, leadership skills, cultural awareness, political beliefs, and most of all, yourself to the brink of exhaustion. The time there will open your mind. It is a very liberal campus and it’s a place where the cool scene isn’t the party scene. It’s in the classroom, it’s the stances you take in conversation, and it’s how you conduct yourself as a follower / leader.
You need to always be on your toes because there was rarely a time where I didn’t meet someone who was pushing themselves to BECOME something profound. Yet, all awhile being really humble because UC Berkeley will knock you down and realize you are NOT invincible.
We learn early at UC Berkeley that life isn’t necessarily about being the leader in any organization, company, or anything else. We learn how to excel in what we’re good at – which is something I think many other Universities do not preach. UC Berkeley is realistic all awhile telling you that you can achieve anything by working smart, networking (working as a team), giving back (they really like giving back), and having an open mind.
I understand there is a mixture of things but at this school – you’ll always find a sense of community, people who are there to help you, professors who really care (most of them in the upper division course), and so many opportunities open for your disposable. Remember what I said about the network? UC Berkeley provides a great network of people (really smart and ambitious) plus an academic and leadership community atmosphere to help you become an amazing individual to help others become amazing individuals.
Side Note: I do think going to college is important because, though there are exceptions, college will help you if you take advantage of the opportunities it provides: I believe people who say otherwise, either didn’t network correctly, didn’t study smart, didn’t work smart, and just didn’t take advantage of what the University offered. Many of my experiences wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t graduate from the school.
By the way, a horrible University won’t really provide the right resources for your success and will only want your money. Watch out for these schools. Lastly, again – I believe that if you’re in an under-resourced situation, going to an Elite University will help you more than you know. People who come from a privileged situation usually don’t have to worry about the college they attend because they’ve already established (already have) that network.
UC Berkeley, most importantly, trained me how to learn.
Also, I think UC Berkeley is a very beautiful place (check it out here) and it’s in the Bay Area (technology / startup scene)! I love it! I have a lot of school pride. I cannot thank the school enough for being a part of who I am today.
Alright, time to tell you how I got into the school.
How I Got Into UC Berkeley
Please remember that everyone has their own path when it comes to getting into certain universities. Just because I’m telling you how I got in doesn’t mean the same methods will get you in as well.
However, during my time – I did work and outreach at an academic recruitment and retention center for the university: guiding and mentoring students from all walks of life to getting accepted into colleges (and UC Berkeley).
The first thing you have to know is that UC Berkeley plays a part in Comprehensive Review. It’s one of the few public universities that follow this rubric. This means that it looks at you in a holistic view in comparison with someone who has the same type of opportunities you had as well. It looks at your academic situation, economic situation, and opportunities you had that were available – all compared to similar students.
It would be unfair to judge someone who had a ton of opportunities vs someone who didn’t because not everyone is born with the same (has access to) resources. Period.
In my case, my academic life started with me homeschooled. My father, who left us when I was 19 (another story), and my mother read an article where these homeschoolers got accepted to Harvard… and they got the bright idea to do the same.
This was one of the worst academic decisions my parents ever made. It put me (and my brother) in a tight spot because we weren’t able to obtain the proper advanced placement classes and tests to be a competitive college applicant.
Fun fact – most of my homeschooling life consisted mainly of labor work: gardening, pulling weeds, washing cars, moving, cleaning kitchens / bathrooms, etc., If anything, homeschooling gave me the backbone to work.
Anyway, my academic & economic background forced me into a situation where I couldn’t participate in extra-curricular activities at my high school. So, if anyone tells you that you need to be in every school club (as a leader) to be “well-rounded” and get into a top university – is wrong. Focus on what you can do and what is available to you – and excel in those circumstances. Here are a few examples:
- I told the University that my brother and I, despite our academic situation, wanted to be competitive applicants. I told them about we fought with our parents, which led them to finally agree for us to attend high school. However, the caveat was that the high school was a newly founded Charter school that didn’t offer AP (advanced placement) classes.
We were put on Independent Study…
Therefore, during the night my brother and I would attend community college classes so we could show universities that we were taking the extra effort to learn beyond what was required.
2. Again, I wasn’t in many extra-curricular activities. However, I did have ONE main passion during my four years in high school. It was magic. I didn’t become famous but I did work in a magic shop & I did write about it in my college essay. I said something on the lines of “Everyday I carry a deck of cards in my pocket. Am I hustler? No. I’m a magician.”
I think what a university wants to see is that they want to know you can focus and excel on one particular passion. I feel anyone who is scattered shows that they’re unable to commit to anything. To be committed to excelling in your passion (even if you don’t become a leader) shows that you’re disciplined, tenacious, and can roll with the punches.
3. Yes, though I had a balance life (magic, work, taking care of my 6 younger siblings) – I was able to obtain a 3.85 unweighted GPA. I also received near perfect grades in community college. I’m not a smart person by any means. In fact I think I’m pretty dumb minus a few common sense traits. I got lucky because I had study partners and I always asked as many questions when I didn’t know what the hell the teacher was talking about.
4. Though I think I’ve had obstacles (domestic violent household). I made sure not to include a depressing side of me in the personal statements. I think many people tell others to rely on a sad type story. This is far from the truth. What UC Berkeley wants to see is someone who can communicate, in their personal statement, that the passions / opportunities they had were obstacles in of itself and they were able to succeed.
The personal statements should be seen as an informal interview. I always suggest to be honest and tell them exactly how you feel. What you did. How you did what you did. “HOW” is really important.
5. I was honest. I told UC Berkeley that it was the only California school I applied to because it was my dream school… so I did everything in high school to meet its requirements. I told them if they didn’t pick me I would go to my Plan B and take the community college route. Basically, I was telling them that I wasn’t taking no for an answer and I showed that I had a proven record that I do not back down (magic, worked odd jobs, pushed hard academically…).
I’ve mentored dozens of students and taught big classrooms how to write their personal statements. I’m always down to help you – so please just contact me and I’ll do what I can. It’s always fun to help others.
6. Honesty is the best policy. I always suggest to stray away from catering to what you think they want to hear. Rather, I think you should tell them what you would do there. Show them you’re going to be a part of their vibrant community. You’re going to add something valuable.
Side Note: You know what’s funny? After college I made a ton of mistakes based on “honesty.” I want to write about this… soon. I’m not perfect.
UC Berkeley changed my life. This doesn’t mean you need to go this school because everyone has a different fit when it comes to their educational pathway. For example, my brother got accepted by decided to go to a different school and then transferred to a private university.
In addition, it also doesn’t mean that your definition of success won’t be achieved if you don’t go to UC Berkeley (or any college [or just a college] in general). For example, I have a couple friends who dropped out of UC Berkeley to start on their own projects – and they’re very successful right now.
I’m just saying that UC Berkeley has changed my life because it has catapulted my available opportunities for my own personal success. I hope this post helped.
Talk soon. Thanks for reading.
If you have any questions or if you need help with your personal statement you can always email me at jonathan.gaurano[at]gmail.com. I’m always willing to help.
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