How I Chose Berkeley

UC BerkeleyToday we feature a guest post from Veritas Prep SAT instructor Courtney Tran. Courtney is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament. She was always active in local politics, including speaking against budget cuts in and closings of Oakland Public Libraries.

When I received my acceptance email from the University of California at Berkeley in February of last year, I didn’t even finish reading the letter before closing it and resuming my Tetris game.  I was certainly happy about my acceptance (who doesn’t love a good ego stroke once in a while?) but I had never seriously considered attending Cal, and had already fallen head over heels for the University of Southern California.  After all, I had already spent more than a decade living in the Bay Area, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Sather Gate each merely a short bus ride away.  I was more than ready for a change of scene.

A couple high scores later, I reopened and scanned the letter.  I even attended the scholarship interview it requested, figuring that I had no excuse for skipping out on a prestigious scholarship opportunity within jogging distance of my mother’s apartment.  A few weeks later, however, I received notice that I had been awarded several scholarships that would enable me to attend Cal nearly free of charge.

Grudgingly, I accepted.  In April, when some calculator-crunching of the financial aid packages from my college acceptance letters revealed that Berkeley was the most financially sensible of my options, I even more grudgingly submitted my deposit to the University of California.  Don’t get me wrong—I was and still am extremely grateful for the generous financial support I received for my education. But I had grown up waiting for a chance to see what the world looked like beyond the Bay Area, and attending Cal felt like selling out my dream for money.

I moved into my dorm room a few short months later, lugging four duffel bags and crafting transfer application essays in my head.  Even my tight-jawed scowl, however, was no match for the wonderful surprises around every corner of the campus.  The beautiful North Side architecture, the incredibly diverse student population, the fantastic cleverness laced through even the idlest conversations with peers and professors, and the surprisingly tasty dining hall food (who knew?) won me over in a matter of days.  Three weeks in, I was smiling mindlessly on my way to morning lectures by brilliant professors that made me excited to get out of bed (and that made me feel like a hopeless nerd, but in the best of ways.)  My dorm-mates became my second family, my exposure to new cultures and types of people broadened my perspectives, and I slowly grew to appreciate the convenience and comfort of living close to home.  Even better, Cal’s alumni network and internship programs fed my fascination with travel, law, and the field of public policy by giving me the opportunity to secure two winter break externships—one in Washington D.C., and one in San Jose—and a place in a summer program that will allow me to intern in the state capital for eight weeks.  I got my wish after all.

It’s January now. I’ve just finished my first semester as a Golden Bear, as well as a few applications for study abroad programs.  New classes start in two weeks.  I’m writing this from beneath a bundle of fuzzy blankets on the couch in my mother’s apartment; and even as comfy as it is here, I can’t wait to go back.  I never did write those transfer essays, because it didn’t take me long to realize that UC Berkeley, despite my initial reservations, was the perfect place for me.  I wear my Golden Bear hoodie with pride.

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