Yesterday, the students from the AP Club continued our college tour and went to UC Berkeley.  It also happened to be the day when UC Berkeley released their admissions data for the upcoming school year.  On the trip, one of my students began talking about every building, every bit of history on the campus.  He knew the Nobel laureates who are currently professors and the rankings of the university for the past decade.  He could tell you how one becomes a carillon player in The Campanile and the exact spot where Mario Savio gave his famous “cogs in the machine” speech.  When I looked at him with raised eyebrows, he said “I just really want to go to this school; it’s my dream school.”  Clearly.  When we sat down for lunch, he asked me what he needed to do to get into Cal.  I told him that college admissions counseling isn’t a science; we can make predictions based on trends we’ve seen (which is scientific) but ultimately it is up to the university (which can be tossing a deck of cards in the air).  You won’t see any college admissions counselor making guarantees or even boasting 100% placement into any university.  With that said, I told him this was sort of the key to increasing the odds:

  1. At some point, everyone has a GPA above a 4.0, with all the best classes and letters of recommendation, and top test scores.  Everyone found their passion while working in the soup kitchen while being the captain of the varsity team and working part-time at In-n-Out.  So what is setting students apart from each other is this idea of placement.  Not everyone is suited for the mega-large campus that hosts a dance-a-thon on the same weekend as the Big Game and is situated in an urban metropolis.  Not everyone is suited for the tiny, East Coast, Chaucer-reading, let’s speak Italian for two years campus either.  The way I like to describe placement is in two questions: Will you be a good student?  Will you be a good student here?  
  2. Regarding the first question, your transcript and test scores determine that the best.  Have someone take a look at your numbers (clears throat) to see if your GPA and scores are in the vicinity of what the school typically admits.  I’ve had students below a 3.0 talking about Yale.  They’ll say “but they look at the personal statement, right?”  Sure, but it’s still Yale.  And that person should look into another campus.  This is also why I prefer to begin working with students early so that they are selecting courses and getting tutoring if even the hint of a C enters the picture.
  3. I had another student who was convinced she was going to Stanford.  Semester after semester she continued to fail her final exams and continued to earn Bs or less.  I may have started making buzzing sounds around her.  Maybe.  Anyway, when I confronted her about her GPA, she said that she heard that because she is a person of color, Stanford would forgive her Bs.  I said that is patently untrue (and lacking a basic understanding of affirmative action).  More importantly, does she want to go to a school where that would be true?  Imagine an entire student body of excuse-makers and people who don’t ask questions when things seem untrue.  No thanks.  This brings me to the second question: Character is super important too and this is coming from your personal statement and letters.  Are you the type of person who will take advantage of all that school has to offer?  When I was at NYU, one of my track teammates decided to transfer to Connecticut College.  Our conversation about her transfer went like this:
  • Teammate: Have you noticed all of the noise?  The cabs?  The subways?  People out all night?
  • Me: Like music to my ears.  I can’t sleep without it.
  • Teammate: And I just can’t seem to find anything I like to do.  I’m bored every weekend.
  • Me: Last weekend, my class went to a performance at Julliard.  I went further uptown for my internship with NYC Parks and Recreation.  Yesterday, I hit up the Angelika to catch a new Spanish film.  And I’m hoping to enroll in a comedy-writing class at Gallatin; the instructor writes for Letterman or something.  How are you bored?
  • Teammate: I’m just a rolling hills, live on the farm type of girl.
  • Me: But aren’t you an Art History major or something?
  • Teammate: Sure, but I want to keep dabbling in stuff.  Who knows; maybe I’ll end up being a scientist or a teacher?  I just want to be out in the countryside for a while.
  • Me: Yeah, then this transfer sounds about right.

The super hype future Cal Bear is coming with the club to Stanford tomorrow.  You know where I’m rooting for him to go but it will be interesting to see where he feels he might be better placed.