Being never entirely exposed to English-learning environment before, I knew moving to the United States for high school was a tough decision. During my freshman year of high school, I was lucky enough to meet my Biology teacher. She was so patient that she would help me overcome any possible problem I have, including language, culture and Biology concepts. She had such strong influence on me that I became passionate about delving more into the field of Biochemistry.
During my junior year, I created a college list with my college counselor, taking into account many factors including location, class size, diversity, extracurricular opportunities, and the most important one being the ranking of its Biochemistry program. By considering these factors, I chose University of California, San Diego as my top choice due to its rigor of Biochemistry program and ample internship opportunities at biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies near campus. It is also hard to resist the always-sunny San Diego and a campus right by the beach.
Before applying to colleges, it is essential to identify their core values and qualities they look for in potential applicants and to determine if you will fit well in such community. UC San Diego is aiming to admit students that demonstrate motivation, leadership, initiative, intellectual independence, and most importantly, excel in the challenging academic environment.
Academic achievement is one of the top criteria in admitting students. My high school offered a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which are college-level courses that are transferrable to college credits. Taking AP classes and receiving decent scores demonstrate to admission officers your intellectual rigor and academic achievement. During my junior and senior years, I enrolled in AP classes including AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Macroeconomics, AP Calculus BC and AP US History to demonstrate not only my diverse academic achievement, but also my focus on Biochemistry-related coursework. Grade Point Average (GPA) also played a huge role in my application. I received the highest honors throughout four years of high school while taking as many AP classes as I could. Taking more AP classes and getting lower grades is better than taking easier classes with higher grades as admission officers would believe that you are willing to take challenges.
In terms of academic achievement, Standardized Tests such as SAT and ACT are one of the most important criteria for admissions when I applied. I took the old SAT for three times and submitted my highest score. To me, the Math sections of SAT were not challenging since they were mostly basic Algebra and Geometry. The challenging part was the reading sections due to the large amounts of vocabulary I had to memorize. To prepare for SAT, I made flashcards for all the vocabs on Quizlet and would go through all of them once every day, highlighting the ones that were hardest to remember. Furthermore, I found it extremely helpful to practice as much as possible. I did all the practice tests I could find at least twice to identify my weak areas and to become comfortable during a real test. On the last attempt, my work paid off and I got scores in the top range of UCSD applicants. As an international student, I was also required to submit TOEFL scores. The minimum requirement for TOEFL is 83, but I would recommend getting scores above 100 to demonstrate your English proficiency.
Extracurricular activities can demonstrate your personal qualities to the admission officers. To list a few, I volunteered about 150 hours at a senior nursing home. During summer of junior year, I worked as a lab assistant at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of a university in Shanghai. These activities helped build a more holistic profile on my application and showed that I was passionate about contributing to the community and involving in professional development.
All University of California schools share one application system. Similar to Common App, UC Application allowed you to apply to as much UC schools as you would like with one application. All UC schools have one application deadline; however, their decisions would be released at different times. I applied in late 2015, and there were two required essay questions with a maximum of 1000 words. The questions were, to paraphrase, “Describe how the world you come from shaped your dreams and aspirations” and “Describe a personal quality or experience that is important to you”. I wrote about how family influenced me to give back to the community through conducting research that could develop into disease therapeutics and my unique experiences and challenges overcame upon moving to the US for high school. I emphasized the qualities that would make me a good fit for the institution. Unlike other UC schools, UCSD has its own college system. It is divided into seven colleges, Roger Revelle College, John Muir College, Thurgood Marshall College, Earl Warren College, Eleanor Roosevelt College, Sixth College and Seventh College. Each college has different core values and general education requirements, and you will be asked to rank them in the application.
Overall, I believe it is essential think about the factors that are important to you when choosing an institution and the goals you wish to accomplish. By identifying your goals, it is critical to demonstrate that you are passionate about them, through coursework and extracurricular activities. If you are interested in STEM majors, UCSD is a great choice for you! Good luck!
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