How I got into UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley- isn’t it beautiful?

Greetings to fellow readers! I’m May Lyn from Penang and I’ve been admitted to UC Berkeley or more commonly known as Cal, as a freshman for fall 2014. Just a brief introduction about myself before I proceed further. I studied in Convent Green Lane Secondary School and took my SPM examination in 2011. In April 2012, I was awarded the National Scholarship by the Public Service Department of Malaysia for being one of the top 50 scorers of SPM 2011. Then, I spent two years in Kolej Yayasan UEM, Lembah Beringin for my A-levels program.

Studying in the UK had always been my dream. However, after attending the half-day USAPPS workshop in Penang, I was inspired and motivated to apply to universities in the United States. I believe that the liberal arts education there will mold me into a more well-rounded individual, preparing me for challenges in the competitive working world.


 Application Process

There are altogether 9 University Of California campuses, namely UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz. You can apply to as many UC campuses as you want using the UC Application at http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/how-to-apply/apply-online/index.html.

I applied to UC Berkeley and UCLA so I had to pay a total application fee of USD 160. For each campus selected, international students have to pay an application fee of USD 80. Application opens for applicants for fall 2015 on 1st August 2014, so you can get started by creating an account for your UC Application from 1st August onwards. You may start to fill up your details on your UC Application. However, the submission period for applicants for fall 2015 is Nov 1-30.

I applied to College of Letters and Sciences in UC Berkeley and my intended major is Economics. (Note: Under this college, all students will be admitted as “Undeclared” and a non-transfer student will be expected to declare his/her major before the first semester of his/her junior (third) year). The complete list of majors offered by UC Berkeley can be found using this link http://ls-advise.berkeley.edu/major/majorlist.html .

The following are a few main sections of the UC Application:

I) Academic History

In the Academic History section of the UC Application, I was required to enter all my grades for all the tests and exams which I took in 9th, 10th and 11th Grade (Form 3,4 and 5). It is very important for you to enter all your grades as shown in your secondary school’s report cards. You will have to submit certified translated copies of your transcripts after you have been admitted into UC Berkeley. I was also required to enter my grades for my college’s exams which I took in 12th Grade (first year of A-levels).

II) Activities & Awards

This section allows you to list up to 5 activities/awards for each of the following:

Courses other than A-G

This encompasses all the courses which you have taken for leisure or out of interest. I did not report any courses for this.

Education prep programs

My example: Job attachment at an accounting firm

Volunteer & Community Service

My examples:

  • Asia Community Service – Asia Community Service is a not for profit organization helping people with special needs to lead a meaningful life. I helped to care for autistic children.
  • Children’s Protection Society- Children’s Protection Society provides shelter for children who come from abusive or broken families. I tutored them and taught them how to make handicrafts.

Work experience

My examples:

  • Brand Ambassador- Creating awareness about a product (Tropicana Twister) by attracting traffic to my booth in a shopping mall. I distributed free samples of the orange juice.
  • Administrative assistant- Answer phone calls, process data, issue receipts, talk to parents about the tuition classes offered at the centre which I worked at.

Awards & Honours

  • National Merit Scholar
  • Merit Award for Mag Inc Competition organized by the Star
  • Awarded High Distinction on National Chemistry Quiz
  • Mathematics Book Prize
  • Won Fourth Place in Mighty Minds State Challenge

Extracurricular activities

  • Secretary for Natural History Society in college
  • Finished among the top 10 for my secondary school’s cross country
  • Editor-in-chief for my school’s Golden Anniversary magazine
  • Patrol Leader for Girl Guide Society
  • Prefect in Secondary School

III) Test Scores

I reported my test scores for the following:

  • SAT Reasoning Test
  • SAT Subject Tests (Maths Level 2 and Physics)
  • IELTS
  • GCE AS-Level
  • GCE A-level (Predicted Grades)
  • SPM examination

IV) Personal Statement

My essay prompts are as follows:

Freshman applicant prompt : Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

General prompt: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

Directions obtained from http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/how-to-apply/personal-statement/index.html. You may obtain tips and techniques for writing this personal statement from the link too!

All applicants must respond to two essay prompts — the general prompt and either the freshman or transfer prompt, depending on your status.

  • Responses to your two prompts must be a maximum of 1,000 words total.
  • Allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words.

For the freshman applicant prompt, I wrote about my family background and my upbringing, and how they shaped my dreams and aspirations.

As for the general prompt, I wrote about my experience in my ballet class. When I first joined ballet at the age of 10, I found it hard to do a “split”. However, my ballet instructor did not give up on me and stood behind me, giving me a forceful push to help me achieve the perfect split. In life, very few people will be standing by me, giving me the necessary push or motivation to achieve my goals. Ultimately, I have to be my own greatest source of inspiration.

It is very important for you to tell your OWN story because only an authentic piece from you will win the hearts of the admissions officers. Start brainstorming and reflecting on yourself. I’m sure you will be able to pen a personal statement which truly reflects who you are and your dreams as well as aspirations.


The whole process of applying to US universities has been very fulfilling to me. I learned to reflect on myself and discover more about myself. The whole application process isn’t too burdensome if you start doing your research on the universities which you want to apply to early. I wish you all the best in applying to universities and may you succeed in getting the university of your choice.

Links which you may find useful:

  1. http://blog.admissions.berkeley.edu/2013/11/uc-app-part1-basics/
  2. http://blog.admissions.berkeley.edu/2013/11/uc-app-part2-personal-statements/
  3. http://blog.admissions.berkeley.edu/2013/11/uc-app-part3-activities-awards/

Cheah May Lyn copy

Cheah May Lyn will be pursuing her Economics degree in University of California, Berkeley this fall under the National Scholarship by the Public Service Department, Malaysia. She is an adventurous girl who likes outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming and cycling.

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One thought on “How I got into UC Berkeley

  1. hairi says:

    Thank You for this post ,

    I am really interested in pursuing my tertiary study in the states. I am currently doing my AS A – levels in one of the local private colleges. My question is, do the US varsities look and credit our A-level subjects like how the British Universities do? Im referring to the whole issue of the traditional and the so called non-traditional subjects

    Like

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