ESS 124: Freshman Admissions, Fall 2017
A different audience for today’s podcast: Potential freshman students applying for the College of Engineering. November 1-30 is the application period for admission UC Berkeley. We are excited to have Stephanie Eto and Henry Tsai from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to answer some questions about the freshman admission process. Topics covered include what test scores are important, what classes do you need to have taken, how much do extracurricular activities count and what they want your essays to tell them about yourself.
- Office of Undergraduate Admissions, UC Berkeley
- Admissions University of California
- Prospective Freshmen FAQs
LAURA VOGT: Hi my name is Laura Vogt and I’m the Communications and Events Manager for Engineering Student Services. Welcome to this week’s episode of The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. And this week I’m really excited to welcome Stephanie Eto and Henry Tsai from the UC Berkeley Undergraduate Admissions. And so today what we’re talking about isn’t necessarily going to be for our students that are here on campus but it’s going to be for our prospective students, the freshmen that want to apply to be a Berkeley Engineer. Stephanie, why don’t you tell us about yourself.
STEPHANIE ETO: Sure. Hi everyone. I’m excited to join you. My name is Stephanie Eto. I work in the office of Undergraduate Admissions here at UC Berkeley.
LAURA: And Henry?
HENRY TSAI: Hello everybody. I’m Henry Tsai and I’m an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at UC Berkeley.
LAURA: So let’s start with one of the basics. When is the application due?
STEPHANIE: The application filing period is actually in the month of November. So you can file it now. But it is due 11:59 Pacific Time on November 30th.
LAURA: And does it do any good if you turned it in early compared to turning in and later?
HENRY: No, no it’s all the same. And there’s no preference for any time early or late.
LAURA: Once you turn in your admission, when dO the students know if they were accepted or not?
STEPHANIE: Sure, decisions for first years will typically go out at the end of March. We don’t have a solid date yet but sometime at the very end of March.
LAURA: And are there certain questions on the admissions application that are better to answer than others?
HENRY: For the personal insight questions I believe, those ones we do not have a preference at all on which one you choose so whichever one speaks to you that you feel like, “oh you know what I have a lot to say about that” That’s the one that you should write about. We would rather not see all the same questions being answered.
LAURA: So you actually like that people do different questions as they’re going through that Not every person chose the same one.
STEPHANIE AND HENRY: Yes, definitely yes.
STEPHANIE: We encourage students to pick the ones that really will tell us the most about themselves or what they most want to highlight about themselves.
LAURA: And is there any topic that has become too cliched or that you suggest people stay away from?
HENRY: No, I think that’s sort of a mental trap that you could get yourself into because at the end of the day this is your story, this is your narrative, this is your truth. So whatever that means, that’s what’s going to make you unique versus you thinking of a possible, “Oh everybody talks about that so then I shouldn’t,” then that kind of limits you in a way that is artificial. So I think just say what you want to say in the way that is truthful for you and authentic to you makes the best statement that responds to these questions.
LAURA: What additional information should students have ready or should they have researched before they start their application process?
STEPHANIE: Sure. So we actually share one application amongst the entire UC system and so UC Berkeley is a checkbox that you can check. But every U.S. campus is organized in a different way in terms of the colleges and the majors that are offered within that. And we also have different policies and procedures depending on what it is, where you want to apply, and what you want to study there. So it’s a good idea to study what the different policies and procedures are at every U.S. campus and also even within one U.S. campus the different policy procedures. For example, if you’re interested in the College of Engineering here at UC Berkeley versus being interested in the College of Letters and Science or any of the other colleges.
HENRY: I would just add also instead of maybe doing research, keeping something on hand, like the hours that you’ve done something, like the extracurricular activities. Just having that on hand so you can easily put that on paper or in the program or in the application versus you trying to guess how many hours did I do that one time.
LAURA: So when you’re applying for the university for UC Berkeley you can only apply for one specific program correct? You can’t apply for multiple programs?
STEPHANIE: Correct. We ask students to pick a college, maybe a major depending on what the college within UC Berkeley. And we also don’t offer anything called second choice sometimes it’s called alternate choice majors which some of the other UCs do. If you’re interested in UC Berkeley you do have to choose a college and and potentially a major.
LAURA: Is there any downfall to applying for multiple universities within the UC system?
HENRY: Not at all. So we hope that you applied to as many places as you would like and we hope that you get into as many places as you can. And then you have your choice.
STEPHANIE: We actually don’t know what other UCs you’ve applied to unless you state somewhere in your application explicitly which universities or which you’ve selected.
LAURA: Are there any letters or references that students need to have?
HENRY: Only if we request it from you then you have the opportunity to submit two. One from an academic person like a teacher, and then the other from someone who you know fairly well. So it’s only if we request it and it’s not required even if we request it from you. So if you can’t or don’t have time or you just don’t submit one if it is requested from you, it’s not a negative or a ding against your application. It’s just something that’s optional that could help your application.
STEPHANIE: And it’s something that we request after a student has submitted their application so it’s not something that at the time of application, they’re not going to have to have. it’s after they’ve submitted it we would reach out to the student to offer that option.
LAURA: And for engineering students, one of the questions that we often get in our front office is questions about the standardized tests and what they should take if there’s a better one that they should do, what subject tests really matter to have insight into that?
STEPHANIE: Sure. So within the standardized tests the UC system we do require the ACT with Writing or the S.A.T. reasoning with essay. So those optional writing portions are not optional for the UC system. We actually don’t have a preference between the two. So we encourage students to find which test works for them the best. We also don’t do something called super scoring which is taking if you take it multiple times take the highest scoring in each section and add them all together. We will take the highest score of any exam that a student has taken in one sitting, the overall score. And then in terms of SAT subject test we don’t require them for any applicant. If you have them they’re always going to be added value on your application. We don’t require them. For the college of engineering specifically, given the pool of students that we see we do strongly encourage students to submit two SAT subject tests. One in Math Level II and the other one in a lab science like biology, chemistry, or physics.
LAURA: So once a student applied, how likely is it that they’ll actually get accepted?
HENRY: Our overall admission rate is about 19 percent. So that’s as much as we can give really. Otherwise I think the break down, I mean that’s all available on the UCOP website, but off top of my head I can’t remember per college per major.
LAURA: The College of Engineering is pretty difficult to get into.
HENRY: Yeah probably yes. So 10 percent.
STEPHANIE: And it depends, it depends on the applicant pool, it depends on how many applications we receive period.
LAURA: So it’s not necessarily the same year to year.
STEPHANIE: Right. Absolutely.
LAURA: So what do you think an engineering student needs to do to make their application the strongest for the College of Engineering?
HENRY: I would say we do kind of look a little bit more heavily or pay closer attention to the math and sciences. I mean that makes sense right. So again with the subjective exams if you’re able to take those. But also just you know, taking the highest level math and science courses that you have at your school would help. That can kind of show your affinity and you’re prepared to succeed here. Now we often get questions or you know students will say, “Well I don’t have calculus available in my school so does that mean I’m automatically out?” And that’s not the case, if it’s not available to you, it’s something that you can take. We’re not going to hold that against you. Hopefully you’re going to be able to do something about it. Study on your own or show some other affinity towards math and sciences. But it’s not an automatic. You know you’re out.
LAURA: Is there a way on the application that gives them a chance to say these courses weren’t available?
STEPHANIE: Sure. So it’s something that most schools will have is something called a school profile and we often have access to them. But if we don’t, it’s always a good idea for a student to include the information. Typically it will be a link an online link to the PDF of their school profile in the additional comments section. Students also can write in their own words the circumstances of what’s offered or what’s not offered, anything like schedule conflicts. So maybe two of the science courses were offered at the same time or some sort of contextual information that could help us to understand. But additional comments section, totally optional but available for students to explain and
LAURA: How important are the extracurricular activities?
HENRY: Definitely very important. We want to see students utilizing all sorts of opportunities available to them, not just academically. So the GPA and test scores will only show one side of a student. Really. So there are other aspects to students. Students are more than just a number. So that part is very important. I like to think of Berkeley as a small to medium-sized city, right, with those resources, so we want to know that students can utilize those resources outside of the classroom, outside of the library. And that’s the kind of student we would like to choose.
STEPHANIE: Some of the more intangible qualities that we tend to look for. You know we look for leadership skills, originality, creativity, that innovative spirit, sort of that collaborative learning, that teamwork aspect. We also like to see students who kind of are very passionate you know. Whether that’s a demonstrated interest in their major or they’re just passionate about something. And it is all about the resources that are available at UC Berkeley after you’re a student and we want to see students take advantage of that once they’re students here. So we look for what they have done up to now to see that that might give us a little bit of a clue.
HENRY: Also for engineering a lot of times we get students who ask, “Well then do I have to do robotics or programming or something?” And that’s not necessarily the case. If you do that’s great. But again the there are multiple facets of your personality and we hope that you can show that on the application. So anything that you are passionate about that you want to highlight, that you want to show is perfectly fine from artistic to writing to building to whatever. That’s all legitimate. And it’s showing your personality. That’s more important than necessarily checking off a box saying, “Ok, I can program. Ok, I can do science whatever.”
LAURA: So one more question. Is it possible once a student is here at UC Berkeley to switch majors say if they want to go from L&S into the College of Engineering? Is that something that they can do?
STEPHANIE: So switching. I think there’s a distinction also between switching majors and switching colleges. Switching majors is within one college. But we get this question a lot. “Can I come into UC Berkeley into a different college not engineering. And then once I’m there decide I do want to pursue engineering and switch colleges?” That’s something that we say you cannot do that that’s not possible to switch colleges. So if you are interested in pursuing engineering at UC Berkeley you do have to select College of Engineering at the time of application. You don’t necessarily have to select a major. The College of Engineering does offer an undeclared option but you do have to select at least the College of Engineering.
HENRY: I’d like to add to that if engineering isn’t something you’re just you know waking and sleeping all about engineering. Then there is a computer science major in the College of Letters and Science. So you could go that route. And that’s something that you can declare at the end of your sophomore year and you don’t have to, you know, be confined, I guess into a decision right away. So the computer science and the College of Letters and Science is a very viable option.
LAURA: So as students get ready to apply and they’re writing their essays, are we worried about the language that they’re using?
HENRY: Yes. You know something we see fairly common in engineering applicants is that students tend to feel that they have to teach us about engineering or teach us about the technical aspects of what they were doing what they were building the schematics and whatever and honestly we’re not engineers we wouldn’t know anything about that. We wouldn’t know how difficult that was or how easy that was. And so that is kind of a wasted effort I guess. It’s more about what did you learn. What did you gain from it? The leadership, the creativity, the problem solving. That kind of stuff versus you know, I have to use the source of engineering language in order to read your application. So that’s kind of where we see some pitfalls.
LAURA: Perfect. Is there anything else that you wanted to add or that we skipped over?
STEPHANIE: Sure. Something that we see a lot. We read a lot of personal insight questions and sometimes we’ll see many students do this where we don’t feel like they utilize that space to their most advantage or to the best to fully express themselves. You know we often see people who write about other people other than themselves. So we learn a lot about you know the applicant’s grandfather or the applicant’s mother but we don’t necessarily learn as much about the applicant. We also see you know the UC application and the personal insight questions are very different from other essays that you might be writing for other colleges and other college applications, namely the common application. So the essay and the personal insight questions are very different. You know, we’re not looking for a story or a narrative in terms of, you know, we don’t need the wind rustling the leaves outside. It’s really more about get straight to the point tell us about you. Treat them like an interview. If somebody sat across from you and asked you those personal insight questions to your face how would you answer them? And that’s how you should really approach writing the personal insight questions for our application.
HENRY: Yeah, a couple other things, like using quotes. A lot of times we get quotes from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, you know they’re all great people. Probably will be admitted to Berkeley but at the end of the day they’re not the ones applying. Right, you are. So we’re looking for your voice. We’re looking for your narrative. These people are are taking away our attention from you. And so we want you to use your words and kind of make sure our focus is always on you.
STEPHANIE: And I think especially with engineering applicants they’re so passionate about engineering and their projects, or their competitions, or whatever it is that they might be working on that they often use the space to tell us about that instead of telling us about themselves. So it is absolutely you know talk about your passions and talk about the things that you’ve been working on but also really make sure that it’s giving us insight into you and not just explaining about the competition or explaining about what you’ve built or the app that you designed. It’s really more about your personal insight.
LAURA: So your experience of building up.
HENRY: What did you learn? What went wrong? What did you fix? You know that kind of stuff. Like I did this, I fixed this. I ran into this. That kind of thing. And sometimes students also talk about some sort of social issue that they want to fix or whatever and they talk about that issue the whole time and it’s not a place for that really. We’re not here to fix issues. We’re here to hopefully, be able to admit you. So the idea is that it should be about you it should be as big and small as that. And that’s it not about some big social American worldwide, you know state wide issue, should be like maybe two sentences and the rest should all be about you.
LAURA: So it’s important to have their students voice.
STEPHANIE: Absolutely right.
LAURA: Well thank you both so much for coming today. I really appreciate your time.
STEPHANIE: Thank you very much for having us.
HENRY: Yeah thanks a lot.
LAURA: And I will talk to everyone later. Thank you.