Berkeley’s a no-brainer (Right?)

When I was 7, I wanted to be an author, a detective, a horse trainer — or at least live on a ranch — or any combination of the aforementioned.

By the time I was 17, only the urge to become an author had persisted, joined by a deep-set feeling of bewilderment about my future. (Side note: The fact that you’re expected to pick what you want to do for the rest of your life at 16 or 17 is more than a bit ridiculous.)

The biggest question that plagued my junior and senior years of high school was “Where and what do you want to study?”

I was raised by Indian parents — a large portion of us at UC Berkeley knows what this means. I spent a large chunk of my life, especially after my older sister started her college application process, being told that a passion can’t be a profession. My parents basically told me that I could write however much I wanted after I graduated from college and got a good job, but I couldn’t try and make that my main gig. 

A big part of figuring out where I wanted to go for college was deciding what I wanted to study and which majors would open the most job opportunities in about five years when I graduated college.

Anything too science-y was out immediately as science had never really struck my interest, as was anything in the humanities — Asian parents can be a bit ruthless toward anything that isn’t STEM. The obvious choice for me, as the daughter of an IT professional and having been raised in the heart of Silicon Valley, should have been computer science. Despite having taken several coding and engineering classes in high school, however, the only thing I had to show for myself was suffering grades and a slight apathy toward code.

My parents and I researched majors and decided to apply for a mixed variety depending on the school — business for some, a less technical major relevant to computer science at others and cognitive science at schools with very good programs for it.

Now in high school, I had decent grades, but my friends always scored higher and appeared to work harder than me which led me to develop a bit of an inferiority complex. And as college app decisions began to return, it only worsened.

To begin with, I wasn’t the strongest applicant. My grades were okay, and I’d taken so many — too many — AP classes and tests. My SAT and ACT scores were also pretty high, though they could have been better. Although I had some achievements such as being VP of a feminist club I’d co-founded and a member in several leadership programs, students at my school definitely had better. The only thing I felt I had going for me was that I could write a mean college essay.

Decisions began to come out. My peers, my closest friends included, got into several of the UCs on Regents’ Scholarships. I got rejected by UC Davis.

That’s literally what it would feel like. One minute, you’d hear in the hallway, so-and-so got into UCLA! The next minute, I would be rejected by Virginia Tech.

I think the NYU rejection really hurt the most. I’d visited the campus during my junior year and had really liked it.

Not everything was a lose-lose for me. I got into Santa Clara University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, San Jose State, etc. Miraculously, I was waitlisted at UC Irvine and UC San Diego. I kind of really wanted to go to San Diego but not really for any logical reason. I liked the campus and could also major in cognitive science there. On top of that, all of my favorite cousins would be nearby.

Oh, and I was waitlisted at UC Berkeley.

I think I lost my mind a little over that one.

While my best friend Taroob committed to UC Berkeley, I accepted my offer to Santa Clara University. Although SCU had many things to offer — proximity to my home, a decent scholarship, a nice campus — I still had some qualms. Despite the scholarship, SCU is still a pretty pricey school, and beyond that, I wasn’t entirely pleased with the campus visit.

But it was still — seemingly — my best option.

So there it was: I was going to Santa Clara University. I was going to be a business major. I would come home every weekend and maybe go visit Taroob in Berkeley sometimes.

One day in May, I finished taking the AP Psychology test. It was about 4 or 5 in the afternoon, and Taroob and I were waiting inside my school for one of our moms to come pick us up. I fished my phone out from my backpack, powered it back on and checked my email.

An update had been made to my Berkeley admissions decisions. I was no longer on the waitlist — I had been accepted to UC Berkeley.

When I told Taroob, she smiled and said we would be together if I went to UC Berkeley. We’d gone to school together for the last 12 years, and it seemed like we would for another four.

I called my mom. I called my dad. I excitedly told Taroob’s mom in the car.

The next day, I stayed home from school to study for my upcoming AP tests. But really, it was to make an important decision.

My parents both thought it was a no-brainer. Go to Berkeley. Study cognitive science. Still, I consulted my uncle in Manhattan and my aunt in Virginia, both professors.

At the end of the day, the decision was obvious. It was UC Berkeley. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, shot-in-the-dark chance. I would be an average student on an extraordinary campus, but it would be worth it — I hoped.

So I said yes. 

My journey to UC Berkeley was a little rocky and overwhelming. Even now, I still get lost in a tidal wave of homework, procrastination, bad grades, insecurity, but then there are moments where I remember: 152 years of UC Berkeley and counting — of which I get four, and I only have two of them left.

I have to make the most of them.

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected] .