UC Berkeley wasn’t my dream school.
It was beyond that. An impossible school. A school I couldn’t even dream of. I wouldn’t dare. How could someone like me, a plain-Jane, hoodie-wearing, bench-warming, part-time lunch-lady who built a formidable reputation for in-class panic attacks ever dream that big.
But the dreams I wouldn’t dare to dream came true.
When I opened my decision letter and confetti fell across the page, my first thought was “I don’t deserve this.” My second thought was “I need to run.” Not just any run, a run up a hill. And not just any hill — it had to be Hill Street, the route my cross country friends loathed. If I couldn’t make it to the top, I obviously didn’t have the mental fortitude to make it at UC Berkeley, and my acceptance was clearly a mistake.
Surprisingly, after months of little to no exercise and a bit of quarantine fluff, I did clear the hill. For a fleeting moment, I allowed myself to indulge in the delusion that my mediocre cardiovascular health proved I was UC Berkeley material.
Unsurprisingly, my delusions lost their staying power. I replayed the doubts in my head on a continuous shuffle, with no time for ad breaks. I found an old text from a “friend” saying I wouldn’t be able to handle the academic rigor at UC Berkeley. At the time, I didn’t bat an eye at it. I would never get into UC Berkeley. And I figured they were probably right anyway.
But now, I had an acceptance letter that proved my initial reaction wrong. What would happen now? Was my “friend” right?
Instead of using the doubt as fuel, I surrendered and found myself in a spiral of over analysis. Every time I’d tell a person I went to UC Berkeley, I’d always make a mental note of their reaction. Of course, there were the standard “Congratulations!” and “All your hard work really paid off.” As nice as they were, the compliments fell on deaf ears. Instead, the remarks I retained were in more of a gray area (not even insults, so why do I care so much?). My favorites include:
“You’re too nice for Berkeley. Oh no, I don’t mean it like that –”
“I had a friend that went there, she’d call me every weekend in tears. But I’m sure you’ll be OK.”
“Oh wow, it’s very cutthroat, or so I heard.”
“Cal? Doesn’t seem like you.”
“Where? Cow? Oh, Cal! You? That’s great!”
Eventually, I stopped telling people where I went to school. If I knew they’d stay strangers, I’d usually say I was still in high school.
Now that I was disguising my impostor syndrome with lies, I finally decided to use my fear as fuel. No, not as fuel, as a weapon. A weapon that would thwart all the challenges, that I’m obviously not equipped to handle, dead in their tracks.
As soon as I received my acceptance letter, my mad dash for resources began. I applied for 20 scholarships because I’d obviously fail a few classes and need an extra year to graduate if I didn’t drop out first. With an Expected Family Contribution of $60, I certainly couldn’t afford that without outside help. I sought out alumni and pitched them a now cringeworthy recap of my high school stats. Were people with an SAT score as low as mine passing classes at UC Berkeley?
My feverish anxiety continued into the school year. In terms of storytelling, you’d expect a grandiose description in grueling detail of my freshman year experience at this point in the article. But the truth is, I couldn’t give you one even if I wanted to. Honestly, I don’t remember much. At this point, it feels like a nightmare. Not the teeth-falling-out, monsters-in-the-closet kind. Have you ever woken up and instantly forgotten the details of a dream but remembered the palpable fear and anxiety of it all? That’s how I view the year.
Ironically, the paper trail of my school year tells a different story entirely. I’ve managed to keep straight A’s. I’ve spoken to Olympians, star college athletes and award-winning journalists. I’m an editor at The Daily Californian now. For the first time in my life, I have a savings account. I’ve even nabbed a summer internship. I did it all while balancing a part-time job, a couple of side hustles and some volunteer work.
It feels crass and insensitive to list out my accomplishments that way. Am I just being ungrateful? I mean, I have a savings account! With actual money in it! Why am I so unhappy?
Sometimes I feel like I’m going to jinx it: If I say everything I’ve done this year out loud, then magically it’ll all disappear. I’ll wake up and realize that I’ve dropped out, I couldn’t handle UC Berkeley and that this year was all an accident.
But on paper, I’ve proved myself wrong. I proved everyone wrong. But I still can’t believe it. Am I still dreaming?
Then, my doubts remind me that I’m wide awake.
I only have good grades because I’m in easy classes.
I only got those interviews because people felt bad for me, and out of their pity they decided to talk to me.
I only have a summer internship because I’m lucky. I’m not actually qualified.
I’m only an editor because no one else applied.
After I’m sobered by my doubts, I realize nothing has changed. A year later, and I still feel the same. Underqualified. Afraid. A fluke in the admissions system.
Maybe, in publishing this piece, I’ll realize that I should be a little more certain. After all, I’ve made it, right? Right?
Or maybe some employer will read this and decide not to hire me. Or some boomer will say I’m fishing for compliments and ridicule me on Facebook. Or maybe no one will read it, and my confessional will just drift along by itself on the internet, another confused soul just wandering about.
Maybe I’m just being delusional. I know delusions never last.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.