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My Journey to Haas: How I Got Into My Dream School

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

I still can't believe it. Just two Fridays ago I received my offer to attend the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. What?! How did this happen? How did we get here? Well, get your reading glasses ready and let's dive into it. We're taking it way back this time.


"WOW, I REALLY MADE IT"


In June 2017 (you thought I was kidding when I said "way back"?), I graduated with honors from a little-known high school named "School #90" (yup, no fancy titles there!) in Kyiv, Ukraine. Since high school in Ukraine only goes up to 11th grade, I received my high school diploma at 16. I thought I had the world in the palm of my hand. At every family get-together, I was showered with praise, which did little to temper my already-inflated ego.


At this point in time, my 16-year-old self thought she had it all figured out: I'd receive my bachelor’s at 20, master’s at 22, and find my sense of purpose along the way. Looking back, I wasn't even close.


I ended up heading to a top-ranking Ukrainian university on a full ride. Not only that, but I was paid to go there, receiving a stipend (a meager one by American standards, but it was still something). Not too shabby, right? Once again, the news of my admission went to my head and I was boasting about it to all of my friends.


I would also be studying at the International Economics department within the university which sported the highest tuition in the entire country. "Wow, I really made it," I thought to myself as I glanced up at the blocky white building during my summer walks past my future campus. The inside was rather cushy too - the building used to be a higher education institution for the kids of high-ranking Soviet leaders, so it was far from "scrappy."


I finally experienced the true atmosphere of the school in late August of that year, as I came in to accept my offer of admission and submit additional documents. I came in my oversized jean jacket which made my shorts look nonexistent underneath. "Nothing to worry about - I'll be in and out of here so fast that no one will catch it," I said as I walked up the steps. The heavy creaking doors slowly opened and I was greeted by a sea of heels, red dresses, bleached blonde-haired moms, and an overwhelming cloud of "old lady" perfume. Needless to say, I didn't fit in from day one. I finally understood what the high tuition cost meant - I'd be surrounded by the children of Ukrainian elites and their knock-off Chanel bags. Yay me.


"MY VISION OF THE UNIVERSITY EXPERIENCE WAS CRUMBLING"


My first semester was pure misery. The majority of the friends that I somehow managed to make were only interested in practicing their English without hiring a pricey tutor (I was dubbed "that American girl"). I was also struggling with a personal dilemma - my idealistic, yet completely disillusioned, vision of the university experience was crumbling. Without an underlying purpose – one that didn’t involve regurgitating “I graduated and I’m only 20!” at every family occasion – my motivation wore off as quickly as the novelty of the prestigious Ukrainian university name. That magical day when I’d wake up and realize what I was born to do wasn’t coming, and the gravity of my internal aimlessness gradually settled in.


Outside of that, I realized the academic system itself was completely broken. Bribery was commonplace, with students unabashedly bringing in boxes of chocolates, flowers, and expensive whiskey from their parents' kitchen cabinets into final exams. The "gifting" would begin before the exam would start, while others were more sneaky about it, arranging 1-on-1 meetings to "negotiate" their class grade. I was lucky enough to know that this was far from normal and, by my second semester, I was already plotting my escape plan.


I realized that my education would be deemed meaningless if I didn’t take a substantial step back – it was terrifying to admit that behind the artificial titles of “top student in the class” hid an anxiety-ridden teenager who never stopped to ask, “What am I working toward? What cause do I serve?” Coupled with the pervasive corruption that penetrated the university from within, I knew it was time to pivot. I spent some time in Berlin and was intending to continue my education there, but something was pulling me toward SoCal.


"STARTING OVER"


I withdrew from the university and convinced my mother to let me join her in California to take community college classes. I no longer cared about prestige (the word, funnily enough, stems from the Latin praestigium, which means "delusion"), I just needed to regain my sense of motivation and gain some humility for a change. With my harrowing Ukrainian transcripts in hand, I landed in LAX and spent the car ride with my mom back to OC in complete silence.


Starting over in a semi-new education system was extremely intimidating, but I felt relieved of the large-scale deadlines which previously constrained my decisions. Receiving my bachelor's at 20 just wasn't happening and I had to make peace with that. I took the time to experiment with classes, join student communities, and explore extracurricular activities. With each semester, I found my footing, as I got a stronger understanding of the transfer process, increased my on-campus involvement, and worked toward self-acceptance. I finished in two and a half years. During this time, I switched my major twice, made connections with professors and students, took on 5 leadership roles, met my amazing boyfriend, and moved out with him. None of this would be possible without the support and flexibility that was available to me at a community college.


Through communicating with students of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, I gained a deep appreciation for the key opportunity that this special place had given us all. It created a space where we could invest in ourselves and reconnect with our inner ambition, whether it be by discovering an initial field of interest or developing the skills needed to advance in that field. I reconnected with my sense of self-confidence and found my passion in leading others and executing a vision that helped the broader community. Through College Leap (shout out to all of the chapter members!), I was able to do just that and directly see the impact I was making. So many more Irvine Valley College (IVC) students now proactively search for internships and volunteering opportunities, create their LinkedIn profiles and leverage the platform's networking potential, as well as exchange academic and professional tips on the daily. It is immensely rewarding to see the chapter that I helped build from scratch last year flourishing and bringing value to students and staff alike.


"WHAT'S NEXT?"


Alright, so what's next? Community college was great and all, but I couldn't stay here forever. I had taken all that I could from IVC and I needed to continue growing. It was finally time to fill out those nerve-wracking transfer applications and wait... for 5 months. While many of my peers dropped their extracurriculars overnight after they submitted their essays, I just wasn't that kind of person. I upped the ante and continued to work more than ever before to maintain the progress I had made in the year prior. I created the LinkedIn Mentor Program, organized speaker panels, and reached out to alumni to learn more about the schools I applied to (wink, wink, UC Berkeley transfers), all while staying on top of my schoolwork.


The UC application itself? My PIQ essays may not have been the most refined, but I wrote from the heart. I detailed my story of compromise when it came to being vegan and living with my non-vegan boyfriend, the loss of structure in my life after my grandmother's passing and my effort to rebuild it for myself, as well as a passionate "love letter to accounting" to top it all off. My grades were solid and I had strong extracurriculars that I invested significant time in. Was this enough? Only time would tell.


But what about Haas? Isn't there a supplemental application? Yup, I submitted mine at 11:57 PM on the day of the deadline... yikes. However, I think that what I wrote here made all the difference. While my UC essays were pretty good by my standards, "pretty good" usually doesn't cut it for Haas. Two places where I really stood out this time were on my "resume" (which is just an extended version of the extracurriculars section on the UC application) and the supplemental essay. On the resume, I wrote in depth about the events I hosted, the massive outreach I conducted, and the impact I made as a result, both in my own life and in those of my peers. The essay prompt posed a question that I knew exactly how to answer. This year, it asked about a time when things didn't go according to plan and how I adjusted to deal with the situation. Well, and this is going to get a bit meta, I wrote about leaving the Ukrainian university and my fresh start at IVC. A lot of my essay response is actually sprinkled in throughout this post!


My chances of getting in were extremely slim and I knew it. Not only did I think I could've done more at community college - a thought that we all have when filling out transfer applications - but my Ukrainian transcripts posed a logistical challenge. The UC Berkeley website clearly stated that applicants with transferrable coursework that exceeded 80 semester units were automatically denied admission. If even one class from my Ukrainian university was deemed transferrable, that was it for me. Thankfully, I found out this wasn't the case.


I got the sign of hope that I so desperately needed in late March when the Haas interview invitations were released. I still had a shot of getting in, which meant that my Ukrainian transcripts were tossed out by the admissions committee. I prepared meticulously, but the technological odds weren't in my favor that day. I didn't see that I had 60 seconds to prepare and jumped right into answering the prompts. The entire first minute of my response didn't make it into my video submission. I made use of the second attempt, but was so stressed out that I made the exact same mistake again. That night, I went to bed frustrated and embarrassed.


"IT WAS ALL WORTH IT"


The month of April 2021 was a sprint. Decisions were coming out left and right, making it extremely difficult to even think of classwork. I had received my Cal State decisions and felt relieved knowing that I had CSU Fullerton in the bag. It was a great school and I had many connections there, but a part of me was still wondering if Haas could be in the cards.


Let's cut to the chase: I was waitlisted at UCI and accepted to UCSB (all thanks to TAG). I was extremely frustrated about the UCI decision. I thought I had met all of the requirements for the Honors to Honors agreement, but they decided to transfer over my Ukrainian units, so I didn't make the GPA threshold. I was so upset - I had worked my butt off for two years only to be judged by the grades I received from a university that I left on my own accord. UC Berkeley seemed unattainable at this point - I mean, who gets waitlisted at UCI and accepted to Haas?


Apparently, I do. On April 23, 2021, my heart was beating out of my chest all day. At 2:30 PM, just half an hour before decisions were supposed to come out, I decided to go for a walk with my boyfriend. We circled around the UCI campus for an hour (can't say it was too comforting, knowing I had been waitlisted there). I glanced at the time on my phone periodically, as I balanced it in my sweaty hands: 2:57, 3:00, 3:07. The decisions were out, but I couldn't check the portal yet. Well, I physically could, but I just wasn't ready. I held out hope for so long with the odds being completely stacked against me. I couldn't let the dream die just yet.


I returned from that frantic walk and dove right into a series of meetings. It was 5:35 PM when I closed the last Zoom window of the day and felt that I could finally face the music. I took a deep breath and logged into the portal. I clicked on the status update and immediately noticed the lack of "virtual confetti." That's a thing right? Well, it was for UCSB, the only UC I had gotten into at that point, so I thought, "alright, that's it, CSUF it is." But I still needed to see it for myself before I could throw my hands up and give it a rest... As I started reading, I went from complete resignation to a state of utter insanity. I GOT IN! What followed was a series of high-pitched shrieks and sporadic jumps all over my bedroom. I'm fairly certain I generated a solid 3.5 on the Richter scale all on my own right there and then. I dove into a self-perpetuated frenzy of calls and texts that lasted the entire weekend. It still feels too good to be true, but I accepted my admission offer to the Haas School of Business on April 26, 2021.


What should you take away from this post? Well, if you made it to the very end, you're a really tenacious human being, so make sure you apply that same attitude to your academics and career. Remember that GPA is just a filter for colleges, so if there's not much to your application beyond that 4.0, it will be difficult to break into UCLA or UC Berkeley. On the other hand, if you got a couple Bs or even Cs early on and have a demonstrated track record of leadership and community service, your chances will be significantly higher. Lastly, just know that if you work hard right now, your goals for next year will be fully attainable!


P.S. If you want to hear my opinion on different California universities, my "stats," or anything else related to my transfer experience, I highly encourage you to check out the Alumni Insights Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/2UKe5n643WfXiJLn8VUuv8?si=RToVeV5aQ5u4ugHAzh04Rw.





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