2016 Admissions Results

  • More University of California admits than prior years.
  • I note here admits only to UCB or UCLA, the Ivies, MIT, UChicago, and Stanford. (Note: some students understandably have been admitted to multiple places.)
  • Out of 45 Students:

3 Harvard

3 Stanford

2 Brown

1 Columbia

1 Yale

1 Princeton

4 Cornell


6 UChicago

30 UCB or UCLA

1 admit to the combined BS-MD program at Northwestern University

  • The median GPA was 3.87.
  • Two-thirds were pursuing either computer science or engineering.
  • Member of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling and supporter of its Best Principles and Practices Statement

Gloria's Admissions Tips

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Mastering the College Application Essay

  1. Answer the question. The writing prompts are geared at trying to find out who you are and what makes you tick. If you approach these essays with any doubtfulness such as fear, anxiety, or boredom, then your essay will come out stilted and unconvincing. So the first step is to see the task for what it is. And switch gears! Take this opportunity instead as an exciting invitation to explore and think deeply about who you are, where you come from, and how that is connected to what you want to do with your life. When was the last time someone was curious enough to ask what you are really about? This chance may not come again for a long time. So take stock and get into it.  I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but I guarantee you, there is joy in self-discovery.  If writing college application essays feels like a pile of dirty laundry, then, I fear, the result will be a lackluster piece of writing. The pen does not lie. I can always tell when someone did not enjoy writing his or her essay, because I didn’t enjoy reading it.
  1. Don’t try to impress. It is hard to bring home this point to a group of hyper ambitious students: don’t write to impress; be yourself. The problem with essays that talk about the ambitious, hard-working, and over-determined student is that they are boring; and they sound egotistical. Remember that there are real people reading your essays. First and foremost, they have to like you. Nobody likes to read about someone who is full of himself or herself. Your transcript and your resume will speak volumes already about how you are hard-working and ambitious. But are you able to empathize with others different from you? Can you think outside the box? Are you able to laugh and enjoy the simple things in life? Have you ever pondered why the moon that evening was as large as an extra large pizza?
  1. Know your audience. People reading your application essays are highly educated, generally open-minded, rather idealistic people—like retired professors. They are not materialistic and are easily turned off by young people eager to join the rat race. They are not impressed by unreflective talk about being successful in life—whatever that means. They grimace at avarice, snarl at unchecked ego, and gag atboastfulness. They subscribe to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. They also like to read good literary fiction when they are not reading in their own field. They genuinely appreciate applicants who show them a different angle, have heart, a sense of humor, and idealism to boot. As creative people, they are naturally drawn to the unique perspective, a voice from the far side, so to speak.
  1. Dig deep.  Here is another difficult piece of advice for super ambitious, over-scheduled teenagers: take a long, aimless walk just to see what you might encounter along the way. A casualty of the highly competitive high school culture is that it leaves students no time to think. High school churns out students who are experts at spitting out what they’ve been taught, but who are less skilled in the art of original thinking. Here’s how you learn to think. Before you can think, you first have to make some room in your mind for something new, something unexpected to enter and take a seat. Engage in exercises that empty your mind such as long walks, meditation, yoga, or painting.  It is like emptying the trash bin in your email box. Then begin with some free writes. Carry a pen and notepad with you wherever you go, write often at all times of the day. This is an exercise in tapping into your inner voice. It is also an exercise in creating awareness. Then at the end of the week, peruse your writing for themes or incidents that strike a chord. Do some focused free writes around those themes that tug at you. Let these ideas percolate in your mind. Then choose a writing prompt that best allows you to tell your story.
  1. Invest in writing tools. You must make friends with other writers who know how to dig deep—essayists like Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Richard Rodriguez, James Baldwin, E. B. White, or Virginia Woolf. Surround yourself with a collection of great essays and copies of The New Yorker. Don’t bother purchasing books featuring example of essays that made it to Harvard. They are not your best mentors. And get yourself a copy of Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
  1. Don’t rehash your resume. Your essay is not a narrative version of your resume. You’ve already outlined all your awards, honors, extracurricular activities in your application. Here are some other common, deadly boring themes to avoid:
    1. How you became a leader essay talks about how great was your responsibility as head coach or captain of your team.
    2. How you landed that big prize typically begins with the sweaty palms, the moment when you think all hopes are dashed but you hit that ball and  score, you win the state championship.
    3. How much you’ve sacrificed to be get up every Saturday morning for academic decathlon is self-congratulating and and predictable.
    4. How your grandfather’s illness made you want to become a doctor is unconvincing.
    5. How you learned about the needy by building huts in Haiti is similarly unconvincing.
    6. How being in sports taught you about time management and being a team player is predictable and unveils nothing your resume does not not already state.
    7. How you want to save the world essay can make you sound utterly naïve or worse, egotistical.
    8. How difficult it was being the new kid in town but how you overcame your shyness may be therapeutic to write but is utterly boring to read.
  1. Think Story. We are all hard-wired to tune in to a good story. A story is different from an expository essay that is built around an idea, a theme, or an argument. A story narrates an event that bears some significance in this case to who you are and what you hold dear. In a story, you never have to spell out that you are wickedly smart, innovative, resourceful, or creative. The reader will infer from your story all those qualities and more. In the end, the story is far more convincing than a set of declarative sentences stating that you are all those things you say that you are.
  1. Choose a narrow slice for your topic. The temptation for most students is that they want to say everything in one small essay. You can’t say everything about yourself in 500 words. It is better to choose a thin slice and do a thorough job of describing that piece. If you are an artful writer, your telling about the thin piece will reconfigure the entire pie for the reader. In other words, choose a small manageable topic to narrate and tell it well.
  1. Avoid clichés. If you’ve heard it before then don’t repeat it. In other words, look for an original story to tell. You will lose your audience if what you write sounds like it has been said before. It is hard to get noticed if you begin to sound like everyone else. The best way to avoid clichés is to go deeper. Think about how you really felt at that moment when you stood at the edge of the canyon with your father just released from the rehab center.
  1. Avoid taboo topics. No matter how strongly you feel about a certain social or political position, this is not the place to pursue those ends. You do not know anything about the religious, social, or political persuasion of any of your readers. You don’t want to risk talking about topics that may set them off. Avoid talking about sex, politics, social reform topics such as gun-control, gay-marriage, universalizing of marijuana, euthanasia, etc.
  1. Pitching the proper tone. Stay positive and open-minded. Don’t criticize your neighbors, your parents, your country, or the older generation. You don’t want to sound judgmental, whiny, self-righteous, or intolerant. Instead you want to convey your generosity, patience, open-mindedness, and constructiveness. And at all cost, avoid sentimentality. That means avoid sounding sappy and sloppy with your emotion.
  1. Hook your reader from the beginning. I can read the first sentence of any essay and decide then and there whether to place the application in the admit, reject, or wait-and-see pile. The first sentence is that important. The introduction can be seen as a microcosm (a small story within the larger story) of the larger piece. As such it must have all the elements of a good story such as drama, intrigue or mystery, as well as provide the context of what is to follow. After you’ve written the entire essay, reread it to see where there is the greatest pulse. That’s your beginning.
  1. Enflesh your writing.  After you’ve written a first draft of your essay, step back and reread it many times and out loud several times. See if the words lift off the pages and become transfigured, enfleshed as it were, next to you as a mirror image of your best self. Apply the litmus test: Is it honest? Is it sincere? Is it probing? Does it uncover something about yourself you hadn’t known before?
  1. Revise and revise some more. A good writer knows that revision is not something you do once you are done with the writing. Revising is what happens in the very process of the writing itself. You are checking for organization, flow, continuity, tone, clarity, word choice, sense and sensibility, and more. Additionally, you will want to read it out loud and listen for rhythm. You will also listen for what I call dead places in writing—such as wordiness, too much explaining, repetition, or needless use of the passive voice. If you have a tendency to be verbose, then this is something you will also watch for in the revision. Be stingy with words; take away any and all unnecessary words. By the time I revise my first draft, the essay is shortened by a third.
  1. Proofread.  With Elements of Style as your companion, you should be able to check every grammar, syntax, and punctuation item in your essay. Correct spelling is a must and don’t simply rely on automatic spell check to catch everything. Sometimes a word can be spelled correctly but it is the wrong word in terms of its meaning in context. Proofreading requires several readings of the essay. It is never done in one sitting. And remember, you must enjoy every bit of the writing process!

— Gloria Chun

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Actions to Take Post-Submission of College Application

Most seniors breathe a sigh of relief once they push the submit button and think, that does it. What they don’t understand is that in this competitive college admissions environment, they have to continue to show active interest. It used to be that students were applying to just five or six colleges and now with twelve or more schools on their list, college admissions officers have a trickier situation on their hands. They have to second guess which candidates if offered admission would most likely accept. Their college rank is directly linked to their yield rate. In the college admissions game, students can’t rest on their academic laurels alone.

Applicants must in fact demonstrate active interest. Here are some things they can do to increase their chances of being admitted. First, stay on top of sending in their senior progress reports. Remember that high school counselors are busy with hundreds of students in their keep. Send the counselors a reminder and make sure that they send the students confirmation that the progress reports have been sent. Secondly, be sure to notify the admissions officer if the applicant has received any new awards or honors. Thirdly, if any extenuating circumstances have arisen since the student's submission requiring some special consideration by the admissions office, let the schools know about how those changes affect the applicant’s situation. One student finds out that her January SAT verbal score had not improved much at all and so she writes in to explain how English is her second language and the verbal score on her SAT is not indicative of what she is capable of doing (pointing to the straight A’s in her AP European History and AP English class). Additionally, she adds that she is signed up to take an additional college-level composition class for the summer.  She ends her email by reinstating how she is fully prepared to take on the demands of college level writing. Her tone is positive and turns her potential obstacle or weakness into a challenge that she promises to overcome. Such a piece of communication shows her resourcefulness, initiative, and drive. In another instance, the student’s father loses his job instigating a drastic change in the family’s financial portfolio. Such changes must also be communicated to the financial aid office.  A student might also ask a question about his or her intended major, in terms of some internship opportunity or about the possibility of working in a certain laboratory. Most likely, the admissions officer will forward the applicant’s query to the department or give him or her a contact in the department. Never ask a question that could be simply answered by researching the school website. Likewise, the admissions or the financial aid office might be emailing with queries or points of clarification. Stay vigilant, check email regularly, and respond promptly, for a delayed response may be taken as a sign of disinterest.

In all communication with the admissions office, students need to be mindful of tone and proper email etiquette. Use complete sentences. Stay away from needless abbreviations or text-messaging lingo. Use formal and polite speech. You don’t want to come off sounding pandering, egotistical, or avaricious.  In every piece of communication, there is a way of writing that conveys your positive, eager, curious, and generous spirit.

— Gloria Chun

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