With campuses closed to visits from prospective students, the Indian SCENE is bringing its own college tours to you. This week, The Indian SCENE spoke with Divya Macha of Ann Arbor, a rising junior at the University of California, Berkeley, studying molecular and cell biology. Berkeley, located across the San Francisco Bay from the city of San Francisco, boasts several notable alumni, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former California governor Jerry Brown, and the author Maxine Hong Kingston. Undergraduate enrollment is around 31,000, and estimated cost of attendance before financial aid is around $42,000 a year for in-state residents living in on-campus housing and $72,000 for out-of-state students.
The Indian SCENE: Tell us about your high school experience.
Divya Macha: I went to a relatively small, private high school (graduating class of ~80 kids) called Greenhills School. I was involved in debate, varsity women’s tennis, and I was very involved in volunteering with a girls’ orphanage in Sri Lanka. The summer before my senior year, I worked at a cancer research lab at the University of Michigan where I did wet lab research on prostate cancer. I continued working at the lab into my senior year, and presented my research to my school and my lab.
IS: When did you begin your college search? What aspects of a college were important to you?
DM: I began my college search towards the end of my junior year. I wanted a college experience that would challenge and offer me great academic opportunities, but also one where I could have a fulfilling social life (football games, Greek life, school spirit, clubs, etc.).
IS: Did you visit campuses? If so, when did you start? What were your takeaways from these visits?
DM: I began visiting colleges during the second semester of my junior year in high school. I visited the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, NYU, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, and Stanford.
My takeaways from these visits were that I preferred schools that were close to a large city – I liked the idea of having the option to go places and explore instead of being stuck in the middle of nowhere. I also gravitated towards larger schools (mostly public) because I was desperate for more social opportunities after attending such a small high school. These larger schools also had exciting school spirit and sports teams that I was looking forward to being a part of during my college experience, given that I had grown up going to University of Michigan football games my whole life.
IS: Tell us about the application process. Did you apply early decision or early action anywhere? How many schools did you apply to?
DM: I applied to all of the schools that I visited, as well as Columbia University and UCLA. The only school I applied to early action was the University of Michigan. I applied to UC schools (Berkeley and UCLA) at the beginning of December, when the UC application is due. In mid-December, I was accepted early to the University of Michigan early action, which was my main goal in my college application process (target school). For the rest of the schools I applied to, I submitted applications in early January for Regular Decision. I was not too desperate to get into any of those schools, but decided to apply after the relief of getting into the University of Michigan to give myself more options in case I did happen to get accepted.
IS: How did you eventually decide to attend your college?
DM: By the time I heard back from the colleges I applied to, I got waitlisted at Northwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, and accepted to UCLA, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, and NYU. I decided not to enroll in the waitlists for UPenn and Northwestern, because by that time I was set on going to a larger public school, and didn’t want to deal with having to wait for a waitlist decision. By the end, I was having a very difficult time deciding between the University of Michigan, UCLA, and UC Berkeley. During the spring of my senior year, I took a trip to California visited UCLA and UC Berkeley for their accepted students’ days to help me make my decision. I made pro and con lists for all three schools, and ultimately decided that I wanted to leave my hometown of Ann Arbor, and decided on UC Berkeley over UCLA because I felt that it was a better fit for me socially and academically.
IS: Tell us about campus life (e.g. ease of joining clubs/greek life, diverse population, ease of meeting with professors, workload, getting registered for classes, anything else you’d like to include).
DM: Campus life at Berkeley is very fun if you take advantages of the opportunities afforded to you. There are hundreds of clubs, so it may take a few weeks to figure out which ones you want to join. The student body is really diverse, and filled with people of all different passions, interests, and racial backgrounds. Greek life is really fun (I joined a sorority my sophomore year), but it isn’t for everyone. Lots of people outside of Greek life have amazing social lives. I met most of my friends in my freshman dorm, and in my orientation group. During the second semester of my sophomore year, I also joined a healthcare consulting club, which was pretty competitive to get into, but very rewarding professionally and socially.
The workload at Berkeley is pretty difficult, but definitely manageable if you put in the time. It’s important to manage time appropriately, and to make sure you are not procrastinating. I try to enroll in classes with my friends, and form study groups in discussion sections so that I have people who I can ask for help if I need it. Given that Berkeley is a very large school, students who need academic support need to seek it out themselves if they need it. However, there are tons of resources available if students need help with academics. I have found that GSI and TA’s office hours are the most helpful. I don’t meet with professors that often unless I have a specific need to do so, but I haven’t found it to be difficult to do so if needed.
Class registration is a bit stressful, because a lot of the high-demand intro classes fill up very quickly, but I think the best way to go about enrollment is to talk to an advisor before registration. Students have to reach out to advisors for the most part, but they are very helpful and guiding students through their academic career at Berkeley. For the most part, if you get waitlisted for a class, you will eventually get into it off the waitlist, but if not , you will have plenty of time to take that class in future semesters.
Overall, I love the campus life at Berkeley. I like that all my friends are very smart and passionate about different things; they all work hard but love to have fun as well. I have gone to every football gameday, and I love to go to social events with my sorority. Freshman year, I spent nearly all my time in our 7th floor study lounge in my dorm and met most of my friends there initially, and eventually started to meet more people through classes and other places on campus.
IS: Give us an overview on housing as a freshman and how you found your roommate.
DM: I went in blind for my freshman housing, and I was put in a triple with two other girls. I ended up not being very close with either of my roommates freshman year, but we got along well for the most part. However, I met nearly all of my friends in my dorm, so that worked out well. To this day, most of my closest friends at Berkeley lived in my freshman year dorm. I would spend time with them in the study lounge, go to the dining hall with them, and eventually found friends in many of my classes who also lived in my dorm.
IS: What’s some advice you wish you got when you were going through the college application process?
DM: Some advice I wish I got during my college application process is to be yourself, not the version of yourself that you think admissions officers want to see. While I was applying to colleges, I thought I had to fit a certain description of an ideal student. However, now I have realized that the students who stand out the most are the ones whose essays don’t sound like they are following a specific format, they are the ones who are genuinely passionate about things they are involved in and aren’t afraid to be creative in their application essays.
IS: Tell us about your major/planned field of study and what you hope to do with it.
DM: I initially applied to UC Berkeley as a pre-med Cognitive Science major. I have since decided not to do pre-med, because I don’t want to become a doctor. Instead, I am double majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and Data Science with a minor in Environmental Economics and Policy. In the future, I hope to combine biology and business in some way. I am thinking of going into either biotech/healthcare administration or healthcare consulting.
IS: What advice would you give parents of high school students when it comes to the college process?
DM: I think the most important advice I can give to parents of high school students when it comes to the college application process, especially coming from the child of Indian parents is to not put too much pressure on your children; high school students are already under a tremendous amount of pressure from their peers and from themselves. I think parents should be supportive of their children, and make a conscious effort to not compare their children to others. I think it’s also important not to prioritize status or prestige when helping children through the application process.
IS: Anything else you feel is important (diversity on campus, traditions, etc.)?
DM: One of my favorite experiences at Berkeley was attending the Holi celebration. I went with all of my friends (non-Indian included) and we all had so much fun. It was one of the best days at Berkeley so far, and I’m so sad it was cancelled this year due to coronavirus.
…favorite thing to do with your family? Travel!
…favorite type of food? Italian
…favorite artist (actor, singer, author, painter, etc.)? Khalid
…favorite vacation spot? Hawaii