B2A alumni Jason Zhao was admitted to several top-tier universities! We interviewed Jason and learned about his experiences with Berkeley2 Academy and the uniqueness of his college admission essays.
B2A: "What schools and programs are you admitted to?"
Jason: "So I was admitted early action to Stanford University and then in regular decision, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, UPenn, and UT [Austin]. And then for UT, it was Plan II and Business Honors."
B2A: "What’s your intended major?"
Jason: "So at Stanford, they don’t have to declare majors until Junior year, so that’s one of the reasons I applied to a lot of those schools. They give the opportunity to explore. So for me, I know the general area I want to go into- I like business, I like technology, I also like math, but also I’m very interested in humanities and philosophy. So that’s kind of an opportunity for me to explore and then I’ll figure that out as I get into university. So I didn’t declare [but] I put economics because a lot of the activities I’ve been involved in are business-related, when I applied, but for actual major, I don’t have an actual major declared yet."
B2A: "What do you think made your application so successful in getting admitted to these top colleges?"
Jason: "So I’d say that if I had to pick one thing it would not necessarily be the things I did in high school because I know a lot of people that do more impressive things than I do and I also don’t think it’s grades. I think the most important thing for college applications just for any person in general and what makes anyone stand out is the essays and their voice and their personality so a lot of times people are very successful and they’re great people but if you don’t show that on the application then you can’t get in because every is special and unique but how can you present yourself as special and unique so in my essays I tried to not overthink them. It’s about what I want to show them- it’s not about how do I impress the college but how do I express myself."
B2A: "What did you end up writing your essays about?"
Jason: "So for the Common App essay, a lot of them are very serious, like “What is a big failure in your life?”. To be honest, I haven’t experience a tragic event in my life so I didn’t want to make something up. I wrote about something I care about personally, even though it’s not super impressive... I play pickup basketball every Friday with my friends so I wrote about that and I was honest and I didn’t try to make myself sound like a superhuman. I just try to let my genuine self come across."
B2A: "Did you have a strategy with your application?"
Jason: "For every essay, I tried to say something new but in the same voice. So you don’t want to have a very serious essay and then try to be funny- you should have the same personality and that’s easy if you are just honest since you have one personality and that’s who you are. In every essay, I tried to highlight something new- in one essay, I show this is who I am casually, this is who I am intellectually, this is who I am in business, and so on. You shouldn’t be repeating yourself over and over again... there’s no need to say that you’re curious in five different essays."
B2A: "What programs did you do at Berkeley2 Academy and how did they help?"
Jason: "I did the Gateway program, which covers pretty much the whole college application. The main thing I liked about that is the dichotomy of a counselor that knew you really well, and knew your voice, so she could tell me “Oh, Jason, that’s not you...” or “This is you and you need to put more of it...” and that was one perspective but on the other hand you have essay specialists who could review grammar and structure who didn’t know you at all."
B2A: "Would you recommend B2A to people?"
Jason: "Yeah! In fact, someone just texted me 20 minutes ago! So yes... I would."
B2A: "Was there anything fun about the application process for you?"
Jason: "It was really stressful but also really enlightening because I never write about myself. In classes, when my teachers would ask me to write about myself, I didn’t really know what to write. So those two months when we were talking about essays, I thought a lot about who I am and it was really helpful because now I think I am a lot more introspective. In school we always write academic essays, which doesn’t always encourage students to put their voice in it, not much humor or personality, so that was a skill I gained from that process."
B2A: "Do you have any tips or advice for college applicants?"
Jason: "Sometimes people come into the process thinking they have to fit into a certain mold when that is the exact opposite of what colleges are looking for. You can’t fake anything so just do what you like to do, don’t waste your time, but make it meaningful. There’s not one thing that can make or break your application- it’s four years of stuff, doing things you enjoy, doing things that are meaningful."
B2A: "What are you most excited about for your future?"
Jason: "For Stanford, it’s meeting new people. Everyone at Stanford has their own story. And just for the future, I’m excited to find something that I love to do. For now, I’m interested in a lot of things but I feel like that will coalesce at Stanford because maybe after working on research projects until 5am you’ll realize that’s not what you want to do for the rest of your life so I think that’s what I’m most excited about: figuring out who I am."