The following is an excerpt from the International Students chapter of our Best Book.
I was born in the United States and grew up in the Midwest. In fourth grade, my family and I moved to Taiwan. We didn’t come back to the United States until my sophomore year of high school.
The transition back to the United States was not an easy one for me. In Taiwan, you take one test that determines which high school or college you get into. The focus there is very much on pure academics. We didn’t focus on extracurriculars at all – we would use any free time that was given to us to take practices tests or hold review sessions.
I played the piano, but I didn’t have time for sports or any of the other extracurriculars that middle school students in the US have the opportunity to participate in.
Once I started high school here, I immediately noticed the difference – college applications are about more than just your SAT scores and GPA.
The more I learned about the application process, the more I felt behind, just because a lot of people I knew were already taking advanced classes and AP classes their junior year, but I had to take freshman classes to catch up.
I didn’t do much preparation before I came over. I had one big advantage that other international students might not have – English was my first language. Even though I wasn’t up to speed on high-school-level vocabulary, it was pretty intuitive for me because I already knew how to speak English. The language is probably the biggest challenge for students who are transferring from overseas. If I were in that situation, I would probably try to take some English classes before coming over.
I did most of my catching up when I came over through summer school courses. My sophomore year summer, I took two English classes, and my junior year summer, I took an English class, an essay class, and two programming classes. I tried to optimize all the extra free time that I had in order to catch up.
I was really interested in math and science in high school, so I knew that I potentially wanted to go into engineering, and possibly stay in California. I mostly applied to schools based on how good their engineering programs are. I applied to several U.C.s, plus Stanford, Cornell, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, since I grew up in the Midwest and would have felt comfortable there.
Eventually, I ended up choosing between Berkeley and Stanford. I went to high school in Cupertino, but I never went to Stanford to visit before Stanford Admit Day. I was sold on Admit Day – I really loved the campus, the people I met, and all the different opportunities that I saw could be available to me if I went to Stanford. I also liked that you don’t have to declare a major when you start – I was thinking about Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, but I liked that I had the freedom to change my mind later if I wanted to.
I also wanted to make sure I didn’t have to just focus on academics. I was still playing the piano, and I felt that if I went to Stanford, I’d be able to continue doing that, and be able to balance academics and extracurriculars better. I used my time wisely in high school so that I could catch up to the other students and eventually get admitted into Stanford!