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Summer 2003
Getting In
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As for extracurricular pursuits, it is not enough that a student be occasionally involved in an outside activity, says Tran. “The student admitted to UCLA was involved in up to four extracurricular activities every year, and was on the school’s varsity soccer team four years in a row. There was ongoing volunteer service. The student who was denied admission had only one or two activities a year,” and none with great consistency. The first student also demonstrated more leadership, while the other was a member of campus groups but did not participate as a leader.

Applicants are also reviewed within the context in which they have demonstrated academic accomplishment. This component, known as “life challenge,” might include anything from a learning disorder to residence in a high-crime, poor-school neighborhood or coming from a single-parent or low-income household.

But having had adversity in one’s life is not itself a sufficient criterion upon which an admissions decision would ever be based. What would be considered is how the student achieved in that context — some demonstration of qualities that evidence a willingness to persevere and overcome.

A great many students admitted to UCLA, in fact, list no life challenges whatsoever on their applications. (Neither applicant cited as examples experienced significant life challenges.) Yet when a student has prevailed over challenges — in combination with excellent academics and personal achievement — it denotes something special about a person, says Tran.

“We all go through life along different routes,” says Tran. “Some people are less fortunate than others. If you are born with, let’s say, a physical disability and you still are able to study hard and become involved in many things, that says something about your ability to succeed.”

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