From Small Town to Big City

April 1, 2024

Taking the 215 to San Diego or LA, you will see a suburb of Riverside County called Menifee, CA. This little city was established in 2008 and now has a population of just over 100,000. It is about 30 minutes southeast of UC Riverside, an hour north of San Diego, or an hour south of Los Angeles. There is a really good chance you may not have heard of it.

I grew up in the small, quiet town of Menifee, California. My mom was an elementary teacher, so I was enrolled in the school she taught at up until I was in 5th grade. From there, I went to a public K–12 charter school called Santa Rosa Academy (SRA). The class sizes were no more than 30 students in each class, and my graduating class size was 120 students. Additionally, the high school wing was only 3 buildings in the shape of a “U” with no more than 15 classrooms. Personally, it felt like I grew up in my own sheltered little bubble. SRA was more than just a school to me; it was a second home. From the moment I stepped onto its campus in the 5th grade, I was embraced by a supportive community of teachers and peers who encouraged me to strive for excellence. Throughout my years there, I was constantly challenged to push beyond my limits and reach for the stars.

As I progressed through my high school years, I found myself drawn to the idea of academic rigor. However, SRA did not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are commonly seen as a benchmark for academic achievement in many high schools. Instead, I decided to take advantage of dual enrollment opportunities through our local community college, Mount San Jacinto College (MSJC). Taking dual enrollment courses at MSJC was a game-changer for me. Not only did it allow me to challenge myself with college-level coursework, but it also gave me a taste of what higher education would be like. I immersed myself in a variety of general education courses, from Intro to Computer Science to Spanish, and found a passion for learning that I never knew I had.

When it came time to apply for colleges, I was not quite sure where exactly I would end up, but I knew that I wanted to aim high. Despite not having the traditional AP courses on my transcript, I believed that my dual enrollment experience prepared me for success at the next level. My mom suggested I apply to UC Berkeley because she felt that it would be a good fit for me and a change of scenery.When I received my acceptance letter from UC Berkeley, I was so excited. It felt like all my hard work and dedication finally paid off, and I was so excited to see where it would take me. But as the reality of leaving my small town behind set in, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of apprehension as Menifee and SRA was practically all I had ever known.

The transition from SRA to UC Berkeley was nothing short of daunting. Whereas my high school graduating class consisted of just 120 students, UC Berkeley boasted a student body of tens of thousands. Suddenly, I found myself thrust into a bustling metropolis, surrounded by people from all walks of life. The sheer size and diversity of UC Berkeley were overwhelming at first. Gone were the familiar faces and close-knit community that I had grown accustomed to at SRA. Instead, I found myself navigating a maze of lecture halls and bustling campus streets, trying to find my place in this new world.

As intimidating as it was, I quickly realized that UC Berkeley offered a wealth of opportunities for growth and exploration. From engaging professors to vibrant student organizations, there was no shortage of ways to immerse myself in campus life and pursue my passions. It took me a while to learn how to branch out and get out of my comfort zone.

One of the biggest differences I noticed between SRA and UC Berkeley was the level of academic rigor. Specifically, my high school coursework had focused primarily on meeting graduation requirements while my classes at UC Berkeley pushed me to think critically, engage with complex ideas, and challenge the status quo. Despite not having taken any AP courses in high school, I found that my dual enrollment experience prepared me well for the rigors of college-level coursework. In fact, many of the general education courses I had taken at MSJC ended up fulfilling my breadth requirements at UC Berkeley, allowing me to dive deeper into my major and pursue advanced coursework in my field of study.

Looking back on my journey from Menifee to UC Berkeley, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities that have come my way. While the transition was not without its challenges, it has been a journey of growth and self-discovery that I wouldn't trade for anything. From the small supportive community of Santa Rosa Academy to the dynamic environment of UC Berkeley, each step of my journey has shaped me into the person I am today. And as I look ahead to the future, I am excited to continue exploring new horizons and embracing the endless possibilities that lie ahead.