Feature image from likesuccess.com



“Don’t choose a school where you’re close enough to do laundry at home,” my AP Literature teacher, Ms. Lindsey, advised us. “Get as far away from your parents as possible!”

Having lived in California my whole life, it was easy to daydream about beautiful gorges, richly colorful autumn leaves, and ornate classrooms in castle-like buildings on the East Coast. For many of us, the idea of college evokes fantasies of a timeless world reminiscent of the Land of Oz, where one can follow the yellow brick road to explore new adventures in faraway places. These visions are, coincidentally, endorsed by the unending barrage of leaflets, emails, and packets that the universities send to all aspiring applicants every year.

Even though many of the letters that I got were from colleges I wasn't applying to, I still felt special whenever I got personalized mail from these schools. (regis.edu)

Even though many of the letters that I got were from colleges I wasn’t applying to, I still felt special whenever I got personalized mail from these schools. (regis.edu)

For me, going out of state for college was never really an option. As the only child in my family, I’ve always been exceptionally close with my parents. Even going to conferences and summer programs away from home was distressing at times. How could I bear to leave them for most of the next four years? How would they feel?


While I silently promised to try to not go too far from home, many of my friends banked on college to free them from their prison. “The farther the better” was the general sentiment they shared. As we researched colleges and compiled a list of choice schools, however, even I was affected by the beautiful pictures and videos of the grand buildings and romantic sceneries. The idea of taking the very same steps as Benjamin Franklin had centuries ago or living in the very city where the Declaration of Independence was signed felt tauntingly alluring.

These pictures were so beautiful that I wanted to cry (news.virginia.edu)

These pictures were so beautiful that I wanted to cry (news.virginia.edu)

I initially applied to a few private schools, both in state and out of state, “just because”. While I invested my hopes in the University of California schools, I’ve seen quite a few upperclassmen get unexpectedly disappointing results in the UC system, and I didn’t want to take that risk. Given that private schools weren’t my first choice, I had the privilege of being choosier with the colleges I applied for. I narrowed down my list to a handful of universities, based on extensive research on their culture, location, programs, safety, and opportunities.

After spending substantial hours writing essays about why I wanted to attend X school and talking about all the wonderful things about X school during interviews, I started to waver. It was hard not to yearn for the experiences that I spent so long describing.


The high school I went to has the largest number of students going to UC Berkeley in the world almost every year. Many upperclassmen I knew, from my APUSH class TA to section leaders in band and fellow volunteers at events went there. As a result, my peers and I didn’t view it as the “#1 public university in the country”. Instead, we think of stories about the countless bicycle thefts, the detrimentally competitive atmosphere, and the Hayward Fault running through campus.

There were also quite a few fires (latimes.com)

There were also quite a few fires (latimes.com)

Looking back, I am thankful that I had a realistic view of Berkeley. Rather than be shocked and let down by the crime, public school issues, and hilly campus, I had a clear-sighted idea of the cons that existed. It allowed me to feel surprised and happy when I discovered the boundless energy of the community, the incredibly inspiring faculty, and the unlimited variety of items I can buy with meal points.


What separation from home actually entails was also overlooked by most people during the process. It wasn’t until the move-in process began that I fully appreciated Berkeley’s proximity to my hometown. I could split my baggages into two trips, visit home to my heart’s content, and not have to adjust to a different culture and weather. Much to my AP Literature teacher’s disappointment, I can go home to do laundry and not have to pay the steep $3.75 to wash and dry my clothes.

All the coins from doing laundry could be saved for future spendings (hudsonvallyenewsnetwork.com)

All the coins from doing laundry could be saved for future spendings (hudsonvallyenewsnetwork.com)

Most importantly, for me at least, was that I didn’t have to leave my parents. During the application process, the dominant rhetoric centered on us, the students. We were all focused on ourselves and our dreams and desires and felt excited. But for the parents who raise, feed, and unconditionally love us, our transition into adulthood is a poignant one. They still worry about our future, our health, our happiness, and our safety, and they may not be ready for us to leave.


I am happy that I was given the chance to stay close to home. And even though I live forty minutes away and visit weekly, I Facetime my parents every day. Some may say that that hinders my independence, but for me it is helping me grow. Every time I see or talk to my parents I am reminded again of the sacrifices they made for me. I resolve to work that much harder so that I can carve out a wonderful future and repay them with a happy and peaceful retirement.

Forever love and take care of your parents <3 (biblestudiesoutline.org)

Forever love and take care of your parents (biblestudyoutlines.org)

Yes, I may not be living the idyllic college life advertised in the brochures, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sara Tsai

Sara is part of the Class of 2020 at UC Berkeley, intending to double major in Business Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies. As a graduate of Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, CA, she is well-accustomed to the boba scene in the Bay Area, and her favorite toppings include pandan noodles, red tapioca, and lychee jelly. In high school, she was the 4'10'' "tiny but mighty" drum major of the marching band and best known for her penguin drawings.