How I Chose UCLA

Wow! Congratulations on your admission to the University of California, Los Angeles. My name is Dexter Darmali, and I am a junior transfer studying Public Affairs. I know I am probably one of many that has congratulated you on your transfer admission offer to the #1 public university, but I am probably few that can also say that I have been exactly where you are right now. This period between having your admission offer and deciding where you will attend school is one of the most unique experiences that I have yet to experience in any other aspect of my life, so firstly, savor this moment. Now that we have some housekeeping out of the way, let’s get down to business: how did I choose UCLA and why you should too.

Unlike so many of my peers, I have not been dreaming of attending UCLA since elementary school. Part of that is certainly because I am not from California and nobody else in my family had attended UCLA. I was born and raised in Illinois, so Westwood seemed like a far place that didn’t mean all that much to me. I had already set my mind on taking a gap year after I finished high school, so I was not pressed on picking a college come spring of my senior year. I needed a year before jumping into higher education to reflect on what I wanted out of life. My gap year led me to living in Los Angeles and doing three very LA things. I was a barista, a dog walker, and I did unpaid work. My gap year was coming to an end, and the pandemic had moved learning online. I decided to take yet another less taken path and enroll in community college with the plan to transfer to a four-year institution. I signed up for my first college classes at Santa Monica College as an English major. As many of you likely found during your time at community college, or whichever institution you will be leaving, the first major you think you will study does not end up staying your major after a handful of general education courses. I then switched to chemistry thinking I would be pre-dental then political science because I had always been civically minded and involved in student government.

Around this time during the end of my first year at SMC I started to think about where I wanted to transfer. UCLA was certainly a well-publicized school in SMC’s proximity. I investigated UCLA and found their Public Affairs major. The new major focused on public policy, urban planning, social welfare, and gerontology (the study of aging). I still wasn’t sold on UCLA as my next school, but I kept Public Affairs in mind when trying to fill my lower division requirements.

It became clear during the college search process that UCs were my best option because of the ability to easily transfer my credits and the support of my SMC professors. I don’t need to dwell on how the application process goes as you all went through it, so I will skip to the good part.

I had all my UC decisions back with me being admitted different majors at most of the schools. This is when that unique, exciting, and nervous part that I have not experience anywhere else comes into play. Not only would I be picking where I will be living for the next two-years but also what I will be learning will be drastically different. This is when that soul searching part that you have probably heard about really kicked in for me.

It comes as no spoiler alert to say that I picked UCLA and am studying Public Affairs. I asked myself where would I be the happiest as a student living on campus? Where would I be intellectually challenged the most? And where would I be able to follow my passion? I asked SMC alum that had transferred to the different universities I was considering similar questions because I wanted the most information as I could have. It became clear that UCLA students were the happiest with their college pick.

My empirical research has proven right. I am almost at the end of my first year here, and it is true that time flies when you are having fun. You can catch me in lecture learning from world renowned thinkers, in my club meetings of the Pediatric AIDS Coalition to put on Dance Marathon (one of UCLA’s largest traditions), advocating for fellow students in student government, working with Undergraduate Admission through the Bruin Ambassador Program to reach out to high schools, and savoring the moment alongside people I know that will be lifelong friends. There is something magic about UCLA because how else can every transfer student I meet be so happy with the school they picked? I know I’ll see you in the fall, and don’t be afraid to say hello. And of course, Go Bruins!

Photo of Dexter on campus wearing a blue UCLA sweater.

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