Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Written By: Sejal Bilwar
Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to interview Shaan Mathur, a current student at UCLA. In this article, Shaan talks about his experiences in high school, college, and his advice for college applications, essays, and more.
Are you still in college or have you already graduated from UCLA?
I graduated from high school in 2015, and then I went to UCLA. I graduated from UCLA in 2019, and I am doing my Master's now continuing at UCLA studying computer science.
That's so amazing! Could you explain what extracurriculars you remember doing while you were in high school?
Definitely! My story's a little bit funny...I didn't realize that I wanted to pursue computer science until I took AP Computer Science my senior year and I realized then that I really wanted to do computer science. But my application was not geared towards engineering or computer science at all so I was nervous and didn't apply to UCLA as a computer science major. I went to UCLA as my originally intended major, Business Economics, and I switched into Computer Science to study it. It was not an easy process by any means. So in that sense, the extracurriculars that I did wouldn't be very useful to someone who is set on computer science.
However, I think that if you are starting to program in high school or from before and you start working on small little projects and really try to take ownership of those projects, even if they are a really small thing, you have a lot to talk about in your essays and your extracurricular portion of your application. More importantly, this is going to build skills that are essential for you as you start maturing in software engineering. That would be my best advice if I were to do it all over again.
Why was switching majors from Business Economics to Computer Science hard for you?
Yeah, so I'll tell you about that process. It was pretty scary to switch, especially since after I had taken AP Computer Science senior year, I realized that I really liked this subject and that it's really fun. I was actually trying to avoid that stereotype that Asians like me all want to become engineers. I tried shying away from it but I took the class and realized that I really liked this.
When I actually got to UCLA, I was a Business Economics Major and I wanted to switch into computer science. So there are different colleges within UCLA, such as the College of Letters and Sciences which is what everyone usually goes to with normal majors and there's the School of Engineering which is a separate college. Switching majors within a single college is easy, so if you are already within the Engineering School, switching engineering degrees is no problem. The hard part is going from the College of Letters and Sciences to the Engineering School. Switching from the Engineering School to the College of Letters and Sciences is easy, but it's much harder the other way around. One of the requirements was that I had to take 2 quarters of an engineering course load before I could apply to switch, which involves 1 computer science class and 1 math/science class. Also, UCLA's on a quarter system, so roughly each quarter a student takes 3-4 classes, in the span of 10 weeks to finish. To show that I was capable, I had to maintain a 3.5 GPA and receive a B or higher in each of those courses.
You mentioned that you didn't really do any engineering or computer science related extracurriculars, so what kind of extracurriculars did you do?
I did water polo and swim all 4 years of high school. I created a small video game since I really wanted to create one, so I used a video game maker and a little bit of programming.
When writing college application essays, do you have any tips to help college essays stand out?
I remember being in your guys' shoes, and I remember trying to figure out how to write the right kind of essay. I wrote many rough drafts, submitted some to my English teacher since she was reviewing them. The essay that I submitted to my teacher, I actually deleted it because I was not happy with it, so it was really tough. Overall, the essay should be about something really personal to you and something that has really contributed to your personal growth. One thing that I tried to do in my college application was write a story about one of my extracurriculars that demonstrated leadership, passion, and commitment. You should try to have a narrative and some themes that you are trying to address in your application.
Do you remember any specific AP classes or STEM classes that you took in high school?
I took AP European History and Honors Chemistry in sophomore year. In junior year, I took 2 honors classes which were weighted and 2 AP classes which were AP US History and AP English. Senior year, I took 4 AP classes including AP Computer Science, AP Government/Economics, AP Calculus BC, and AP English Literature.
That was my interview with Shaan. It was such a fantastic experience getting Shaan's opinions about high school and listening to his advice for high schoolers. If you have any further questions, leave them in the comments and we'll try our best to get back to you! Don't forget to check out our other articles on the Engineering Pathway website as well.