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Tamara Keith: Success as a Student Is a Numbers Game

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Success as a Student Is a Numbers Game

By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
Posted May 12, 1999

Photo: Tamara Keith

Tamara Keith.

Just like every other incoming Berkeley student, I used to be an overachiever. I studied hard. I was editor of my high school yearbook. I took advanced placement courses and classes at the local community college.

These days, almost everyone who gets into Berkeley has a high school GPA of 4.0 or higher, so we didn't start our Cal careers as slackers. But something happened to me and about 90 percent of my peers after our first few semesters here: we gave up on being perfect.

Though most Berkeley students were in the top 10 percent in high school, now that we're all together, we can't all be the best. Fewer than 40 students in this year's graduating class of 7,000 got straight As. Most of us got our first B or C, and then realized that straight As were unattainable.

When I was a freshman, someone told me the three basic components of a Berkeley student's existence: grades, a social life and sleep. To survive at Cal, it turns out, something had to be sacrificed. So I kept my sleep, found myself with half a social life, and became a straight B student. This was a formula I was willing to live with.

A couple weeks ago I got an opportunity to interview the 1999 University Medalist, Vikram Rao -- Berkeley's top-ranked senior. I was expecting a super nerd, but to my pleasant surprise, this guy who earned 18 A+s, 8 As and nothing lower seemed perfectly normal. Though there was a definite element of genius involved in Vikram's success, I think it was also a simple matter of rearranging the variables of the Berkeley formula: he devoted himself to academics, maintained a social life, and forfeited a lot of sleep.

Some students throw themselves into science, others find English thrilling, few have a mastery of everything and many have no desire at all remain academic super-achievers.

In high school, overachieving meant getting good grades. But college is much more like the real world and, at Cal, grades are no longer the sole measures of achievement.

You'd be hard pressed to find a Berkeley student who isn't an overachiever in some area of his or her life. For some, academic intensity is still the name of the game. For others, Berkeley creates a drive to do something outside of the classroom, whether it be campus activism, volunteering in schools or working part-time.

It's taken me three years here to realize that academic success at Cal comes down to simple priorities.

Tamara Keith is a senior majoring in philosophy. She graduates this month.


May 12 - June 8, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 34)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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