How I Hacked the UC System

This isn’t a story of me breaking into a government computer system. If that is what you were expecting, sorry. Instead, it is the story of how I hacked the University if California system to attend Berkeley, despite being rejected.

I had always wanted to study physics at Berkeley, but my grades weren’t up to snuff. When I applied to the UC system in the late 80’s, you didn’t apply to a single school but all of the schools. The system would decide which campuses you could choose from. I applied and was accepted into Riverside and Irving. “Not even Davies,” I thought, dejected.

Now these are all good schools, but I had my heart set on Berkeley. Some people suggested going to Irvine or Riverside for a couple of years, get your general education courses out of the way, then transfer to Berkeley. My parents suggested staying at home, attending Cal State Hayward, and then transferring.

I looked into the transfer option. In the end it was something the UC system discouraged, only approving transfers in exceptional circumstances. But while researching transfers, I discovered a loophole in the system. The UC schools and the Cal State schools have a mutual agreement to let students attend a course at the other institution if the course wasn’t being offered at the home school. Say if I was attending Berkeley and needed one more Woman’s Studies course to graduate, but it wasn’t being offered this semester, I could enroll in the course down the road at Cal State Hayward and have it count towards my Berkeley degree.

This was an interesting loophole, one that I could make work for me. I compared the two course catalogs and discovered that Cal State Hayward, the smaller school, offered core physics courses only every other year, while Berkeley offered these courses every year. If I manipulated my schedule deliberately, then I could end up on the off year cycle. As long as I didn’t draw too much attention, I could enroll at Cal State Hayward and take most of my physics courses at Berkeley. It had the added advantage that all my general education courses could be taken at Cal State Hayward, which would be a bit easier and give me more time to concentrate on physics.

Unbelievably this hack worked! I got to take almost all of my physics courses at Berkeley. When I was applying to graduate school, all my references came from Berkeley professors. Even my transcript identified which courses were taken at Berkeley and which at Hayward. In an ironic twist, one of the physics professors at Hayward was Anne Birge, from the family Birge Hall at Berkeley is named after. Through her I was able to meet some of the elite physics faculty that I wasn’t exposed to through undergraduate studies.

I don’t know if this hack will work today. It barely worked when I did it. Every semester I had to create more and more elaborate reasoning for why I couldn’t wait a year to take the courses at Hayward. But in the end I hacked the system. I got the education that I wanted from the school I wanted, despite the “system” telling me I couldn’t.

Since then I’ve never let anyone tell me “I can’t”. When I get that response, I look for a way to make whatever it is happen without the need for anyone’s blessing.

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