Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Salam everyone! My name is Saeed Ahmad, my pronouns are he/him/his and I am a Pakistani-American 4th Year Transfer at UCLA who transferred from Norco College. I am a Psychology major who is on a Pre-Law/Business Path; I hail from the Inland Empire and my hometown is (gasp) Corona, California! I still remember the day in April 2018 when I was accepted into UCLA and was in a state of absolute bliss. I would like to warmly congratulate all of you who have been accepted into the #1 Public University in the United States. My goal for this article is to make your transition from community college to UCLA be as seamless as possible so that you are able to make your dreams and aspirations into reality. In addition, my advice is especially tailored to those who would like to pursue a career in the fields of law and its diverse subsections.
Let us begin with the transition from Community College to a 4-year university such as UCLA. While the California community colleges prepare students well for a 4 year education, it can be a rough transition if you are not fully prepared for the environment and academic rigor of UCLA. Even before enrolling in your first class, it is necessary to note the GPA differences that exist between the community college system and UCLA. In the CC system, there is no +/- system where a couple percentage point difference (eg. 96% vs 90%) can mean the difference between a 4.0 and a 3.66. In CC, one can maintain a 90%-92% average in their classes while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. The grading system is different at UCLA with their +/- system. So what does this mean? Depending on what your GPA and academic goals are, you will need to keep in mind that every percentage point and seemingly "small" assignment matters here at UCLA. Make sure to keep on top of all of your assignments by maintaining a calendar and a daily goals list with tasks that you would like to accomplish in both the short and long term. Another difficulty in terms of the transition from CC to UCLA is the academic rigor of the classes; students should be prepared for an increased workload and more challenging grading systems.
So you might be wondering whether UCLA has a program that assists incoming transfers in terms of the transition. They absolutely do! I had the honor of being part of the Transfer Summer Program (shortened to TSP) at UCLA in Summer 2018, an initiative of the Academic Advancement Program. This is a rigorous seven-week academic summer program that "prepares first generation, low-income, historically underrepresented students, to successfully transition to UCLA by exposing students to the rigor and demands of academic life, and to campus programs, services, learning resources, and networks." If you fit the eligibility criteria this is an amazing diversity initiative that I can personally say helped me adapt to UCLA life. I was personally able to develop excellent relationships with AAP personnel, administrators, and faculty such as Dr. Charles Alexander (Dr. A), Fatiha Qureshi, and Dr. Amah. The creation of genuine relationships proves to be beneficial throughout your UCLA career. Individuals such as Dr. A were able to connect me with some of the biggest figures in the Entertainment Industry (Christine Simmon: COO of the Oscars) just because I developed a genuine relationship with him and kept him updated on my academic and professional progress. I will delve into the importance of networks later on in this piece.
Before I delve into the concept of network, I would like to talk about the factors that can make or break your academic experience at UCLA and even affect your chances of admission to grad school; this topic also transitions nicely into my advice for pre-law students at UCLA. In my opinion, I believe the biggest barrier for an aspiring pre law student is MISINFORMATION into what they need to do to get into their dream law school. I intend to clear up misconceptions regarding the law school admissions process in the ensuing process. While I myself have not applied to law school yet, my information is based on the information I have gained serving as President of the Pre-Law Transfer Society at UCLA and through my time in the TRIALS Program (Harvard Law School) in my years at UCLA.
First of all, I would like to acknowledge the potential stress that comes with being a pre-law student at UCLA, especially if you intend to go to law school straight out of graduation. There are so many factors that can take up your headspace, which include maintaining a high GPA, participating in extracurriculars, internships, studying for the LSAT, getting letters of recommendation, AND balancing that with having the time of your life at UCLA. I will delve into what aspects of this extensive list I believe you should focus on and how to maximize your performance. So many people have approached me asking for advice for law school, and often begin by "What internship or law firm should I work for to get into law school." While an internship or working for a law firm is a great endeavor for making money or school credit, law schools do not put as much emphasis on your extracurricular activities (or as much as an average pre-law believes). At the end of the day, the two pillars that law schools care about the most are your GPA and LSAT.
Therefore, the first piece of advice I recommend to incoming pre-law students is to focus on their studies. For your first quarter at UCLA, I would highly recommend focusing on your GPA and making sure you stay on top of your classes and assignments. I would recommend staying marginally involved in organizations you are passionate/interested in, but do not get involved to the point where your grades suffer! Then get more involved as you balance your academics and extracurriculars.
You may have noticed that I placed an asterisk next to extracurricular activities and emphasized the word "GENERAL." While GPA and LSAT are important features of an application, they are by no means everything that law school admissions officers look at. In terms of extracurriculars, I am a huge advocate of applying to pipeline diversity programs that have partnerships with specific law schools and offer LSAT prep and waived law school application fees. Some initiatives that I have either participated in or come to my mind are the Harvard/NYU TRIALS Program, Stanford Pre-Law Scholars Program, UCLA Law Fellows, and the Sidley Scholars Program. I also recommend not to bury yourself in redditforums that rant about the acceptance rate or competitiveness of a specific program. Just shoot your shoot!!!
Using my example, I was rejected from several pre-law initiatives that had a reasonable acceptance rate (30%-40%) but ended up gaining admission into a program with a 1% acceptance rate. You never know what the universe has in store for you; shoot for the stars (Pun INTENDED)
For anyone who knows me well, I cannot help myself but put a plug in when I have an opportunity. As you have been reading, you might be wondering if there is any organization on the UCLA Campus that would prove to be beneficial and provide its members the best resources to hit the points of advice above and gain admission to their dream law school. There actually is, and its name is Pre-Law Transfer Society at UCLA. Reading this, you may think I am biased due to the fact that I am a board member of this organization. However, I will let you judge for yourself after reading the info below and letting you stalk all our social media and websites (which I will provide at the bottom)!
In the 2019-2020 School year, Pre-Law Transfer Society (PLTS) has brought in guests that include the Deans of Harvard and Yale Law School, UCLA Law Fellows representatives, the Editor in Chief of Yale Law Journal, countless Harvard Law 1L/2L, UCLA Law School, Nick "Swaggy P" Young, COO of the Oscars "Christine Simmons," Former NFL Coach/Harvard Law Grad Daron Roberts, countless Forbes featured millionaires, Superagent Audie Attar, NBA Legend Metta World Peace, UCLA Law Professors, CLO of Endeavor Seth Krauss and even more as I write this article! We are the first Transfer founded organization to partner up with Forbes in UCLA history, and provide hundreds of dollars worth of LSAT (and soon to be GRE) discounts from various test prep companies.
You may be wondering how PLTS was able to pull this off in the span of one year Besides the fact that we have one of the most hard working/talented executive boards and an amazing cohesive team that has turned into a family, our success can be attributed to one factor—our network. I expand in the subsequent paragraph.
Many of you must have word the phrase ¨”It is not what you know, it is who you know.¨ I cannot highlight the importance of having a diverse and vast network of connections. This proves to be very beneficial when organizing events, getting letters of recommendation, and gaining opportunities that one would not even have dreamt of. You cannot be shy if you would like to enter into the fields of Law and Business; it is necessary to put yourself out there and develop relationships with others. If you are questioning this, what if I was to tell you that some of the best connections and events that PLTS was able to hold was due to the fact that I met an individual and we happened to simultaneously compliment each other on the blazers/suits we were wearing… IN ANOTHER STATE and outside of a school setting. This individual has developed into one of my closest friends and is like a brother to me. Never underestimate the power of the network!
The most important advice I would give in regards to your network is to make sure your relationships are GENUINE. I have heard people give advice that you can get a professor to like you or write you a letter of recommendation if you just talk about their research or complement them in office hours. While this may work in some situations, a genuine relationship between yourself and your professor/administrator will result in not just a letter of recommendation; it will result in a long term academic/professional relationship beyond your time at UCLA and even friendship! And a professor remembering your name after you have taken their class or even a couple years down the line is one of the best feelings in the world.
Trust me that professors are human beings and not some scary authority figures; even professors who may seem the most unapproachable (which is rare to find at UCLA) have a soft spot/passion that you just need to find during office hours. In fact, it was the seemingly intimidating or unapproachable professors that turned out to be my favorite after I got to know them; and they definitely wrote me some awesome letter of recs!
Keep your relationships genuine and network your way to success at UCLA!