We had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Sophia Gonzalez (UPenn '21) about her college application process to UPenn.
Sofia shares some key words of advice:
"I would say the first step is to ask yourself why. One of the things that I've always done throughout the past five years is ask why constantly. For example, start with the fact that at the time, my dream major was bioengineering, and you ask yourself "Why?" seven times, and in that sixth seventh round of answering that question, you're going to understand what it is that it truly boils down to."
"I think it is important to envision what is the long-term goal. Or what are some things that interest you that you want to figure out, and what can you do in the short term to figure out if that's what you're meant to do?"
"I had an untraditional high school experience by spending half of my high school experience in Houston, TX and the other half in Mexico City, Mexico. I was in Houston my freshman year, Mexico City sophomore & junior years, and then back in Houston my senior year due to my mother's work. Throughout the four years I got to be involved in many different activities such as Cheerleading, Choir, Musical Theater, Model United Nations, and Peer Tutoring.
I constantly challenged myself by taking Honors/AP/IB classes - as well as taking exams that were not offered as classes at my school. I applied to Penn ED so definitely got the chance to relax a bit my second semester of senior year. At Penn I completed my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Bioengineering within the four years and also was heavily involved as President of the Kite & Key Society, Executive Vice Present of the Biomedical Engineering Society, and Assistant Vice President of Membership of Sigma Kappa. My work with the Kite & Key Society transformed the visit experience during the pandemic, expanding access to the University in unprecedented manners, and led to me being awarded with a Student Award of Merit and the William A. Levi Kite & Key Society Award for Service and Scholarship. Throughout my undergrad years I completed two corporate internships - one within Information Technology at Merck & Co, and one within Pharmacy Operations at CVS Health. In the coming weeks I will join Merck full-time as a member of their flagship Manufacturing Leadership Development Program in Durham, NC. Shortly following my graduation in May, I was accepted to MIT Sloan's MBA program via the deferred admissions process - so I'll be returning to higher education in the coming five years!
- Sophia Gonzalez
Q: Out of curiosity, we didn’t see any mention of bioengineering-related extracurriculars in your high school experience, so what sparked your interest in studying bioengineering (courses, extracurriculars, opportunities, etc.)? Did you always want to study bioengineering or was it only until you got to college that you decided to pursue it?
A: "I think that's kind of something that had a long time coming.
And I say that because when I was in like middle school, I had this dream of becoming a doctor, and I had my whole like, 15-year life planned out. I was like, yes, I'm gonna go to undergrad, and then I'm going to go to med school, and then I'm going to do all these different specialties, and I'm going to be a pediatric oncologist. That was my dream, and I stuck with that dream for like seven or eight years, throughout middle school and high school.
Coming up to my sophomore and junior years, I started to think more critically about what type of majors I would want to study in undergrad. I realized that I was really good at math and science and that's what I really liked. I liked solving problems. Calculus was a favorite class of mine. So engineering just kind of fits in perfectly with a lot of those things, and then bioengineering because I, at the time, wanted to go to medical school. Bioengineering classes tend to correlate very well with pre-med courses. In my class at Penn, 50% of us when we came in were pre-med. That number dwindled down to a much smaller portion by the end of the four years, but a lot of people come in with the intention of going to medical school.
So I just kind of blended in. It definitely is interesting that in high school, I never had really anything that was like a STEM extracurricular. I think maybe the closest thing was this math honor society that I was in that was just something on paper. We didn't do anything. I was a math tutor my senior year for kids in middle school, but I had no engineering background at all, which was something I also was concerned about it going into the application process, but I don't know what happened. I think they were just like, well, we're gonna take a chance on this girl."
Q: This is a really controversial topic, but based on your experience and perspective, would you say that schools want to see someone that’s really focused on something, or do they look for well-rounded students?
A: "I am definitely the poster child for the well-rounded students.
I did not focus on anything in particular. I did cheerleading for two years in high school. I did musical theater for two, I did choir for one, and I was a tutor for one. The only thing I did have continuity was Model United Nations, but I applied for engineering, like, totally unrelated. There are people who are hyper-focused on one thing, and they're like, oh my gosh, I founded a company, or do all these crazy things in high school.
I think that, regardless, what matters is that you have passion for something. It doesn't matter if you had zero access to that activity in your upbringing, as long as you can connect that to why you want to go to this specific school. So I guess my answer is neither. Just be passionate, but I do think the moral of the story is that you can do either."
Q: If well-rounded: Building a narrative that ties your whole college application together is very important, so for well-rounded students, how would you suggest they build a narrative?
A: "I would say the first step is to ask yourself why.
One of the things that I've always done throughout the past five years is ask why constantly. For example, start with the fact that at the time, my dream major was bioengineering, and you ask yourself "Why?" seven times, and in that sixth seventh round of answering that question, you're going to understand what it is that it truly boils down to.
For me, the narrative that I was able to create was tying in the fact that my parents are immigrants, and that I want to help communities that don't have as many opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have while growing up, but that at the same time, I also love helping people in general because that's the culture that I was raised in, so that's the connection to healthcare.
I don't know how it happened, but I ended up being good at math and science, so all that ties in together to become bioengineering and that was the narrative that I ran with. I think people sometimes think that you have to have something super big happen to you in life, like something absolutely life-changing, or something tragic to have a good essay, but that is so not true. First of all, when you're going through that college application process, you are about 17 or 18. I think it is important to envision what is the long-term goal. Or what are some things that interest you that you want to figure out, and what can you do in the short term to figure out if that's what you're meant to do?"