Ms. Sun’s Origin Story
My foray into the UC admissions process began in the spring of 2005. I received an invitation to interview scholarship applicants from the Cal Alumni Association and happily obliged. From there, I learned about a variety of alumni volunteer opportunities, including admission outreach at high school college fairs. I signed up and received training from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at UC Berkeley in the fall of 2005.
Attending high school college fairs was a bewildering experience. At that time, Berkeley had a satellite office in Southern California, with four regional admission officers, but the recruitment efforts were concentrated in schools with underrepresented minority populations. There were few outreach efforts at schools such as those in the San Gabriel Valley, where I attended high school. In the spirit of giving back, I covered the bulk of the college fairs throughout West San Gabriel Valley, venturing into East San Gabriel Valley when I had time to spare. The response was overwhelming. I was the first “Berkeley person” the students had seen at a college fair for who knows how long, and my college fair table was always at risk of collapsing from the crowd.
At each college fair, I explained the admission requirements over and over, continuously surprised by how unprepared most students were for UC admissions, or college admissions in general. Students complained about not getting enough time with their counselors or not understanding the requirements or what Berkeley “wants to see” from them. I gave out my email address to students who asked, as it was permitted by Berkeley back in those days (there were few rules in place since the campus had just begun involving alumni in outreach efforts to fill the budget gap), and read essays sent to me by students asking for help.
Toward the end of 2005, pondering how I could reach more students to plug this knowledge gap, I started answering questions on Yahoo! Answers, the popular question forum at the time. Answering the same questions over and over via Yahoo! Answers and by email was becoming counterproductive, and I needed a channel to systematically broadcast information I was receiving from the admissions office. In early 2007, I began writing a blog on LiveJournal as a way to proactively disseminate the UC admissions information I had. The early information I published was primarily coming directly from the admissions office and Cal Alumni Association (scholarship information). The posts were few and far apart, sometimes just one post per month. I spent most of my time still being gainfully employed at a technology company and spent my spare time answering questions posted on my blog and on Yahoo! Answers, an ad hoc system that grew organically.
Although I had left UCLA in 2006 (I discovered I wasn’t cut out for research after spending a year in the Information Studies PhD program), I learned that I was eligible to participate in events hosted by the UCLA Alumni Association even though I wasn’t a graduate. I gladly signed up for the admission outreach at high school college fairs in 2007, hoping to glean inside information on the admissions process to share with prospective applicants. UCLA was exceptionally friendly and accommodating at that time, allowing me to table for both Berkeley and UCLA at college fairs where there was no coverage from other alumni volunteers. It was a little confusing for the students and parents, but I figured having any information was better than no information at all.
I began working on putting together a website in 2008, wanting a repository for the information I had accumulated over the previous years for students to find and reference at any time. The project stalled as I struggled with some personal health issues and a big fall out with the Berkeley admissions office (I was repeatedly harassed by some admission officers and had to file a formal complaint with the university), among other things (buying and moving into our first home, being laid off from my exceptionally well-paid job). I began covering admissions information from all of the UC campuses in my blog, not just Berkeley and UCLA, by scouring the UC admission website for facts and statistics helpful for prospective applicants and by attending conferences hosted by the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC).
My blog following reached critical mass in 2009 just as I began making what I do into a “real” consulting business, rather than keeping it as a hobby. I started attending UC counselor conferences to gain better access to admission information from all UC campuses. I created a Facebook Page and a Twitter account to reach a broader audience. I started offering fee-based services to students who wanted to work more closely with me on their UC Application. The AskMsSun.com website officially launched in September of 2009. With the new adventure came some downsides. UCLA turned hostile toward me with no warning; I was told that my blog was being closely monitored. I experienced multiple account suspensions on Yahoo! Answers, eventually leading me to join College Confidential at the start of 2010.
As a newly minted business (I registered my fictitious business name in March of 2010), I knew I would “make it” after experiencing a rapid succession of firsts: an intern, a hater, a gag order from Cal Alumni Association, and a webinar. Since then, I expanded my services to cover every aspect of the UC admissions process, completed a certificate in college counseling through UCSD Extension in 2012, tried and failed to launch an AskMsSun Alumni Network on LinkedIn in 2013, was banned from College Confidential in 2013, broadened my social media outreach to Google+ and LinkedIn, did a brief stint on Ask.fm from 2013 to 2014, and finally made AskMsSun.com mobile-friendly with an integrated blog in 2014 (big thanks to Vikram Baid who bartered his website design service for my consulting service).
My relationship with Berkeley, Cal Alumni Association, and UCLA improved briefly when I became more active in the alumni communities, most notably for assuming leadership roles in the San Gabriel Valley Cal Alumni Club from 2012 to 2015, serving first as Vice President and then President of the club. In 2012 I also began assisting the UC Berkeley Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Cal Alumni Association by recruiting and coordinating alumni volunteers to attend local college fairs.
The year 2015 was pivotal as I brought on Angie, a wonderful writing coach who has been tutoring English to non-English speakers since 2010, to provide better service for the students who work with me. I also made some changes to my blog, including the implementation of password-protected entries, necessitated by antagonistic comments from the UC Office of the President regarding my content (my formal response to UCOP). This was quickly followed by another fallout with UCLA in 2016 (I was banned from attending the alumni training that is necessary for volunteering at college fairs). To prevent future incursions and to further distance myself from the UCs, I first launched the SUPER SECRET Newsletter early 2016 to safeguard sensitive admissions information I share with students and then, toward the end of 2016, stopped participating in most of the admissions and alumni activities (including scholarship application reviews and interviews) with both Berkeley and UCLA.
Looking forward, I plan to diversify my services to offer more affordable options to students and families from all backgrounds. Long term, I want to devote more time to develop college planning and admission strategies for middle school students. With the increased competition for college admission, “it’s never too early to start thinking about college” is no longer a luxury but a requirement. By providing expert advice to younger students and their parents, I hope to better prepare students to succeed in high school and later at the UC campus of their choice.