How a 15-year-old ‘hacked’ his way into UC Berkeley

Back to UCLA

He returned to UCLA last summer and said he was 16 so he could live in a dorm. He was 13.

“Surprisingly, there was no marijuana,” Ryan said. “But there was drinking, which isn’t really my form of entertainment.”

Soon Ryan had accumulated nearly enough academic credits to transfer to a university as a junior. But he still needed math, his weakest subject. So Jacobs hit the web and found an online statistics class at one school – in Utah – that required no prerequisites.

Ryan applied to four CSUs, two UCs and the University of Southern California. He got into San Francisco State, Humboldt State – and Cal.

“He’s got a lot of drive,” said Amy Jarich, Cal’s undergraduate admissions director. “What’s unique about this young man is that he’s a transfer student. The average age for that is 23.”

Still, at 14, Ryan had no idea that being accepted to Cal was a coup until he read his mother’s excited Facebook postings.

Ryan will begin as a full-time student in January. But he’s already begun taking classes: one during the summer and at least one this fall.

Last week, on his 15th birthday, Ryan went to an orientation pizza party at Zellerbach Hall for theater and performing arts students. Dressed in plum-colored pants and a black Hawaiian shirt he’d picked up at a thrift shop, Ryan appeared nervous among the tall young men and older women. He looked for friends from the Acting for Social Change class he took at Cal this summer and found a few.

One was Crystal Sasaki, 24, who was so delighted to see Ryan that she pinched his cheek.

“He’s such a little baby! Wooow!” she said later. “We all knew that he was young in the class. But he was extremely active – totally made a big contribution.”

Ironically, said Michael Mansfield, who taught the class, Ryan “ended up being the best ‘old’ actor – able to change his voice, his body” into a man of 50. “It’s a great gift that he was able to play the more mature and older actors.”

At one point, Ryan sat chatting with faculty members about actors they knew in common. Lura Dolas was impressed.

“He’s a remarkable young man,” said the senior lecturer. “He seems to know who he is and what he wants. I know some 22-year-olds that aren’t nearly as ready.”

As he left Zellerbach, Ryan no longer looked nervous.

“I’m very happy right now,” he said. “This department is wonderful.”

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