The red light was flashing. The timer was counting down slowly. Thirty seconds before the green light goes off. 3, 2, 1, 0. Green means go. Left-turning cars inch their way forward. Impatient drivers behind honk their horns, anxiously trying to enter C.P. Garcia from Katipunan.
Bu the queue does not move. At all. The green arrow turns red. Motorists have to wait another half a minute. Thirty seconds pass by, another green light, another fruitless attempt at turning left. The traffic jam was getting bad. It was rush-hour like.
Wait, rush hour-like? Isn’t it that a real rush hour?
Nope. It was five in the morning of the first Saturday of August. It was the day of the UPCAT.
My brother is taking the UPCAT this year. As I am writing this, he is taking his UPCAT in the Math Building. He is one of an expected 75,000 hopefuls to enter the Philippines’ premier state university.
I remember the time I took my UPCAT three years ago. It has been three years already? Wow, time flies like a jet. August 1st, 2009. We left Alabang at 4 am and arrived at UP Diliman by 5. We left early to try and avoid traffic. Of course there was none yet at that time. It was still dark. No traces of the sun just yet.
That was also the time when former President Corazon Aquino was on her deathbed. The car’s radio was tuned in to DZMM’s coverage of Cory’s final moments. At 5-something, it was announced: Cory Aquino has passed on. The peaceful darkness of the sky and the surroundings provided a fitting background to her death.
Slowly, sunlight was starting to show. And as the day got brighter, more and more parents and students started filing in. I felt a little pressure. The College of Arts and Letters (CAL), where I took the exam, was not an intimidating building, compared to the large and looming Palma Hall or the College of Engineering. CAL was small.
I stepped out of the car when we saw students lining up below the ramp. I fell in line as well. While waiting, somebody tapped me and called my attention. It was one of my high school mates. I was ahead in line.
Then students came from inside CAL. They led us to our rooms. I was assigned to CAL 410. Since I was the first in the line to enter, I was seated at the first row, at the seat right beside the window, and from my view I could see more students entering in singe file.
I got settled. I was relaxed, not so nervous, just right. When the proctor entered, one of the first things he or she asked (I forgot if the proctor was a boy or a girl) was if we listened to the news that morning.
The proctor started distributing the test materials. That was it. I don’t remember much from that time on. What I remember is that I treated it like a high school diagnostic/aptitude/achievement test. The college feel? No, I did not feel that at all. Except, of course, that this time, I really prepared. Review classes and nightly readings of previous years’ notes and lessons.
I finished the exam pretty satisfied with my performance. When the result came six months later, I was happy with it. I was one of the 12,550 qualifiers, among which 3,831 qualified in the Diliman campus. 69,708 attempted. I was one of the lucky ones. Thank God.
That was three years ago. This time, another 75,000-plus students will have their own experiences like mine, whether they pass their first choice, or not, in the campus they want or not, or whether they altogether fail entering, 75,000 new experiences are waiting to happen, my brother one of them.
Entering UP will be like the C.P. Garcia traffic jam. Once one gets in, it will be fun. C.P. Garcia had lots of potholes, just like the UP ride. It will be full of bumps, it will be rough.
The UPCAT is many students’ green light to a life-changing education.
But, like many have said in the past, entering UP is the easy part; finishing it is the hard one.