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University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley (Cal) is the flagship campus in the University of California system. Home to the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s and Apartheid Divestment Movement of the 1980s, Berkeley has a long history of student political activism and groundbreaking social and scientific research. Berkeley faculty and alumni have collectively won 114 Nobel prizes. Undergraduates have numerous opportunities to conduct field, lab and library research with professors renowned in their fields.

Located just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and just 45 miles from Silicon Valley, Berkeley students have access to some of the best jobs in the technology sector, as well as a vibrant metropolis to explore.

For a fascinating look at Berkeley's unique history as a leader in the public university movement from in the 1800s on, read John Aubrey Douglass: The Conditions for Admission: Access, Equity, and the Social Contract of Public Universities.

Contents

Beasley Sculpture Rondo 2 in front of Hearst Mining Building, UC Berkeley
Hearst Memorial Mining Building with "Rondo II" by Beasley in the foreground. Photo by Matthew Enger, 2021.

Students who thrive here

Students who thrive at UC Berkeley are self motivated, independent, and accountable to themselves. They are comfortable taking foundation classes in large lecture halls and seeking support that they need when they need it. They are also comfortable in a large, urban setting where they will have to find their own social structure. Students who want to explore a wide range of disciplines thrive at UC Berkeley, given the enormous range of majors and courses taught by some of the most highly respected professors in their fields. Students who want to do research in any field and have access to a vast library system, extensive archives, and unique research museums will also thrive here. UC Berkeley has one of the most powerful student government systems in the country, controlling a $2 million annual budget and segments of campus policy. Students who value political activism on campus will find plenty of opportunities to engage at UC Berkeley, but students who are not interested in political activism will also feel comfortable and can avoid political engagement.

Students who may have challenges here

Students whose GPA puts them in the bottom half of admitted students or who took few advanced courses in high school may have significant challenges keeping up with the fast pace and high level of UC Berkeley courses, especially in the sciences. Pre-med students whose academic achievements do not place them among the top admitted students may find it especially difficult to earn the grades necessary to gain admission to medical school. These students, in particular, should seek out academic support resources, including tutoring services and regular interaction with professors and teaching assistants. Students who want a personalized learning experience with robust academic advising or who aren’t independently motivated to stay on top of schoolwork will also find it difficult to keep up. UC Berkeley’s campus is beautiful, with majestic buildings, stands of eucalyptus and redwood trees, and a year-round creek running through campus, but the surrounding community is dense, urban, and, in some places, rather “gritty.” Many students love the Berkeley vibe, but those who are looking for a more comfortable suburban or rural environment may find Berkeley less appealing.

Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley. Photo by Matthew Enger, 2021.
Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley. Photo by Matthew Enger, 2021.

Successful applicants

Successful applicants are high achievers in their high schools, typically in the top 5 to 10% of their graduating classes. Successful applicants challenge themselves by taking the most rigorous coursework available and demonstrate deep involvement in extracurricular activities that have a purpose, whether to improve themselves, their school or their community. For some majors, such as engineering, successful applicants’ coursework and extracurricular activities provide a strong foundation for success in that major, and a very strong GPA in rigorous classes demonstrates readiness for the rigors of the major.

All UC campuses are test blind and will not consider SAT or ACT scores, but they will consider AP and IB scores. All UC campuses are prohibited from considering “hooks” that favor students based on factors beyond the student’s control, such as demographic factors, ability to pay, being related to faculty, alumni or donors, or knowing politicians or other famous people. A “hook” that may be used in the admissions process is recruitment for a special talent, most commonly athletic talent, for the purpose of filling a spot on an athletic team. However, of the 32,000 undergraduates at UC Berkeley, only about 900 (~3%) are student-athletes, some of whom are walk-ons (and therefore not recruited).

First-year students admitted to the College of Letters & Science (L&S), the largest college on campus, are also offered the option to participate in the Fall Program for Freshmen (FPF). FPF used to be a way of admitting a small group of freshman applicants in the spring, but now any student admitted to L&S can participate in this fall-semester program. FPF students live in traditional on-campus housing with other Berkeley freshmen, but they take the majority of their courses at the Golden Bear Center, which is three blocks from the main campus. Each year’s FPF student cohort explores a different theme through the FPF curriculum, and students can complete math and reading & composition requirements, as well as make progress toward general education requirements. The main advantage of participating in FPF is the small community and class sizes.

How the application process handles majors

Six colleges at UC Berkeley house undergraduate majors:

  • College of Chemistry
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Environmental Design
  • College of Letters & Science
  • Haas School of Business
  • Raussler College of Natural Resources

Five of the six colleges—all of them except the Haas School of Business—admit first-year (freshman and transfer) students directly into the college, but generally students are not directly admitted into the major. Students must apply for or declare the major when they achieve junior standing.

The Haas School of Business is unique among the six colleges because it only admits students with junior standing. Therefore, only rising juniors at UC Berkeley or transfer applicants can apply directly into the Haas School of Business. There are two exceptions–students admitted to the Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology (MET) and Global Management Program (GMP) enter Haas as first year students.

Financials

UC Berkeley has unique need-based financial aid programs, including the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, the Parent Grant, and the Undergraduate Dream Act Aid, that cover some or all tuition and fees. UC Berkeley also offers some scholarship programs that provide financial awards mostly ranging from $1,000 to $6,000, with some awarding up to the full cost of attendance. These include the Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship, Fiat Lux Scholarship, Berkeley Undergraduate Scholarship and Middle Class Scholarship. Some academic departments award scholarships to incoming students, regardless of residency status, often through an application process. In spite of these unique scholarships, however, it is quite rare for a student to have room and board expenses–the most expensive part of a UC education–funded through grants and scholarships.

California residents who meet specified income thresholds are also considered for Cal Grants, and US citizens and eligible noncitizens may also qualify for federal direct loans. International students are generally not eligible for federal, state or institutional financial aid, with the exception of departmental scholarships.

Unit 3 Dorm at UC Berkeley
Unit 3 Dorm Complex, UC Berkeley. Photo by Matthew Enger, 2011.

Housing

UC Berkeley is a residential campus, with guaranteed housing for first-year students—both freshmen and transfer students—in university housing. Because there is limited on-campus housing for second- or later-year students, most students choose to move off campus after their first year.

Students moving out of the dorms often lease apartments or houses with other students or move into sorority or fraternity houses, but juniors and seniors are also eligible to live in the International House, a special institution with a unique history, where many of the residents are international students from all over the world.

Students looking to keep costs down often choose to move into co-ops in the campus community. Co-ops require active participation by residents in the maintenance and operations of the house, including cooking and cleaning duties. Some co-ops require students to participate in weekly dinners at the co-op during the semester or year before moving in, to get to know the residents. Co-ops come in all sizes, from culturally-focused houses like Lothlorien, a vegetarian/vegan co-op with 58 residents, and the African American Theme House, with 21 residents; to small, intimate houses like Kidd House with 17 residents; to the enormous and vibrant Casa Zimbabwe with 124 residents. In total, the Berkeley Student Cooperative includes 17 houses and a few other affiliated residences.

Student raises a peace sign amid the Occupy Cal protest crowd in 2011. Photo by Matthew Enger
Student raises a peace sign amid the Occupy Cal protest crowd in 2011. Photo by Matthew Enger

Social life, recreation & campus spirit

Students looking for campus spirit will find it in abundance at UC Berkeley. Fall is a particularly spirited time, with administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members converging on campus many Saturdays each fall for football games at Memorial Stadium. The Cal marching band marches across Sproul Plaza (the campus hub for activities), past the Campanile (the highest structure on campus), and up to Memorial Stadium each game day, entertaining everyone along the way. Alumni and Parents Weekend at Homecoming is an especially fun fall experience. Cal Day, which is typically held in April, is a fantastic opportunity to explore campus, attend lectures by professors who are academic leaders in their fields, and observe athletic events by many of Cal’s spring teams.

Students can find parties any night of the week, but the biggest nights are Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but students who prefer quieter evenings will have no trouble finding their people and their fun, as well. While there is a visible Greek presence on the southeast side of campus, with nearly three dozen Greek houses, the proportion of undergraduates who are in fraternities and sororities is less than 10%. The Greek system includes social, multicultural and historically black sororities and fraternities.

Cal students have diverse interests and may join or start a student club or organization in nearly any area of interest. Genres of student organizations range arts-related to athletic to spirit to leadership to military to journalism to affinity groups to so much more. Recently, however, we have learned that some clubs and organizations–in addition to Greek organizations–require applications for admission and do not accept all applicants, potentially making it difficult to participate.

Two unique recreational programs are The Art Studio and Cal Adventures. The Art Studio offers non-credit art courses for Berkeley students and community members at relatively low costs, including in-person instruction and materials. Cal Adventures offers outdoor equipment rentals and adventure trips, such as kayaking and backpacking, to Berkeley students and community members

Academic support

UC Berkeley provides a variety of academic support services on campus. The Fall Program for Freshmen (FPF), mentioned above, can be an excellent way for students to transition into the fast pace at Berkeley by participating in a small, supportive learning community during the first semester. UC Berkeley also has a large Student Learning Center (SLC) that provides mostly peer-to-peer academic tutoring by student tutors who were highly successful in the subjects and classes that they tutor. The SLC has drop-in and appointment-based programs in writing, science, economics, math, and other academic areas that are known to be especially rigorous, and the SLC Strategic Learning Program provides students with skills to thrive academically. Students who are non-traditional, first generation, or underrepresented will find additional support services in the Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence, which includes the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the Transfer Student Center, and many other programs. In addition, residence halls are served by live-in and affiliated faculty who mentor students and provide programming through the Resident Faculty Program.

Support for learning differences

Students with physical, learning or other disabilities can receive services through the Disabled Students’ Program (DSP). The DSP coordinates care for students with disabilities, and it provides accommodations, such as extended test time, dictionaries and calculators in exams, note takers, reading technologies, spell-checker during exams, distraction-reduced exams, proctors, and scribes. DSP does not provide accommodations for oral exams. One-on-one peer tutoring may be available in some cases, and there is no additional charge for learning difference, ADHD, or ASD support services. Under some circumstances, disabled students may be allowed course waivers or substitutions for math or foreign language requirements.

UC Berkeley has a decades-long history accommodating and supporting students with disabilities, having established one of the nation’s first disability services programs to accommodate physically disabled students. The program has grown and expanded to accommodate students with most types of disabilities, including learning disabilities. The DSP also has a program for students on the autism spectrum, called Spectrum Connect, to support executive functioning, self-advocacy, academic skill development, social connection, and career readiness. While UC Berkeley remains a top choice for high achieving physically disabled students, due to its highly accessible campus and surrounding community, students with slow processing speed, dyslexia, executive functioning or similar disabilities may find UC Berkeley quite challenging to navigate, given its lack of structured learning difference support programs and the expectation of a high degree of independence among undergraduates. UC Berkeley has experienced significant growth in undergraduate enrollment over the past 10 years, and it isn’t clear that the campus’s student support services have been able to keep up with demand.

MLK Jr. Student Union, UC Berkeley, 2011. Photo by Matthew Enger.
MLK Jr. Student Union, UC Berkeley, 2011. Photo by Matthew Enger.

Health

Students attending UC campuses are automatically enrolled in the UC Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), a plan underwritten by Anthem Blue Cross, unless they submit a waiver each summer and receive approval. A successful waiver requires providing proof of health insurance that meets certain minimum coverage requirements.

Whether or not students enroll in SHIP, all students have access to UC Berkeley’s University Health Services at the Tang Center. The Tang Center provides care for common health conditions, such as colds, allergies, stomach illnesses, depression, and anxiety, and for minor injuries; providers can make referrals to community-based in-network providers for more complex health conditions. Students can make appointments with Tang providers or be seen on the same day in the Tang urgent care.

The Tang Center is only open during regular, weekday business hours, but an advice nurse is available by phone or message during nights and weekends to offer advice or refer out students who have urgent needs. Though the Tang Center has greatly expanded the number of counselors in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) over the past few years, like most campuses and communities, the number of medical practitioners available is greatly dwarfed by the need. CAPS currently has 37 staff psychologists, 11 interns and fellows, and 11 psychiatrists or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners who serve more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Graduation Requirements

Graduation requirements mostly depend on the major and college, but the Berkeley campus has one course requirement and the UC system two course requirements that all students must take to graduate from UC Berkeley. In general, for students in the College of Letters and Science (UC Berkeley’s liberal arts and largest college), about one-third of courses are major requirements, one-third are college, campus or UC requirements and one-third are electives. Other colleges, such as the College of Engineering, may have a higher proportion of courses required for the major and college, leaving fewer elective credits.

Cal Athletic Script
berkeley colors

Berkeley, California
Est. 1868
California Golden Bears
Mascot: Oski the Bear

Public Research University
Urban setting

32,000 undergraduates
13,000 graduates

178 acre main campus

Semester: two 15-week terms per year, plus summer sessions

Mild, temperate climate with warm summers, cool winters, and a high proportion of sunny days

Application Deadline

November 30

Submissions accepted from October 1 to November 30

Regular Decision only

Finances

$35,000-$40,000 / year
California resident total cost

$70,000+ / year
Non-resident total cost

California resident tuition:
$14,000-$15,000 / year

Non-resident tuition:
$46,000 / year

Housing & Meal Plan:
$15,000-$20,000 / year

Student Health Insurance Plan:
Additional $4,000 if not waived

Notable Majors & Programs

Molecular & Cell Biology, with 5 concentrations

Environmental Engineering;
Sustainable Environmental Design;
Conservation & Resource Studies;
Environmental Economics & Policy;
Ecosystem Management & Forestry

10 Engineering majors, with additional concentrations

Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (EECS)

15 Cultural Studies majors, including:
Gender and Women's Studies;
Native American Studies;
Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures;
and more

Large language department, including:
6 Slavic Languages;
5 Scandinavian Languages;
7 European Languages;
2 East Asian Languages;
South & Central American Languages;
Several Indigenous Californian & American languages;
and more

Special Business Programs:
Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology (MET);
Biology + Business Program;
Global Management Program (GMP)

Equity & Inclusion

Transfer Equity

• Transfer programming & services: Yes
• Transfer housing guaranteed: Yes
• Separate transfer housing provided: No

Disability Support & Equity

• K&W Category: Coordinated Services
• ASD Services: Spectrum Connect
• Disabled Students' Center
• Peer & paid tutoring

LGBTQ+ Equity

• Financial support for SRS & HRT
• Gender Equity Resource Center
• Inclusive housing policies & options
• Inclusive student community
• Inclusive local community
• Community-based LGBTQ resources

Racial Equity

• Black, AAPI, Latinx Resource Centers
• Inclusive housing policies & options
• Diverse student community
• Diverse local community
• Students of color underrepresented
• Lack of official resources

Post-College

berk-med-rate

50-70% medical school acceptance rate

berk-law-rate

75-90% law school acceptance rate

Robust career & graduate school admissions counseling services for students and recent graduates

Startup incubator for student- and faculty-founded startups

University of California, Berkeley

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Sather Tower, also known as the Campanile, at UC Berkeley.
Photo by Matthew Enger, 2012.