Students Share Their Thoughts About UC Berkeley
Current students talk about their time at UC Berkeley, how they navigated a new environment and what they have learned so far.
Leilanie M., Junior, Major: Legal Studies
South Gate (Los Angeles Area), California
Being a woman of color has played a huge factor in my socialization at UC Berkeley.
The amount of underrepresented minority students in 2015 was 15.8 percent. Having to navigate a campus with professors and graduate students who do not look or act like me has been challenging and different. At first, I was embarrassed to attend office hours or ask questions because I feared I was not smart enough or that I got into this school because my low-income high school was “too easy.” The first time I went to office hours, I was shy and embarrassed. Who am I to expect an adult employed by such a great university would humor me and listen to my questions?
It wasn’t until I built a support system within my residence-hall floor and with classmates that I developed a sense of belonging. It was not until I regained sight of the passionate and determined Leilanie that I realized all these feelings I internalized were inappropriate. I deserved to be on this campus just like the rest of my peers. I had to give myself a heart-to-heart and multiple pep talks to remind myself of why I decided to leave my home in Los Angeles and why I would dare leave my three younger siblings (one who was just a toddler at the time) to pursue academics in such a competitive space. Attending UC Berkeley at first was not easy, but the late-night study sessions, the endless study docs, and the countless office hours now seem to be a little less overwhelming. Cal is not always an easy place to be, but the hardships of attending here have allowed me to bond with some of the best people I have ever met.
Come look at the campus. Don’t be afraid to ask current students and staff some of their favorite memories about UC Berkeley. And, as an applicant, be open and willing to explore campuses that might not be your top choice. You never know what schools might fit you!
Anthony M., Senior, Major: Psychology
San Francisco, California
The most transformative experience I’ve had at Berkeley was doing research over the summer in a program called Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP). I conducted an original study under the supervision of Clinical Psychology professor Dr. Sheri Johnson and graduate students on “Depression and Consistency of Self across Interpersonal Contexts,” where I looked at how depression influences self-consistency in a psychology undergraduate subject pool. I learned how to design a research study, create, and administer an online survey with valid measures, analyze the data with statistics, write my thesis, and give a presentation on my findings in a research symposium. This was a phenomenal opportunity for me to develop my own independent research and get the support I needed. I met other undergraduates from across the country with amazing research projects and made friends that I can always reach out to from our bonding experience together in the program.
I came in as a transfer student, and a great resource has been the Transfer Student Center. Most helpful to me was the Center’s “Ed 198 Transition Course for Incoming Transfer Students,” which is an elective I took my first semester. This class guided me through my first semester and helped me learn about other resources and opportunities at Cal. I also met other transfers in the same boat as I was! I’ve found the fellow transfer students and community the best social experience I’ve had here. Friends I’ve met in the transition course, students who transferred from my community college, and other transfers I’ve met at early social events have been a huge support system in my journey at UC Berkeley, and I know we will keep in touch after graduation. The people I’ve met are beyond what I could have expected and have challenged me to grow and mature as an individual and scholar.
My advice to applicants is to let your passion and experiences shine in your applications because they will set you apart and give your application a personal touch. Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences outside of the classroom because they are just as valuable as your experiences inside the classroom!
Sammy T., Senior, Major: Business Administration
Hong Kong & Canada
For a 17-year-old, choosing college is a big deal; I still stand by my decision that UC Berkeley was the right choice. It’s the place where you have late-night chats with friends, after studying for a midterm or doing a project, and reflect on how far you’ve come. It’s the place that doesn’t hold your hand and so you learn to find your own resources. It’s the place you learn to be truly independent.
Settling into university courses and saying goodbye to my parents was the first lesson I learned at Cal in order to become independent. Like many freshmen, I had rushes of homesickness; I did not have the privilege of traveling home on the weekends or during short breaks. Thankfully, once I started getting involved with clubs on campus and schoolwork picked up, I was almost too busy to call home or be too homesick.
Clubs became an integral part of my college life and fostered both personal and professional growth within me. You can gain real-life client exposures in professional clubs, you get exposure to different countries in cultural clubs — the list goes on.
It’s true that UC Berkeley can be a stressful school — but what academic-oriented, high-achieving student population isn’t? We really have to earn our reputation for being ranked the #1 public university. But it’s also the place that makes you become more proactive, independent, and responsible. More importantly, you’re never alone in that journey because you’ll also form the strongest and most supportive networks here that you can “pocket” with you forever.
Daniella W., Junior, Major: Business Administration, Minor: Public Policy
Los Angeles, California
I have at least one transformative experience every day at UC Berkeley. I am always meeting individuals who challenge my ideas. Every day I have an experience inside or outside of class where I hear my classmate, teacher, or friend offer a perspective on an issue that is different than my own. The people around me push me to not only experience the world around me, but also critically analyze my experiences.
Over the past two years I wrote for The Daily Californian. For my first two semesters I wrote for the blog, and over the past year I wrote for the News section — first as a general assignment reporter and then on the Research and Ideas beat. Through this experience, I found that I really enjoyed writing articles about startups and technology in the Bay Area. Now, I am planning on joining a student-run incubator.
Visiting a college campus on a guided tour and attending school every day are two completely different experiences. I wish I had spoken to more students candidly about the college experience on campuses I was applying to. I would advise prospective students to ask a student, who does not look too busy about his or her experience.
David Y., Junior, Major: Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences
Princeton Junction, New Jersey
Moving to Berkeley from New Jersey was really exciting! I came here with my mom with just one suitcase and whatever I could fit in my backpack. The rest we bought from local stores once we got here. I chose Berkeley mostly for the area. I knew that the tech industry was booming, so the idea of going to school near Silicon Valley was very appealing. Also, it’s every Jersey boy’s dream to go to California. I guess I also chose Berkeley because of my other options. My other options were all private schools, and I didn’t want to pay all that tuition (although I am paying out-of-state tuition here).
I found it pretty hard to make friends when I first got to college. I was only one of a handful of people from my school who came here, and I wasn’t close to them. What helped me the most was actually the floor below me in my residence hall, since they were welcoming to everyone. I stumbled upon them one day and became part of their community. After that, I found the courage to go out and try new things.
Jocelyn H., Senior, Major: Public Health
Diamond Bar, California
The one thing I wish I knew as a prospective student and advice I would give to applicants is to visit all the campuses you’re applying to (or visit once you’re accepted). Walk around, explore the food, music, sports, your passion’s scene, and feel. Do you feel like you’ve come home? Do you feel uncomfortable? What stands out to you? The vibes are so telling.
Every student’s journey at UC Berkeley is different, and it’s because of you. There isn’t just one thing that made my journey different: My journey is different because it is mine.
Being a part of Spoon University at Berkeley, for example, has been the best social experience for me. I found a group of students from all years, majors, and cultures who love food as much as, if not more than, I do — people who “procrastibake” and run “foodstagrams.” I’ve learned about different cultures and peoples by eating with them and eating their food. Food is a connector, and Spoon made the connection so easy. I think this article explains it best: 7 Foods Berkeley Students Miss When They’re Home for Break.
Amanda G., Senior, English major
Most of my friends already figured that I would major in English before I entered college. I knew I would take classes, at the very least for Berkeley’s breadth requirement, but I wanted to try different humanity and social science paths before deciding.
And then by the end of first semester UC Berkeley convinced me to major in English.
It was one thing for my mom, my senior year English teacher, and my brother’s best friend to tell me that Berkeley had the number one English program in the nation (“and therefore the world,” my brother’s friend added). It was another thing to actually listen to the professor lecture on and recite Milton’s Paradise Lost. My morning sprint from dorm to Barker Hall would always be worth that front row seat in English 45A.
Although I always loved reading and writing, studying English at Berkeley challenged me to connect one piece of literature to the next and see how literature tracks the change in human ideology. As a freshman, I never could have imagined writing my first long paper. Now, as a senior, writing my thesis is one of the academic highlights of my college experience. The professors and GSIs (Graduate Student Instructors) really push you to ask questions and to engage your interests, your confusions, and your quirks into your study of literature.
I wish I had asked around earlier about department resources. UC Berkeley is huge, but the undergraduate departments offer many opportunities to build community. Departments have different peer-led groups; for English, there are creative writing workshops, book clubs, open mics. The English department initiated the Berkeley Connect (bconnect) program, which offers group mentorship to connect with students in the same academic field. Plus, there’s free food at the meetings and one unit of semester credit. Our discussions vary anywhere from professors (are they vindictive or misunderstood?) to movie adaptations of books (the good, the bad, the book was still better). In my junior year, my mentor helped me edit my research application and focus my topic.
My advice: don’t spread yourself out too thin. There are amazing opportunities at Berkeley, whether in career, clubs, or academics; it can be easy to sign up for everything. It might seem like an oxymoron, but often the broadest experiences don’t come from doing everything but just going deep into a couple areas. Allow space in your schedule for the unexpected. Questions are expected in college, so also pursue the answers. Also, those classmates who intimidate you into silence during discussion? They are probably just as intimidated and confused about the class as you. Talk with them after class and you (should) find that they are human.