For campus ambassadors the month of April tends to be pretty hectic. With all the newly admitted students, prospective students on spring break and the international visitors it can be a little busy. One of our duties as ambassadors is to give interested parties tours of the campus (my favorite part of the job). Having given quite a few tours in the past week I noticed that I was often being asked a question that I normally had not encountered on previous tours.
Is Berkeley too cutthroat or competitive?
This question shocked me, especially with the ways it was phrased by the visitors. I heard surreal anecdotes, quotations of facts with no reliable source and even the ‘I know someone whose daughter’s friend went here and she said…’ comments. The reason I was so shocked was because I had never really encountered any of this aforementioned ‘competition’ at Berkeley in the two years I have been here.
I completely understand the concern people have for the presence of unhealthy competition. It can be unnecessarily stressful, psychologically damaging or even just plain old annoying. But Berkeley is not like that – at all. The courses I have taken have varied in the past two years: science courses, math classes and quite a few other social science/humanity classes. This broad spectrum has allowed me to encounter a lot of different students; people moving in all sorts of directions, from pre-med and pre-law to business and engineering majors. Yet no one I ever met ever went out of their way to compare his or her performance to other students. It’s almost a silent rule at Berkeley that we just do not ask people their grades. I have heard people say that the pre-med route or the business route are cut throat across the US but most of my friends belong to these groups and are probably the most friendly and helpful people I have met here. When I had to take a biology class for a prerequisite despite never actually having taken a Biology course, I was nervous. Yet I got nothing but help from my friends and classmates; whether it was helping me catch up on notes, explaining various enzymes or even just listening to me moan about how hard biology is to me.
But in some ways Berkeley is competitive. As a student here you will compete with yourself. Students at Berkeley constantly push themselves to work harder, get better grades and be more social. In short, it helps us evolve into much more efficient, and I would dare say, better individuals. I believe that on its own, this is one of the reasons we are such an awesome school. And an awesome school it is indeed, thus the classes might be, at times, out of a student’s comfort zone, but it is only with these challenges that we become so much better at the material. Even if, heaven forbid, some sort of stress or fatigue overcomes you, this campus and city have enough distractions to offer. The University itself will help you to the best of their ability (which is a lot). The University Health Services offer free sessions of academic, career and psychological counseling which are accessible to all Berkeley students regardless of the insurance plan they have. All our college advisors are more than happy to sit and help us and guide us during our years here. Most of the time you don’t even have to look too far as friends and other students are incredibly resourceful at times like these.
So in short: No, Berkeley is not a cutthroat environment by any means.