Why ALL FIRST-YEARS Should Do Summer Bridge (coming from a former bridgee!)

Hey there! Congratulations on making it to UC Berkeley! You are about to embark on an amazing four-year journey here. Now, you may be wondering… How can I make the most of my summer? Well, I have got the answer for you! Summer 2021, I was exactly in your situation. I was doing Golden Bear Advising (GBA) and wondering what else can I do to get a head start on creating my Berkeley experience. That’s when I signed up for Summer Bridge at the very last minute. Do I regret it? Absolutely not!

What is Summer Bridge (no for real though)? read more

CS@Cal

Hey!

Hey you!

Yes you 🙂 You look like you clicked on this article looking to get a better sense of what studying Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley is like!

Well that’s what I’m going to try my best to do in this delightful little blog post here, so bear (ha ha) with me as I take you through a beginner’s guide of this wild and wacky world of CS @ Cal, everything from classes, to projects, to the L&S declaration process, and finally a little sneak peek at what you could potentially get out of this small, niche, oft under-the-radar major here at Berkeley!

(Just to be clear that last bit was sarcasm)

A little bit about me! My name is Jeff, and I’m currently a Junior studying CS and Economics (pre-emptive plug, but if you enjoy this article do please check out my follow up “Econ@Cal” on 7/5), and I hail from Boise Idaho, but have spent the majority of my life bumbling about between continents and countries all across the world. Unlike many of my illustrious peers here at Berkeley, I had come into Cal with absolutely no intention of taking computer science at all; I had a passion for Economics and thought my future lay in law school or politics, where I had a vague but optimistic goal of leaving this world a little bit of a better place than I found it. Some would say that CS found me (and some would say that that is a very cliched writing trope), but in many ways that’s true! My first brush with any kind of programming came when I took STAT20, a probability class that was a prerequisite for the Economics major – where for some projects and data analysis we used R, a relatively simple programming language that was sort of the middle-ground between a big calculator and a higher-level programming language. I walked out of that class with a passable knowledge of probability but a surprising new-found intrigue in programming.


Quick sidenote (oof that’s a lot of tangents already. Starting to understand why online recipes always start with a sprawling life story): Often one of the biggest hurdles into any STEM field, especially ones that can seem especially intimidating and male-dominated such as CS, is the mistaken belief that you are not as qualified as your peers. The main reason why I chose to write such a guide is to show perhaps a different perspective on CS than ones you might have heard about before, from someone who not only had zero experience in the field but still to this day doesn’t know how to work his google calendar. Compsci is not a particularly special field, programming is not magic, and anyone can 100% learn to code. If you do choose to continue on this path, just know that if the going gets tough, you are absolutely not alone in this! Cal has some fantastic resources, and office hours or piazza threads are where even experienced folk come to for salvation more often than not. It’s absolutely doable!

So what exactly is Computer Science? Well right off the bat, you might have noticed that Berkeley actually offers three (3!) majors that address some aspects of this ever-growing field of CS. Two of them are offered in the College of Letters and Science, which are the more traditional Computer Science (CS) major and the much newer Data Science (DS) major. For students coming into the College of Letters and Science undeclared, both of these are fantastic options to add to your repertoire of skills if such a field interests you. CS and DS share some lower division classes, but are fundamentally different majors that have different goals. While CS focuses more on the functionality of programs/systems, with more emphasis on algorithms and theory, DS leans more heavily on analysis, statistics, and can be more applicable with many other fields. For more information, the respective major websites are a fantastic place to go to find detailed information about what each major entails, as well as the requirements for declaring! The third major that Berkeley offers is Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), which is taught in the College of Engineering. Students are likely to already be declared in this major upon coming into Berkeley, but transfers within the College of Engineering are not uncommon. EECS and CS have a fair amount of overlap, especially in their lower division requirements, but EECS allows students to branch out more effectively into the hardware and circuits components of computing, including exciting fields such as semiconductors and machine learning. EECS majors also have a Physics requirement that neither CS nor DS have. For this article, we will focus more on the CS track and declaration process, but for more information do check out the EECS department website! Lots of great information there!

Alright let’s get back on track! The first CS class you will probably encounter in Berkeley is read more

Dear Freshman Me: An Open-Letter to My Freshman Self

Dear my freshman self, 

Well, this is going to be a wild ride! Your first year at Cal is full of things you didn’t expect. I know we came in with this idea about college and what it was going to be like. Let me tell you, as your now second-year self, nothing you thought about college is true… well not entirely. Here are the four things you should know coming into your first year here: read more

Answering Questions and Demystifying Negative Stereotypes as a Campus Ambassador at Cal

As a Campus Ambassador at Cal, a major part of my job working at the Campanile and giving tours is answering all the questions that our visiting guests, alumni, and students have to offer. That being said, having just worked my 18th tour and 18th campanile shift, I’ve started to notice that with each shift comes very similar patterns in the questions being asked. And because of that, I wanted to discuss the five most frequently asked questions that I have received (with some responses of which may make Berkeley an even more appealing school to you:)).

“Is it true that Cal has grade deflation? How difficult is it to do well in classes?”

While grade deflation may have existed before my time at Cal, I have never experienced, nor met anyone who has experienced grade deflation at Cal (just for context, I’ve taken classes ranging from the realm of history to data science to math to chemistry and biology, and despite of the diverse range of classes I’ve taken, I’ve never even heard of grade deflation at cal). In terms of how classes are graded, all the professors on campus are able to choose how they see fit to grade their students. While this does sometimes result in difficult classes, the majority of professors do not want to see their students fail and will instead curve the classes to where the average grade, if it’s a C+ for example, will become a B+, and so forth. Your grade will only be curved up. And with the amount of office hours available provided by your teachers and all of their GSIs (TAs), as well as the 10 HOURS OF FREE TUTORING offered every weekday by our student learning center (the SLC for short) and our residential Hall services (you do not need to live on campus to obtain these services), there’s no way you’ll be able to fail (as I always say on my tours, if you know how and where to look for help; you’re gm bound to succeed!:))

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“How easy is it to get research positions? Can non-STEM majors do research too? Are undergraduates able to get involved in research at Cal?”

A lot of people assume because Berkeley is a research university that it is a hard university to obtain research in. While sometimes certain positions may be very competitive, there are so many research opportunities that again, if you know where to look, you should be able to find one to get into! UC Berkeley is really great at providing its undergraduate students accessible research opportunities in every field (whether you want to study, STEM, the humanities, or beyond)- and if you feel unqualified for research, I personally had no research experience at Cal and was still able to get research my first semester freshman year (so trust me, as long as you are passionate enough about whatever research you’d like to join, you’ll have a great chance of getting it; and if not, there are probably a ton of related research opportunities that are also potentially looking for researchers).

For those who have less experience, I highly recommend ULAB, or the Undergraduate Laboratory at Berkeley Program at Berkeley. There you’ll get to be paired with a few peers to conduct research in fields ranging from cognitive science to the physical and life sciences, and you’ll get credits to do a related study in whatever field you decide to choose. After gaining some experience, I would recommend the most commonly applied one being the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP) at Cal, which pairs you with a faculty member to conduct research and build a professional relationship with them (I have friends currently developing COVID vaccines and working with Jennifer Doudna (our CRISPER/gene-editing Nobel laureate!) as I type!). For URAP you’re allowed to apply to work with up to three faculty members per semester, so I would definitely use that opportunity to explore any research that you’re interested in (There are also many research fellowships, summer research opportunities, and major/college-specific research opportunities that you’ll have opportunities to explore later!).

If this all feels overwhelming, my best suggestion to gaining research experience is emailing professors, TAs, or labs you’re interested in. Especially since most, if not all of them, are currently doing research (and they love talking about their research). One cool thing that I did and highly recommend doing to find research opportunities is just going to the faculty page of your major website; and most of them, especially the STEM majors, have their research hyperlinked in that research (you got this!!!!).

“How easy is it to find extracurriculars? I’ve heard that clubs are extremely hard to get into.”

While there are some competitive clubs at Berkeley, choosing what org is best for you really depends on what kind of community you are looking for! Many of the clubs that have more rigorous acceptances may be more professionally centered or performance-based, but there are over 1200+ student orgs on campus (you can find them on Callink and even filter by passion, so you don’t have to look through all of them!), not to mention sports teams, the ASUC or Berkeley’s student government, work-study opportunities, and volunteer groups. And with there being so many, there are definitely very similar clubs with very different levels of difficulty getting in, so it definitely will not be the end of the world.

“Is Berkeley actually that competitive?” read more

Deciding the School That’s Right for You

Congratulations, high school seniors! You’ve survived 4 years of hard work, a grueling college application season, and the agonizing waiting period before decisions are released in March. Whether you applied to Berkeley or elsewhere, pause and give yourself a pat on the back – taking the first step toward higher education is a huge accomplishment and you deserve to be proud of yourself.
Most people I knew had a decision to make at the end of their college admissions process. Some were lucky enough to have a clear choice. However many schools you’re choosing between, here are a few tips that helped me as I was coming to my decision, and how you can apply these to yours! read more

How I Got Into Haas Without Joining a Business Club

Totally not clickbait! No, but seriously. My name is Mikayla, and I am a Business Administration major at the Haas School of Business. After hearing that, most people assume I’ve climbed the ladder through a Haas-sponsored consulting club or competed in finance case competitions for years when, in fact, none of that is true. I’m here to tell you about how I got into the Haas School of Business without joining a single business club.

To begin, I want to touch on a passion of mine: music. (I promise this all ties together in the end). I’ve been inspired by music from an early age, and I feel like that passion has only grown as I’ve gotten older and attended college. From middle school, I was consistently involved in music-related organizations, from orchestra to choir to just forming my own little bands and making covers together. It not only filled the time outside of academics for me but also allowed me to harbor feelings of security and confidence that I didn’t always feel in other organizations.  read more

How to Build your 4 Year Plan as a MCB (Molecular and Cellular Biology) Major

Will you be declaring as a MCB (Molecular and Cellular Biology) major? Do you need some help in getting things started with planning out the next four years of your undergraduate career? Well, I’m here to help! As an out of state student who came from Hawaii, I didn’t have any connections in Berkeley so I started planning everything out from scratch. During my freshman year, I was actually required to submit my 4 year plan (the courses that I am taking for each semester) in my 6th week of class due to a requirement that I had to satisfy in my Army ROTC program. Yep, that’s right, I needed to plan out all 4 years of my classes in a month after I started school! Thinking back about it, it’s actually not that bad. In this blog, I’ll share my secrets on how to get your four year plan done in less than a week. read more