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!:))
“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?”