The Ivy Scholars guide to UC Berkeley’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.
Location: Berkeley, California
Mascot: Oski the BEar
Type: Public Research Institution
Population: 43,000 (31,000 undergrads)
Located in the bay area of California, Berkeley was the founding member, and remains the flagship institution of the University of California system. Known for its strong academics, athletics, and history of student activism, Berkeley is one of the foremost public universities in the US. The Golden Bears, as they are known, are fiercely proud of their school, and invested in its traditions, and for good reason.
Year Founded: 1868
4 Year Graduation Rate: 75.8%
Gender Distribution: 52% female, 48% male
Acceptance Rate: 17%
Residency: 85% in state, 5% out of state, 10% international
Location Type: College Town
Schedule System: Semesters
Student/Faculty Ratio: 18:1
Average Class Size: 25
Demographics: 36% Asian, 24% Caucasian, 16% Hispanic, 10% Other or Unknown, 2% Black
US News Rankings:
Average Applicant Pool: 87,000
Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 14,000
Average Number Enrolled: 6,000
Application Systems: Apply California
Average GPA: 3.89 unweighted
SAT Scores: 25th% – 1330, 75th% – 1520
ACT Scores: 25th% – 28, 75th% – 34
UC Berkeley does not consider demonstrated interest.
Recommendation Letter Policies:
Some applicants are requested to submit letters of recommendation. Berkeley notifies these students of this fact, and does not want letters of recommendation otherwise. At least one of the two letters must be written by a teacher or instructor, the other may be written by anyone, although Berkeley discourages having them written by family members. All letters must be submitted electronically through the link Berkeley provides, not through Naviance or other means.
UC Berkeley Essay Prompts:
The most important criteria is academic preparation. Berkeley recalculates students’ GPAs without their freshman year grades. They also do not count grades from non-academic courses (such as band or gym) when calculating GPA. The average GPA for Letters and Science is 4.2, for Engineering its 4.3. A 3.4 GPA for non-California residents and a 3.0 GPA for residents is required to have the rest of your application considered.
Your pattern of grades (whether increasing or not), planned senior year courses, and scores on AP and IB exams are also taken into account when considering a student’s academic readiness.
Other factors which are important are extracurriculars, leadership positions, essays, and hardships overcome.
Berkeley currently does not consider test scores due to a court ruling, and is on their way to phasing them out entirely. They do not consider race or ethnicity at all, though they do consider socio-economic status.
Around 250 students are designated as recruited athletes each year, and they have a major boost in their admissions chances.
What is UC Berkeley Looking For?
Berkeley uses an aggregate points added system to rate candidates, with points being added to the total rating for each category. They look for more well rounded candidates generally, as opposed to the Ivy League, although this does vary some by school. Students must meet academic minimums in order to be considered as candidates as a whole. Students are compared to others from their school who have applied, in order to give context for grades and coursework.
Engineering has faculty involvement in the admissions process, and a much higher academic bar. They also like to see research experience and heavy involvement in STEM. Due to attempts to maintain fairly even gender ratios, women have a slightly easier time gaining admission to the school, as fewer women than men apply, so a greater percentage of women from the pool are admitted.
More California residents are accepted than students from outside the state, but admissions requirements are not laxer for students within California. Students meeting certain grade requirements in public school are guaranteed acceptance to a UC, but not necessarily to their first-choice UC.
Berkeley has a new initiative in artificial intelligence, and students who have worked with that may have an edge for CS admissions, although it remains the most competitive major, and should never be assumed.
As computer science is offered as a major through both Letters and Sciences and Engineering, students who wish to major in the field will have an easier time applying to the major via Letters and Sciences. The College of Engineering is notoriously difficult to get into. The course offerings and professors are the same, but admissions is easier for one.
Students applying to a specific major, especially in Engineering, should use one of their essays to discuss how they have already engaged with the major, and why they are interested in it. Evidence of past competence is seen as a marker for future potential.
While all UC schools are forbidden from considering race in college admissions, they do look at socio-economic status, and they want to recruit students who have succeeded academically in spite of hardships they have endured. If you have undergone hardship, you should definitely use the essay question on that topic to address it.
The most important thing is to ensure your grades are good enough to be both considered, and in actual contention for admission. Barely meeting the minimum for grades won’t be enough for acceptance unless you are a heavily recruited athlete. As Berkeley gets so many applicants, they need a way to winnow those who are unsuited efficiently, and academic preparation, especially concerning grades, is key here.
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Courses of Study:
AP Credit Policies:
Computer Science Options:
Additional Specialty Programs:
Programs for High Schoolers:
School Motto: Let there be light
Mission and Values:
Residential Housing System:
Berkeley runs 7 residence halls for undergrads, each with a different feel and style. It has further “themed” units within its residence halls, catering to students with particular academic interests. Many students also find housing with the Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC) which runs 20 smaller apartment buildings, and has far cheaper rent rates. Many students live off-campus as well.
Campus & Surrounding Area:
20% of students are involved in greek life, including social, service, and academic organizations.
Yearly Cost of Attendance:
All students who apply must complete the Free Application for Federal Student AId (FAFSA), to be considered for aid. All scholarships and aid are based on financial need, none are purely merit based. The majority of funding goes to California residents and continuing (above 1st year) students with high academic achievement, due to limited funds generally.
There are a number of more selective scholarships, open to students who meet certain criteria. Students must fill out a form when applying to determine which of these scholarships they are eligible for. Many students change their residency status to California residents in order to qualify for additional scholarships and aid.