Berkeley, University of California (CAL)

College review by Lisa Bleich and Beth Cassie

University of California, Berkeley or “Cal” as it is known is California’s flagship public university.  I visited there during the summer when only a fraction of the 25,000 undergraduates at Cal were on campus taking classes.  It is a beautiful campus with impressive buildings and attractive green space.  There was no organized tour the day I visited, however there was a computer where I could download an app for a self-guided tour.  Using this I hit many of the highlights of the campus.  The hub of the campus is the courtyard pictured here that is typically brimming with activity.  According to a student I spoke with there is usually someone protesting or proselytizing about some cause when you walk through this area.  Student activism and Berkeley go hand in hand. Cal has a reputation as an academic powerhouse (note Nobel Laureates have specially reserved parking spaces) and admission and academics are incredibly rigorous.  English is an extremely popular and very intense major.  In fact, some say very cutthroat.  86% of the student body is from California however in recent years more out of state applicants (who pay out of state tuition) have been accepted.  In fact only 72% of incoming class of 2010 were from California and nonresident enrollments are expected to reach about 20% within the next four years.  This is good news for out of state residents, however, we need to keep a close eye on whether the class offerings and research opportunities remain strong.

Where are the dorms I wondered as I walked around the campus?  The area I was seeing was only academic buildings — the dorms are on the outskirts of the campus.  Housing is guaranteed for two years at Cal and most upper class men live off campus.  The immediate area is brimming with restaurants, bars, coffee houses and shops all catering to the Cal student.  San Francisco is only 30 minutes away by public transportation. Lisa also found herself in California this summer and was able to get a very personal view of Berkeley.

Lisa:   I had the chance to have dinner with my nephew, Martin, who is going into his senior year at Cal. He will graduate in December with a BA in Architecture due to all of his AP credits from high school.  He said that certain schools more than others lend themselves to graduating in 3.5 years at Cal.  He mentioned it is hard to do this in the School of Letters and Sciences because they do not take as many AP credits. Overall his experience was fantastic at Cal and he couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.  He said that while he did not join a frat (due to cost and that it’s just not his scene) many of his friends were part of Greek life, which is fairly active on campus.  He went to Malibu High and many of his friends are from other beach communities along the coast, e.g. Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz. He also has a number of International friends.  He noted that there are large Chinese and Filipino populations at Cal and he found that they tended to stay together as a group rather than mix with the overall student body.

We toured the house that he’s lived in for the past two years.  He shares this house with 16 other people.  There are 10 bedrooms and students get to choose their rooms based on seniority in the house.  The rent is $11,000 per month and each student pays based on how much square footage they occupy.  It brought back memories of college housing, but overall it was a really nice house. The kitchen had three refrigerators as well as a nook for a washer and dryer.  We met two of his roommates, one lovely Italian young woman and another guy that was very friendly.  

The area around Cal is extensive with somewhat grungy, college-town like shops right near campus, and more upscale shops and restaurants in Berkeley Hills. (The Cheeseboard Pizza is a must).  There is another cute group of shops and eateries close to the Frats/Sororities and off campus housing.  There is also a thriving arts community with numerous theaters and repertory companies.  Themed coops are another alternative for student housing.  However, the word around campus is that they are a somewhat dirtier living arrangement.

There is a fairly significant “weed” culture.   Underclassmen mostly go to the Frat parties to drink and the older student go into SF Bars and several local bars around campus.   The word on the street is that SF bars do not card.

Cal offers a wide offering of classes, but with the budget cuts, it’s been harder to get all the classes that students want because many have been cut.  Overall though, students work really hard and are interested in getting a world-class education.

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