University of California-Berkeley Visit Report by LostCoast
Visit to University of California-Berkeley in August 2010 by LostCoast(Parent of Student, HS Class of 2012)
(Member since June 01 2010 with 52 posts)
2 of 2 people found this visit report helpful
Campus Tour: Yes - Saw most of campus. Didn't get into many buildings due to time limitations, but saw some afterwards. No dorm room.
Friendliness/Courtesy of Students:
Friendliness/Courtesy of Staff:
Appearance of Campus:
Overall Campus Impression:
Area Immediately Around Campus:
Campus Visit Notes for University of California-Berkeley
This was our second trip to UCB. The first was long enough ago that we wanted to have a fair comparison with other, recent visits.
Turns out that our feelings haven't changed. We're both still very so-so on the campus. In part this is because the campus has a large, impersonal feel to it (though the tour guides were personable enough). They also seem a bit, well, stuck on themselves. They've apparently made the mistake of believing their own PR. It's one thing to be proud of your university, and I'd hope anybody would be. But it's another thing entirely to think of it as home of the elite of the elite, and the very model of academic perfection.
There are some really nice buildings, but also many that are either trite, neo-classical "temple of learning" or run-down mid-20th century drab (and in need of a facelift). Coursework seems pretty standard for a large, state campus. Large classes at the lower levels, tapering off to small classes in your last two years (unless you're in a popular major). Many sections taught by graduate students, which isn't always bad given that faculty at UC are hired for their research abilities, not their teaching skills (it's a research institution).
They did claim that there are lots of opportunities for undergraduates to engage in research. I would have to follow that up to see if it's really the case everywhere, including the big departments, with their large populations of graduate students.
They also mentioned their study abroad program. My understanding is that this is not unique to UCB, but is actually a UC-wide program. So it isn't a selling point for any particular campus in the system.
Overall, we just didn't come away feeling like there was anything particularly special about either the facilities or the education on the campus. My daughter came away from UC Davis with a much more positive feeling. So much so that Davis is still overall on top of her list, and she may not even bother to apply to Berkeley.
I should add a disclaimer: I think that one factor in our not liking UCB may be our proximity. Along with Stanford, it's one of the campuses around here that everybody seems to be trying to make themselves look good on paper in order to get into. My daughter and I tend to react negatively to that kind of "name-brand worship." We also hear plenty of stories about lack of support for students, impersonal administration and so forth, which we won't hear from more distant universities. I have first- or second-hand experience with three departments on campus and, of those, two are not undergraduate-friendly places. The third, however, is apparently very proud of their undergraduate program, so you never know. Finally, after recent protests and vandalism in response to fee hikes, my daughter voiced the opinion that the UCB students are a bunch of spoiled brats (she was responding to the vandalism, not the protests).
We didn't get to see a dorm. The main dorms are several blocks from campus, and don't look to be changed from when I stayed in one for a conference in the early 90's. The room was pretty cold and sterile. Looking back, it almost seemed designed so that they could come in and hose it down after the students left. And you pay dearly for them. On our previous tour, the guide told us that the UCB dorms are among the most expensive in the country.
The city of Berkeley has a lot to offer. Right next to campus are the usual kind of eateries and shops, plus a lot of more off-beat places, and some excellent bookstores. Also some theaters and museums, though if you really love those you'll probably end up taking BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) over to San Francisco fairly often.
If you're from a major metropolitan area, your first reaction to Berkeley might be, "They call THIS a city!?" But, it blends into Oakland and so feels much larger than its population would indicate. And Berkeley itself runs the urban gamut. Starting at the east edge of the main campus, you have the hills with their fancy, horribly overpriced homes. As you go towards the Bay to the west, it gets more commercial and light industrial, and the neighborhoods get gradually worse (the best indication seems to be the fraction of houses with bars on the windows). Eventually, you'll see one or two areas where you might not feel comfortable walking around during the day, let alone at night.
The campus is in the transition between the hills and the more urban areas, and so has a mixture of areas around it, though nothing really bad. There is some "spillover," and you'll see a few homeless people on campus. That's not surprising, since there are some nice places to sleep and students probably leave a fair amount of leftover food. While I don't see them as a danger, I do wonder what else spills onto campus from across the street.
Before you let yourself get too turned off by what I've written, know that I don't have much experience with urban campuses. Much of what I've said above may be the norm for them.
Other Comments (Transportation, local attractions, parking, etc.):
BART is the best way to get around. The closest station is only two blocks from campus. I would definitely recommend that over trying to park on or near campus if you visit during the academic year.