USC vs Northwestern vs Berkeley

I have recently been admitted to Northwestern, Berkeley, and USC for Mechanical Engineering. While I feel like in Northwestern in USC I would have a better balance between social life and academics, I know that Berkeley has a better engineering program and could probably open more doors for me since I would like to seek a job in the West Coast after I graduate. I’ve heard that Berkeley is depressing, is that true? What would you all suggest?

Why would it be depressing?

I would suggest visiting the school and the surrounding area. Cal Day is April 13. Maybe visit on another day to get a true vibe of campus life.

Northwestern places well on the West Coast, although I am unfamiliar with placement for your major. But if USC is a better fit socially & equally affordable as your other two options, then go to USC & enjoy your college years.

If I had a nickel every time someone says UCB is depressing…

Everyone has their own opinion and obviously UCB is an amazing school. My EECS major had no interest in attending after two visits there, tried to love it, but just didn’t like it at all. Frankly, we have always preferred private schools and the perks - changing majors or double majoring with ease, facilities, relationships with staff, proximity and ease/access to opportunities, no state budget impact, etc. So we definitely have a bias going in to our eval. Jobs have been easy to attain out of USC, but I assume are for any of those schools coming out of engineering.

But you have a great problem to have, all of those schools are incredible, you really can’t make a wrong choice, good luck!

Also that collaborative/competitive question.
Of the people in the dining hall at this point, 15 say it’s competitive, 5 say collaborative. The rest of the about 40 say both.
They’re all agreed it’s not depressing, except during dead week and sometimes in the rain.

I’m having dinner in a couple of hours outside of campus with my kid and some of his HS friends who also went to Berkeley. My kid is definitely more relaxed this year than he was the last couple of years while trying to take 6 APs and the like. Knowing people at a school definitely is a good thing.

I think the “depression” thing came from one or two posters who posted that they are depressed for whatever reason, but it stands to reason that at any academically challenging school, you’re going to have students like that. Personally, I would be more depressed for example if I were at a rural school with nowhere to go or being holed up in a dorm for days on end because it was too cold to go outside.

" Depression " might happened if you are not accustomed to see certain ethic group in large number on college campus. If you are open to diverse culture in every sense UCB is really fun place. Be ready to work hard too.

My oldest is a STEM major at UCB. She wanted a top, big research university and she got it. The faculty is amazing and there are unbelievable research opportunities. But… we learned some things and our second student is off to Northwestern. Berkeley is tough. Stem is tough but Berkeley is Navy Seals tough. STEM kids study like crazy, the curves are insanely low, there is NO grade inflation. STEM kids bring their sleeping bags to the library during finals. So its hardcore. I do think an undergrad degree from Berkeley gets a lot of respect and there is a little if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. So if you have that give me the hardest challenge and let me prove I can do it, I think Berkeley would be a good fit. My kid kind of has that mentality. Other challenges are that schedules are done by lottery and can be difficult and housing is nuts. My other kid is going to go to Northwestern and I think a smaller school with more sports etc., while still very challenging, is a better fit for this one.

I agree with you. I actually have an undergrad engineering degree from Berkeley and was a PhD engineering student at Northwestern (but dropped out after 2.5 yrs to pursue a different career). It’s interesting how your analysis of two schools coincide with my experience, even after 25+ years later. I loved my Berkeley engineering experience but it’s not for most. It was super competitive and cut throat. My GPA got hit big time as result (I think it was only 3 2), but I was super successful at research and co-authored a few publications as an undergrad. But, I bugged my research professor initially for a whole year before he even let me in his lab. (You have to relentless about it.) I mainly studied to get good grades (and still got only 3.2 at the end), not for the sake of learning because of serious grade deflation at Berkeley. At Northwestern, as a TA, I saw how undergrads work and study together because it was not a cut throat environment because there was no serious grade deflation. Basically, you got at least B if you tried hard (at least in upper division classes I TAed.) I thought it was much more intellectually positive environment for engineering students at NU vs Cal. Bottom line, I encouraged my DS to apply to NU engineering for 2023 class (he got a accepted!), but I prevented him from applying to Cal.

Berkeley is one of those places you either love or hate. You really ought to try and visit if you haven’t done so yet.

You should go to the school that offers the best fit. A Berkeley undergrad degree isn’t going to open more doors than a degree from the other schools.

Northwestern places well on the west coast. has links to grade distribution information at various colleges. UCB grade distributions are not “insanely low”, and indicates that there has been some grade inflation over the years, just like at many other colleges listed at the bottom of .

Departments prioritize enrollment for students who most need the course (e.g. students in the major, or undeclared frosh/soph students for lower level courses in L&S subjects), and the multiphase scheduling system allows all students to register for part of their schedule first (so that students can get their most important courses first before other students looking for out-of-major electives fill them up).

Lots of not quite accurate info out there on the various Berkeley threads, seemingly more than any other school, not sure why that is.

As an example, my kid just finished a midterm where 40% was in the B+ category and 50% was an A. There’s an entire class that’s grateful for that curve. He hasn’t seen a class yet with any grade deflation, and hasn’t seen any class where students try and sabotage someone else. Yes, Berkeley classes can be insanely hard and students do often put in crazy hours before midterms and finals. Yet my kid still has time every night to play pickup basketball and play intramural football on weekends and he like all L&S freshmen CS wannabes is fighting for dear life to declare.