What's the hype about Berkeley?

Maybe it’s because I’m from the bay and it may be analogous to a New Yorker who doesn’t find the Statue of Liberty all that impressive, I’m pretty confused on Berkeley’s reputation on the undergrad level. All these global rankings seem to rely heavily on research citations and graduate programs but it seems like the undergrad reputation or experience is not that excellent. It’s funny because a lot of the CCers insist that Berkeley is on par with some of the lower ivies but I see it as being a clear notch lower with ND, NW, Vandy, UCLA, CMU, USC, and Emory. More importantly how it’s global reputation is better than some of the ivies, MIT, Stanford etc.

So I understand the fame, but I’m really not understanding the undergrad hype or the reputation…

What, exactly, are you basing that evaluation on?

Is it possible that you are thinking about a particular department or another?

Something has to be quantified in order to compare, which makes the comparison in the first place rather silly.
Since I haven’t been to most of the schools you mentioned, I won’t make any comment on it.

What would you measure in order to compare? At least the number of citations is one criteria that no one can dispute about. I’m not saying it’s the most representative criteria of undergrad curriculum, but it’s one of few things that can be easily looked up and quantified.

Well i guess since this is a forum and not a scientific experiment (and all im here to do is gather opinions rather than facts or information), my basis of stating that it seems the undergraduate experience or reputation is not that excellent is based on what I’ve heard (my school district and high school is a magnet school for berkeley and have sent a few hundred students there in the last few years) and their responses seem to be consistent as such:

Super large classes
Cut throat competitive students (those who give each other wrong answers or rip out necessary information in books for future projects in classes) and looking down on those not engineering, cs, business, or premed.
poor food and dorm experience (quality and unavailability)
Constantly rainy weather
most classes being taught by grad students and professors more interested in research than teaching.
Dangerous surrounding environment

This is what I’ve heard from many, not few people. I just figured CC has a larger national reach so i could get a widerspread opinion than those from my high school or high school district.

As for reputation, it seems that many rankings data om numerous comparisons place berkeley when it is in regards to phd research and citations. Qualitatively, when i ask people, they talk about the element that has been named after the school and other things that make Cal famous but all of those accomplishments and/or resources seem to be accessible or only due to graduate work. The undergrad experience seems poor. So I’m confused as to why so many people are impressed when undergrads graduate from berkeley (as opposed to ND, vandy, NW, emory, etc)

But i am looking for opinions, not looking to publish a research thesis.

Dotori, I’ve heard similar things from Cal students themselves. And you can add to the list – difficult / impossible to get classes needed to graduate in 4 years. I think Cal’s reputation is based on its graduate programs and also on what its undergraduate reputation was 20+ years ago.

Hmmm, from where I sit (Chicago area although from the east coast), Berkeley is Michigan with better weather, not MIT or Stanford (and there certainly ain’t nothin wrong with that). I think when people around here start researching schools, they are generally surprises at how selective and prestigious UCB is amongst those in the know. It is only on CC and in those ranking, which as far as I can tell in my day to day life only people on CC read, that I see people compare UCB to the super famous/selective schools.

My son applied because of the quality of the CS program specifically, and because of the proximity to a great tech job market and the allure of Cali in general.

I must say, not knowing when the tuition will jump 30%, and reading about the budget issues in general, is very concerning for this parent. I would never confuse UCB with Stanford or MIT for that reason alone. I don’t doubt that you can get as good an education at UCB as at those schools, because I think personal effort trumps class size and a lot of similar metrics, but from a prestigosity (countdown to when M-W adds this awesome word?) standpoint I don’t think there is a comparison.

I think the biggest strength is that you can choose anything to study and every major is legitimate and top-class. There’s just about every class for any subject for all areas of academics and I bet this is something that most private schools can’t do.
For me, I ended up with a degree in engineering, but I didn’t know what engineering was when I first came to Berkeley and Berkeley happened to have pretty good engineering department so that worked out well.
I still took quite a number of classes outside of engineering out of interest and because no one ‘cares’, I had the liberty to do whatever I want and it was truly a learning experience to the point that it was worth the tuition.

If you want to look at the reputation based on how much undergrads are taken care of with student welfare in mind, then sure, I’m sure Berkeley is almost at the bottom of the list.
It’s not a school for everyone and getting B’s even at your best effort is discouraging to say the least, but there are plenty of positive attributes too. If there is any charm regarding graduating from Berkeley, it’s that we’re ready to think and figure it out, or at least try, before asking questions.
I have yet to see anyone that didn’t work out in the end as long as the student survives through. If there is any mantra after surviving through Berkeley, it has to be ‘adjust accordingly’.

And this is minor, but constantly rainy weather, really?
Berkeley is one of the few gifted places in the world that when it’s hot, you roll down the window, and when it’s cold, you roll up the window for any day of the year without ever having to use the a/c and still be fine.

Yeah after living in the bay for awhile that’s what I thought too (about the weather), but I guess those are just rumors or people exaggerating.

Probably an exaggerated claim made by those who changed major late and/or did not pay attention to their major requirements. Berkeley’s four year graduation rate is one of the highest among public universities, although that is mostly related to admission selectivity (stronger incoming students are more likely to graduate on schedule). The multi-phase class registration system may seem odd to some, but it does give everyone priority for half of his/her schedule (presumably the most important courses for requirements to graduate) before anyone registers for the rest of his/her schedule. Also, departments reserve class space for those who need the course for their majors.

Class size and the use of TAs are similar to that of other large research universities. Cutthroat behavior is probably more common among pre-med and pre-law students anywhere, and among pre-[highly competitive admission major] students (highly competitive admission major = business at Berkeley; may be something else at other schools). Weather may be personal preference, but rain is not as common as at some other locations. Crime rates in nearby areas do vary, of course.

Berkeley is not ideal for everyone, of course. But the complaints in this thread are by no means unique to Berkeley. Students who go to other big research universities may find similar complaints. Those really bothered by larger classes and use of TAs may want to consider whether small schools (liberal arts colleges or other schools, depending on intended major), or starting at a community college for frosh/soph years, may fit them better (although these options have their own trade-offs).

I am nowhere near the expert that @ucbalumnus‌ is but in my research I have been told the same thing by several different sources about class registration at UCB, that it is largely an urban legend that you can’t get the classes you need to graduate on time.

What I would like to see, and I’m not sure that anyone publishes such data, is a stat for 4 year graduation rate of students who don’t change majors (and don’t wait past the recommended time to select a major.).

Is it possible that they know something you don’t? Many of the undergraduate teaching departments (particularly in the sciences) consistently rank in the top 10 nationwide or even world wide.

That’s why I asked what field you are considering. Maybe that is coloring your perceptions.

So if I rephrase your question above, you want to know the rate of graduation for someone who chooses his/her major by the end of 2nd year or so and has already taken most of the pre-req classes and will continue to take the necessary classes to graduate. In other words, a ‘typical’ undergraduate career.

Assuming the student doesn’t fail multiple classes or refuses to take classes when he/she is supposed to, then I’m not sure how you’re not supposed to graduate on time. Even for first-year classes that have ~500 students, you can still get in with so many people dropping out during the first week. You might not get the discussion section time you want, but enrolling into the class itself is usually not a problem.

Sometimes there are cool or easy electives every once in a while and people will flood in for that, but those are electives, not core classes. Yeah, it sucks to miss out from such opportunity, but that has nothing to do with graduating/not graduating on time.

In short, if you do what you’re supposed to do, you will get into classes you need to graduate on time.

One thing that high school students may not be aware of (yet) is that college differs from high school in some important ways, which may contribute to some of the claimed problems. The biggest one is that students must be much more self-motivated in college. In high school, teachers may assign daily or frequent homework and keep tabs on you to keep you from falling behind. College homework is less frequent, but often larger (often projects), so the procrastinator can fall behind more easily, and the instructors won’t be tracking your every move to keep you on track.

The same goes for academic advising. High school course selection is highly constrained in that most college-prep students are taking courses in the same subjects (though some may choose an honors version of the same course, or be a year ahead in a particular subject), with limited elective choices. In addition, high school counselors keep track of students to make sure that they graduate and pay attention to college application requirements. In college, students have different interests and intended majors, so almost everything can be seen as an elective at the frosh level (things become required when one decides on a major). This means that a student who is undecided on major must carefully choose courses to work toward all possible majors that s/he is interested in. Meanwhile, advising may not be particularly good for undecided students, simply because there are so many choices available.

Small schools may have better advising, but you still have to choose your own major, and you bear the primary responsibility for fulfilling all of your graduation requirements. Berkeley, being a large school, does require you to take control of your own destiny. That may be shock to some (who may take courses aimlessly for the first few semesters, then have to cram courses for a hastily chosen major), but if you are prepared to do so, it may not be as much of a problem for you as it is for some others. If you enter as a declared major in the College of Engineering or College of Chemistry, then frosh course selection is easier, since you can follow the template given for your major, making minor adjustments for advanced placement and the like.

It all depends on what you look for in a university.

For instance, comparing USC to Cal, USC seems to have better student services, but Cal has more renown faculty. (USC also isn’t exactly in a crime-free area). USC is far more represented in the film industry. Cal is far more represented in Silicon Valley.

Once you move outside of CA, you’ll find that few people would be all that impressed with USC. Cal has it’s strength in many departments on its side.

BTW, if you tier by alumni achievements, Cal is on the same tier as the (lower) Ivies/equivalents: https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/1682986-ivy-equivalents-p3.html

Berkeley is not for everyone. You probably won’t really understand until you feel or decide like you belong to the community. As an OOS student from an upper middle class home, I can tell you I never imagined going to Cal, let alone a public school. But being a student at Berkeley has built so much character in me.

I’m going to address the list of cons you gave us, @dotori‌. First, I think about half that list is a little unfair. Most schools in the USA have more severe weather than Berkeley, and as someone who does not live in SoCal, it rains a normal amount in Berkeley. Students are not nearly as terrible and out there to sabotage each other as you have described; if someone you know has come across that experience, I’m truly sorry for them but generally that doesn’t happen. As for the TAs (or GSIs as we call them), many private schools have TAs teach classes, like Vandy or NYU. Also just about everywhere you go, there will an emphasis on engineering, business, and premed. It’s inevitable because generally people with these degrees will make more money. Now Berkeley is no suburb, but the area is fairly college town-oriented, which is nice. (If you want to compare to Ivies, much more life than Dartmouth and Cornell, and safer than Columbia and Yale, in my opinion.)

Berkeley undergraduate, in my opinion, is underrated. Literally, just about every major (except music and art…) is top 10 in the country. Top notch professors all around. The “professors that care more about research” is just an overgeneralization all research schools provide. The history of Berkeley and the Free Speech Movement are all really great. Cal is also the only school in the nation with an autonomous student government, so students have the freedom to speak their mind without worrying about faculty or administration.
I’ll admit, Berkeley’s population is fairly large, but as someone who was fairly sheltered and, in terms of academics, could do nothing and be handed everything in high school, Cal was a good slap of reality. I have friends in smaller schools who get lots of individualized attention, professors schedule one on one’s with them, give them a private tutor if they’re not doing well-- that’s not reality. Your potential employers aren’t going to baby you or provide you help, you’re going have to do that yourself. First of all, Berkeley has lots of resources and places for help and people for tutor, but you have to first be self motivated-- your education is ultimately in your hands. It’s really good to start building initiative and self responsibility now for jobs later.

Also, proximity is probably what’s driving your perception the most. I’ve lived in many areas around the US and one of them was an area where nearly everyone I knew either went to Vanderbilt or Emory, so in my opinion Berkeley is at least on par with those schools.

Based off my first semester experiences, I think the most apt thing to say is, “This is SPARTAAAA!”

I was hella worried about coming to Cal, and despite taking three technicals, I managed to get a 3.96. Hollaaa. If you can survive here, you can survive anywhere in the future.

I would say that the class registration nightmare is a myth, mostly perpetuated by Cal students who don’t want to take classes at 8AM. The average number of years it takes to graduate is fewer than 4 years, and the only people I know who have taken longer than this were either triple majoring or disabled.
Though classes are competitive, and the curves are rather brutal, many in the end find very meaningful employment, whatever that means to the individual. Those who survive the competition on top find themselves with offers from any graduate program in their field. Life isn’t as “easy” as smaller privates and liberal arts schools, but the experience gained is invaluable.
Instruction is on par with any Ivy League. I have had a Nobel Prize winner, a Fields Medal winner, Senior Economists under a number of administrations, and a mathematician fundamental in proving Fermat’s Last Theorem as my professors. I wouldn’t say large class sizes diminished my learning experience, as all these professors were pretty accessible.
Research opportunities with top professors is quite readily available given one has necessary knowledge and talent. I have a friend already published in Nature. There are established undergraduate research programs, and labs are always looking for undergrads to do some grunt work.
The only complaint I would have about Cal is the stiflingly liberal culture that pervades some of the campus community. There is a pretty visible tension between STEM majors with sights set on employment or grad school and humanities majors dedicated to social activism.
Again, no one will hold your hand through Cal, so if a student is used to being led through life and academics, Berkeley is probably not for him.

There is no question that Berkeley is a good school. That’s not what this thread was duscussing. I’m saying that there are many schools that should be on par with berkeley, but internationally berkeley gets as much hype has harvard and cambridge. I was wondering if this was the case nationally too. Because i can say with cosconfidence many in California don’t consider berkeley near stanford’s caliber.

I wanted to gague other regions’ mentality because i know others regard vandy, cornell, etc better or on par with berkeley.

Is this 8 am class avoidance behavior somehow special at Cal?

Which other major campus in America can u wave the black flag of ISIS and get a lot of thumbs up?