UC BERKELEY (visited 7/16/12)
Berkeley lives up to the “Big-name schools don’t have to try” motto. We got to tour the campus, but they clearly were not going to go out of their way for us. The only “special treatment” we got was that we met the tour guide in front of the fountain by the main building where they start the tours instead of congregating inside. This is the first college of the 30 I’ve toured as part of group of college counselors that did not even send an admissions representative to say hello to the group, even though we were there during summer, not in the middle of travel or reading season.
Berkeley is the first UC school to be established, hence the nickname of “Cal” (a little like Chapel Hill is called Carolina). It was originally a Mining, Agricultural, and Architectural school and still boasts a functioning mine on campus. The campus is extensive and feels a little schizophrenic rather than cohesive. Buildings seemed to have been added randomly without thought to what was around it. It was not an attractive campus, but it did have a lively feel to it: it was packed with students and with people touring so I felt like we got more of a sense of what campus life is really like for the students.
The tour guide said that students have to fight for everything here; a counselor remarked after the tour that a person would have to have really sharp elbows to do well at Berkeley, but someone else said that she had sent a student there who did not have those sharp elbows and she did ok. A third person described Berkeley students as falling into three types: the go-getters with the elbows, the athletes who are in their own little world, and the drifters. “It’s Berkeley. You have people who are naked, people who are smoking pot, and people who are riding unicycles – sometimes all at the same time.”
96% of freshman live on campus, and two years of housing is guaranteed; 10% of students live in Greek housing. The tour guide said that finding off-campus housing is a HUGE hassle, and it takes a lot of looking on Craig’s List and other places to find anything decent. There are some co-ops where students can work in the house for reduced R&B costs. Our tour guide said that parking on campus is a problem, but if students change their license and registration to Berkeley, they can park in the city for free. They also get a free bus pass with their student ID card, and there are zip cars on campus for use. 4000 students own bikes on campus, but there is no bike share program. The gym costs $10 a semester to use which is the first time I’ve heard of a gym on campus costing extra (not including things like the specialty classes like Zumba) – although other places just build that cost into the mandatory fees, so here they can opt out if they want. Berkeley has 33 club sports and 9 intramurals in addition to their DI level varsity teams. Students have to pay for sport tickets, but the cost seemed reasonable and there tended to be decent turn-outs for games.
Our tour guide said that it’s not too difficult to get classes that they need as long as they are flexible, persistent, or think outside of the box (ie, take another class earlier than they anticipated, take a different class to fulfill a requirement, or keep checking online to see if a spot opened up). Class registration happens in phases: they can register for 10 credits in phase 1, 5 credits in phase 2, and the remainder in phase 3. All phase 1s happen (for seniors down to freshman) happen before phase 2 starts. Seniority partly plays into the process. Our tour guide came in with sophomore standing because of APs, but added the disclaimer that “It’s Berkeley. Most people come in as sophomores because of APs.” However, most people don’t choose to graduate in three years; instead, they choose to double major or study abroad. DeCal, or Democratic California, offers classes run by other students in areas of interest and expertise. Examples include Hip-hop, the History of Burma, Sociology of Sex in the City, Scrabble, Stream Clean-up, etc. Students can earn 2-4 credits on a P/NP basis. They also offer Freshman/ Sophomore seminars (mixed groups) in a variety of topics. Our tour guide took Linguistics of South Africa. Her largest class was in the hundreds, but she did take a Seminar class with fewer than 20.
- There are no door handles on most of the doors of the Chancellor’s building. This comes from the Free Speech Movement when students chained the doors shut to lock in the Chancellor until he listened to their demands. Now school policy states that doors can only have 1 handle per set of doors so they can’t be chained shut, a policy that is illustrated directly across from the Chancellor’s building on the library.
- They have an underground library under one of the quads that is the size of 4 football fields. It connects several of the buildings around the quad.
- The Bell Tower is the third tallest in the world (the others being in Europe). There are concerts three times a day utilizing the 68 bells. Students can learn how to play them, and many of the concerts are student run. The floors in the tower house a music library as well as holdings from La Brea Tar pits.