- Class: Freshman
- Major: Pre-Medical
- Gender: F
- High School: Monta Vista High School
- Transfer Student: N
Located at a distance which allows for frequent trips to the cities of Oakland and San Francisco but at the same time allows for quiet nights dozing on the couch, UC Berkeley is a college perfectly situated in the suburbs of two major cities. While the adventurous can explore the bustling cityscape of San Francisco, the studious can spend weekends studying at the library without the noise of city life. For local attractions, Telegraph and Shattuck, the two streets running perpendicular to the Berkeley campus, offer various small boutiques and specialty restaurants, as well as street vendors promoting their wares. However, if you are looking for the nearest DennyÕs or California Pizza Kitchen, be prepared to drive to the neighboring cities, as the reduction of large scale commercial chain stores in Berkeley city has been enforced by the city council in order to maintain BerkeleyÕs unique atmosphere. That said, only at Berkeley can you find an institution of such high academic standing and extreme school spirit. Athletic events are an integral part of the social life at Berkeley, not only for the current students, but also for returning alumni who can be seen milling around at football tailgating events with their families or grabbing ÒfroyoÓ at Yogurt Park before late night basketball games. Every year, the Big Game against our rival Stanford bring more and more students and alumni together in hopes of winning ÒThe AxeÓ and re-establishing our dominance over the Stanford football team. Through the annual Bonfire Rally and other school-wide events, the Rally Committee Ð a student organization similar to a spirit commission - provides an opportunity for students to bond together and to incite a sense of school pride which reverberates to the core of the student body. Although one of the many stereotypes people have of Berkeley students is that they would rather study than eat or sleep, I have found that to be a great exaggeration. Even if there are the few students who live from midterm to midterm, here, most students swear by the phrase: Òstudy hard, party hardÓ - working hard during the weekdays to catch up on readings and assignments, and loosening up on weekends in celebration of the end of a long week. This equilibrium between academia is very refreshing, and keeps the stress of schoolwork from becoming a constant and debilitating aspect of student life. However, as much as I love Berkeley, I would have to say that it could use great improvements to its bureaucratic system. Every semester, come time to schedule classes, complaints of long waitlists and full classes can be heard all around campus. Scheduling and requesting classes are a hassle, and often depend on class standing, so that while seniors have priority when it comes to signing-up for classes, freshmen and sophomore have to fight for a position on the class roster. Still, the system is pretty lenient, and ÒcrashingÓ courses allows both wait-listed and non wait-listed students to attempt to add a class. Although most students end up getting into the classes that they want at the discrepancy of the instructors, some students are not as lucky. Most of the time, instructors do make exceptions for students who need a certain course to fulfill a major requirement, but many students still end up having to diverge off their major track in order to accommodate the designated number of seats in a class. If Berkeley could create a scheduling system which is easier for students to navigate, I think it would be positively received by the student body.
Berkeley, as well as any other public institution, is known for intimidating class sizes and large student to professor ratios. Of course this comes with the good and the bad. The good? Sleeping in lecture does not constitute embarrassment in front of the other 499 students in class. The bad? Falling asleep and not paying attention to the professor could really put a damper on your academic edge. Since lecture style teaching is a huge part of the college learning experience, it is generally hard to avoid large 500 person lectures, especially with science and math courses. However, for those who prefer learning in smaller groups with a greater focus on the students, many lectures run concurrently with discussion groups. These discussion groups are usually a required component of the course, and are run by graduate student instructors (GSIs) who supply complimentary information and give students the chance to receive one-on-one attention. Furthermore, these discussion groups offset the large lectures and provide students with a more intimate learning environment. For the students who are really struggling with a certain class, there are a great number of tutoring centers available on campus and in the residential halls which are open five days a week for drop-in tutoring. Besides these resources, office hours are great opportunities for students to interact with GSIs and get help with difficult concepts. Professors hold office hours as well, which give students a chance to converse with them about research opportunities or issues they may be having with the class. Many people wrongly assume that professors at Berkeley are largely detached from their students (or from the rest of the world in general), but this is entirely false. Although Berkeley is mainly a research institution, many professors genuinely care about their students, and are willing to take time out of his/her research to ensure the success of students who are truly willing to learn. Not only have I been pleased with the quality of the professors here at Berkeley, I have also found the required coursework to be exciting and rewarding. As a freshman intended for a Molecular and Cell Biology and Business Administration simultaneous degree, I am part of the College of Letters and Science, the largest college on campus. This college awards Bachelors of Arts degrees to its students, whether they are science majors or history majors. Although many science majors are disgruntled by this, and would prefer to take more specialized courses in lieu of the nine required breadth courses, I believe that taking breadth courses is a great opportunity for students to become more knowledgeable in fields outside of their own, and to promote appreciation for the other majors offered on campus. The required breadth courses are more than just a wonderful way for those uncertain about their career paths to explore a variety of other majors. They are also a way for the College of Letters and Science to balance learning to gain experience for a job and learning just for the sake of learning. In effect, a Berkeley degree prepares students for more than just a career and provides students with a standard of achievement and academic experience hard to find anywhere else. This sentiment, which is echoed by many Berkeley alumni who are currently working or in graduate school, goes to show that Berkeley truly prepares its students for life outside of college.
As a college, Berkeley is one of the best places to learn about yourself and of students of other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. While there are sure to be student groups geared towards hobbies and cultures that you identify strongly with, there are also students groups which differ greatly from your political and social viewpoints. That is the beauty of Berkeley. Thus, compared to other well-established institutions, I would say that Berkeley has a reasonably well-rounded student body. There are currently more than 650 student groups on campus, ranging from The Rubber Band Club to the recently re-established third world Liberation Front, covering issues which span the political scale from the very liberal left to the very conservative right. There is such a range of eccentric people roaming around campus, student or not, that it is impossible to feel out of place at Berkeley. From Òemo-rockerÓ to Ògrunge bohemian,Ó fashion is a common way for Berkeley students to make a statement. Although most students don a pair of blue jeans and a Cal sweatshirt for class, at Berkeley, no one would take a second glance if you were going to class in a bright orange bathing suit. However, the Northern Californian weather is a huge factor in deciding what to wear to class, and even into late spring, the crisp cool weather keeps most students in jackets and sweatshirts. Especially for Southern Californian residents, who are accustomed to t-shirts and tank tops, San Francisco/Bay Area weather proves to be much more temperamental, with surprise showers and the occasional foggy mornings. What I appreciate most about Berkeley is the diversity among students, and the strong emphasis which these students themselves place on embracing multiculturalism. Most recently, a strong desire to establish a permanent space for a multicultural center has prompted various student protests as well as emergency sit-ins against the university. Students from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds participated in this movement together, working towards a goal which may represent different things to each of them, but together means a substantial shift towards a desired change on campus. Thus, cultural student groups have a strong influence on the atmosphere of Berkeley student life. However, although culturally diverse, the Berkeley student population is not as geographically diverse as most other college populations. While there are a handful of students from out of state, there are few to none full-time international students. Although it is great meeting people from all over California, I would have hoped that my college experience would expose me to students from different states and countries. Still, it would be wrong to assume that because most Berkeley students are from California, that they are homogenous representation of the democratic state of California. Instead, the students are a reflection of the general American population, reflecting stances regarding social and political issues similar to that of the general population curve, with moderates in the majority, and a few on the far left or far right.
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