A Day in the Life at University of California-Berkeley

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Kyler is a San Antonio tutor specializing in History tutoring, Literature tutoring, Philosophy tutoring, and much more. He graduated from University of California-Berkeley in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Check out his review of his school:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Kyler: UC Berkeley’s campus is situated in the city of Berkeley, an urban environment. The campus is open to the public. It is easy to tell where the Berkeley city begins and the campus ends. This means that students can experience the benefits of an urban setting, like restaurants and housing close by, with public transportation. If you’re a biker, Berkeley is the perfect place for you. Students can purchase an Oakland bus pass sticker that is placed on your student ID card, allowing you to use most of the East Bay transit system. The public transportation is quicker than those in other cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, or any other city that lacks adequate public transportation. The longest I waited for a bus was 20-25 minutes. One bus takes you to San Francisco and back.

Owning a car is a liability there. People have them, but dealing with parking tickets, lack of parking, extra fees for parking spaces in rentals, etc. is a lifestyle choice you’re going to have to get used to. Berkeley has the car share program, Zip Cars, where you can rent a car for however long you want. My friends and I rented the Zip Cars at midnight to do our big shopping, costing each of us $3. Unless you plan to travel to SF or outside of the Bay area, I would not suggest a car. Biking is great, but they are big targets of theft. If you do get a bike, make sure it’s theft-proofed.

UC Berkeley, in my experience and in most of my friends’ experiences, was a safe place. The campus is safe, and during my time there, nobody was assaulted or robbed while on campus grounds. However, off campus can be a different story. I know that one student was robbed at knife-point just one block away from campus in the morning, and a my friend of mine was assaulted and injured not near the campus, but in the apartment complexes where many students live. Apartments have been broken into, but you can thwart breaking and entering if you place locks appropriately and make sure your most valuable items are with you in a safe place or are insured. You can also rent apartments that have key codes or keys to access them. Try renting rooms in the second or third floors. First floor apartments are easier targets, but I rented a first floor room to myself over the summer and nothing happened to it.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Kyler: Most of my professors, teaching assistants, and graduate school instructors were available. I met with some of my professors regularly. You have to set time aside to attend student hours and arrange times to see your professors and GSI advisors when they are free. Ask questions and show a genuine interest in learning and your professors will remember you.

I established relationships with my professors and GSIs by asking questions after class about their previous careers before academia and life in the academy. After graduating, I still email my professors to update them on my status and check up on their work.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Kyler: I lived in transfer housing and it was a great place to make friends. It wasn’t like the freshman or sophomore dorms. The transfer housing was more like apartments. I would try to get into transfer housing if you have the money. The rooms were furnished and the place was clean. Unit 2 apartments were expensive, but you got what you paid for. I never had a meal plan, but I know it was expensive to have one.

There are plenty of student groups on campus and plenty of organizations off campus. I was involved in the choral groups at Cal and made many friends through my involvement. In my experience, it was difficult to make friends just around campus unless there was some event going on where you could make connections and relate with others. My activities centered around the campus, but after graduating, I can now say I would’ve spent more time searching for opportunities outside of the campus.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Kyler: Any program that receives federal or private funds from companies or foundations is well supported. With the budget cuts, some majors like Ethnic Studies have been reduced. It really depends on your major. Call the program and ask them if they have had their budgets restricted.

I majored in Political Science because I wanted to take courses in international relations and political theory. Since federal foundations and endowments recognize Political Science as a science, they receive money that other hard sciences like Biology, Computer Science, and Engineering receive. The Political Science department had two amazing counselors that provided us updates on research and employment opportunities and events related to political science. 

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Kyler: I was not a freshman at this school. There is Greek life, but it does not play a big role from what I witnessed. Professional groups for business, science, politics, etc. played a greater role because this was a way for students to network and gain skills in their desired field. When I got involved in the choral groups, it was easier to make friends. Just get out there and join groups that interest you. Try to make time to study and hang out with friends while you study.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?

Kyler: Like anything else, if you put more effort into something, you’ll get more out of it. In addition to this, if you know what you’re looking for and are prepared with the right questions, the Career Center can be an amazing resource. When I did use the services, the Career Center provided me materials to look into careers, recommendation letter service, job postings, and career counseling. The career counselors I had helped me focus my career search and career path. They also gave me some UC Berkeley alumni to contact about career advice and informational interviews, which could have led to possible internships or employment if I had followed it up.   

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Kyler: Any library at Cal is a perfect place to study. Be sure to keep your stuff close or study with a friend. The transfer housing had study and meeting rooms which were great places to study with friends. The meeting rooms in the housing were also close to your room. Any of these places will get crowded, especially during midterms or finals, so go early or ask friends to help save a spot for you. It depends on your preferences. Memorial Glade, a large green space in the middle of the campus, was a great place to study and be outdoors at the same time. Some of the buildings where classes were held were also great places to study. Tour the buildings and find what works best for you. Look for outlets to charge your laptop as well.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Kyler: What you get out of Berkeley and Cal depends on you. If you get involved in the campus and in organizations within Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco, then you’ll have a great time. There are bars, but not many right next to the campus, so you’ll have to walk to downtown Berkeley or venture out more to find them. They are also expensive. It is a lot cheaper to visit Greek Row or have events at your friends’ places. COOP housing is always a great place to get cheap and free fun. Berkeley can provide a lot of entertainment, but also gets quiet around midterms and finals. There is the Greek theater for concerts, football games, and plenty of great restaurants around the campus. Know what you like and look for it, and it will be there.

Downtown Berkeley is not that long of a walk from the campus, but students visited it regularly. Telegraph is the main street tourists and students congregate. When you mention downtown most students thought of Oakland or San Francisco which are only a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) or bus ride away.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Kyler: UC Berkeley is an internationally recognized school and a part of the UC System; its classes are going to be large, especially general education classes for freshmen and sophomores. When you start taking classes in your major, class sizes shrink, but shouldn’t stop you from connecting with your professor.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Kyler: American Cultures class Poli Sci 111, a requirement for every student at Cal, transformed my worldview of my place in American culture, country, and the world. The class and the professor motivated me to pursue a career in conflict resolution and to discover my background and my place in my society. In the class, we discussed topics that primary education (K-12) did not cover, like minority self-determination, labor rights, pioneer mentality, the immigrant experience, and participatory democracy. One theme that I adhere to today is the concept of the rhetoric of opposites. The concept describes Americans’ response to conflict, difference, and others, how we continue to teach this method in our pop culture, literature, and politics, and the conflict that this method produces. This lecture class motivated me to pursue training in conflict resolution, facilitation, and democratic decision making. Helping communities resolve their conflicts and find a just solution for all parties became my guiding mission and philosophy. It has informed my career and life choices. Immerse yourself in classes and you will get more out of them then just a grade.     

Check out Kyler’s tutoring profile. 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.