My Experience at University of California-Berkeley

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Daniel is a San Francisco-Bay Area tutor and 2014 graduate of University of California-Berkeley. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and tutors several subjects, specializing in College Essay tutoring, GRE Verbal Reasoning tutoring, and Writing tutoring. Check out what Daniel had to say about his time at University of California-Berkeley:

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

Daniel: University of California-Berkeley is a bustling, urban campus ringed by businesses, restaurants, office buildings, clothing stores, and cafes. It is centrally located in the city of Berkeley with easy access to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), as well as a multitude of regular bus lines that head toward attractions in Oakland, Emeryville, San Francisco, and beyond. There are several all-­night buses for those late trips into the city. Though there is certainly crime in and around campus (typically muggings late at night), the university police force is a presence, and the campus provides a reliable late-night shuttle service. Bikes are very common, often with dedicated lanes or streets, and cars are absolutely unnecessary (plus you will quickly find yourself inundated with late-­night airport trip requests as “that person with the car”).

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

Daniel: Professors and GSIs (graduate student instructors, or teaching assistants) hold weekly office hours. Depending on the popularity of the professor, time slots can fill up almost immediately. Although professors are usually friendly and helpful, it often seemed to me that teaching was not their academic priority. GSIs may be just as busy, but they generally lavish more attention and time on students. It helps that the average GSI is much closer in age to the average undergraduate. My major adviser was knowledgeable and supportive, but from what I have heard, that does not necessarily carry across all departments.

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

Daniel: I never lived in the dorms, but I lived in the off­-campus student cooperative system for several years. A very popular option for students (with an accompanying long waiting list), the Berkeley Student Cooperative consists of 13 houses and three apartment buildings scattered around the north and south sides of campus. The houses range in size from 17 to 149 members (all students), who work, cook, study, and socialize together. In the apartments, priority is given to low-income students. Two members cook dinner for the house six days a week, and there is a fully stocked kitchen. Decisions are made democratically at weekly councils, and members pool money to put on frequent social events. Veteran co-opers can go on to become house managers, central office employees, or members of the Board of Directors.

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?

Daniel: STEM majors are generally better funded than the humanities and social sciences. University of California-Berkeley’s Computer Science and Business majors are considered especially selective (and well-funded), as is the College of Chemistry and the College of Engineering. New Astrophysics, Business, and Engineering buildings are currently being built, as well as a new art museum which may house the Art Practice major. I majored in Sociocultural Anthropology. I felt drawn to Sociocultural Anthropology’s unique combination of philosophy, critical theory, and interpersonal fieldwork. Anthropology at University of California-Berkeley has many world-class faculty members and a strong graduate program, meaning strong graduate student instructors. Sadly, Anthropology does not garner much attention from the university, so graduate students receive very little funding. This means fewer discussions can be held. Discussions are small, GSI-led classes meant to explore and reinforce what is learned in the weekly lecture. I found my discussion classes to be regularly enlightening, and I disliked their relative scarcity. Other relatively underfunded majors, like Philosophy, do have discussion sections for every course. Other than that, the university provides an adequate framework for undergraduate research opportunities in Anthropology and other fields. Paid research opportunities are occasionally available, usually subsequent to a volunteer position.

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?

Daniel: Living in student cooperative housing, I found it very easy to make friends. The student co-ops emphasize consent, anti­discrimination, and other safe­-space social activities. It is noticeably more difficult for students living in apartments, but certainly not impossible. Many students struggle until they find a club with like-minded people. Luckily, there are a plethora of student organizations available. Greek life (sadly) plays a significant role on campus despite the numerous sexual assaults which have been reported in recent years. There are certainly positive and productive Greek organizations, particularly the academic fraternities and the queer fraternities and sororities.

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

Daniel: I know many people who have found the Career Center to be a helpful and supportive environment. There are several large career fairs every academic year, as well as many smaller, major­-specific recruitment fairs and info­rmation sessions.

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

Daniel: There are dozens of on­-campus libraries, reading rooms, study lounges, and cafes open to undergraduates. Different students study more efficiently in different levels of noise, light, color schemes, etc., and the plethora of venues available suit any situation.

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?

Daniel: Berkeley is a vibrant city with tons of interesting restaurants, bookstores, and parks. The campus is located next to bustling and urban downtown Berkeley, as well as more quiet and quaint neighborhoods like North Berkeley and Elmwood. Anyone who gets tired of Indian food, botanical gardens, and Marxist libraries can hop on a bus or BART and head into Oakland for an arts fair and amateur professional wrestling every first Friday. Emeryville has Ikea, Target, and other big box stores, and San Francisco has anything and everything. For nature enthusiasts, Tilden Park and the Strawberry Canyon Fire Trails are easily accessible. Marin is also available, if a bit more of a trek.

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

Daniel: University of California-Berkeley is a large school, though not unmanageably so. It is easy to find oneself within a fairly circumscribed social circle where coincidental mutual friends are common. The class sizes vary greatly, and most large lectures are helped by smaller discussion sections. I generally enjoyed my smaller classes more, but large lectures are an inevitability at a university with celebrity professors.

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

Daniel: My first semester after transferring to University of California-Berkeley from a community college, I signed up for a Medical Anthropology course based on the provocative title “Critical Bioethics.” As the course began and we read and discussed my professor’s work, I realized, to my shock, that I had already been taught this. Her cases had been used as boilerplate examples and her ideas taught as basic anthropological theory in my community college classes. I came to realize that at University of California-Berkeley, it is normal to stumble into a class with someone whose exceptional work has become fundamental to a field.

Check out Daniel’s tutoring profile.

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