Should I Go To University of California-Berkeley?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Jack is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in Algebra tutoring, AP Calculus tutoring, Economics tutoring, and much more. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of California-Berkeley with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Economics & Policy. See what he had to say about his alma mater:

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?

Jack: Berkeley is very urban and although there aren’t many skyscrapers, most of what you see around you will be buildings. It has a good public transit system with both buses and the subway which make it very convenient to get around the area without a car. The campus itself is beautiful. It’s an older school, so many of the buildings were built across different times with different architectural styles. Besides that, the campus has a lot of grassy areas and different types of trees, which makes it enjoyable to walk around in between classes.

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

Jack: Like any other huge university, how available your professors, TAs, and advisors are depends on your department and overall luck. In other words, there are both helpful and not-so-helpful people. In my opinion, though, most of the people you meet are willing to help you if you make the effort to meet them and follow their advice.

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

Jack: The dorm life is great. They’ve built new dorms recently and have facilities for students to do different activities. There’s a variety of dining options, many of which are open late. People in the dorms are friendly and all looking to make new friends. Also, if you’re lucky, you’ll get assigned a dorm room that’s high up and facing the bay; I guarantee you that no other dorm room anywhere in this country will have a better view.

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?

Jack: The most popular majors are Business, Microbiology, and Engineering. The school does a good job of supporting all the majors offered, but those three are probably the best represented in terms of funding, student involvement, and recruiting opportunities. I studied Environmental Economics because the subject interested me, and the department, faculty, and peers were terrific.

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?

Jack: It’s extremely easy to meet people and make friends as a freshman. Chances are that people in your dorm are looking to make friends, too. Not only that, but there are clubs or events on campus for nearly every activity/interest, so it’s easy to find friends outside the dorms as well. Greek life is pretty significant also but by no means is the only way to socialize and have fun.

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

Jack: The Career Center is extremely helpful if you use it. They offer lots of services including recruiting events, helping with your resume, mock interviews, and career advising. Since UC-Berkeley is a reputable school, many top companies recruit from our campus. Not only local startups, but internationally renowned companies from every industry often send recruiters to our campus.

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

Jack: Cal has a bunch of places to study. There are over 10 libraries on campus in addition to learning centers, study lounges, cafes, and even some open classrooms you could use. The weather is great most of the year, so many people end up studying outside, too. You’ll always find more than enough space to do your work with the exception of the week before finals. Berkeley students seem to spontaneously multiply that week.

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? 

Jack: The surrounding area is great. There are a lot of things to do around Berkeley, but if you want to explore more, then Oakland and San Francisco are right next to it as well. Both are easily accessible through the bus and subway system. The entire Bay area is beautiful and because of the start-up culture, you’ll find a lot of neat little shops and eateries around the area. It’s a great place to be if you like being outdoors. Just three miles west of campus is the marina/ocean where you can go fishing, boating, or have a nice meal at the docks. A mile from campus in the other direction will take you up the hills where there’s a nice hiking trail that yields amazing views of the campus, city, bridge, and surrounding bay. If you’re big into scenery, this is hands-down the best college to go to.

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

Jack: Cal has a huge population and most of the classes you take will be in giant lectures where you will hardly get a chance to ask questions. This is offset by the discussion classes, which are headed by graduate student instructors (GSIs) and more personalized with 10-30 students. As you progress, classes generally get smaller. Personally, the class sizes did not bother me. I know some people learn better with smaller classes, but professors and GSIs usually hold enough office hours to allow those students to come in and work through problems they have in classes.

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

Jack: The most memorable class I took was one that I ended up dropping actually. It’s an extremely popular class taught during the spring semester by Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor. That year, there was a film crew working on a documentary about the subject, and they attended every class with us along with their film equipment. Because of the class’s popularity, it’s assigned the biggest lecture hall, designed to seat 700 students. The first lecture was filled with much more than that, though, because we had students who weren’t enrolled attending in hopes of being added to the roster. So with them, the film crew, the enrolled students, and random fans of Professor Reich who had no affiliation with the campus but wanted to see him lecture, there were easily over 1,000 people packed in the room. There were people sitting on the floor, peeking in from outside the door; the whole thing had a concert vibe to it. It was also the biggest fire hazard I’ve been in, which prompted me to drop it.

Check out Jack’s tutoring profile.

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