University of California-Berkeley: A Student Interview

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Rohaum is a San Diego tutor and 2014 graduate of University of California-Berkeley. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology and tutors several subjects, including Biology tutoring, French tutoring, and Pre-Algebra tutoring. Check out what Rohaum had to say about his time at University of California-Berkeley:

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?

Rohaum: In my opinion, the campus setting is a blend of an urban environment and a natural atmosphere. There is a lot of greenery on campus, as well as a lot of shops and restaurants around the campus. The campus itself is relatively safe. I have walked alone through campus late at night several times, and I have never had any issues. However, in terms of the areas around campus, some parts are safe, while others are not. The area south of campus is known to be more dangerous, and I would not advise walking alone there late at night. The area north of campus is a very safe and quiet neighborhood (there are many families that live there in addition to students).

A car is definitely not needed, as most places are either within walking or biking distance. BART trains can get you to other parts of the Bay Area. The bus system is also pretty extensive, and one of the benefits of the University of California-Berkeley is that the tuition includes a bus pass that is valid for the whole semester.

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

Rohaum: The availability of professors varies heavily based on the class and the department. In my experience, the professors who teach humanities courses are more accessible than those in the maths and sciences, since there are generally fewer students trying to go to their office hours. For example, I tried to attend several of my professors’ office hours in order to get to know them so I could ask for letters of recommendation for my medical school applications. Unfortunately, about 20-30 other students had the same idea, so office hours were very crowded, and it was very difficult to speak one-on-one with professors.

In general, though, availability depends on how large the class is, how many students try to go to the office hours, and how much of an effort the professors put into trying to be available for as many students as possible. The same applies for teaching assistants. In regard to academic advisers, it can be difficult to get appointments, and sometimes you have to wait a couple of weeks before you can speak with an adviser.

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

Rohaum: There are multiple dorms, each with its own vibe. For example, there are dorms that are more social, one that is more for students in the sciences, one for athletes, a boys-only dorm, and a girls-only dorm.

I stayed in a triple, which was pretty small and cramped. But I have seen suites and doubles which are large and look nice. It all depends on the building you end up in and what kind of room you get. Most of the dorms have co-ed bathrooms, which was a shock to many of us at first. However, using co-ed bathrooms is something that most students become accustomed to within the first few weeks.

The dining is fine. The food is not amazing by any means, but there are enough options provided so that everyone is able to have a decent meal. And in terms of socialization, many dorm buildings encourage an “open-door” policy so that everyone’s room is open to any student who would like to come in and talk. (Of course, this is not mandatory, so you can keep your door closed if you prefer privacy.) The resident assistants also plan numerous socials to help people living in the same building get to know one another.

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?

Rohaum: From what I saw, the most represented majors were Physics, Engineering, and Computer Science. That being said, I did not feel that there were any majors that were necessarily under-represented. University of California-Berkeley did support my Biology major well (especially since it was one of the most popular majors on campus). There were plenty of different classes to take, and there were many research positions open to students. The main drawback was that I did not feel that there were as many resources dedicated to helping pre-medical students as there could have been (which may be linked to the fact that the university does not have a medical school).

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?

Rohaum: It was relatively easy for me to make friends as a freshman. I was fortunate because the friends I made during orientation shared several of my classes with me. In general, however, it can be difficult for people to make friends considering how large the student body is. But there are a lot of different clubs and events that people can participate in if they feel like they are having a hard time finding strong friendships. (For instance, there is a day during the first week of classes where all the clubs set up tables on Sproul Plaza to advertise themselves, which is the perfect opportunity for someone to look for a crowd of people with similar interests to him/herself). Greek life does play a somewhat significant role in campus social life (they are always hosting events), but it is very easy for those who do not want to be associated with Greek life to have a strong social life on campus. I personally went to very few Greek events during my time at University of California-Berkeley because there were so many other fun activities both on and off campus.

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

Rohaum: The Career Center provided a lot of useful services, such as resume building, mock interviews, and advice on how to apply to graduate school. The only issue was that there were a lot of students who were in need of their services, so there was sometimes a long waiting time to get an appointment. For example, at one point, when I wanted a pre-medical advising appointment, the earliest open time slot was in three weeks.

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

Rohaum: There are multiple libraries on campus, a large student union, and multiple student lounges in each dorm building. The libraries all have multiple study areas, as well as private study rooms that you can reserve. There is usually plenty of room on campus and in the dorms to study. The only time when it might be difficult to find a spot is during finals 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?

Rohaum: There are many amazing restaurants, including several that are not very common in other areas (Salvadoran, Indonesian, Peruvian, Ethiopian, and Caribbean cuisine). Besides restaurants and bars, there are not too many activities to do in Berkeley itself, but it is very easy to get to other parts of the Bay Area, such as San Francisco (where you could go to places such as Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf), Oakland (where you could go to Jack London Square), or Emeryville (where you could go shopping). A big part of the Berkeley experience is exploring the Bay Area, and I highly encourage students to take advantage of Berkeley’s closeness to all of these great places.

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

Rohaum: The student body is very, very large. My classes generally had about 100-150 people in them. However, the numbers varied widely. Some of my courses had less than 10 people, while others had over 500. It was a big shock for me initially, since I came from a small private school where there were only 100 students per grade. Still, I became accustomed to it after a couple of weeks. I was surprised by the fact that it was easier to make friends in large classes than I thought it would be. Almost everyone feels overwhelmed by the large class size, and they are all looking for friends to help make the size feel more manageable.

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

Rohaum: My best experience in a class was when I took MCB 150L, which was an immunology laboratory class. I had heard a lot of horror stories about how difficult the class was and how many hours had to go into it, so I was very intimidated when I walked in on the first day. However, the professor was very friendly, and he and his teaching assistants approached every student individually while we were conducting our experiments to see how we were doing and to answer any questions we may have had. And while the class did require a lot of work, some students formed a study group that always got together outside of class to work on lab reports and to help each other study for midterms. I had a great time with my study group, as we found ways to have fun while working on this class. It made me realize that one of the best ways to make a difficult class fun is to find a great group of people to form a study group with.

Check out Rohaum's tutoring profile.

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