University of California at Berkeley
BackgroundInterview Date:March 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Southeast Asian
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Public charter school in Orange County, CA with a graduating class of about 300 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Chemical Engineering
Extracurricular Activities: I’m doing research on campus and I’m part of one of the engineering fraternities at school.
Have any of your extracurricular activities had a particularly big impact on your experience?
My engineering fraternity has both professionally and socially. They host a lot of events and it’s where I’ve made a lot of my friends.
How easy was it to get involved in your research on campus?
I actually got my research position because somebody in my engineering fraternity used to have the same position and they referred me. That worked out really easily.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
It’s about three to four problem sets a week, so usually one per class, and about two to three midterms per class per semester, and then final exams. If you’re taking a technical class you should expect there to be a final exam.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
I think Berkeley has a really strong college of chemistry and because of that, the courses for chemical engineering are definitely harder than they would be at other schools. They prep you really well for industry and occupational work you have after you graduate, so I think that’s the benefit of it.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s a pretty competitive learning environment, but it can also be very collaborative as well depending on what types of friends you have in your classes. If you have a group of friends in your class, you’ll likely do work with that group of friends on a regular basis. It’s competitive because the curve is pretty harsh on students. A lot of students will do really well and if you’re on the lower tiers than you can get screwed over by your classes pretty quickly. If you fall behind the curve it’ll really impact your grade. [In the Class of 2018, the average GPA for Chemical Engineering graduates was a 3.31.]
How accessible are your professors?
They’re pretty accessible. They always have office hours available for their students and I’ve never had a professor that discouraged students coming to them and asking questions during office hours or right after class.
How have the larger lecture halls impacted your experience?
The lecture halls for chemical engineering specifically aren’t too large. In my classes now, there are usually about 120 people, and if you take more specific elective classes, those can be about 30. [In 2018-2019, there were about 515 Chemical Engineering majors. In the College of Chemistry, the most common median class sizes for students were 120-139 and 200-219.]
How was transitioning academically as a first-generation student? Were there any resources that helped you adapt?
There are quite a few resources on campus, but I mainly used my peers and professors as my main resources. Most of my Chemical Engineering support comes from the people who are older than me in my research lab. There are people who are the year older than me and have taken the same classes I’m currently in with the same professors, so they are able to give me advice.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice so far?
I knew I was really interested in chemistry and wanted a practical job after graduating, so I decided to do Chemical Engineering as a result of that.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: I lived in a triple in Unit 1, which is one of the standard high-rise apartment buildings for freshmen.
Sophomore: Off-campus apartment with three other girls who I knew from freshman year.
How was transitioning from Orange County to Berkeley, CA?
It was pretty easy despite some rainier seasons. It wasn’t too bad of a change for me.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Safety was one of the most surprising things because there are a lot of homeless people that live near the campus and in downtown Berkeley. That was something new that I had to watch out for compared to home. It’s important to walk home with groups of friends and through well-lit areas at night.
Pros and cons of being located in Berkeley, CA?
Pros: (1) Berkeley is cool because it’s a college-centered city, but it’s also only a 20-minute Uber ride from San Francisco.
(2) There is the marina you can explore and lots of parks and things to explore.
Cons: (1) It can feel unsafe at times. You have to be smart about where you’re walking and the number of people you’re walking with. [The violent crime rate is 42% higher than the national average and the property crime rate is 108% higher than the national average.]
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Cal-Berkeley?
I go to quite a few parties on the weekends, whether that’s hosted by my engineering fraternity or other fraternities or Greek-oriented places. I only go to parties on Fridays or Saturdays because of class. My friends also like to hang out on campus in the grass and that’s really peaceful or we go to San Francisco for a fun weekend trip.
What’s the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
It’s a really big part of the nightlife. Very rarely, unless it’s a birthday party or something, do people have parties at their places. I think that’s because the frat houses are so big so they’re able to hold a larger amount of people, so it’s a more fun party atmosphere. The kickbacks at my friends’ apartments are a smaller crowd of like 15-20 people. When I joined my engineering fraternity I didn’t expect it to have so much of a party life. I don’t think not being in a social sorority limits you at all because fraternities always have parties that are open to the public and if you know a brother in the fraternity you can also go to their parties.
What’s an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
I just have a bunch of fun hanging out with my friends. Some of my most fun nights have been hanging around drinking or watching a movie with my friends.
How happy were you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I think my options are pretty good, it’s just that some weekends are busier than others so I would like to go out, but, because of my workload I have to stay in.
How did you meet your closest friends?
My closest friends are definitely from my engineering fraternity because we had to pledge together and do other things like that. Two of my current roommates are from my engineering fraternity and my other friends I have outside of that I met through my Chemical Engineering classes.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
I think there is a lot of diversity in the social scene. There are a lot of clubs for people who have different interests. For example, I have a lot of friends who are in volunteer organizations who have met a like-minded group of people who want to serve their community through those activities. There are a lot of other activities like dance teams and cultural groups, so there are always little fun things that can satisfy anything that you think you’re missing at Berkeley and I think that’s really cool.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
People sticking to the same races as them is not something I’ve noticed too much. I think whatever group you form, especially in class, are dependent on who you sat next to or clicked with early on. I don’t think people group together based on race or sexual identity.
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
I think it really depends on the person. For me, a lot of people in the College of Chemistry don’t really participate in social Greek life, but I have my split friend groups with my engineering fraternity friends and my friends from class who don’t have any interest in going to frat parties or anything like that.
How would you describe the student body?
In general, I think people are very driven and nice. I don’t think I’ve come across a very mean person. Everybody has a set goal in their mind, whether they’re vocal about it or not. That’s really neat because you can have a conversation with people about what they want to be.
How do you like the size of Cal-Berkeley in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [There are about 31,000 undergraduates.]
My experience is a bit different because the College of Chemistry is not as large as some of the other colleges. Even though I’m in a public university with thousands of students, I have a more intimate setting in my classes, so I can get a taste of both environments.
How would you describe the Southeast Asian community on campus? How strong is it?
There are a lot of cultural clubs that provide opportunities for whatever race you are. For example, there is the Vietnamese Student Association for Vietnamese students. It’s pretty easy to reach out. I don’t participate very much. I went to one of the Asian-American meetings and didn’t click too well with the people there. I found my group of friends elsewhere so it wasn’t too big of a concern for me.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Yeah, our fraternity has a mentorship program that I think is really neat. Both the alumni and older students have helped me figure out career aspirations and things like that.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
I actually reached out too much to the career office for the College of Chemistry just because I’ve had more intimate relationships with people, like my major mentors and alumni mentors from my fraternity.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
For Chemical Engineering, you’re required to take one programming class.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how responsive and helpful have they been?
They have been pretty helpful and quick in terms of getting answers to questions I may have.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Cal-Berkeley before entering as a freshman?
My freshman year I would have liked to know how hard the academics are. Everybody says Berkeley is really hard, but you don’t understand until you experience it yourself. There’s not one thing that makes Berkeley harder than others and it changes for each course. You just have to be ready to stay up until like 3 or 4 AM to complete problem sets. Doing that is something that pretty common at Berkeley and that was a surprise to me.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
There’s no real way to show a prospective student what the rigor of a problem set is on a weekly basis or what study season looks like unless they are also studying and grinding for a midterm too.
Reasons to attend Cal-Berkeley:
1) As somebody from Southern California, it’s a really nice location to be a few hours away from home but also within flying or driving distance as well.
2) Post-graduation, it’s really helpful to be at Berkeley because of the tech bubble that the Bay Area is. [68% of the Class of 2016 work in the Bay Area.]
3) It’s nice to be close to San Francisco.
4) This school sets you up for the work hard play hard lifestyle, and I think that will pay off in the future. A lot of the alums I’ve talked to from my fraternity have said that undergrad at Berkeley is one of the hardest things they’ve ever gone through and their jobs now is not hard in comparison, so it pays off. Working hard for four years and using the skills you worked to gather at your real job is really beneficial.
Reasons to not attend Cal-Berkeley:
1) Out of state is expensive. [For the academic year of 2018-2019, the out of state tuition for nonresidents was $23,278 per semester.]
2) If you’re not that resilient of a person it can be difficult to study and do well at Berkeley. Regardless, you’re going to be knocked down sometimes by your classes. In an atmosphere like Berkeley where everybody is trying really hard and has their dreams and aspirations that they’re working towards, it can be difficult to continue here if you can’t bounce back from things like that.
3) Berkeley can be unsafe sometimes. You just have to be smart about when and where you’re walking and how many people you’re walking with, then you should be okay.