University of California at Berkeley
BackgroundInterview Date:March 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2021
First-Generation College Student: No
High School Experience: Public high school in Southern California with a graduating class of about 500 students. There was a culture of going to college.
Majors: Mathematics and Computer Science double major
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in a couple of computer science clubs and I’m a teaching assistant for one of the courses I took my freshman year, so I’m involved with the computer science teaching community.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
Teaching computer science is something that I didn’t really expect to have a very large impact but I feel like I’ve developed as both a teacher and a public speaker. Because computer science is one of those things that many of us don’t have experience with when we’re in middle school and high school, it’s not something that you know how to easily describe like a math problem.
Did you have to apply into your majors or could you just declare them?
Both majors required declaring with certain requirements, but getting into the Computer Science majors was a bit more rigorous. I’m part of the College of Letters and Science, where you are automatically undeclared when you are admitted regardless of what you put as your major on your application. For the Mathematics major, you just need to pass the prerequisites and for the Computer Science major you need to complete the prerequisites and maintain a 3.3 GPA.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your majors?
Computer Science and Mathematics are problem set and project heavy with challenging midterms and finals. I write very few essays, but when it’s midterm season I do many problem sets and also study past exams. On a weekly basis, if it’s a class that’s heavy on coding, I have projects that will have more hands-on work, and if it’s a more theoretical computer science class or a math class, I usually have a weekly problem set.
Is there anything you feel your either of your majors’ departments do especially well or poorly?
I think the Computer Science department does a good job of giving undergrads the opportunity to work in courses that they care about whether it be through academic interning or something else. With the Math major, I feel that there is a pretty weak community because people from many other majors take Math courses so the students in your classes often don’t share a major with you. But, I’m making my way into upper-division courses and that is changing.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it is particularly competitive or collaborative?
At times, the learning environment here is competitive, but, for the most part, students are more than happy to help each other. If you would like to work collaboratively, there are almost always students that would love work collaboratively. It’s competitive because with the larger courses – my large Computer Science courses often have over 700 students – there is no good way to grade the course other than on a curve. So, there is an underlying factor of needing to do better than your peers. That fosters a competitive environment at times.
How accessible are the professors in your departments?
I don’t often attempt to visit my professors themselves in office hours, but when I have I feel that they are accessible. There are also many graduate student instructors (GSI’s) and other members of the course staff that are available if you need help. Oftentimes the professor will have busy office hours and you’ll end up waiting in lines that can sometimes be long. It’s more productive and time0efficient to go to the GSI’s. GSI’s will oftentimes lead a discussion and be in charge of other parts of the course, such as the weekly assignments, so if you have a question about the homework you would be better off going to the GSI. But, if you wanted to sit and talk about conceptual misunderstandings, maybe it’d be worthwhile to go to the professor.
How has having to watch lectures online affected your ability to learn?
Although it’s kind of strange, I think it’s okay because it provides a lot of flexibility into my schedule. For example, if I have a midterm in one class that I’m stressing about, I can blow off lecture for three days and use that time to study and then catch up later when I have more free time. If you’re comfortable with managing your time well, it provides flexibility. But, if you’re not, then you’re going to end up ten lectures behind and panicking.
Why did you choose your majors? Are you happy with your choice?
I chose Computer Science because I took AP Computer Science in high school. I thought it was a fun course and knew there was a lot of hype around it, so I figured why not try it. After taking the first course here, I really enjoyed the major. I decided to pair Math with that because I’ve always been math-oriented and a lot of the concepts behind computer science are closely related to math, so it seemed to fit well.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on and around campus?
Freshman: Unit 3 Spens-Black in a double. Our floor was extremely social, sometimes too social, and I believe the dorm fostered a good community. I feel like I made a lot of friends just from living where I did.
Sophomore: Off-campus apartment with one other friend.
How was transitioning from Southern California to Berkeley, CA?
The weather is definitely worse. The overall social climate also feels different, but not too different, so the transition wasn’t too difficult. The Bay Area definitely has its own vibe that you have to get used to with the business and focus people place on work. I’ve noticed that people in Southern California seem to be a bit more lax than people seem to be here. People tend to be very focused on work and their career and kind of judge others by their work and career.
Can you describe the level of safety you have experienced on and around campus?
In general, I feel relatively safe walking on or around campus, especially on campus is safer than off-campus. The local area does have some safety issues. There are often robberies or other reports of crime that the school sends out. I live next to People’s Park, which is known for having a homeless problem. I know that a lot of my female friends feel less safe and there are many times when I walk home alone at night and know that if I were a female I would not have done so. For the most part, as long as you’re smart it’s a safe area, but there are a few factors to consider.
Pros and cons of being in Berkeley, CA?
1) You’re close to the heart of the Bay Area. It takes twenty minutes to be in the middle of San Francisco.
2) There is always something to do. There is nightlife, good food, and pretty much anything you want you can find.
3) Although there are many rainy days, the weather is relatively nice.
4) Because it’s such a big campus and a big school, the local area where the student housing is located is conformed to the students to a really high degree. All the shops and restaurants cater to students, so it’s nice that things are open late, offer student discounts, and has a lot of school pride.
1) The area around campus is kind of dirty. It’s the same problem that plagues a lot of the Bay Area.
2) With the number of people here, it’s not always super peaceful. It can be loud and busy on the streets.
3) It’s often pretty impractical to have a car here if you don’t have the money to store it somewhere. Most people don’t have cars. You get by, but it can be hard sometimes when you are limited to buses and what you can walk to.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
Most weekends I have a lot of homework and studying to catch up on, so I spend a good chunk of my weekends doing that. When it comes to more fun activities, I do pretty normal college stuff like going to movies, hanging out with friends, and from time to time I go to parties. There’s a pretty active Greek life and party scene going on every weekend, especially game days. Game days are huge here.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
It plays a pretty big role. There are quite a few fraternities and those are the main places where parties will be going on at night and other areas will be quiet. I go from time to time, definitely not on the regular. I think one nice thing about Greek life here is that even if you’re not in Greek life, you probably know somebody in Greek life and the parties aren’t super exclusive. Greek Row is near Telegraph Avenue where there are food and shops, so that’s the whole area where nightlife is.
What’s an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
There are almost always events going on on campus. We joke that if you wanted to eat free pizza all year long you could just go on the Facebook event pages and find events with free food. While Greek life is big, there are alternatives. There are many people in organizations who will reach out and try to find people to play a board game or watch a movie.
How happy are you with the social options at your school? Is there anything you would change?
The only thing I would change is having less work. At least with Computer Science, you’re busy most weekends doing something whether it be studying or projects. A lot of times my weekend will be doing homework until 10:00PM on Friday and then do something for a few hours and then do homework all day Saturday, which is not always fun.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I met my closest friends in the dorms last year. My roommate is one of my best friends and the people in the rooms around me I got to know super well. Now that I’m living in my apartment, I’ve been meeting friends through organizations that I’m part of as well as people in my major classes. I have friends that I’ve started out just working on homework together and have gotten to know super well. I think it starts with who you live by then as you get a little bit further in your major, you start to know people in your major.
How would you describe the overall social scene at Cal Berkeley?
I would describe it as varied. There are students who are extremely social and areas of campus that are going to be super alive and I know people who keep to themselves and don’t talk to their peers as much. You have all ends of the spectrum.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think that people of different races and sexual orientations definitely do mix, but, at the same time, people do tend to hang out with people similar to them. I don’t think that’s an issue, it’s just a lot of people find common ground with people they share traits with or culture with. I have noticed that a lot of extended friend groups tend to be the same race or people who identify as a certain sexual orientation.
How would you describe the student body?
There is every type of person who goes here. But, if I had to pick the general characterizations, people here are very ambitious with whatever they are interested in. Those who are really passionate about their education and career, you can tell they are extremely ambitious about that.
How has the size of your school influenced your social experience? [There are about 31,000 undergraduate students.]
I think the big size has been nice in some areas because we have a nice mix of people, but certain things about it can be cons. Being in a class my first semester of college with two thousand students made me feel disconnected from my professor because I would watch most of the lectures on YouTube instead of going in person, so I think it can disconnect professors from students to a certain degree. Additionally, a lot of times you don’t feel it is as important to get to know the people you have class with just because there are so many students. Sometimes I’ll feel like I don’t need to get to know my classmates because chances are I won’t have a class with them in the future and you’ll meet other people in other places.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not particularly. I know that there are many Berkeley alumni and there are some places to go, like the career center, to get help with that.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful were they?
My biggest experience with the career center would be going to a career fair they helped host. That was an overall positive experience because I spoke to different recruiters and then the following day was at the career center doing interviews. I was able to hear back from the companies that day and then in the following weeks went to more rounds of interviews.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
The first language that we really used is Python. It’s the most prominent language because you can use it for pretty much anything. The focus of my classes doesn’t tend to be actual languages, they’re more in the background. For example, I had a class on computer security and they introduced a brand new language that they expected us to use, but they never actually lectured on the language. They expected us to learn the basics of the language and then do the project. Pretty much every class will introduce a new one so you pick them up over the years.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy is the office to work with?
Yes, I use financial aid. The financial aid office tends to be very swamped at the beginning of every semester just because that’s the busiest time of year. When it’s that time of the year, it’s difficult to reach out to them. The phone lines are usually busy and there is a long line to get seen in person, but it’s doable. The rest of the semester it’s pretty easy to get help or figure out what is going on if you have some questions. They’ve been very responsive when it comes to me wondering why I’m getting notifications that I wasn’t expecting.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Cal Berkeley before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew the class sizes for my major. I knew that being at a big school like this would have large class sizes, but I didn’t realize that the class sizes for Computer Science would be over a thousand. There are a few instances where even if you show up to class there won’t be a seat and you’ll be expected to watch it, but that’s a rare occasion. The lecture hall will hold maybe 700 people and then they will enroll around 1,000, so if the lecture hall fills up they will have to turn you away because of the fire code. But, any classes that are that size will be recorded and posted online. [In 2018, there were over 3,000 students in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department.]
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Check out the hills of campus where there is more peaceful and there is more nature. Tours tend to just show the buildings, but there are a lot of more scenic areas of campus.
Reasons to attend Cal Berkeley:
1) You learn a lot. Classes can be difficult, but at the end of every difficult class you realize that you now know so much more information than you used to.
2) There are a lot of really cool people. I’ve met a lot of friends from different background and feel like I’ve learned about different communities and life experiences, so I’ve really enjoyed that.
3) The professors are amazing. A lot of textbooks or notes that we’re reading come directly from the professors themselves. It’s amazing to hear that a professor won an award and then be able to take a class with them the next semester.
Reasons to not attend Cal Berkeley:
1) Housing is really expensive. I have to share a bedroom and still pay a lot.
2) You don’t have a lot of free time if you’re taking difficult classes. Some professors expect a lot of time to be put into their class, which is bad when you have four or five classes.