An Interview On
University of California at Berkeley

Background

Interview Date:April 2019

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: East Asian, Chinese
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Private school in Shanghai, China with a graduating class of about 30 or 40 students. A little over half of the students went to college in the United States.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Economics
Minor: Data Science, but I’m considering a double major
Extracurricular Activities: I’ve been part of two consulting clubs. One was a nonprofit consulting club called 180 Degrees Consulting that focused mostly on Bay Area social impact organizations. The one I’m in right now has more corporate clients, we’re now working with a Fortune 500 automobile company. It’s different than 180 Degrees in that the amount of impact you can make is less, but I still think I’ve learned a lot and really enjoyed both. I’m also part of a business fraternity on campus.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Doing the business frat made a huge impact on my life and changed the course of where I would be. It opened up a lot of doors for me and I met a lot of very inspiring people through it who gave me direction and guidance, helped me choose my career trajectory, and taught me some core life values. I reflect on my experience with that very positively.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
Berkeley is pretty light on homework, at least for the classes I’m taking. For Intermediate Macroeconomics, the course load is very manageable so you can balance a lot of other things on top of it. What really shapes your grade is your performance on the midterm and final because usually those make up more than 80% of your grade in these kinds of classes. The homework they assign is supplementary and helps you study for those midterms and exams. Usually, it doesn’t take more than an hour or hour and a half on a week to week basis. Economics as a major is definitely harder than some of the other majors but is definitely not the hardest major here.

Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
One thing I think they do especially well is teach you the frameworks of thinking about economics. It’s more of an academic kind of style of teaching where the goal is to give you an education and potentially set you up for a postgraduate degree in economics, but it’s also very useful for getting an idea of the global economy and understanding how everything fits together. For what I’m trying to pursue after college, it’s helped a lot for my interviews because I can demonstrate an understanding of the macroeconomy, financial markets, and how it all connects. The economics department gives you that fundamental need in order to make those connections. As far as weaknesses, it’s very theoretical as a whole. They teach you for the sake of education and not to prepare you for a job.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
Contrary to the culture that people think Berkeley has when they hear about it – I heard the stories too about how cutthroat Berkeley was when I applied here – all those stories are overblown and it’s not like that when you get here. It’s very competitive, I’m not going to sugar coat it, I’ve never been pushed so hard. But, everyone’s out there to do well for themselves, they’re not going to sabotage you. At worst, somebody just won’t help you very much. Most people I’ve met so far are willing to answer your questions and collaborate. I find it much more collaborative than I thought it would be.

How accessible are your professors?
Honestly, I’ve never made a big effort to meet my professors. I’ve gone through two years of college without really meeting any of my professors. I occasionally would go to office hours or ask them a question. If you’re interested in getting to know professors and eventually getting research opportunities, it’s doable. It’s just about your personal drive and how much you’re willing to put yourself out there and be very persistent. The big thing at Berkeley is if you want access to anything you need to be very persistent.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice so far?
At Berkeley, typically your first semester sophomore year you apply to the business school, Haas, and the decisions come out the second semester. I applied and didn’t get in, and usually people who don’t get in major in Economics because the prerequisites line up. Also, when I was going to Berkeley I always knew there was a chance I wouldn’t get into Haas and I’m very happy to do Economics as well. I’m someone who enjoys learning academic frameworks than hard facts. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but what I want to take away from Economics is a very comprehensive understanding of how everything works together and frameworks to work off in the future.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Unit 1 with two roommates in triple. It was great because all of my friends were on the same floor. It was great socially but I didn’t like living there because it was cramped and there was no privacy.

Sophomore: I live in an off-campus apartment in downtown Berkeley. We have four people living in a two-bedroom apartment.

Is doubling up in an apartment common at Berkeley?
It’s very common. I think 99% of people I know move off campus sophomore year into their fraternity or sorority house or an apartment or house. Because of high living costs, we cram into the apartment. But, honestly, the living situation is still better than it was freshman year. I have more space and privacy. The Bay Area, in general, is just like that, you get used to it.

How was transitioning from Shanghai to Berkeley, CA?
It was interesting because I grew up in the United States, lived in Shanghai for four years, and then coming back was reverse culture shock because I’d been away for a while. Moving wasn’t that bad because I spoke the language and understood the culture. The Bay Area is different than other places I’d lived in the U.S. because it was the first time I felt that Asians were pretty prominent. It was weird to be surrounded by so many other Asian-Americans. [Just under 20% of the population of Berkeley, CA is Asian.]

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
This, if I knew about it before coming in, would be my biggest concern about going to Berkeley and maybe would have made me have second thoughts. Berkeley is pretty dangerous, especially for girls. A lot of my female friends have told me that they don’t feel safe walking alone at night and would prefer to have a guy walk them home. We also have BearWalk where you can call somebody to walk with you somewhere. It’s partly an issue of gang activity in Oakland and the homeless problem. Not that the homeless people are violent, it just makes people feel uncomfortable. We also have Nixle which updates you whenever crimes occur. I remember my freshman year my Nixle having notifications every couple of days. You have to be careful and aware. When I walk around at 2 or 3AM, I don’t listen to music and try to be aware as possible. As long as you take the right precautions, you’ll be fine.

Pros and cons of being located in Berkeley, CA?
Pros: (1) One of my favorite things about living in Berkeley is you’re right next to San Francisco. It’s good for recruiting and jobs and getting you ready for semester and semester internships. It’s also just a fun city to explore. It’s a 30-minute BART ride away.
(2) Berkeley itself has a really interesting culture. The city is really weird and there is a lot for whatever you’re interested in. Because Berkeley is so multicultural and there are so many people from different backgrounds, you can find a community that you like.
(3) The food here is pretty good.

Cons: (1) Safety is a big issue. I consider the homeless problem is included in the safety issue. The homeless also just make the city gross because they [defecate in public places]. [See the Daily Crime Log here.]

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Cal-Berkeley?
At Berkeley, the way it works is until you’re 21 you mostly go to fraternity houses for parties and the fraternities are all in the same area. If not, I’ll sometimes go to San Francisco and go to a club. When you turn 21 is typically when you start going to San Francisco for the nightlife.

What nights of the week do you regularly go out?
This semester I haven’t gone out at all because I’ve been very busy. Freshman year, I would go out Friday or Saturday night usually. Sometimes, if I had nothing to do, I would go out on Thursdays too. For me, I think the academics here are really challenging and I didn’t want to get too distracted by parties.

What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
I think my only regret of college so far is that I didn’t rush a social fraternity my first semester. It’s not that not being in a social frat really impacts your ability to go party, I just think it makes it easier if you have a group of friends that you like to do that with. But, I don’t think I would be able to keep my grades up first semester freshman year if I was also pledging a fraternity. I made friends with people who became fraternity members so for me it’s not hard to go, you just have to know other people.

How happy are you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
For me, I think the options are there. More than anything, it’s not an issue of whether or not you can have a nightlife. The main issue I hear from a lot of Berkeley students is they’re so tired from the week they don’t want to go out. There is always something happening, it’s just a matter of whether you have the energy to party and recover quickly to keep up with your work and everything.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
One of my freshman year roommates is one of my closest friends and I’m lucky that it just worked out that way. The people I met pledging my business frat are some of my closest friends. My recommendation is that Greek life is one of the easiest ways to make close friends from what I’ve seen here.

How would you describe the overall social scene?
It’s not as fraternity dominated as some schools on the West Coast, but Greek life is a huge part of the social scene here. If you really want to be involved in the social scene you probably would join some sort of fraternity or sorority. Also, there’s a huge community for other stuff, like the business community and there are professional fraternities for pre-law, pre-med, and a lot of other stuff, and there is a huge tech community here. If you’re more academically minded and are interested in tech, there are so many clubs out there for that. As long as you get involved, it’s really easy to find friends.

To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I have a friend who is bisexual and she tells me that Cal is really great for inclusion, so sexual orientation-wise I think it’s pretty good. Berkeley as a school has always been pretty progressive. I personally think people mix well racially but I know there are some people who disagree and feel that it’s racially divided between the Asians, White people, the tiny Black population, and the Hispanics. It can be somewhat racially segregated just because people automatically look for people who they can relate to when they arrive on campus, so you gravitate towards people of their own race. I think it’s very easy to find different people if you seek it out, but also you can just be comfortable and hang out people like you. [In the Class of 2022, about 38% of students are Asian, 28% are White, and 20% are other underrepresented minorities.]

To what extent do international students and domestic students mix socially?
A lot of international students live in the International House. [As an international student, mixing with domestic students] is something you can find if you seek out. All the international students I’ve met are pretty friendly, the exception is that the East Asian international students can be more cliquey, so unless you speak their language or have some common ground it can be hard to talk to them. Other than that, I got dinner with some Ethiopian and Kenyan guys at the International House a while back, so I think they are easy to find and make friends with.

How would you describe the East Asian community at Berkeley? How strong is it?
It’s pretty strong. The [Phi Alpha Phi Asian fraternity] was formed there which was one of the first Asian frats and Berkley has a strong history of Asians there. There are a lot of Asian-Americans here and at all the UC schools, so if you’re an Asian person looking for an Asian community, this is a good place for that. If you want to surround yourself with an Asian bubble, it’s very easy to do that in the Bay Area. There are a lot of cultural clubs as well for every division of Asian-Americans and Asian-Americans overall.

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.]
I’d say it’s a rat race in a lot of ways. Because there are so many people, and a lot of people are trying to be persistent and get access to the resources Berkeley has. Also, a lot of the people here came because of tuition reasons and could have gone to higher-ranked schools, so you have a lot of hungry people who are very intelligent. There’s a wide pool of competitors that makes you adopt the mindset of always, always, grinding away. That’s been my experience, but maybe if you come in with a different mindset and try different clubs and organizations you’ll have a different experience.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
One of the first things you learn at Berkeley is, if you’re very invested in the business community and setting up your career in business – and I don’t know about the other professional sectors – the organizations that you join are where you really get access to strong alumni connections, whether that’s your social frat, business frat, business club or consulting club. It’s very possible to reach out to any Cal alum. For example, I’ve done a couple of cold calls to alumni in New York and they’ve been willing to talk to you. Also, if you move outside of the West Coast, that’s where the alumni network becomes much stronger because you have that shared connection.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
When you apply for internships and jobs with companies on campus they are there. Companies have information sessions there. If you make friends with the people who man the front desk and are in the office, they’ll send you updates about things happening.

Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
I haven’t necessarily learned any applicable skills like Excel through my classes. Whatever I’ve learned has been through my own time and internships. Berkeley is really good at teaching computer science languages, so Python is a big thing here. I took an intro to data science course where I learned Python for data analytics which is very cool. Python is very integrated into the curriculum.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how responsive and helpful have they been?
It’s always been a fairly intuitive experience, at least for me. If I ever have troubles getting my aid the office at Cal have done a pretty good job of communicating with me and making sure that I get all of my aid.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Cal-Berkeley before entering as a freshman?
The best time to pledge a social fraternity is your first semester of freshman year. Also, don’t stress too much about your internship after freshman year because you’re not really qualified for anything and doing anything at that point is good. You also need to take school as serious as possible freshman year because it only gets harder.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Check out the areas off-campus as far as popular student hangouts like the Memorial Stadium area. Or, if you’re interested in a specific area interest, look into the clubs there.

What is something a prospective international student may want to know that maybe we haven’t touched on?
If you’re an international student, reach out to another international student or an alum from your high school who shares an interest with you because there’s so much that I had to pick up as I got through school that I could have easily learned from somebody earlier.

Reasons to attend Cal-Berkeley:
1) If you want to be challenged academically, definitely attend. Also, the quality of education is very high in terms of a content and knowledge-gained perspective. I was amazed by the quality of education.
2) You’re on a really cool campus and the location is right next to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. There are lots of opportunities being so close to those places, so if you work hard there are so many doors there that can open career-wise.

Reasons to not attend Cal-Berkeley:
1) Safety and the cleanliness of the streets.
2) Because there are so many people it can be overwhelming at times and it’s easy to get lost in the crowd unless you have a strong group of friends.
3) Berkeley has a pretty unhealthy culture because everybody is grinding so hard that it’s easy to feel bad about yourself if you’re not overloading yourself. Mental health can be an issue in that sense. If you have a strong mental fortitude though, you’ll be okay.

Notice: University of California at Berkeley is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by University of California at Berkeley.

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