University of California at Berkeley
BackgroundInterview Date:March 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: Winter 2019, I transferred in to start my junior year
High School Experience: Public school in Huntington Beach, CA with a graduating class of about 350 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Legal Studies
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of the ASUC Legal Clinic that works on legal cases for students, which is mostly tenant law because a lot of time people need help with their leases. We also do taxes in the spring, so I had to get certified by the IRS to do voluntary income taxes.
What impact has the ASUC Legal Clinic had on your experience?
Because I am a transfer, it’s made the most tremendous impact because I met all my friends through getting involved in the preliminary legal work because we’re all interested in the same field.
How competitive was it to get into the ASUC Legal Clinic?
It was a pretty competitive process just because we had to go through three rounds of interviews. I had also been rejected from other clubs, like Mock Trial.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
A lot of it is reading cases, every day I’m reading textbooks, case laws, and a lot of theories as well so it’s not just direct statutes and laws. My major graded assignments are mostly exams, and for most of my classes they make up about 70% of my grade. The exams are mostly written, I just had a midterm and had to write three in-class essays. Typically, I only have to do one paper as a homework assignment.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
I feel they do a good job of getting students to learn more about the law and getting more involved in big landmark cases and setting the framework for those of us who want to go to law school. With that being said, a lot of our classes is just looking at specific cases and we’re certainly not arguing or debating as much as law students do.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I would say it’s pretty collaborative. Just last semester, my entire class came together and made a group study guide. I find that most of my peers in my classes are quite receptive to working together and helping each other out.
How accessible are your professors?
They’re pretty accessible. I personally tend to rely on our Graduate Student Instructors, which are just like Teaching Assistants. They’re more approachable and they usually have more than just one day out of the week where they can meet up. A lot of them have already gone to law school and gotten their JD and are now just doing a Master’s program, so a lot of them I tend to look up to because I can ask them anything related to the course, law school, or anything related to the legal field.
Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
On the surface, we definitely claim to be very open. In my experience, a lot of conservative thoughts tend to be shut down in the classroom and we don’t generally take kindly to different thoughts that are not liberal.
What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
That would most likely have to be my Criminal Justice class because in most classes, like my Property and Liberty class, a lot of them are reading 18th-century legal theory. In Criminal Justice, a lot of it was reading actual stories and cases, so it felt like an easier subject matter to dive into.
How was transitioning academically as a first-generation student? Were there any resources that helped you adapt?
The only thing I took advantage of coming in as a first-gen student was I went to community college first just to figure everything out. To me, that was the best decision I ever made because I got to do all of my general requirements and FAFSA paid for all of it. It let me fail a lot of things that I knew I wouldn’t be good at. Once I transferred into Cal, I knew what I wanted to do and I knew that was something I would succeed in subject-wise.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice so far?
I’m very happy. At community college, I majored in Political Science and the reason I went to Cal is Legal Studies isn’t a major that’s in every college and I knew I wanted to go to law school. Rather than just taking more political science classes, Legal Studies allowed me to learn the things I actually wanted to learn.
How was transitioning as a transfer student? Were there any resources in place to help you adjust?
It was pretty difficult. You come in as a junior and you want to hit the ground running, join a club, and make your mark. But, it’s extremely difficult to join a club as a transfer because most of the frats are looking for freshmen and sophomores and the clubs want to make sure they pick young students to take over roles and move up. It was really difficult coming to Cal and trying to get involved because everybody’s trying to get a leg up on one another and everybody has such impressive resumes that it can be really difficult for transfers.
As far as resources, we don’t have a whole lot. We have the Transfer Student Center but that is more so for students to go in and study. There has also recently been talk of having a senate seat exclusively for transfers because the community this year had felt that lack of representation was a big enough issue to bring it up to the student government.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Junior: Off-campus apartment with two other roommates. I live about a 35-minute bus ride from campus. The housing in Berkeley is really expensive so it was pretty difficult to find housing there that is in my price range.
How was transitioning from Huntington Beach to Berkeley, CA?
It was very difficult because I feel I took for granted a lot of the things that Huntington Beach has to offer. I really like the overall sense of security I have at home and when I got to Berkeley it was a culture shock going to the Bay Area and adjusting to the homeless crisis we have right now. Seeing homeless people everywhere I go was the biggest change for me.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I definitely feel safe during the daylight. There have been times where I’ve had to go home during later hours and those are the hours when I don’t feel that safe. I live far away and have to take the bus, and I feel that the homeless people tend to be more active during the night, as opposed to the day when they don’t really bug people. During the day they’re just in the streets asking for money but at night they wander around more.
Pros and cons of being located in Berkeley, CA?
Pros: (1) The diversity of the area. There are lots of places to eat and the ratio of people who are different from you. [The population of Berkeley is about 55% White and 18% Asian. About 20% are foreign-born.]
(2) Berkeley puts you in uncomfortable situations where you can grow. You have to adapt to the homeless people and be more in touch with different cultures.
Cons: (1) On campus there are ongoing crime emails and alerts. It got to the point where I had to shut them off. [See the Daily Crime Log here.]
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Cal-Berkeley?
I don’t tend to go out really late at night just because it’s not the safest area and I live pretty far away. Occasionally I’ll go out with the people I know from the ASUC Legal Clinic to go out to eat or sing karaoke or something. We like to go to Asian Ghetto. There are a lot of cool places to eat and a karaoke place just across the street.
What are some of your favorite on-campus events?
The big thing I look most forward to is our football game against Stanford just because you can tell the school takes it seriously and we all get revved up about it. As the game gets closer, activity in the school plaza goes up.
How happy were you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I wouldn’t say I’m happy, I’d say I’m satisfied. I have a lot of readings to do, so I don’t spend a lot of time out on the weekends. Most of it is spent at home doing homework. When I have time to go out, I will, but I just don’t have much time.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I met them all through the ASUC Legal Clinic and then we all got closer over time.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
I would say it’s pretty good just because from what I’ve seen from my friends who are actively part of Greek life. I know they throw some pretty big parties and if that’s something you want to do it’s out there. The hard part is getting in because, with anything at Cal, it’s really hard to get into any organization because it’s a really competitive environment. Once you get into something like a fraternity, a volunteer organization, or the ASUC Legal Clinic, social life and all of those things open up for you.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
In general, there tends to be a good amount of mixing, but it’s also hard because the majority of our school is Asian and then White. For me specifically, Hispanics are a very small percentage of students so my friend groups tend to be filled out with White and Asian people. In that sense, I’m always mixing. [In the Class of 2022, about 38% of students are Asian, 28% are White, and 20% are other underrepresented minorities. About 16% of undergraduates are Hispanic.]
How would you describe the Hispanic community at Berkeley? How strong is it?
It’s a pretty small community. Every now and then I’ll see Hermanos Unidos or Hermanas Unidas doing something in the [Lower Sproul] Plaza. They tend to have a lot of events where they sell tamales or other food on the Plaza.
How would you describe the student body?
We tend to stay in our own lane because a lot of us tend to be very stressed and are concerned with our lives and what we’re doing, but every now and then we come together, especially when it’s a protest or something of that nature. When we aren’t doing that, I feel a lot of us are in our own world dealing with our own issues, and that’s why I think mental health is something that people talk about at Cal and I know a lot of people seek out those resources. There have been times when I’ve felt depressed because the city isn’t the most luxurious place to be around, it tends to be cloudy a lot of the days, you see homeless people every day, and school is hard. It can sometimes be a hard environment to thrive. [See Daily Californian article, “Why are UC Berkeley students anxious?”]
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.]
Coming from community college, that was a big change going from a smaller population to a much bigger one. I enjoy that our student body is so big because I get to see so many different people from so many different backgrounds every semester and every class.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
The alumni network has helped me in my search for jobs. Being part of the ASUC Legal Clinic, we tend to have people who were previously in the clinic and graduated come in and give us tips on our resumes, jobs I can apply for, and law school. That’s mainly been how I’ve been introduced to our alumni network. We also use Handshake where we see a lot of different internships and jobs and can see on the application how many alumni have worked there or are working there currently and that helps lead us in the right direction.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
I haven’t used the career office because the ASUC Legal Clinic already does a lot in regards to working on my resume, cover letter, and giving us interview tips. We meet every week, so I haven’t really utilized the career office.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
I have not learned any here.
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 transfer?
I always knew Cal would be a specifically difficult place to get my degree from, but I never knew just how difficult it would be. I wish I would have heard more anecdotal stories from other students, particularly transfers, and gotten a better idea of how difficult it would be academically and how much I would have to change a lot of my strategies to tackle my classes.
What is something a prospective pre-law student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
They should be ready to read at least four hours a day and stay on top of their readings. Reading is definitely the most difficult thing to keep up with. It’s not so much writing and understanding the material, it’s more about building your endurance for all the heavy readings that your professors throw at you. A lot of times it feels like your professors don’t care about what’s going on in your other classes. It was a much bigger reading load than I ever experienced at community college.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Go check out the libraries just because that’s something I didn’t do because we have multiple libraries spread out throughout the campus. It gives you a better idea to see the work environment that we have here at Cal and get a better idea of what you’re in store for because a lot of us spend a lot of hours at the library. It’s good to get to see what your new home is going to look like.
Reasons to attend Cal-Berkeley:
1) The Cal network. It’s something we talk about a lot on campus and just from using Handshake it’s very evident that Cal graduates are spread out all over. It’s a really nice experience to know that if you’re applying to some of the big-name companies, that you have other Cal alumni there. A lot of times just making a connection with an alum will open the door to getting an internship or job.
2) Even though some people may not agree with me, the prestige behind the name. In general, I feel like people get excited when I talk about Cal and they seem to make a bunch of assumptions about me despite going to community college for two years.
3) The faculty. A lot of them have done great things in their field. It’s great to pick their brains and ask them anything about what you’re curious about.
Reasons to not attend Cal-Berkeley:
1) The mental health issues at Cal. If you’re leaving a very comfortable community and have never been exposed to a lot of change, I would say Cal isn’t the place for you because when you get here there isn’t a lot of time to breath. It’s constant work and you have to tough it out and get through it.
2) The semester system. I know a lot of people here don’t like the semester system because at other UC schools that use the quarter system you can take more classes.
3) Grade deflation is a real thing. In the Legal Studies department they only give out a certain amount of A’s. I just got my midterms back and the class average was a B+ and the professor had a talk with us about how she would have to round the class down because she’s not supposed to give out many A’s. You shouldn’t go to Cal if you’re concerned about your grades because that can get to you psychologically. [The average GPA for the Class of 2018 Legal Studies majors was a 3.21.]