Berkeley Freshman Admission Update

This is a repost of my last public Berkeley freshman admission update (from Fall 2016). I no longer make the updates publicly available due to multiple incursions by the UCs.

To obtain current updates, you have the option to wade through comprehensive information provided by the UCs in the Quick Reference Guide to UC Admissions (86 pages; about half of the guide covers freshman admissions) or the presentation slides/notes from the September 2023 UC High School Counselor Conference. If you want to get my notes (include my opinions and interpretation of the updates) of the sessions I attended (systemwide/campus updates, advanced evaluation, UC Application, PIQ, activities, and mental health), you may purchase a back issue of my September 2023 freshman newsletter here for $25 (remain on the payment page after you pay and you will be redirected to the PDF – please note, purchase of a digital product is NONREFUNDABLE).

Berkeley has tweaked the freshman admission evaluation process a bit every year for the last few years and you can find more information here. Most of the information below accumulated over several years and is, for the most part, still valid.

General Admission Information

  • Berkeley is general achievement oriented (academic and/or extracurricular) and the campus is especially interested in students who will take advantage of what Berkeley has to offer and become agents of social change. But I want to remind you that you should NEVER trade course rigor or grades for extracurricular activities; if you have to choose where to spend your time, make sure you choose school.
  • You can see the admission stats and profile for freshman and transfer applicants on the Berkeley website here.

Freshman Admission General Information

  • Berkeley uses holistic review for freshman admission evaluation. For an explanation, go here.
  • College of Chemistry, College of Engineering, College of Environmental Design, and Rausser College of Natural Resources admit applicants by major (selectivity is based on major).

Freshman Admission Academic Criteria

  • College prep course beyond the UC A-G minimums (note from Ms. Sun: try to exceed the recommended prep as well).
  • High number of UC-approved Honors, AP, IBHL courses.
  • Transferable college and university courses (note from Ms. Sun: this just adds to the rigor of your schedule, if you have plenty of UC-approved Honors, AP, IBHL courses then you don’t have to stress about taking college courses).
  • Senior year course load (note from Ms. Sun: the more rigorous, the better).
  • Grades – both unweighted and weighted GPA are considered.
  • Pattern of achievement reflected in grades over time (note from Ms. Sun: while outstanding/consistent achievements are favored, improving grade trend is considered).
  • Local context (note from Ms. Sun: Berkeley is required to consider local/statewide context as part of comprehensive review, but in reality local/statewide context plays a fairly minor role in swaying the application readers).
  • Scores on the AP and IBHL examinations (note from Ms. Sun: you should always take the AP exams to show you’re willing to try, but if you can’t afford the exams, state that in the Additional Comments section of the application; there is NO penalty if you receive a non-passing score).
  • Other evidence of intellectual or creative achievement, such as extraordinary, sustained achievement in any field of intellectual endeavor (note from Ms. Sun: Berkeley wants students who are passionate about learning).
  • Achievement in academic preparation/enrichment programs as measured by time and depth of participation, academic progress made during participation, and intellectual rigor of the particular program (note from Ms. Sun: be sure to describe the rigor of the program, meaning whether it was competitive to gain entrance, and what you learned from the program).

Freshman Admission Personal Characteristics & Achievements Criteria

  • Likely contributions to the intellectual and cultural vitality of the campus (note from Ms. Sun: “potential to contribute” is extremely important to Berkeley).
  • Diversity of personal background and experience.
  • Personal qualities of the applicant such as leadership ability, character, motivation, tenacity, initiative, demonstrated concern for other and for the community.
  • Non-academic achievements such as extracurricular activities (for example, performing arts, student government, debate, or athletics), leadership in school organizations or activities, volunteer or community service, and/or employment.

Further Clarification on Admission Evaluation Criteria

  • Berkeley considers all achievements within the context of the educational opportunities available to you (what is available at your high school, in very simplified terms). This means that the campus gets THREE sets of context for each applicant: you compared to other students at your high school who applied to Berkeley, you compared to other students at your high school who applied to the UC System (any UC campus), you compared to the entire pool of applicants who applied to Berkeley during the current application cycle. So you have three chances to look good; whether you are the cream of the crop at your crappy school or the top 30% of your cut-throat magnet school, you will be noticed (I picked “30%” out of thin air, it’s not an actual stat).
  • Berkeley also considers the context of your personal circumstances and what you have done in response to those circumstances, provided that you disclose that information in the UC application.
  • How the educational opportunities context is determined for OOS applicants can vary a bit. If an OOS applicant comes from a school that supplies a large number of UC and/or Berkeley applicants each year, then Berkeley may view the OOS applicant in context of the student’s high school. Otherwise the applicant is compared to the entire pool of OOS applicants who applied to Berkeley.
  • The educational opportunities context for international applicants is somewhat complicated. In the most general term, the applicants are essentially compared to the entire pool of international applicants who applied to Berkeley.

Why the Personal Insight Questions Response is Important

  • Helps the campus determine distinctions among highly qualified applicants.
  • Provides information and context of an applicant’s academic and personal experiences.
  • Demonstrates student’s ability to overcome any challenges.
  • Illustrates the context of an experience with concrete examples.

Additional Criteria for College of Engineering and College of Chemistry

  • Math and science courses above the requirements/recommendations.
  • Explanation of interest in these majors within the Personal Insight Questions response.
  • Demonstrated interest in these majors through extracurriculars.

OOS/International Applicants

OOS and international applicants must meet the general admission course requirements (while A-G is not strictly enforced, applicants should comply with the general subject/number of year requirements) and achieve the required 3.4 GPA. The admission index is not applicable and while each eligible applicant will receive a thorough review, applicants do not receive any form of guarantee. International applicants whose language of instruction is not English must also demonstrate English language proficiency. Find an explanation of the proficiency requirement, the required minimum score if taking a test (TOEFL or IELTS) to demonstrate proficiency is necessary, and the score submission guideline here.

Augmented Review (Recommendation Letters)

Refer to my Berkeley Recommendation Letter Guidelines for current information.

Miscellaneous Information

External readers are used for freshman application evaluation scoring. However, final admission decisions are made within the admissions office.

Bonus Material

Kudos to you for making your way to the end of the post!

In the June 2023 Annual Report on Undergraduate Admissions Requirements and Comprehensive Review, Berkeley provided a detailed description of how freshman admission evaluation is conducted.

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