Hello, Golden Bears!
Whether you are an incoming freshman struggling to make a choice between colleges or a current student thinking about how to get your approach just right, this is the one-stop-shop to figure it out.
But first, a little bit of background for the unacquainted. There are two majors through which you can study CS at Cal. The first is housed in the Engineering department, known as the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) major. You’re admitted into this major declared. The other is through the College of Letters and Science, known as the Computer Science (CS) major. You come in undeclared into the L&S college and need a 3.3 GPA in three classes (CS61A, CS61B, and CS70) to declare the major. (There’s also a fairly new Data Science major in the College of Letters and Science that does not have any such cap.)
If you’re reading this article, I’m making the bold assumption that you’re, at minimum, interested in one of these.
So, why come to Berkeley? And if you do decide to come to Cal, what can you expect of the CS department? What do they expect from you? How can you maximize your potential here?
Here’s the first thing, and perhaps one thing you really, really need to know if you’re considering Cal:
There are no two ways about it. Your four years at Berkeley will be some of the hardest times of your life. You will get intensely familiar with the libraries. You will get comfortable with studying late into the night. If you’re looking to breeze through college and just learn the basics, Berkeley CS may not be the easiest route to that destination. Simply put, Cal CS will teach you to grind.
More importantly, Berkeley CS doesn’t just teach you hardware or software. It will:
Teach You to Be A Computer Scientist.
Here, you will teach you the fundamentals of CS to try to make you a Computer Scientist. You’ll learn everything about CS, from the bare bones to the most complex of algorithms. You’ll learn what makes CS tick, and how you can innovate and shape the future of Computer Science. If you’re really passionate about CS, this is going to be the dream.
But to bring that dream to reality, you will need:
This is a trait Berkeley will force you to learn sooner rather than later. If you try for anything at Berkeley, you will learn how to get rejected and (eventually) how to gracefully face rejection. Whether it be clubs, research positions, or (alas) classes, you won’t always get what you want. But this place will teach you how to brush yourself off and get up extremely quickly.
Cal teaches you this by giving you:
The agency that every student has at Cal is pretty unique. You have complete control over your schedule and actions, but the downside to that is that no one will ever hold your hand through anything. Need to get your resume improved? YOU will have to book an appointment with the career center, then make a draft resume and go and get it improved. Every resource you will ever need is here, but you will have to go and seek them.
A trait that’s very important to know at Cal:
I know, I know. This may go against everything that you have heard about Cal. Isn’t this a place of toxic competitive top-scorers who are constantly vying with each other? No! Or at least, not in my experience. In my opinion, the heartless, mechanical minds cannot get as much out of Berkeley as others might. Cal is all about what you can make of it, and you’ll never get the opportunity to make connections with SO many incredible people at the same place. Take help! Lean on others! Despite everything Berkeley offers, THIS is the most important resource it has to offer.
Interested in pushing the boundaries of CS? Well, Berkeley is incredible at:
Berkeley is one of the best, if not the best, research universities in the world. If you want to do research, you simply must come here. Undergraduates are taken under the wing of some of the premier scientists in their respective fields and there is an insane amount that you can learn from them. If graduate school is, even a little bit, on your mind, Berkeley may be the place for you.
Don’t feel like research is the thing for you? Try a hand at:
Berkeley is one of the few institutions with plenty of resources for entrepreneurship. One member of Sigma Eta Pi, Cal’s entrepreneurship society, remarks that he got the opportunity to pitch his company to VCs, an opportunity almost no other university would give an undergraduate.
Here’s the least believed truth about Berkeley CS:
Everyone’s Rooting For You.
A single conversation with any professor in EECS and CS confirms this. Professor John Denero, a CS61A instructor with a surprising cult following, said in conversation, “It may seem like we’re against you, given the difficulty of the course. We’re really not.”
Professor Dan Garcia echoed this sentiment, talking about how much he tried to get everyone in the lower-division classes to help each other, despite the GPA cap (more on that later). “If everything goes great, everyone gets an A, and I get hailed as the greatest professor ever!”, he told us jokingly.
Professor Hug, the instructor of CS61B (Data Structures), talked about how, through the course, he sees students grow into computer scientists, and just as they start to truly spread their wings, they move onto a higher-division class. He mentioned how that process is painful but also gratifying for him.
These are some of the most learned people in their fields, and they invest an incredible amount of time and effort into your success. Don’t get me wrong, Berkeley CS is incredibly notorious, but everyone in Berkeley CS is backing you.
A couple of CS-specific points:
One of the best things about Berkeley is that it’s very easy to double major, and there are many, many other incredible majors to do so in. Stacked to the brim with brilliant professors, there’s Business, Econ, Math, Stats… and so much more.
And finally, for my L&S CS folks, let’s talk about:
The Fear of The Cap.
L&S CS freshmen dread the terrifying 3.3GPA cap, and for good reason. It is not easy to do well at Berkeley. In fact, it’s hard. Very hard. After talking with countless declared CS students, I come here bearing the secret to success at Cal. You ready for it? Here it is: Berkeley CS is just very hard. It’s not impossible, it’s not incredible. Declaring is not a pipe dream, and it’s not improbable. It’s just hard, and if you’re at all interested in coming to Berkeley, you have a fair disregard for the difficult.
Finally, there’s the last thing for you that I can’t go without mentioning:
You Will Find a Home Here.
Berkeley will resonate with you, no matter who you are. Given that this college is the size and population of a small town, you will find people you will feel comfortable with and who’ll share your interests with you. Love speed-cubing? We got you. Building solar cars? Yep, we have it. 17th century acapella? Come on in!
There is no kind of student that doesn’t belong at Cal.
If you feel like you want to push and challenge yourself, to improve yourself, to learn CS from the very best, come on over. We’ll be waiting.