University of California Berkeley
Isabel S. (15.09.2022)
Laetitia W. (14.09.2022)
Before the stay (planning, visa, vaccinations, travel)
The University of California Berkeley enjoys an excellent reputation in the USA and offers many courses with renowned professors and high teaching quality, especially in natural sciences and technical subjects. Also, the close ties to industry and tech companies in Silicon Valley offer possible advantages when looking for internships or the first contact to US companies through professors. These arguments motivated me to apply for a student exchange especially at this University.
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It should be noted that applying for a semester in Berkeley means a considerable additional effort for the organization and high tuition and living costs. I recommend a preparation time of minimum half a year.
UC Berkeley offers several programs for international students to participate in day-to-day coursework. Since I wanted to broaden my technical study focus, I decided to apply for the so-called Berkeley Haas Global Access Program which is the only one that allows students to take courses at the Berkeley Haas School of Business. The application requirements for this program are a current overall grade point average (Bachelor's and master’s combined) of 2.0 (GPA 3.0), two letters of recommendation, and proof of English proficiency. If you meet these requirements, you are very likely to be accepted into the program. If you are not interested in management or MBA courses, I recommend applying to the Berkeley Global Access Program, in which you can choose any courses outside the business school.
Visa, Vaccinations and Costs
As soon as you are accepted, you will receive all necessary documents by mail and can pick up your visa at one of the US embassies in Germany. Regarding Covid, you can currently only enter the UC Berkeley campus with one of the internationally recognized booster vaccinations. Other than that, there are few restrictions apart from the mask requirement in the in-person teaching and in supermarkets and bars.
The costs for the semester abroad are unfortunately very high in international comparison. For rent, you should calculate 900 to 1100 US$ and for living expenses again about 500 US$ per month. Berkeley is located about half an hour by bus and train from San Francisco and thus also from the headquarters of the US tech companies.
Experiences in the host country
As mentioned at the beginning, you should look for housing in Berkeley as early as possible because it can be very expensive and in high demand. The best place to start looking are the UC Berkeley Housing Facebook groups, which is how I got my apartment. However, you should also be careful here, the danger of scammers is given.
For the high costs, you also get a lot offered in Berkeley. The campus is beautiful and is located half an hour away by train from San Francisco. In good weather (almost every day) you can see the Golden Gate Bridge from the campus. Furthermore, the campus offers numerous beautiful and historic libraries as well as highly modern buildings, course rooms, and research labs for a unique learning atmosphere.
In addition to the learning atmosphere, the university also offers numerous opportunities to enrol in extra-curricular clubs or organizations, play sports, or work on student projects. For example, there are consulting clubs in which students advise tech companies in Silicon Valley or hiking clubs in which joint hiking tours through the breath-taking nature of the surrounding area of California are organized.
Another way to get in touch with people is to enrol in sports clubs, which, as might have seen in American college movies, are taken very seriously. For example, I signed up for the UC Berkeley rowing team and participated in almost daily practices and regattas against other universities for one semester. This provided me with the unique opportunity to participate in US-American university sports which are much more competitive and fun than at German Universities. There are also less professional sports clubs that do not have daily training but still offer good opportunities to get to know other students.
Travel / Free Time
Of course, the location of Berkeley also offers exceptional opportunities to travel through the USA. There are numerous national parks accessible by car with unique nature and hiking opportunities, surrounding metropolises like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego as well as headquarters of tech companies like Tesla, Google, Meta or Salesforce.
Even if Berkeley is not known as a party metropolis or party university, many bars, clubs, or fraternities around campus offer good opportunities to go out and party.
Experiences at the host Institution
UC Berkeley offers a wide range of choices for courses in nearly all degree programs. Since I applied to the BHGAP (Business program) 4 of my 6 courses were assigned to the Master of Business Administration and mainly offered an insight into the innovation culture in Silicon Valley, soft skills for entrepreneurs or company management, and business strategies. The other two technical courses I took were at the Institute of Computer Science and Sustainable Transportation. With smaller courses, intensive and individual affirmation, and personal contact to professors, teaching at UC Berkeley is much more school-like than at German universities. I found this to be very positive and was able to organize a research cooperation for a master's thesis in Germany one semester later due to the close contact with professors.
All in all the quality of teaching was very good due to motivated professors, professional teaching equipment, and ambitious fellow students. Another mentionable difference to courses at RWTH are the weekly deadlines and assignments. As a result, studying during the semester is much more strenuous and time-consuming, but the exams at the end are less extensive and easy to handle. Thus, compared to other less prestigious universities in the US, Berkeley was professionally rather exhausting. If you are looking for more relaxed courses and a lot of time to travel, you are in the wrong place.
What added value did the stay have for my studies/career prospects?
For me, my stay at UC Berkeley was of great value academically, culturally, and career-wise. Especially for someone with a strong technical focus in their studies, the business administration courses offered a very good insight into the topics of company management and economics.
Since UC Berkeley is technically very focused on the topic of sustainability, the technical courses offered me a sustainable perspective on product development and future mobility topics. Furthermore, from a cultural perspective, I was able to build a huge international network of students, professors, and athletes at Berkeley that will stay with me for the rest of my life. In summary, I can say that my stay abroad at UC Berkeley was one of the best times in my life and I can fully recommend this experience.