The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley, or Berkeley) is a public research university in Berkeley, California on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay. U.S. News and World Report ranks it the best public university in the nation, and the fourth-best university globally.
UC Berkely is known for its world-class faculty, excellent undergraduate teaching, and collaborative, interdisciplinary curriculum. It boasts top ten programs in engineering, chemistry, physics, computer science, business, arts and humanities, and more.
The university offers over 350 degree programs in total, along with abundant research opportunities for students. Its Silicon Valley location gives students access to hands-on experience in entrepreneurship, innovation, technology, and business.
Beyond academics, UC Berkeley offers a bustling campus life with Division I sports teams, sororities and fraternities, and hundreds of wide-ranging activities. There’s also a lot to do in downtown Berkeley, and San Francisco is just a short ride away.
It’s no surprise that over 110,000 students apply to Berkeley each year. Fortunately, we have the data, information, and advice you need to navigate the tough competition effectively. This guide will give you a strategic plan for admission, increasing your chances of earning a coveted acceptance letter from UC Berkeley!
Is It Hard to Get Into UC Berkeley?
UC Berkeley has an acceptance rate of 11.4%. For every 100 applicants, only 11 are admitted. The other 89 receive a rejection.
In comparison to other schools, UC Berkeley’s acceptance rate makes it extremely selective. It’s not as competitive as Ivy League universities, which mostly have acceptance rates of around 5%, but it’s far more selective than most public universities.
GPA and Test Scores for UC Berkeley
On average, students admitted to UC Berkeley have a weighted GPA of 4.24. This means you’ll need to earn nearly straight A’s to have a competitive GPA for Berkeley. The university calculates a “UC GPA” using your tenth and eleventh-grade courses only.
Your GPA is especially important for admission because UC Berkeley is test-free. This means the university no longer uses SAT or ACT scores in its review process. Your GPA will be the main indicator of your academic ability.
It’s not impossible to get into UC Berkeley with a slightly lower GPA. But when only 11 out of every 100 applicants are accepted, it’s important to do all you can to stand out from the crowd.
At a highly competitive university like UC Berkeley, numbers do matter. Think of a competitive GPA as a ticket to get your foot in the door, encouraging the admissions committee to take a closer look at your application. However, UC Berkeley considers many other factors that can help you stand out from similarly qualified applicants.
What Other Qualities Does UC Berkeley Look For?
The goal of UC Berkeley’s selection process is to “identify applicants who are most likely to contribute to Berkeley’s intellectual and cultural community and, ultimately, to the State of California, the nation, and the world.” The admissions committee looks for a broad range of intellectual interests and achievements, along with diversity in personal background and experience.
All your achievements, both academic and non-academic, are considered in the context of the opportunities available to you. Your application will be assessed on how fully you’ve taken advantage of these opportunities. If you’ve faced unusual circumstances or hardships, the admissions committee will take this into account. They will consider the maturity, determination, and insight with which you’ve responded to and/or overcome the obstacles in your life.
UC Berkeley’s website also mentions the following desired characteristics:
- Desire to give back; demonstrated concern for others and the community
- Leadership ability
- Intellectual independence
- Achievement in any field of intellectual or creative endeavor
UC Berkeley will give your application a comprehensive, holistic review. They will consider your academic ability, achievements, and character. A strong academic background is essential, but your fit for the UC Berkeley community is extremely important too.
What Should You Do in High School?
Now, let’s talk strategy. Based on the information and data we’ve provided, what should you do in high school to improve your chances of admission to UC Berkeley?
Excel in Challenging Classes
When UC Berkeley reviews your grades, the admissions committee will look at:
- Weighted and unweighted UC GPA (using tenth and eleventh-grade courses)
- Pattern of grades over time
- How many college preparatory, AP, IB, honors, and transferrable college courses you have completed
- Your level of achievement in these courses compared to other UC applicants from your school
- Your planned 12th-grade courses
Based on these considerations, it’s important to take and excel in the most rigorous classes available at your school. It won’t count against you if your school doesn’t offer a lot of AP or IB courses. But if those classes are available to you, take as many as possible.
Remember that you will need to earn all A’s or nearly all A’s to make the grade for Berkeley, particularly during your tenth and eleventh-grade years. Pay attention in class and take notes that you review weekly. Turn in all assignments on time and study diligently for tests. If you work well with others, consider forming study groups with other motivated students in your classes. And if you start to fall behind, ask your teacher, a tutor, or students performing well in the class for help.
Ace IB/AP Exams
UC Berkeley’s website says that in addition to your grades, they will evaluate your academic performance using your IB and AP test scores. Think of these test scores as UC Berkeley’s replacement for the ACT/SAT.
So, it’s important to prepare thoroughly for your AP and/or IB exams. The good thing about AP/IB exams is that they’re based on the course curriculum, so you’ll have a good idea of what information you’ll be tested on. By taking and reviewing notes, completing your assignments, and studying for your in-class exams, you’ll be on the right track.
In addition, consider purchasing a test prep book through companies like The Princeton Review or Barron’s. If your teacher offers extra study sessions, take advantage of the opportunity to attend. For AP exams, use test prep materials released by The College Board. For IB exams, you can even take old tests posted by the International Baccalaureate Organization (referred to as “past papers”).
Many of these exams require a good deal of memorization, so begin studying well in advance. If you have several AP/IB exams, create a study schedule to ensure that your test prep is manageable. And remember that in addition to multiple-choice, these exams include essay questions. Prep for the essay questions just as much as you prep for the multiple-choice sections, and you’ll be ready to ace your exams.
Pursue Your Passions
UC Berkeley looks for passionate students with a wide range of interests and achievements. Your extracurricular participation should reflect your unique interests. Don’t do what you think will impress the admissions committee; do what you truly enjoy.
What do you love to do? What academic discipline makes you curious and excited? Are there creative or academic pursuits that you get so absorbed in you lose track of time? Find activities that align with your passions and commit to them long-term.
The university’s website says that they look for “sustained achievement” in your areas of interest. So, do your best to take on leadership roles and make significant contributions over time. Show your character, your originality, and your initiative through the activities you’re involved in. If possible, go for awards and recognition that showcase not only your passion, but your talent as well.
Keep a record of your participation, including start date, leadership roles, and contributions. These might include new initiatives you organize, meetings or committees you lead, or creative ideas you introduce to your favorite organizations. Keeping a record makes it much easier to give a complete, thorough report of your extracurricular participation on your application.
UC Berkeley also looks for achievement in academic enrichment programs, like the competitive summer programs offered by research institutions and universities (including UC Berkeley!). These programs are often expensive, but many offer scholarships. If you’re able to take part in intellectually rigorous academic enrichment programs, it’s a great way to enhance your knowledge, your experience, and your application to UC Berkeley.
Serve Your Community
We mentioned above that UC Berkeley values students who demonstrate concern for others and the community, as well as a desire to give back. The admissions committee looks for students who will contribute to Berkeley, California, and the world. Find meaningful ways to give back to your school, community, or even the wider world.
What problems in your school can you help resolve? How can your school be improved? What areas of need do you see in your community that you can help address? What’s a social issue that you care deeply about?
Join in on existing community service projects or initiatives or even launch your own! Students admitted to the most selective schools, like UC Berkeley, often start their own service projects, community initiatives, or nonprofit organizations.
It’s a lot of work, and you shouldn’t tackle so much that you can’t keep your grades up. But if you can pull it off, it’s the best way to demonstrate your initiative, motivation, responsibility, maturity, character, and desire and ability to give back—all qualities that UC Berkeley wants to see in their students.
UC Berkeley Application Process and Checklist
To apply to UC Berkeley, you must fill out the UC Application. With the UC Application, you can apply to as many of the nine UC campuses as you’d like, including UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and UC Davis.
You’ll select your desired major when you apply, and your application will be evaluated within the context of the program and college you’ve chosen. If you aren’t sure about your major yet, the Berkeley Guide can help you reach a decision.
Your application will include:
- Self-reported grades (will be verified if you’re admitted)
- AP/IB test scores
- Choice of major
- Activities list
- UC Personal Insight Questions
Some majors and programs may require supplemental forms and information. UC Berkeley does not require SAT/ACT scores, resumes, portfolios, or interviews. Letters of recommendation are not required, but some applicants who “fall in the margins for admissions” may be invited to submit two letters of recommendation.
UC Berkeley Personal Insight Questions
When you apply to any UC school, including UC Berkeley, you will be given eight Personal Insight Questions. You must choose four of the eight questions to answer. Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
UC Berkeley’s admissions committee looks at the Personal Insight Questions to evaluate distinctions among applicants with similar academic records, gain more insight into you and your background, and learn more about who you are and what matters to you.
They look for all the important qualities we’ve mentioned above, your achievement in the context of the opportunities available to you, and any unusual hardship or circumstance you’ve faced or overcome. UC Berkeley’s website notes that experiencing hardship is not a guarantee of admission, and if you choose to write about a hardship, you should focus on:
- How you confronted and overcame your challenges
- What you learned from or achieved in spite of these circumstances
Most recently, the eight Personal Insight Questions were:
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
- Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
- What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
- Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
- Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
- What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
- Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?
Our advice is to choose four questions that will allow you to showcase different aspects of your background, achievements, and personality.
For each question, remember to:
- Answer the question completely. These are questions from the admissions committee, so they are asking something that UC Berkeley wants to know about you. So, stay on topic and answer each question completely. With a limited word count, you don’t have extra space for lengthy introductions or unnecessary tangents.
- Be specific. Including vivid, specific details allows you to write a unique essay that only you could write. You don’t want your essay to sound just like everyone else’s. In addition to providing details, include information about what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and the significance of your experiences.
- Write in your unique voice. The Personal Insight Questions is your one opportunity to let the admissions committee know you, beyond your GPA and the activities you’ve participated in. Write in your genuine voice and let your personality and individuality shine through. After reading your essays, the admissions committee should have an idea of who you are—not just the quality of your writing skills or the vocabulary words you know.
- Proofread carefully! With only 15 of every 100 applicants admitted, you can’t afford to make glaring errors on your essays. Proofread multiple times for spelling, grammar, capitalization, word usage, concision, and clarity. Have a teacher, parent, or trusted friend review your essay too, and ask them if the essay “sounds like you.”
Additional tips straight from UC Berkeley include:
- In addition to describing what you’ve done, describe the choices you’ve made and what you’ve gained as a result.
- Allow sufficient time for preparation, revisions, and careful composition. Your answers are not evaluated on correct grammar, spelling, or sentence structure, but these qualities will enhance overall presentation and readability
UC Berkeley’s closing tip is: “After we read your personal insight questions, we will ask the question, ‘What do we know about this individual?’ If we have learned very little about you, your answers were not successful.” So, make sure you let the admissions committee get to know you as an individual, allowing them to imagine how you will fit and make a contribution at UC Berkeley.
You should also check out this guide from the University of California Admissions, which provides guidance and suggestions for each of the eight Personal Insight Questions.
What Is the Additional Comments Box?
When you answer your Personal Insight Questions, you will also see an Additional Comments Box. You are not required to write anything in this box. However, you can use the box to provide any information that will help UC Berkeley “understand the context of your achievements.”
This may include:
- Additional honors, awards, activities, leadership elements, volunteer activities, etc.
- Sharing information regarding a nontraditional school environment or unusual circumstances not included elsewhere on your application
The Additional Comments Box is not an essay. Any information you include should be short and to the point. It is also not a place to repeat anything you’ve already mentioned on your application. If you can’t think of any other vital information for the admissions committee, leave this box blank.
Should You Apply Early to UC Berkeley?
UC Berkeley does not offer early admission or early decision.
Applications are available beginning in October the year before you would enter UC Berkeley. You can submit your application from November 1-November 30, with a firm deadline of November 30. You’ll receive a decision from UC Berkeley by the end of March.
Final Thoughts: How to Get Into UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley is a very selective school, meaning it’s difficult to get into. To compete with the over 100,000 applicants the university receives each year, you will need to demonstrate excellent academic ability, sustained extracurricular participation and achievement, and a heart of service to the community. Your essays should reflect your character and personality, giving you an opportunity to stand out from other academically qualified applicants.
The university does not accept ACT/SAT scores. This makes your GPA and AP/IB test scores especially important. Aim for a GPA of at least 3.89, with straight A’s or nearly straight A’s. Take as many AP/IB classes as possible and perform well on your exams.
Commit long-term to extracurricular activities you enjoy. When possible, try to take on leadership roles, make significant contributions, and earn awards or other forms of recognition. It’s also helpful to participate in competitive enrichment programs, like summer programs at research institutions or universities. Serve your community in ways that are meaningful to you, ideally launching your own initiatives or service projects.
When you answer UC’s Personal Insight Questions, unique attributes, achievements, and personality shine through. Answer the questions completely and proofread carefully.
By combining these tips with your academic ability, you’ll have a strong chance of joining the 15% of students admitted to UC Berkeley’s next class!