Like the Foothill Late Night menu and the exact whereabouts of Dirks’ secret tunnels, the Fall Program for Freshmen is one of UC Berkeley’s best-kept secrets.
I was surprised and a little confused, as many of you may have been, to discover upon closer observation that my UC Berkeley admissions letter was for spring 2015. Without quite knowing what I was doing, I blindly followed some links and clicked around, and within a fervent 30 minutes, I was enrolled in FPF for my first semester at UC Berkeley.
Then three years ago, I stepped foot onto the FPF campus and started my first day of college in a converted Baptist seminary next to People’s Park. Within minutes of the first class, I knew that it was the right place to be.
As a student entering my senior year at UC Berkeley, I can confidently reflect and say that FPF was the greatest way to experience my first semester here. You live in the dorms, join the clubs and have that entire college experience, but spend most of class time in smaller, infinitely less overwhelming spaces in a beautiful subsection of campus.
Yale who? Harvard who? I don’t know them. I do know the gorgeous brick archways and manicured mini-lawn to nap on during breaks, without fear of getting whacked in the face with a Frisbee or half-naked Memorial Glade doing yoga.
Among the many perks of the program — small class sizes, a built-in community, constant access to quiet study spaces and printers — the level of instruction at FPF blew me away. The classes are offered through the UC Berkeley Extension, and I only wish that some FPF teachers could lead classes on the main campus. Dr. Siri Brown’s ethnic studies class offered students an incredibly thorough foundation to incredibly important and relevant concepts such as intersectionality theory, institutional racism and the Prison Industrial Complex. That class was my first introduction to Michelle Alexander and terms such as the Prison Industrial Complex. And Dr. Carolyn Trist somehow used a class masquerading as ocean geography to introduce 18-year-olds to major concepts in climate science. I think about her class all the time — with every New York Times or Vox piece about climate change, I feel one step ahead of the author because of a few months at FPF.
To debunk a few misconceptions, FPF is not a UC Berkeley waitlist, and it’s not overflow for the kids who weren’t good enough for fall admission. It’s just a way of staggering the number of admitted students on the main campus. Strangely enough, my twin sister was also offered spring admission to UC Berkeley and was in FPF alongside me. We had very different grades and test scores in high school, and we were likely accepted for different facets of our applications.
And if you’re nervous that taking FPF classes will slow you down in the quest to fulfill every requirement on your immaculately-scheduled four-year plan, just know that you can still take the classes you need to take for your major, and you will study abroad and enjoy college at however fast or slow you set your pace. I even knew a few people who did FPF and graduated in three years.
And if you’re going to the San Francisco campus, what an exciting experience for you! You’re going to become so independent right off the bat, and your dorm friends will be amazed when you show them around your favorite city spots. Learning to navigate BART and a new city is an enviable skill, especially for your very first semester.
If you signed up for FPF, you are so lucky. Your transition into this big, wonderful school will be a bit smoother because of that small community. I sometimes felt like my non-FPF peers received the short end of the stick. I loved that I could find a familiar face every day that first semester nestled in a little Ivy-imitation enclave in a beautiful brick building just blocks away from main campus. And by the time your first semester is up, you’ll be just the right amount of ready to enter that big pond.
But of course, one thing must be said: the 20-minute walk from Foothill dining hall to FPF every morning was killer. I ultimately gained shapely calves, but God, at what cost?