My high school career was littered with negative stories about Berkeley. Siblings of friends who’d hated their experience so much they transferred within a month. The way the campus lights up on police radars like a Christmas tree. The nightmare fuel that is the club application process. All of these horror stories led to one resolution: I was not going to apply to Cal.
Instead, I found my dream schools across the colonial towns and rocky beaches of New England, as well as the brick towns of Scotland. Before I even hit my teens, I dreamed of attending the University of Edinburgh, where my aunt gives lectures in architecture. I would fantasize about studying in the same libraries where Thomas Carlyle worked on class papers or drinking cappuccinos at the cafes where Arthur Conan Doyle began to craft Sherlock. After attending high school in the U.S., however, my dreams began to expand, allowing other incredible brick institutions to join in on their ranks. Yet, I never did consider the possibility that I’d end up next door to Silicon Valley.
The day of reckoning finally came: my applications to the UC schools were due. Nerves manifested themselves onto my palms as sweat, and I sat with my mother at our kitchen table, deciding on which campuses to apply to. Most were easily decided — UCI meant I could live at home, UC Riverside has a great History program, UC Merced was a bit too rural, but Berkeley was the debate. As it is one of the most internationally recognized schools in the world, my mom was not having my argument. We went back and forth on the subject for hours, asking relatives and friends for their input, until we finally decided that it didn’t matter either way, as the school was incredibly competitive anyway.
After that, I didn’t give the matter much thought. Dedicating myself wholly to my remaining applications, I almost entirely forgot about Berkeley until March 26, 2022, when my entire journalism class erupted into the mad science of Portal Astrology. All the seniors were trying to figure out if they had gotten into Cal, and the entire period everyone was in utter panic. That night, I stayed up for hours panicking over my life plan and how on Earth I’d afford WashU St. Louis, which was my top choice at the time. The next day, Berkeley results came out, and when I saw my acceptance letter, I knew that, despite my initial hesitations, Cal was where I was going.
The choice built up a miscellany of feelings inside me — on one hand, the horrible choice was over, but on the other, I didn’t end up remotely near where I wanted to. Like many students here, Cal was the most financially sound choice for me, and I could stay relatively near my hometown. It meant I wouldn’t be sunk by student loans, and I could do laundry at my parent’s house during long weekends. My mother could boast that her daughter was a “Berkeley girl” to all her international friends and colleagues, and receive the expected praise that she feels is due.
I did, of course, have other options, but this one was the most responsible one, and what is adulthood, if not the sudden expectation of responsibility?
Here’s an embarrassing secret: I spent my first day in tears. Though the campus was beautiful, it just wasn’t the ivy-clad buildings and plaid-scarfed students I had envisioned for my collegiate career. I felt wholly disappointed in myself and my choice, and all I wanted to do was go home. Instead, I made myself a deal: I’ll stick it out for a semester, and, if I still hated it, I’d return to the dreaded Common App portal for my transfer application. You can probably guess how that ended, as I’m still here, trying to convince you to give it a chance.
In the end, it is entirely alright if at first you don’t love (or even like) Berkeley. Technically, college is just a means to an end; if you wish, you can simply get your degree and get out. However, I found that the people here make all the difference. Even in dull, overcrowded classrooms, sitting next to a friend suddenly makes it worth it. Hectic and hasty midterm review sessions suddenly transform into the best memories when you cram into Moffitt with a group from class, sending glances over notes and writing jokes in the margins. While certain aspects of the club culture here may be unnecessarily competitive and war-like, there are hundreds of open clubs that require no application, just a smile and open attitude.
Coming from someone who had to learn to love Berkeley, you’ll be alright. It won’t be perfect, but hey, at least you aren’t coming in with unrealistic expectations. Find curiosity in daisy patches on the glade, get lost in Main Stacks and run around in a frenzy trying to map out your classes. Forge the college experience that you want — I promise it will be far more special than one handed to you.