Being a Student at UC Berkeley

Parent Q&A

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  • Is it safe to be at UC Berkeley?

    (8 replies)


    I have an 18-year-old who just got accepted to Cal and we are still deciding whether it is the right move to study there.

    Is it a safe neighborhood? I've read that even walking from the dorms to classes can sometimes be dangerous.  Is this correct?

    Thank you.

    Berkeley is a relatively safe community. It is a city, so of course students need to be aware of their surroundings, but there is nothing especially unsafe about it compared to other campuses in small cities. Whether it's a good fit for your child is another question entirely, and is more about what they want to study and how large a school they're looking for. But I certainly wouldn't stress about personal safety in that equation. If they are mindful of people around them, make smart choices when with friends, and look both ways before crossing the street, they should be fine.

    As long as your adult child is aware of how to be aware of surroundings and general personal safety concepts, I don't think this should be a reason they attend or don't attend any university. Berkeley is relatively safe and has a strong safety officer presence if needed. 

    Does your child have street smarts? My daughter is 17 and feels perfectly safe in her hometown. Does she walk around at 3am? No. But she is up by campus with her friends at night. You don’t walk around alone, especially as a female, at night. You don’t advertise that you have all these expensive electronics, and you don’t hang out in Peoples Park. If your child is from the suburbs, it might be a different experience for them and it will probably feel dangerous.  My niece really wants to go to Cal and she has absolutely no street smarts, has grown up in an all white California suburb. She will have trouble because she has no clue. But Berkeley is wonderful and is not really that dangerous if you know what you’re doing. 

    Hello, we live in Berkeley a mile from campus. In general, I feel very safe here. Yes, crime does happen, mostly theft and car break-ins. Campus has a few escort services at night that students can utilize. And they also encourage students to be safe, aware of their surroundings, and travel in groups, if possible. If your 18 year old can understand how to be street safe (for example, don't walk around staring at your phone), they should be fine. 

    As for the educational experience, I think it is top notch. Of course, I am biased as a graduate of UC Berkeley and a current employee... Congratulations to your child for getting accepted!

    Agree with the previous response. In addition, Cal has several options for walking students back to the dorms at night. There are also late night bus/tram services, if your kid is across campus from where they live.

    My son is a freshman at UCB and we live in Oakland and I am an alum. Yes, it is safe and it is a city. Students need to use common sense about things when they are out and about. There are a number of parent groups on Facebook where this topic comes up often and most parents have been very happy with their kid's safety in Berkeley. 

    Reasonably safe, especially if your student avoids frat parties and has some street smarts. It is better to live on campus. 

    Having lived here for 22 years, I would not send my kid to college here unless they grew up in a city.  Berkeley is a city, with major problems with homelessness, crime, and trash.  I raised 3 kids here, all in their late teens/early 20’s now. The only high school (3500 kids) is just a couple blocks from the university, and is an “open campus” school, so the kids can leave for lunch, etc.  Downtown Berkeley is a pit.  My kids have been harrassed and even assaulted, just walking around in the daytime.  Dirty, lots of panhandlers, folks sleeping on the sidewalks.  There are nice areas too, but downtown can be shocking to visitors, particularly those from more rural areas.  There are, of course, almost limitless cultural opportunities in this area, great weather, and gorgeous natural wonders… incredible theatre, art venues, food options, but, at a price.  UC is very nice, but it’s also an open campus, so anyone can wander in, sleep in the bushes, whatever. And they do.  I am simultaneously proud and ashamed to call this place home these days.  I hope this helps your kid with their decision.  

  • My daughter is a freshman at Cal and will have to move out of the dorms in May.  Where can I search for off campus housing?  How soon should I start?  What is the best way to find out about students who will be leaving in May and try to take over their lease.....and the all important question, do you know of anyone leaving their apartment that lives near the campus?

    I went to Cal. There should be a couple big rental agencies that your daughter can sign up for that will have listings. There's also Craigslist for apartment listings. It's Nov now so your daughter should start asking people in Jan/Feb if they want to live with her next year. Best to ask early and form a group before people are taken. From there, she and her friends have to come up with their budgets and start responding to ads. They'll find something. As a mom, the best thing you can do is guide her but let her do the search with her friends. It's an important part of growing up. Mom should be the one finding the apartment for her, IMO. Good luck!

    UC Berkeley does have housing on its website:

    I don't recommend it. Is is so clumsy and clunky. Craigslist is the place. Most people only give 30 days notice when moving, so looking too far ahead can be frustrating. But it is a good idea to start the search early to get an idea of what is available at what price. Apartments may be brand spanking new or 100 years old. Does she want to live in the crazy Southside area, or further from campus? Does she want to rent a house with friends or a studio by herself? Most places do not allow subletting, so keep that in mind if you decide you want to start a lease in June. 

    Your daughter should be doing this, not you. When my daughter was a frosh three years, she and friends organized a group of roommates and found the place. The only parental involvement was co-signing the lease and hauling stuff for the move. 

    Cal Housing hosts a website for landlords and owners to post vacancies for apartments, houses, and rooms. It is free to students, the owners pay a small fee. Perhaps if your daughter is ready to live off campus, she could ask around among her friends and classmates for a share situation where a graduating senior is leaving. It is unlikely to find a lease that permits another person to "take it over". Berkeley is a rent-controlled city and rent controlled apartments are dependent upon vacancy for rental increases. Good luck.

    Start with Cal Rentals (details here:, but these days you can probably also search Craig's List, etc.  Or better yet, have her search - she'll gain valuable life skills in the process.

    I rather like which takes ads from Craigslist and other websites like apartment management sites and posts them, with pictures if available, and shows you the location on the map - which is the best feature of the site. this way you can select based on location and also choose by neighborhood. 

    I would also highly recommend that she ask everyone she knows - go to where students hang out and to clubs and such and say that she's looking for a place in May or June, and see if she finds something by word of mouth. Sometimes the best deals are just because you asked someone and they knew about a place. 

    My son and his friends used Craigslist this past spring . Places start showing up in February with June start dates for year leases.  They started casually looking then and found a place in mid April.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


UC Berkeley Summer Edge Program - worth it?

April 2016

I wanted to ask advise reg UC Berkeley. My high school senior kid was accepted and we are all quite over the moon. Now I am a bit concerned that she goes in to freshman year as strong as possible and that she has her course load planned out as much as possible. We also are conflicted regarding taking the freshman summer edge program, as that would mean essentially that she has no summer fun at all. Some of my friends have recommended getting a Cal advisor to help her navigate the course load, the need to take the summer classes and basically help her understand how to achieve her best GPA at UCB. I have no idea where to look for such help. I know UCB has advisors she can meet with in the fall, but getting some advise from a CAL ''expert'' seems nowhere to be found. My kid is exceptionally bright and very hard working. I want to make sure I support her the best I can at UCB, as I know the transition from a small high school to a huge college like UCB can be really hard. Any advise or recommendations would be so appreciated!

proud mama of baby bear Dear Mama Bear

Congratulations on your daughter's admission to Cal. It is a fantastic opportunity, but she will also need to be attentive to finding the advice she needs. She will be one of many, so she has to grow some sharp elbows. The College of Letters and Sciences (L&S) is where she will be located as a new freshman (before she has a major), and that is where she can find advising. Here is the portal: This offers videos, contact info, some info for new freshmen, etc. Here is another portal with info on advising services:

She should attend CalSo (the orientation meeting), and then she can make an appointment with an adviser. Another great resource are peer advisers (listed on the website above). These are fellow Cal students who have already gone through freshmen year (and beyond) and can offer helpful advice.

As far as Freshman Edge is concerned, I would give it full consideration if I were you. Classes are going to be impacted by the extra freshmen admitted this year (Berkeley is taking 500 more than usual!), and Freshman Edge was put into place in part to deal with that surge. She is more likely to be able to get the courses she needs and get a running head-start. She should also look into the Freshman Seminar program -- these are small classes, usually taught by professors, which provide some relief from the large lecture courses that make up some students' schedules.

I was a little concerned that you are already thinking about grades... I hope you will give her some space to explore, mama bear. She has worked hard to get to Cal, and she will continue to do so, but grades are not the be-all and end-all of a college experience, and some students miss part of the joy of discovery because of a strong focus on grades. Having said that, if she has a specific goal (medical school, law school, the Haas school of business for undergrads, etc.) she should let her adviser know.

Good luck with the new journey! a Cal professor

I may have the perfect person for you: Karen Gee is a college transition coach with 30 experience as a counselor at Cal. I hired her for a young person I was mentoring into college, and Karen made an important and significant difference to this young woman's path. Karen is deeply familiar with college students' needs and the resources available to them. She tailors her coaching to the individual, and can offer support from the granular (e.g., ''are you eating nutritiously?'') to the interpersonal (roommate hassles) to how to work the system, depending on the student. As a bonus, she is warm, funny, disarming, and clearly cares for each and every student. Importantly, she ''coaches'' but does not do ''for'' a student. She helps them develop strategies and actionable plans to succeed in this new stage of life. Her website is Diana

Congrats on admission to UC Berkeley!! I work at Berkeley in undergrad ed and highly recommend any of the freshman cohort programs like summer edge, summer bridge, global edge, and fall program for freshmen. Students who participate in those programs both report higher satisfaction with their Berkeley experience AND have better academic outcomes (higher GPAs and higher incidence of 4-year graduation rates). In other words, they're a win-win. Pick the one that sounds the most fun and go for it. Go Bears!

Karen Gee is the person you need. She has recently retired after working at UC Berkeley as a health educator/coach for 30 years and provides coaching on a range of key subjects for kids entering college. With her Berkeley experience she would know just what you need. My daughter saw her just a few times before starting her freshman year and it was very helpful in a number of ways. Karen confidentially addressed my concerns I had informed her about, and drew my daughter's concerns out of her and helped her with them in practical, actionable ways. She also informed my daughter about things she was aware of through all her years of experience, including potentially sensitive topics, and helped her shape her strategies of how to approach these areas of college life. Karen has a very friendly, fun, accessible and lively demeanor and does a great job building relationships with kids. I was very grateful to have found Karen last year and enthusiastically recommend her for any entering freshman. her web site is grateful parent of great pre-college coach

Daughter got into UCB, but wants to go to SDSU

March 2012

My high school senior is a very bright and well rounded kid. She has full scholarships to UC Berkeley and to San Diego State Univ. She and I are torn between a seemingly world class university and a really fun SoCal school. I feel that it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity at UCB but I also want her to be happy and choose what she thinks is right for her. She thinks Berkeley has too many ''nerd'' (read smart/not fun) kids. I think she also might not want to be too close to home (we live an hour north). How strongly should I push my values? What can I do for her to help her decide?

I got my B.A. from CSULB and PhD from UC Berkeley, so I have some familiarity with both systems. I lived at home as an undergrad but stayed in the freshman dorms for my first two quarters at UCB. The most striking differences I saw were 1) UCB lower division classes were much larger, with less chance for teachers to get to know you, and 2) higher pressure at UCB tended to inhibit students' interest in graduate school. Your daughter will get an excellent education at CSUSD if she doesn't let the ''fun'' get in the way of studying, and if she goes on to graduate school then the lesser reputation of CSUSD won't matter. As an alternative to think about, if it's not too late: did she consider UCSD? My brother was there as an undergraduate; went to UCB for grad school, and is now a professor of mathematics at CSU Humbolt. I have no way to compare the pressure and size of its classes with UCB, but if your daughter wants to get out of the area and still attend a UC school, it might be a good choice. Congratulations to your daughter and best wishes. Francesca

I'd let your daughter choose. It's her life. Probably neither will be a mistake. Make sure she does her due diligence--perhaps she can shadow someone at each campus for a few days so she really knows what each place is like.

I have an ex whose parents insisted he go to the school of their choice (UCB, actually!) when he'd gotten into Reed College where all his friends were going. He never got over the resentment. He had other issues, too, but I don't know how his parents really expected he'd ignore his dreams and happily live for four years a different life than he wanted. That's every day, getting up and being somewhere you don't want to be. I now know several kids who got into UCB and whose parents heavily pressured them to go there, but who wanted to go to UC Davis and were very happy there. Their parents survived the crushing blow.

UCB has its own very driven, intense and not very friendly vibe--it's not right for everyone. For comparison, I remember my stepson getting into Lowell High School in San Francisco. Wish we'd never sent him there. He went in an A student and came out a completely discouraged C student. He didn't go on to college. He would have done better at a less pressured school where he could get good grades and fit in. ''The best'' is not always the best for a particular kid.

You know your daughter best--but also I'm sure realize that teens tend to be focused on short term objectives--and their peer group. So I think it is crucial for her to realize that in today's economy, a degree from UCB vs SDSU can make a huge difference for job opportunities, graduate school, etc. My niece just graduated from UCB and I was so impressed at the opportunities she had, and the quality and variety of her friends--NOT nerds. Your daughter will have to be self-directed to take advantage of the opportunities (at either school) and do the work--but if she can, I would think long and hard before turning down UCB for SDSU... parent of unemployed 2010 grad

Your daughter is obviously extremely bright and gifted if she received full scholarships to both SDSU and Cal. However, it sounds like the excitement of leaving home has clouded her judgment a smidgen with regard to her decision. If her justification for going to SDSU was that they have a great department in her chosen field of study, I'd say ''good decision'' and ship her to San Diego. However, which location is more ''fun'' does not seem to be a good basis for the choice.

Like it or not, there is a reality that a school with a national reputation, like Cal, opens more doors in the job market, particularly if she ever decides to move out of state. In these economic times, you want as many advantages as you can get. I have seen the benefit of a Cal education repeatedly although I graduated from there years ago. You also do not mention what your daughter wishes to study, but the opportunities to work with world class experts in some Cal departments is unmatched.

With regard to her perception that Cal students are all ''nerds,'' has she spent much time on campus? Has she gone to sporting events like football and basketball game? There is a large ''Greek'' presence on campus, and I can assure her that most of the sororities are not filled with ''nerds.'' Furthermore, people who might have appeared ''nerdy'' in high school often appear far different in college, grad school and ''real life.'' Is she going to avoid jobs where only smart people work?

I'm sure that other writers will champion SDSU's benefits and tell you to not be an educational snob, but I fully support your position. Choosing a school based on a perceived ''fun'' factor is not a logical or mature decision, IMHO. Oh, and while it was years ago, I had LOTS of fun at Cal and my parents were closer than one hour from there. Cal Bear

This is the very grown-up practical advice but the fact is that this decision is not just about her experience during those four years - it will open and/or close certain doors in the future and she needs to consider that as well. Look at where graduates from both schools are getting into graduate school - there are a lot more opportunities if you have a degree from UCB than SDSU (a notorious party school) -look at the quality of the professors and the academic experience you will be getting. College is about learning and preparing for your future - it should be fun, but it isn't a four year party before life starts - it is the foundation of your remaining academic career and professional career. The reputation of where you go matters and there are a lot of employers who toss resumes if they don't have the ''right'' caliber school listed regardless of how smart or qualified you might be - she will have plenty of fun at UCB and she will do herself a favor in not limiting her future opportunities by going tot the highest quality school she can. Names Matter

My oldest daughter went to SDSU and my youngest daughter is at Berkeley. So I'm familiar with both schools. And they both are good. The question is ''What school is right for your daughter''?

My oldest daughter was a good student - but not a scholar. She majored in English at SDSU and received her degree timely. She had a good time and learned to surf (it is a hard drinking party school). But she did not distinguish herself academically and found it very difficult to get a good job. She finally had to take additional business courses via community college to qualify for a entry-level federal job.

My youngest daughter is a scholar with ambitions for research and graduate studies. Berkeley and UCLA in particular (my son went to UCLA) look to develop researchers. It is highly competitive and intense - but there are many opportunities for research internships, and there are connections between corporations, federal labs and academic work. My youngest daughter is involved in two high-profile research projects and loving it. But she loves to come home on weekends to decompress, study and unwind. My oldest preferred to party with her friends on weekends (still does).

So now what does your daughter want to do with her life? What's she want to study? Both schools are big, crowded and offer a huge choice of majors. If she's interested in a research career, UC has much more to offer and carries more prestige *if* you are a top student and can survive the gauntlet. SDSU has excellent programs in the humanities, business and many biology programs such as biotech and marine biology. But the temptations of partying are huge.

The upshot is *where* would your daughter be most motivated to study and achieve in her areas of interests? If you can take a day to visit both campuses as an adventure (including dorms), and talk about what she has a passion for studying, you both will discover the right answer.

The most important thing to remember for both is that the first year is very stressful. Work to develop close lines of candid nonjudgmental communications wherever she goes. Good Luck

SDSU is a great school with truly good programs. She will have access to strong classes, overseas semesters, etc. If she wants to go on to grad school at a bigger unoversity she can, most likely. If it were me i would do my best to let her decide. Both are great choices. Perhaps she knows she needs a shift on reference point. Anon. Mom

I went to UCB in 1985-1989 and, speaking as quite the nerd, was totally shocked at how much fun happened there. The Greek system was practically unavoidable and even as a shy freshman, I was constantly getting invited to parties and having a great time. Especially if she's interested in humanities rather than engineering, I think she'll really enjoy campus life and make strong friendships at UCB.

Obviously it's been decades since then, but since you live so close by, maybe you and she can visit some of the sororities and fraternities to see what it's like now. I bet it's still hugely fun. Since graduation, I've had tremendous opportunities thanks to having UCB on my resume and I'd hate for her to sacrifice that when the cost is the same just because of a perception that at least for me turned out to be totally untrue. (signed) Berkeley English major, now Google employee

My son graduated from a CSU, one of the highly impacted ones, of which SDSU is at the top of the list. It took him 5 years because he could not get into his classes for his major. A few years later this situation has gotten worse, some of his friends took 6 years to graduate. She is not likely to graduate in 4 years from SDSU, she will have great difficulty getting classes or choosing a professor. The school has a reputation for partying and drug dealing.

My daughter is at a UC and will graduate on time with a degree that has a much better reputation.

She needs to look at graduation rates and how a degree will impact the rest of her life. Like many of my children's friends who also got into UCB, they at first didn't want to go to school 2 Bart stops away from home, but after careful consideration, most decided to go to UCB (except for those that got into UCLA). Some of the kids come home often for meals and laundry, others treat it as if they were 1000's of miles away and never come home. She can make it what she wants but she will likely have a better future from UCB. anon

Other responders have given great advice and I just wanted to add that it is important to think about what she wants to do after her undergrad years. If she is trying to get into business or some competitive industry where it DOES matter where you went to undergrad, then a UCB degree will carry more weight than SDSU. In other fields it matters much less. If she is not trying to get into one those competitive fields, then let her go where she thinks she will be happiest. There is no denying that a degree from UCB has prestige attached to it, but if she doesn't care, why should you? --UCB grad with a daughter headed to SDSU

UC Berkeley - dorm is ''required''?

June 2010

I've just heard from my neighbor whose daughter got accepted to UC Berkeley as a freshman for this fall that the university ''requires'' that she live in a dorm. It makes me seriously worry since I specifically want my child to live at home when her time comes to attend the university. I want her to avoid the dorm life experience, I rely on her everyday help in the family, she works for the family business and will continue working, and I don't have the funds to pay for the dorm unnecessarily (and it would be a shame to put her in student loan debt just for the unnecessary expense). Could someone please verify the info I received? Is this a new policy? How can they require this? Anon

NO! Students are NOT REQUIRED to live in the res halls. It's highly recommended as there are many services on site for first year students (computing centers, academic centers with tutors, dining halls with organic food, plus the room!), and it's a great way for new students to transition into college life and make new friends. That said, many students commute to Berkeley (3-5% of new frosh). If your student is living at home and working in the family business, you want to make sure to encourage her to get involved in campus activities. These are what often lead to making life-long friends and even finding a career later on. Check out this website: Work for UC Housing

This isn't an answer to your question, but just another perspective. You say that you want yr child to avoid ''the dorm experience'' and that you ''rely'' on her every day help. Feels like you haven't come to grips with the fact that she's growing up and moving on. College is a big deal, and, as a UCB graduate I can tell you that it is a very demanding environment. It's also a huge school, where it can be hard to form lasting friendships. The ''dorm experience'' is a key part of forming relationships and creating the support network that helps young people navigate through the university and their new independence. Living away from family is part of that independence. I'm trying to imagine your daughter doing her course work, working int he family business and still offering you the ''every day help'' you expect, and frankly, it sounds like a train wreck. She needs the space to grow and mature on her own, and to experience the social part of college.

Whether or not she lives in the dorms, please try to give her the room to be a young adult in what should be one of the most exciting and intellectually stimulating experiences of her life. Been There

Hello, I am a Manager at the Cal Housing office and can emphatically say that at UC Berkeley, Freshmen students are not required to live on campus. It's recommended that they do and the overwhelming majority of Freshmen choose to do so to take advantage of the community and programmatic functions. Nancy

No, UC Berkeley does not ''require'' students to live in the dorm but it is highly recommended. Living at Cal is valuable for the student to grow and develop independently from the family and allows the student to make friends and work with mentors which is necessary to career development. I know of many people who developed friendships in the dorms that resulted in a number of successful Berkeley startups in Silicon Valley.

I can understand ''needing'' a child to stay with you, especially if that child works in a family business. However, by expecting that child to sacrifice their studies and friends for you, you are now putting at risk your current business as well as their future career opportunities. Do you really want to impede your child's studies by forcing dictates like living at home arbitrarily?

If you have not done so, I urge you to talk with a financial aid adviser to discuss how to finance your child's education. You should also talk to your child's high school counselor about why top private universities like Stanford and Harvard require freshmen to live in student housing.

Finally, if your child has not yet been accepted to Berkeley, you may be premature in your concerns. The Fall 2010 stats show Berkeley had the highest average grade-point average for incoming freshmen, at 4.19. UCLA was the ''most selective'' campus. UC is reducing admission for California residents as well to compensate for state budget losses. There are no guarantees to admission to Berkeley even for the brightest California kids anymore. Mom of Berkeley and UCLA students and Berkeley alumna

why don't you call UC Berkeley... but remember, the University has recently built hundreds of new dorm beds... and they need to fill them and and and... by the time your daughter goes, rules might change skeptical

You might be interested in a slightly different ''dorm'' experience, the Berkeley Student Co- op, It's a non-profit institution that's been around for many years, offers older & less-luxurious but still very convenient dorm-type rooms and meals, requires students to help out with the cooking and housekeeping work, and costs much less. It tends to attract more self-sufficient and responsible students, thought there is plenty of variety of all kinds. It's likely booked up for the fall but there are always some people who leave after the first term so a transition at that point might be a possibility. Happy co-op alumna


Berkeley vs. Davis for freshman in biology/pre-med

April 2010

My teen got accepted at both UCB (molecular biology)and UCD (pre-med). Does anyone have a basis for freshman experience comparison of the two? My teen can live at home for UCB or the dorm at UCD; plans to become Pediatrician. HELP! cj

I have observed and participated in the frosh experience at UCB two times. Does your kid thrive in huge classes and mindless, all out competition? (some do) Is she good at forming study groups, learning all kinds of tricks to do better, and lots of memorization? UCB is the place for her! I'm afraid that otherwise she will get discouraged by the giant classes that are not only hard to get into but really hard once you get into them. For some kids, seriously, it is great, but think about it and maybe discuss it with her. Living at home is much cheaper, but healthy? Also depends on the kid.

UCD is also going to be competitive in the pre-med ranks, but she has a better chance of getting through it, in my opinion.

Most pre-med students entering Berkeley (about 70% of those in the sciences, and that is a lot of people) change their minds, maybe for the best, but I think that there are many who would be doctors if they had done their lower division years someplace else--even a community college (and saved money!), because they would not have been subject to the absurd competition here. And I do not believe it is competition where the best potential doctors, graduate students, or people necessarily prevail. Some students do get through and have a wonderful experience in the end of course. You should try to fit your kid to the school. signed, been through it. UCB mom and faculty

Our daughter was in a similar position, having to decide between biology at either Berkeley or UC Davis. She chose Berkeley, is living on campus and loves it. She keeps saying that Berkeley is so great because everyone there wants to learn. If your daughter chooses Berkeley, I strongly suggest that she live on campus. Eventhough she is only a short distance away from home, she is still at college and can be as independent as she wants. Some of my daughter's friends that are from the Bay Area go home every weekend, and many are like my daughter, who gives us a call when she wants to come home for some home cooking or to do laundry. Davis is also a great school, so you really can't go wrong. Dad in Oakland

It's like matchmaking, depends on what your kid wants. I attended UCD and loved the small-town atmosphere, biking everywhere, proximity to the Sierra and the Bay Area. A lovely campus with a college town feel. I loved it. The school of medicine is now in Sacramento, but still close enough. Cal Aggie