UC Berkeley vs. UCLA

rechemist

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Hi all,

I am a chemistry major that is looking to transfer this fall. I have recently submitted my SIR to UCLA, and I am having second thoughts about it. I have had a sinking feeling all day and I can't shake the feeling that I have made the decision prematurely and that it may have been a mistake. Granted, I have thought incessantly about this for the past month and decided to just pick UCLA yesterday because it was starting to infiltrate my peace of mind, and because for the past two weeks, I have consistently thought that I preferred it. It wasn't until today when I was helping someone (via video chat) with their chemistry homework and we had to locate Cf—Californium—that I felt this overwhelming regret. Looking at Berkelium and Californium made me remember what I had loved about Berkeley. It's not about the prestige, it's about the charm. The school has so much history and character. I want to be in the same labs as the greats, among students who are die-hard chemistry fans, the way I am. What is difficult is I have built up the image of both places in my head, and now I have grown extremely attached to both. The following are my pros/cons for each school:

Berkeley:
Pros:
-academics: the chemistry in the College of Chemistry seems to be purer and more physics/math-based. I have spoken to two chemistry majors there and the one thing that stood out to me was how exciting the courses sounded.
-semester system: Berkeley, unlike UCLA, is perhaps a better-paced education for me to receive, although I will have to eat some of my summer vacation (I have a remote internship that will end only a few days before the fall semester would start, but I am not too concerned as the fall is most definitely going to be online).
-which brings me to my next point: I will be receiving a 1.5-year max in-person education, and although I don't think that prestige/ranking is something that a school decision should be based on, I do recognize that Berkeley has a higher-ranked chemistry program, and if I were to receive a mostly-online degree, I would rather it be one that opens more doors.
-proximity to San Francisco, many internship/career opportunities
-UCSF is nearby
-SF area is not hit as hard with COVID-19, so things may resume to in-person instruction sooner than in LA.
-better public transportation system
-here's a big one: I've visited the campus before and liked it. It reminded me a lot of my hometown
-it was not always my top choice school, but it was always the goal I set for myself, and something I kept in the back of my head these past few years.
-If I end up going to grad school for chemistry, the CoC is more highly regarded and may set me up better for success

Cons:
-dangerous, filthy area (high crime and homelessness; very sad)
-housing is extremely expensive
-I have heard that students and even some professors are unwelcoming towards transfers
-competitive clubs/research opportunities
-I'm thinking of double majoring in majors in the College of Letters and Science, which could be tricky. I know people who realized they wanted to switch their major early-on and were told they couldn't. I will never switch out of chem, but I do want to add a major/minor.
-harsher grading system
-most people apparently are not competitive, but everyone is focused on themselves
-lack of support, need to really take initiative when it comes to getting outside opportunities

UCLA:
Pros:
-beautiful, sunny weather! Which I believe has a positive impact on my mood.
-Westwood is extremely safe
-chemistry program is still fairly-highly ranked (top 20 on most lists I believe)
-Have spoken to two transfers in the Chem and Biochem Dept. and they both liked it/they both had extreme ease in finding research right away, something that can't be said for my Cal friends
-If I decided to go to med school, I could volunteer at Ronald Reagan (David Geffen is my dream medical school)
-three of my friends (in my year) + family are down there, so socially it would be an easy transition
-will be in college of letters and science and would have an easier time adding another major
-non-competitive students
-very generous grading curves, always in students' favor in chem/biochem

Cons:
-quarter system
-never visited the campus; I can only imagine I'd like it based on photos, but I have worked a school up in my head in the past only to visit and instantly hate it
-academically may not be as interesting to me (I may be wrong about this! Cal's material just seemed very intriguing).
-I don't know how well I would get along with/fit into the SoCal scene, as I've only ever visited for brief trips and could never get a feel for it
-horrible traffic/public transportation
-hit extremely hard with COVID-19, I imagine school may not even start up for the next 2 years

Maybe an interesting thing to note—all of my friends have strongly encouraged me to go to UCLA and said that they knew I would like it there, including the ones at Berkeley. However, my entire family seemed shocked by my decision and encouraged me to think on it longer; they never blatantly said it but I know they collectively believe I made the wrong choice, and when I got into Berkeley they all thought it happened because it was the perfect place for me. I also didn't feel relief yesterday when I submitted by SIR, I just felt stunned. I think I did so prematurely, and I am thinking of letting myself sit with it until the deadline (June 1) and then see if I'd like to take it back.
 
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DoctoOcto

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I went to Cal, so I can address some of your points.

Academics: from what I understand, UC Berkeley's Chem Department is #1 in the world. So, if prestige means anything to you, there's that. But honestly, at an undergrad level, I do not think it means anything, other than faculty opportunities.

Semester System: I MUCH prefer the semester system over the quarter system (which I'm doing a post-bacc in). It's much better paced, and the quarter system feels like a "prep for exams" system.

Proximity to SF: a huge advantage that UCB has over UCLA is that it's in the middle of the tech hub, so there truly are A LOT of tech-related internships and job opportunities. The Berkeley name takes you pretty far in internship searches, and you can land a solid tech internship having taken CS 61A and 61B (Intro to Programming, Data Structures/Algorithms). FAANG also really likes to recruit from Cal as well for full-time opportunities, given you've got solid prior experience and can pass their interviews.

Grading System: I would say that the grading system for both UCB and UCLA can be rough, since both schools are rigorous and are known to deflate.

Public Transport: You can go to and get back from SF for under $15-20 (can't really remember exact price, I think it was an $8 one-way trip when I was there). Can be a very fun, affordable weekend at SF, and there's some pretty amazing food there (especially if you like seafood, although it can be pricey). Other than that, the bus system around Berkeley can get you to pretty much wherever you need to, and I remember bus passes being very cheap/free for Cal students.

People/Fellow Students: It's 100% dependent on the people you surround yourselves with. I've met some real d***bags while studying there, and also some VERY down-to-earth, amazing people as well. The academic environment I was in was very collaborative, and people didn't have a 'zero sum game' mindset (but of course, as with any school, there will always be those kind of people).

Attitude towards transfers: no one cares (in a good way). Once you're in Cal, you're a bear for life, and anyone worth hanging out with will not give 2 craps about whether you're a transfer or not. Some of my closest friends during my senior year were transfers. One went off to work as an analyst for Bank of SF, and one landed a full-time gig for Lyft. Profs don't care, researchers don't care, as long as you show interest and work ethic.

Research Opportunities: Plenty. Go to office hours, get close to professors, show interest in their field/research area, and you shouldn't have much trouble landing a research opportunity. There ARE some pretty strict professors when it comes to research (like Professor Abbeel with the AI lab; I heard he's very picky about who researches with him), but keep an open net and you shouldn't have much issues.

Support: there is very little hand-holding at Cal, but resources are there if you need it. When looking for internships, you won't really need a support network, since if you have decent grades (when looking for your first opportunity), the school name will take you pretty far.

Double Majoring: If you're in CoC, it might be tough to double major with something in L&S, since L&S has its breadth requirements. BUT, you can knock out a lot of L&S breadth at a CC, and you're also able to stay an extra semester if you double major and are under the unit ceiling. But honestly, double majoring is overrated imo. If you're really passionate about another subject at Cal, just minor in it. Career/med school wise, double majoring doesn't mean jack.

Area/CoL: BIGGEST CON/DRAWBACK OF CAL. The area really isn't that dirty/dangerous, especially around campus. I had no trouble walking around at 3 in the morning looking for late night food, or just talking with people (BUT this is around campus. Stay away from People's Park/downtown Oakland late at night. You won't have many reasons to stray afar from campus later at night, since bars/parties are plenty). Some really really great food here (shoutout to La Burrita in Southside).

Now, CoL is a whole another beast. If you want a single, you WILL be paying $1000+ for the room. It'll be $600+ for a double/triple, but most likely around $700-800. Housing can be rough to find around campus if you start late. What I recommend is find a group of people you really vibe with, and rent a place together (even a house). It'll make your living experience that much more unique. Groceries at Trader Joe's keeps things affordable, and there's a Costco within 20 min (by Uber) if you need bulk stuff. THE BIGGEST CON OF CAL IS HOUSING.

Clubs: A LOT of career-oriented clubs are very "snobby," and have a very strange/weird application process for a college club. The more casual/social ones are filled with some great people. Professional clubs realistically don't provide you with any significant opportunities (except maybe for a couple of tech/consulting oriented clubs). Your internship experience (which should be very attainable without a club) trumps everything. A student with one or two solid internships will beat out a zero-internship student in "prestigious" clubs 10/10 times. DO NOT join a professional fraternity. It's a COMPLETE waste of time, and they will academically haze you in ways that really breaks you down.

It's important to note that these points aren't exclusive to UCB, and I'm sure there's A LOT of overlap with UCLA (both are excellent schools, after all). I'm only providing the Cal side of things, since I can speak from experience. I would not expect your UCLA experience to vary that much from that of Cal.

If you have any other questions about Cal, feel free to ask me. I can't provide premed perspective on things (since I was a math/stats major), but I can share some general experience of the school.
 
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GreenDuck12

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My two cents: pick the school that has the better support network and where you will be able to do your best work. I would not worry about things like prestige of program / faculty (especially at the undergraduate level since the research heavy faculty will mainly teach graduate courses). Either program is among the top universities in the country and will leave you with options once you graduate. The only real X factor is how well you do the program. From experience advising students, going to the program where you have a support network helps students do better. Best of luck to you.
 
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rechemist

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@DoctoOcto Thank you so much for your detailed response. I believe it is the top chemistry program, but I also don't know if this will be of much significance to me when I am looking for a career in the future. Both are great schools, and I wonder if employers will really prefer the Berkeley grad over the UCLA one. As universities, the difference seems to be so slim that I view them as practically equal. I'm also a little confused about rankings, as many online lists vary. In some lists, MIT and/or the ivies beat it out, and some lists place Cal very close to UCLA, albeit always above. I think Cal will set me up nicely for getting into a grad school, but I don't believe it will help in getting into a medical school. I am under the semester system now in CC and I agree that it is a nice system, and although I cannot compare the two, everyone who has experienced both has told me that they much prefer the semester system.

I am not in tech, and I don't have much of an interest in working in the tech industry, so I don't see much of a benefit to my actually living in SF, other than that I can try to land involvement with UCSF, but in that way LA wins because I have much better access to their med school/hospital as an undergrad there. However, I am most concerned with finding research within the schools, and those I've spoken to at UCLA were able to land one with extreme ease, while those I spoke to at Cal faced competition and obtained research through somewhat of lucky scenarios (speaking to a grad student who knew of a professor who needed undergrads before it was publicly advertised, emailing a prof who was willing to take them in without knowing their gpa, etc). I don't have a 4.0 at CC, but as my gpa resets at Cal when I transfer I may have an easier time finding an opportunity, however there's a chance that pass/fail will carry into the fall semester and if so I imagine I can't do much to differentiate myself from other students in that regard. I will only have one remote internship experience in my field coming in (the one I am doing this summer).

Grading is definitely better at UCLA, at least for chem/biochem. Professors either do not curve or, the vast majority of them curve only in students' favor, which contributes to the lack of competition among students in the department. In Cal the curve can hurt me, but at LA it will not. It's nice to hear that you were able to find a collaborative environment amongst the students at Cal. Office hours at LA are also not utilized as much by students, so I may have an easier time building a connection with professors there. Not impossible at Cal, just something I'd have to work harder at.

Someone else told me the same thing about there being breadth requirements at L&S. I'm not sure what these are, but I took an awful lot of classes at CC and finished my IGETC pattern, and from what I understand IGETC would fulfill the breadth reqs. I've also taken the lower division courses for both of the majors I'm thinking of adding so I would just have the upper divs left, my concern is if they will even allow me to take courses at two different colleges to begin with.

In terms of housing, nothing is guaranteed because of COVID-19 at either campus. Housing was a huge thing that LA had in its favor, but honestly, I can't imagine that the school will ever open it up in these 2 years again due to the current conditions of the area. I am closer to Cal, so I could make a long commute (2-3 hours one-way) worst comes to worst, if the campus does open up and I have to last-minute scramble to find a place to stay. I also have friends who live down there, but to be quite honest their living conditions are already fairly cramped and unfavorable and I would not want to burden them by asking to stay. Having to be conscious of safety is not something I know that I am comfortable with, and Westwood definitely wins in that area.

Academic frats at UCLA can be very welcoming and I've heard good things about the chem one. Not sure if it's something I'm interested in, but it'd be there if I wanted it. I agree that internship experience is much more significant and I don't see this as a large concern.

Thank you again for giving me some insight into Cal. I think I have a lot of information at this point about both schools, and I need to stop seeking outside input and really ask myself what I want and prefer and value most.
 

rechemist

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My two cents: pick the school that has the better support network and where you will be able to do your best work. I would not worry about things like prestige of program / faculty (especially at the undergraduate level since the research heavy faculty will mainly teach graduate courses). Either program is among the top universities in the country and will leave you with options once you graduate. The only real X factor is how well you do the program. From experience advising students, going to the program where you have a support network helps students do better. Best of luck to you.

Thank you so much. I'm sure it varies by individual, but I imagine I will have much more support at LA. The close friends and family I have there and the better grading system and access to the medical school is something that is preferable to me, and I imagine it will make for a more well-rounded experience. I don't know exactly where I will be able to do my best academic work, but I imagine both campuses will be challenging and stressful in their own ways and can push me to do well. I agree that support is important. One huge thing that is making me second guess everything is the fact that everything I want out of LA is an in-person experience, and I may never get to actually be there, while everything I want out of Cal I can get even as a strictly online student. It is an uncertain time and I would not want to choose Cal only to find that LA opens up sooner than I anticipated, but I also would not want to choose LA and find that it is online for the entirety of my time there. I imagine that I will only have one in-person year at whichever institution I choose, which is why I am thinking of changing my decision to Cal as the in-person advantage at UCLA diminishes.
 

DoctoOcto

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From all your posts, it sounds like you'd much prefer to go to UCLA, so go with your gut and commit there!

I think you'll end up regretting if you choose Cal, since it's so clear you want to go to UCLA. You only attend college once, and COVID-19 or not, you should choose the school you'll be happiest at.
 
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rechemist

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From all your posts, it sounds like you'd much prefer to go to UCLA, so go with your gut and commit there!

I think you'll end up regretting if you choose Cal, since it's so clear you want to go to UCLA. You only attend college once, and COVID-19 or not, you should choose the school you'll be happiest at.

Thank you so much. I think you're right that I should prioritize whichever school would make me happiest. What makes me hesitate is that I've never been to UCLA, and I'm worried I won't like it once I arrive. A couple of years ago I was set on going to UCSB because it seemed perfect for me on paper, but once I arrived I was uncomfortable with how relaxed and unmotivated the students seemed, and I felt anxious the whole time and wanted to leave shortly after arriving. A part of me is scared that LA will be a lot like SB, especially because of their proximity. I also think I will always have a tinge of regret for not choosing Cal, and I'll always wonder if I could have done well there and if by going to LA I will be limiting my academic potential and my ability to learn chemistry. But I also know that if I end up not liking Cal, I will always wonder why I did not listen to the logic of LA when I can see all the reasons lined up for why it is best for me.
 

rechemist

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Definitely look into the grading styles of those schools. Any grade deflation is a no-no for premeds. Treat your undergrad grades and GPA like gemstones
I have looked into grading; at Cal, a 50% on a chemistry exam could translate to a B. One of the chem majors I spoke to there said that no one last year graduated with a 4.0, so it is expected that you will leave with at least a few B's, and I believe the average chem GPA that the CoC reported was a 3.35, which is pretty low for med school. However, someone also told me that 8% of med school admits come from cal (not sure if this is accurate/where the source is from), but regardless of whether that is true, I do know that med schools will overlook GPA a little for cal graduates and understand that the classes were difficult. At UCLA, the grading system is super nice, and the exams seem to be more in reach. Students at both institutions tell me they study all day, but at UCLA they study all day to get B's on exams which get curved to A's, while at Cal they study all day to get any grade A-F that could possibly translate to an A, B, or sometimes C, depending on the curve, so it is somewhat more of a wild card.
 

Damson

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I have looked into grading; at Cal, a 50% on a chemistry exam could translate to a B. One of the chem majors I spoke to there said that no one last year graduated with a 4.0, so it is expected that you will leave with at least a few B's, and I believe the average chem GPA that the CoC reported was a 3.35, which is pretty low for med school. However, someone also told me that 8% of med school admits come from cal (not sure if this is accurate/where the source is from), but regardless of whether that is true, I do know that med schools will overlook GPA a little for cal graduates and understand that the classes were difficult. At UCLA, the grading system is super nice, and the exams seem to be more in reach. Students at both institutions tell me they study all day, but at UCLA they study all day to get B's on exams which get curved to A's, while at Cal they study all day to get any grade A-F that could possibly translate to an A, B, or sometimes C, depending on the curve, so it is somewhat more of a wild card.

Sounds like you did your homework. You'll rock it at UCLA based solely on your attitude here
 
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Tenk

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I went to Cal many moons ago.

Their chemistry department is cutthroat af. Probably not as bad as EECS but still up there. I had friends who were both EECS and chem. They were happy with Bs and Cs. This will really tarnish your GPA and chances at medical school. The premeds generally stayed away from the true chem major classes due to grade deflation.

I don’t know how it has changed over the years but the premedical oversight and support at Cal also used to really suck and was almost nonexistent.

If your goal is to be a doctor, go to UCLA. If your goal is to get the best education in chemistry, go to Cal. It’s really that simple. I loved Cal and I loved the Bay Area but I went back a few years ago as an attending and man has that place changed. Sad.
 
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rechemist

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I went to Cal many moons ago.

Their chemistry department is cutthroat af. Probably not as bad as EECS but still up there. I had friends who were both EECS and chem. They were happy with Bs and Cs. This will really tarnish your GPA and chances at medical school. The premeds generally stayed away from the true chem major classes due to grade deflation.

I don’t know how it has changed over the years but the premedical oversight and support at Cal also used to really suck and was almost nonexistent.

If your goal is to be a doctor, go to UCLA. If your goal is to get the best education in chemistry, go to Cal. It’s really that simple. I loved Cal and I loved the Bay Area but I went back a few years ago as an attending and man has that place changed. Sad.

Do you mean that the students themselves were cutthroat or that the classes were? I want to get the best chem education and maybe to go to med school, but I don't think that going to Cal is worth taking away my shot at getting into med school in case I decide that it is what I want. What do you mean when you say that it's changed? The area definitely has a charm to it even today.
 

Tenk

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Do you mean that the students themselves were cutthroat or that the classes were? I want to get the best chem education and maybe to go to med school, but I don't think that going to Cal is worth taking away my shot at getting into med school in case I decide that it is what I want. What do you mean when you say that it's changed? The area definitely has a charm to it even today.
Dunno about the students as they weren’t my major but the classes and curves were definitely.

The Bay Area used to be an amazing place. There is literally **** on the streets now.
 

drlarin

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I'll put my two cents in for UCLA. I took the chemistry for life sciences track so I can't speak on the classes a chem major would take, but you're correct in saying that curves will only help you and that they're usually pretty generous. We also have some pretty passionate people in the chemistry department who probably have good research connections for you. Regardless of major I've really loved being a premed at UCLA, yes there are a lot of us but I've found it to be more supportive and helpful than competitive/gunner-ish. And don't knock the quarter system til you try it, I personally prefer it to semesters (plus the weather and beautiful campus can't be beat imo). PM if you have specific questions!
 
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rechemist

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I'll put my two cents in for UCLA. I took the chemistry for life sciences track so I can't speak on the classes a chem major would take, but you're correct in saying that curves will only help you and that they're usually pretty generous. We also have some pretty passionate people in the chemistry department who probably have good research connections for you. Regardless of major I've really loved being a premed at UCLA, yes there are a lot of us but I've found it to be more supportive and helpful than competitive/gunner-ish. And don't knock the quarter system til you try it, I personally prefer it to semesters (plus the weather and beautiful campus can't be beat imo). PM if you have specific questions!
Good to know that you've experienced it firsthand and enjoyed it! So glad to hear that you were able to find a solid premed community during your time there :) I'll send you a PM right now!
 
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