How to Get into UC Berkeley
Located in Berkeley, California, UC Berkeley is one of the top schools in the nation. A combination of excellent academics, an absolutely beautiful campus, and Division I and Division III athletics, make UC Berkeley a great choice for students who have put in the hard work in high school. But gaining admission to UC Berkeley can be quite difficult.
You will need to have the right combination of test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities if you want to be a strong contender. In this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know before you apply to UC Berkeley in order to give yourself the best possible chance of getting in. So, let’s talk about how to get into UC Berkeley.
How hard is it to get into Berkeley?
Like many competitive schools, UC Berkeley has become even more selective in the last few years. Students putting off college because of the pandemic has significantly increased the number of applications that many schools receive, but all of these students are competing for the same number of spots in the freshman class. Three years ago, UC Berkeley had an acceptance rate of 18.5%, which is already very low. Currently, UC Berkeley has an acceptance rate of 17.5%.
For the class of 2026, UC Berkeley had a total of 88,260 undergraduate applications. They ended up admitting just 15,404 applicants, which shows just how selective UC Berkeley has become. As is the case with most selective schools, applying early gives you an advantage if you know that UC Berkeley is your number one school.
When it comes to applying to UC Berkeley, there are a number of factors to consider. First, UC Berkeley is part of the University of California system which means that you will submit one application and rank your choices for which UC campuses you prefer. This means that if you don’t get in to your top school, you may still be offered admission to one of the other UC schools on your list.
What does UC Berkeley expect from their applicants?
In order to give you the best information about how to get into UC Berkeley, we’re going to break this down into the different criteria that UC Berkeley considers when they look at your application. UC Berkeley states that there are a number of factors that they consider very important, while other factors are considered as part of the application process but are not as influential.
According to UC Berkeley: “UC Berkeley is among the more selective universities in the country, becoming more competitive each year. Due to student demand, selectivity varies among Colleges.
The goal of our 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.”
So, you might be wondering how UC Berkeley evaluates these qualities. The key to demonstrating that you are the type of student that UC Berkeley is looking for, you will need to weave these concepts into your personal statement and supplemental essay.
World-renowned as one of the top schools in the nation, UC Berkeley has only been getting more difficult to get into, and because of this, you need to make sure your application is as good as possible. UC Berkeley has some specific benchmarks that applicants must satisfy, but in order to be competitive, you will need to exceed these requirements by having an excellent GPA and test scores, along with a number of other criteria.
UC Berkeley doesn’t publish the average GPA of their admitted applicants, but it’s safe to say that having a GPA of 4.0 or better is necessary. If your GPA isn’t above 4.0, you will need to look for ways to make up for this in other parts of your application. Berkeley’s minimum GPA requirement is 3.0 for all classes taken in the junior and senior years of high school.
In order to maintain a GPA above 4.0, you will likely need to take a rigorous course load in high school including AP, IB, and honors classes. Getting excellent grades in these courses allows you to present UC Berkeley with an impressive GPA, but it does something else as well.
The first factor that UC Berkeley considers to be “very important” is class rigor. Essentially, UC Berkeley want to know that you have challenged yourself in high school. This demonstrates academic integrity as well as intellectual curiosity. UC Berkeley wants to admit students who will go above and beyond in their studies and taking challenging courses in high school shows that you intend to challenge yourself in college as well.
Many colleges are impressed with students who show significant improvement in their grades over their high school career, but highly-selective schools like UC Berkeley want to see that you’ve been committed to academic excellence throughout your entire high school career.
Part of the reason for this is they want to see that you value hard work, but they also want students who show sincere intellectual curiosity. Taking more rigorous courses shows that you want to challenge yourself as a student, and this is the kind of motivation they are looking for.
Standardized test scores are no longer considered by UC Berkeley as part of your application. You are still free to submit your test scores, and they will be shared with all of the UC schools to which you have applied. But students should know that not submitting test scores will not affect your chances of being admitted.
Top colleges these days want well-rounded students who have an active life outside of the classroom. But they also want to know what you’ve been doing with this time. If you’re wondering how to get into UC Berkeley, one of the keys is to have extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership skills and commitment to your community.
When it comes to your particular extracurricular activities, schools care less about what you did than how you did it. If you took part in community service activities, did you take the initiative to spearhead new projects or ideas? If you spent much of your time outside of school working a part-time job, what lessons did you learn, and how did you make the most of your time at work?
If you participated in sports, were you a leader on and off the field for your fellow players? Maybe you took it upon yourself to start a social justice club at school or you found a way to solve a specific problem in your community. Regardless of how you’ve spent your time, the goal is to show UC Berkeley that you grew both personally and intellectually.
Some students are laser focused on their favorite field of study, and they use their time outside the classroom to dig even deeper into their academic passions. And just because these pursuits were academic, it doesn’t mean they don’t qualify as extracurricular. Perhaps you spent the summer exploring your passion for Geology by spending a month at working in Moab National Park with researchers. Or you have used your passion for the environment to research new electric vehicle technology. Regardless of your particular passion, UC Berkeley wants to see how your activities contributed to your growth and personal integrity.
While having participated in academic research is not a requirement for admission to UC Berkeley, many of their accepted students have taken part in at least some form of academic research while in high school. Because UC Berkeley is known as one of the top research facilities in the world, many of their academic programs involve some form of research, and their various departments have a number of different research opportunities.
According to UC Berkeley: “At Berkeley, we address the biggest challenges of the day to create a better world. From robotic legs to the origins of the universe, research at Berkeley crosses disciplines and illuminates new ideas.”
UC Berkeley provides undergraduates with a vast array of different research options through assisting professors with their research to research libraries that are available to all students. Berkeley is currently ranked #1 as the top public research institution in the US.
What does UC Berkeley look for?
In addition to the standard criteria like high school transcripts, test scores, and extracurricular activities, UC Berkeley is looking for students who demonstrate a high level of academic curiosity. When writing about your extracurricular activities, the key is to convey that these are not merely activities in which you have been involved.
Because Berkeley is part of the massive UC system, there are a number of ways that they evaluate their applicants, and they have a very specific system for matching students with different campuses. According to UC Berkeley, they base their admissions offers based on the following: “Since Berkeley is a competitive campus, satisfying the minimum requirements is often not enough to be competitive for selection. In addition to the basic admission requirements, the campus selects its freshman class through an assessment that includes a holistic review of your academic performance as measured primarily by:
- Your weighted and unweighted UC grade point average (calculated using 10th and 11th grade UC-approved courses only)
- Your planned 12th grade courses
- Your pattern of grades over time
- The number of college preparatory, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), honors and transferable college courses you have completed
- Your level of achievement in those courses relative to other UC applicants at your school
- Your scores on AP or IB exams and SAT subject exams
Personal statement/supplemental essays
Top schools want to see more from students than just numbers on a transcript. Schools like UC Berkeley want to know how you think and how you express yourself. Numbers on a transcript don’t tell a school how your mind works, so making the most of your personal statement and supplemental essays is a vitally important part of your application. Students who wonder how to get into UC Berkeley need to understand that your essays are what give the UC Berkeley undergraduate admissions staff a clear picture of who you are and what makes you special.
Schools like UC Berkeley get plenty of applications from students who have excellent grades and test scores. So, in order to make it through the application process, you need to set yourself apart from the crowd. UC Berkeley is looking for intelligent, hardworking students, but they’re also looking for interesting people. In order to build an extraordinary student body, UC Berkeley needs to know how their applicants approach the world and the experiences that have shaped them. This is the purpose of your essays.
According to UC Berkeley, the main components they look for in your personal insight answers are the following:
- Initiative, motivation, leadership, persistence, service to others, special potential and substantial experience with other cultures
- All achievement in light of the opportunities available to you
- Any unusual circumstances or hardships you have faced and the ways in which you have overcome or responded to them. Having a hardship is no guarantee of admission. If you choose to write about difficulties you have experienced, you should describe.
The specific personal insight topics can be viewed on UC Berkeley’s website.
While it is certainly not required that you have competed in or won any academic competitions, these activities can demonstrate to schools that you have taken your education to a higher level. Academic competitions like the Future Business Leaders of America, USA Physics Olympiad, and Intel Science and Engineering Fair are all well-known competitions that can help students confirm just how committed they are to academics and personal excellence.
Students often wonder if these competitions will really help them during the admissions process, and the reality is that it will play a great role for more competitive universities such as UC Berkeley.. Academic competitions are especially useful if the competition was in your chosen field of study and reflect your academic depth in that particular area.
A holistic approach to admissions
Like many schools, UC Berkeley uses a “holistic approach” to their admissions process. This means looking at the whole student rather than just grades and test scores. This means the UC Berkeley undergraduate admissions office will look at your life circumstances in addition to your transcripts and test scores.
Universities know that some students come from backgrounds that offered fewer opportunities, while others may have faced unique challenges, and some simply have extraordinary gifts that schools find attractive. The bottom line is that there is no simple answer to how to get into UC Berkeley University. Instead, your goal as an applicant is to highlight what makes you a strong, unique candidate. Berkeley describes their holistic approach as the following:
- The applicant’s full record of achievement in college preparatory work in high school, including the number and rigor of courses taken and grades earned in those courses.
- Personal qualities of the applicant, including leadership ability, character, motivation, insight, tenacity, initiative, originality, intellectual independence, responsibility, maturity, and demonstrated concern for others and for the community are considered.
- Likely contributions to the intellectual and cultural vitality of the campus. In addition to a broad range of intellectual interests and achievements, admission readers seek diversity in personal background and experience.
- Achievement in academic enrichment programs, including but not limited to those sponsored by the University of California. This criterion is measured by time and depth of participation, by the academic progress made by the applicant during that participation, and by the intellectual rigor of the particular program.
- Other evidence of achievement. This criterion recognizes exemplary, sustained achievement in any field of intellectual or creative endeavor; accomplishments in extracurricular activities such as the performing arts or athletics; leadership in school or community organizations; employment; and volunteer service.
- Race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are excluded from the criteria.
Because UC Berkeley is such a selective school, you may have a lot of questions about the application process, and whether your application meets their criteria. At AdmissionSight we have many years of experience guiding students through the college admissions process in order to give them the best possible chance of getting in. Our counselors know what college admissions officers want to see, and they can help tailor your application to make it as competitive as possible. You’ve already done the hard work of excelling in your studies. AdmissionSight can help you get across the finish line