How To Get Into UC Berkeley

How To Get Into UC Berkeley

Wondering how to get into UC Berkeley? With just a 16.4% acceptance rate, becoming a Golden Bear is no easy task. So, how will you stand out? In this post, we’ll break down UC Berkeley’s holistic review process, finding out exactly what Cal is looking for in its applicants.

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How Does UC Berkeley Evaluate Applications? 

You’ve heard about this idea called a “holistic” review or “comprehensive” review when it comes to college admissions, right? Well, it’s one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot, and honestly, it’s pretty vague. So let me demystify this for you. 

There are 14 admission factors that all the UCs consider when evaluating their applicants. On top of these standards, Cal takes a holistic approach to admissions. In other words, they look at both academics and personal attributes.

Personal attributes is the often overlooked KEY to successfully getting into a place like Berkeley. More on this later. 

Check out the 6 criteria that Berkeley specifically deemed as important: 

  1. Grades, GPA, and rigor of coursework
  2. Standardized tests: SAT/ACT (with writing), AP exams. And, SAT Subject exams 
    • Note: while SAT Subject exams are not required, having one can positively impact your application. In fact, Berkeley’s College of Chemistry and the College of Engineering highly recommend that you take Math level 2 and a science test.
  3. Personal Qualities
  4. Contributions to the intellectual and cultural vitality of the campus 
  5. Achievement in academic enrichment programs (think: Cosmos, ATDP, RSI, etc)
  6. Other evidence of achievement.

Think about this. 2 out of 6 admissions factors are extremely academic — cold, hard facts that can be seen via your transcripts and test scores. Basically, numbers that summarize you as an applicant. 

Of course, because Cal is so selective, it is vital that your academic stats are nothing short of stellar (check out our Berkeley Acceptance Rates post to get an idea of where you stand). 

However, there are literally 4 other factors that your transcript and test scores do not illuminate. And if you think about it, this is actually a great thing. Let’s take a look at why this is.

What Does UC Berkeley Look For In Applicants? 

How to get into UC Berkeley

By the time you’re applying to UC Berkeley, you probably won’t be able to change your test scores and GPA. What you can control, however, is how you come across to the admissions officers: not as a number, but as a human being. 

  • Who is the person behind the test scores and grades and activities? 
  • What are your struggles and how did you overcome them? 
  • What opportunities were you given and how did you take advantage of them? 

This is where your UC essays and activities lists come into play. 

And because UC Berkeley doesn’t require teacher recs, your activities and responses to the personal insight questions are all the more important — they’re the sole window that admissions officers have into your personality, experiences, and life.

So now that you know the importance of essays and extracurriculars to get into UC Berkeley, let’s discuss what qualities these things should show about you.

Personal Qualities 

All elite schools have their own vibe and mission that is core and specific to the school — and they look for students with personal qualities that align with this. 

What qualities does UC Berkeley look for?

Take a look:

“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.”

So, that’s a list of seemingly random personal attributes. But, here’s a hint: Berkeley values leadership. If you want to get into Cal, it’s non-negotiable; you have to be a leader.

Leadership has long been a staple of Berkeley’s culture. In fact, in the 60’s, Golden Bears led the charge in the Free Speech Movement, challenging the campus’ restriction of freedom of speech. 

Now, don’t worry; Cal isn’t expecting you to single-handedly lead a protest in support of the first amendment. However, they are expecting you to show demonstrated leadership. 

But, here’s the thing: leadership isn’t just a title. So just snatching up that “president” or “chair” title really doesn’t mean anything if all you’re doing is hanging out and eating pretzels during club meetings. 

What Berkeley actually wants when they mention leadership is a change-maker. You can definitely accomplish that by executing meaningful work as president or chair; however, leadership could also mean taking care of younger siblings or working a job to help your family.

Ultimately, Cal is looking for someone who has the ability — and burning desire — to lead others and make a difference.

So, why does all this leadership stuff even matter?

If after looking at your academics, extracurriculars, and achievements, the admissions officers are still on the fence… the personal qualities displayed throughout your UC essays will be an important deciding factor.

In short: your personal qualities can be the make or break.

Intellectual And Cultural Vitality

UC Berkeley admission process

Two things here: intellectual AND cultural vitality. What do these even mean?!

Intellectual vitality means that you have a fiery passion for learning — for expanding your horizons. It means you have an innate curiosity that drives you to delve extremely in depth into your endeavors, whether that is lab research or athletics or community service. 

Berkeley, in other words, wants passionate, curious students that will — without hesitation — take initiative to learn more and become more.

Cultural vitality, on the hand, comes from the perspective of wanting a diverse class, with diverse backgrounds, thoughts, and experiences. 

How do you give EVIDENCE that you bring intellectual and cultural vitality to UC Berkeley? Again: your essays and activities list. 

And if you look at the UC Personal Insight Questions, you’ll find that there are a plethora of opportunities to divulge this information. 

For instance, if you look at prompt 4 and 6, both of these are practically begging you to talk about your intellectual curiosities. So do it! And with 6 more prompts to choose from, you will be able to easily find places to express intellectual/cultural vitality in your UC essays.


Berkeley wants to accept students who have a history of success beyond the vacuum of a high school classroom, because those students are most likely going to also succeed as a Gold Bear. So, they’ll pay close attention to your achievements outside of school — both academic and non-academic. So what type of achievements are they looking for?

Well, let’s start with academic achievement. This could mean anything from research with a local professor to participation in prestigious summer programs like RSI and COSMOS. Conducting cutting-edge research — or even publishing a research paper — will make it quite evident to the admissions officer that you are not only deeply passionate about what you do, but also able to succeed at a high level.

But what if you live in an area that doesn’t have local colleges to research at? Or companies to intern at? 

Don’t worry! Chances are, most of your peers won’t have access to these things either. UC Berkeley understands that not everyone has the same opportunities and resources. So, in the admissions process, you are always evaluated in a local context — you’re essentially competing with your classmates. 

However, that doesn’t give you a free pass. The things you will do — despite the lack of resources — to continue pursuing your intellectual interests is still extremely important. For instance, if there are no local tech companies, perhaps you’ll find a remote internship. Or if there are no local biology professors, you could start your own research club. Really, the opportunities are endless!

Now let’s move on to “other evidence of achievement.” 

This is all about excelling in your extracurriculars. These achievements could be about the originality you show through your creative endeavors, or the responsibility and maturity you show through family responsibilities, or perhaps it’s the impact you made volunteering for a community organization. Ultimately, Cal wants to see that you’re able to truly succeed in whatever endeavors you choose to pursue.

Getting Into UC Berkeley: The Bottom Line

How to get into UC Berkeley

Yes, GPA and test scores matter. A lot. If you don’t have the academic achievement, even the best written essays and stories will not pull you through. 

On the flip side, having a great GPA and test scores don’t mean you’re in the clear, either. We’ve seen plenty of awesome students that are academically more than capable who end up getting rejected from top tier schools because they lack — or are unable to effectively showcase — the personal qualities that colleges are looking for. However, if your academic stats are at the right place, then the UC Personal Insight Questions are absolutely instrumental.  

Because it is such a competitive university, applying to UC Berkeley can be quite intimidating. However, ultimately, if you have strong essays, demonstrated leadership, and stellar stats, it will be hard for admissions officers to overlook your passion and determination. 

Have more questions about how you can distinguish yourself, how to get into UC Berkeley and become a Golden Bear? Ask us in the comments below!

UC Berkeley Acceptance Rates [Updated 2020]

UC Berkeley Acceptance Rates [Updated 2020]

So… you’re thinking about applying to UC Berkeley. But with Berkeley’s notoriously competitive acceptance stats, what are your chances of being admitted? What SAT/ACT and GPA will you need? In this post, we’ll take a close look at UC Berkeley acceptance rates in 2019 and 2020, and discuss the scores it takes to become a Golden Bear.

Related Article: UC Admissions and Coronavirus

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UC Berkeley Admissions Stats

This is a snapshot of the statistics of Berkeley’s admitted freshman class for fall 2019.

Acceptance Rate:


SAT Range:

1340 – 1540

ACT Range:

30 – 35

GPA Range:

4.15 – 4.30

What Are The UC Berkeley Acceptance Stats?

UC Berkeley Acceptance Rates

What are the chances of getting into UC Berkeley?

UC Berkeley acceptance rates for prospective 2019 freshmen was 16.4%. In other words, for every 100 applicants, just 16 students were admitted — making UC Berkeley the second most competitive undergraduate campus in the UC system (after UCLA). 

With 80,000+ applicants vying for so few spots, applying to Cal may seem quite intimidating. But remember: UC Berkeley practices holistic admissions. A combination of strong stats, stellar UC essays and meaningful extracurriculars is what will truly distinguish you.

Berkeley Admissions Stats

Applicants 87,393
Admits 14,336
Overall Admit Rate 16.4%

Average ACT/SAT For UC Berkeley Admission

What ACT/SAT is required for UC Berkeley? 

While UC Berkeley acceptance rates are very high and it requires all applicants to submit scores from either the SAT with Essay or ACT with Writing, there is technically no minimum SAT/ACT score requirement. 

But what ACT/SAT score will you need to be competitive?

You’re more than just a number, of course. But, you need top SAT and ACT scores alongside a strong UC GPA at minimum to get into Berkeley. To give yourself the best shot, aim for the 75th percentile — that means at least a 1540 on the SAT or a 35 on the ACT.

Here’s a look at the test scores for admitted students in the 2018-2019 admissions cycle:

Berkeley SAT Score Range

Section 25th Percentile 75th Percentile
Evidence Based Reading & Writing 660 750
Mathematics 680 790
Essay 16 19


Berkeley ACT Score Range

Section 25th Percentile 75th Percentile
English Language Arts 28 32
Composite 30 35

Average GPA To Get Into UC Berkeley

How to get into UC Berkeley

What GPA do you need to get into Berkeley?

To be a Golden bear, you’re required to have at least a UC GPA of 3.0 (3.4 if you’re out-of-state). 

Not too bad right? 

Not so fast. Merely fulfilling the minimum admission requirements won’t suffice. Aim high. To be the most competitive, you should have mostly A’s and multiple AP or IB courses under your belt. 

Popular Majors In UC Berkeley

What majors are UC Berkeley known for? 

UC Berkeley offers over 150 undergraduate majors and minors. Some of the most popular majors include:

  • Computer Science
  • Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (EECS)
  • Economics
  • Business Administration
  • Data Science

UC Berkeley Tuition And Cost

UC Berkeley acceptance stats and Tuition

What is the cost to attend UC Berkeley?

Well, check it out: Tuition for Berkeley students during the 2019-2020 academic year was $14,254 for California residents and $44,008 for nonresidents. 

Especially if you’re out-of-state, Berkeley’s tuition is quite a hefty one. So, how much financial aid does UC Berkeley give?

You’re in luck: Berkeley is ranked as the nation’s 5th best value college by Forbes in 2019. In fact, more than 65 percent of Berkeley undergraduate students receive financial aid.

The table below shows the estimated student budget of 2019-2020 freshman:

Tuition and Fees $14,254 $14,254
Nonresident supplemental tuition $29,754
Student Health Insurance Plan** $3,286 $3,286
Room and board $17,220 $17,220
Food $1,644 $1,644
Books and supplies $870 $870
Personal $1,876 $1,876
Transportation $400 $400
TOTAL $39,550 $69,304

UC Berkeley Post Graduation Outcomes Class of 2019

So you got into Berkeley. But what happens after?

For the class of 2019, the vast majority were employed full-time straight out of UC Berkeley. Not only did these Bears secure jobs, they secured the bag as well: The overall average starting salary for UC Berkeley’s Class of 2019 was $75,000! 

Here’s what the starting salaries look like by college:

Class of 2019 First Destination

Employed Full-time 60.5%
Graduate/Professional School 18.7%
Other Endeavors 7%
Still Seeking 13.8%


Class of 2019 Average Starting Salary

College Starting Salary
Haas School of Business $82,273
College of Engineering  $100,577
College of Chemistry $66,576
College of Environmental Design $53,834
Rausser College of Natural Resources $55,995
College of Letters & Science $79,206

UC Berkeley is, no doubt, a launchpad for successful lives and careers. As a result, Cal is also extremely competitive. But don’t be discouraged, becoming a Golden Bear is far from impossible. You can do it! 

Related Article: UC GPA Calculator For UC Applicants

Have more questions about How to get into UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley acceptance rates and stats, and your admissions chances? Ask away in the comments below!