The University of California – Berkeley’s reputation as a haven for young liberals grew in the 1960s as it became the epicenter of protests over the Vietnam War and, in many ways, the very center of the counterculture movement itself. By the 1970s, Berkeley had a reputation for strong academics, but it was by no means an exclusive institution—two-thirds of applicants were still accepted by the time the ’80s rolled around. In the early Reagan years, the University of California campus received under 10,000 applications per year.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Berkeley now receives close to 90,000 freshman applications per year and their acceptance rate stands at 15-17%. Those who are accepted sport “A” averages and SAT/ACT scores in the upper-echelon of all test takers. Berkeley still has large protests (they made headlines again in 2017), but in order to join them, you’ll have to survive a brutal admissions gauntlet. To help you, College Transitions is happy to provide you with:

1) A deep dive into just how highly-selective the Berkeley admissions process truly is.

2) Data that will help you better assess how you measure up to the competition.

3) How the Berkeley admissions committee operates and what they look for in a successful candidate.

To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:

  • Berkeley’s Class of 2023 acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted Berkeley applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2023
  • The demographics of current Berkeley undergraduates
  • Berkeley’s yield rate
  • How Berkeley’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
  • Tips for applying to UC Berkeley
  • How to assess whether applying to Berkeley is even worth the $70 application fee (for you)

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

Berkeley: Acceptance Rate – Class of 2023

Berkeley’s 16.8% acceptance rate in 2019 was actually higher than the 2018 rate of 15.1%. While 87,389 freshman applicants applied to be part of the Class of 2023, the Class of 2022 application pool drew 89,615 hopefuls. There is no early action/decision option at this school; all students submit their applications during the month of November.

Berkeley Admissions – SAT, ACT, and Class Rank

Among the Berkeley Class of 2023, the middle-50% range on the SAT was 1350-1540; the ACT range was 30-35. Performance inside the classroom was equally stellar with the middle-50% unweighted GPA a healthy 3.89-4.0; the weighted equivalent was 4.0-4.29. Clearly, most incoming Golden Bears achieved straight A’s in high school and scored better than 90% of their peers on standardized tests.

Admissions Trends & Notes

  • The biggest news is that all University of California schools have adopted a test-optional policy beginning in the 2020-21 applications cycle.
  • UC Berkeley accepted 7,925 from CA public high schools in 2019 compared to 7,425 in 2018.
  • The number of international students admitted has increased from 1,128 to 1,543 in the last three years.
  • The 2018-19 freshman class had a middle-50% SAT score of 1300-1530. Note that the 25th percentile score was significantly lower than for incoming 2019-20 freshman.
  • 98% of Class of 2022 admits were in the top 10% of the high school class; this is the same figure as the previous two years.

Who Gets Into Berkeley?

Let’s look at the demographics of Berkeley undergraduates:

Most Berkeley students hailed from the Golden State and paid in-state tuition. The total geographic breakdown is as follows.

  • California (residents) – 75.4%
  • Other U.S. States (non-residents) – 13%
  • Other countries (non-resident, international) = 11.6%

Examining the country of origin for international students, China leads the way with 1,444 students, followed by South Korea (365), India (329), Canada (201), and Indonesia (111).

Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown of the entire Golden Bear undergraduate student body is as follows:

  • Asian American: 39.7%
  • Hispanic: 15.5%
  • African American: 3.5%
  • International: 12.3%
  • Caucasian: 24%

The breakdown by gender of all current undergraduates shows slightly more women than men:

  • Male: 20,186
  • Female: 21,638

The Class of 2023 included the following:

  • Public School Students: 85%
  • From Rural Areas: 5%
  • First-Generation Students: 15%

UC-Berkeley’s Yield Rate

Berkeley’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was 29% last year for non-residents domestic students, 50% for California residents, and 55% for international students. To compare this school to other public institutions, UT-Austin has a 46% yield, UNC-Chapel Hill sports a similar 45%, and UGA comes in at 45%.

How Berkeley Rates Applicants

There are only four factors that Berkeley ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process: rigor of secondary school record, GPA, standardized test scores (more on this in a moment), and application essays. Factors are rated as “important” are: extracurricular activities, character/personal qualities, volunteer experience, and work experience. “Considered” factors are: recommendations, first-generation status, and state residency.

Berkeley, along with all other University of California campuses, announced that they are dropping all standardized requirements starting with the Class of 2025 (those applying in the 2020-21 admissions cycle). This makes the already holistic review process at Berkeley even more so. According to the admissions committee, the university is looking for students who “will contribute to Berkeley’s intellectual and cultural community and, ultimately, to the State of California, the nation, and the world.”

It can also greatly improve an applicant’s odds if they possess an exceptional skill a given area, whether that is in the realm of music, research, leadership, or athletics. Among the incoming freshman class in the summer of 2019 were:

  • 100+ students who had performed at Carnegie Hall.
  • 170 students who had participated in the Science Olympiad
  • 50 Eagle Scouts
  • 50 Girl Scout Gold Award winners

It most definitely helps if you are recruited as an athlete to join one of Berkeley’s 27 Division I sports teams. Approximately 250 incoming students are designated as “recruited athletes” each year.

Tips for Applying to Berkeley

If you plan on joining the almost 90,000 Golden Bear hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

While a “holistic” process, Berkeley does not offer interviews of any kind, in-person or alumni.

Berkeley does not consider “demonstrated interest” so it is not essential to take multiple steps in the name of establishing yourself as a serious and committed applicant. However, it still never hurts to make contact with the admissions office, connect through social media, and (when COVID-19 is no longer an issue) visit campus or meet Berkeley reps at college fairs near you. If nothing else, this will still help you learn more about whether the university is the perfect home for you.

Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essays required by Berkeley. In the 2019-20 cycle, there were eight total prompts, of which applicants are instructed to choose four to respond to. Each response is limited to maximum of 350 words.

1) Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

2) Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. 

3) What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? 

4) Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

5) Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

6) Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

7) What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? 

8) Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

The best approach here is to select the four prompts that are the best fit for you and elicit the most compelling and personal responses. As the UC-Berkeley admissions committee states, “All questions are equal” and “all are given equal consideration in the application review process.”

Should I Apply to Berkeley?

Getting into UC-Berkeley has never been more a challenging endeavor, particularly for out-of-state and international students. Even in-state applicants need to have pristine academic transcripts with no more than one or two blemishes. Berkeley is wonderful school with a great number of extremely strong academic programs possessing global reputations. Of course, you have to aware that, ultimately, 83-85% of applicants will be turned away. As such, all students need to make sure that they formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. You’ll definitely want to do this in collaboration with an admissions professional (including your own high school counselor).