University of California at Berkeley

Berkeley, CA: It came as a surprise when my surroundings changed from the golden city ofSan Francisco to the city of Berkeley, a desolate, trashy and frightening place.As we left the safe and bright freeway to delve into this grey world of gloom – aplace which, in less than a year, may very well be my home – I was immediatelyprejudiced against it.

Homeless men lined the sidewalks; I counted five,but there may have been more that I missed while I assisted my grandparents in aseemingly vain search for parking. After circling for 20 minutes, we finallyfound a spot three blocks from campus. I stepped out of the car and breathed indeeply, scrutinizing the city for faults. There were many.

As we headedtoward campus, I found that the university is quite a contrast to the city. Aclock tower loomed over an area of lush trees and grass. College students,looking far less frightening than the homeless, walked or rode bikes. We passedunder a huge, sea-green arch and my prejudice faltered. The city might beterrible, but the campus was beautiful.

On the tour I found that if thesurface of UC Berkeley is beautiful, the inside is stunning. Our guide took usinto the largest of the 30 libraries and showed off an impressive collection ofbooks – the fourth largest in the United States. Much of the library is belowground, and as I looked around in awe, I saw students attentively readingmaterial in comfortable chairs, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were sofar underground.

We visited the magnificent clock tower and a popularstudent cafe, and strolled through a museum rumored to contain a book with acover made from human skin. Berkeley, as a campus, certainly drowns out thedepressing voice of the city. Almost no one drives; the streets are so narrow andparking so scarce it would be foolish to. The transportation of choice includesbikes and the BART system. The very affordable train can take you into SanFrancisco and back much faster than the crowded freeway.

Berkeley, as aschool, offers a nice array of everything. The graduate school of journalism isone of the best in the country, and the popular Haas School of Business fosterssuccess; their sports programs offer activities as varied as fencing, hockey,sailing and skiing, while at the same time featuring student government, atelevision station, music ensembles and a student newspaper.

It is not aneasy school to get into. With a 25 percent acceptance rate and more thanthree-quarters of the students entering with a high-school GPA of 3.0 or above,Berkeley is quite competitive. The SAT scores average 560-700 for verbal and610-740 for math. Tuition, room and board, supplies and transporation totals$16,871 for in-state students and $27,943 for out-of-staters. To alleviate thispainful cost, they offer financial aid, internships and a work-study program;many students have off-campus jobs as well.

But this creative place isworth the obvious effort it takes to get in. The school wants more than astraight-A, perfect SAT student – Berkeley seeks those who are motivated andchooses those who work hard to get where they are, overcome setbacks and showthat, while they may not be in the top five percent of their class, they havepotential.

As I walked away from Berkeley that day I found myself fond ofthe place, and even imagining myself lying under one of the trees reading a goodbook or discussing a class with another student in the campus coffee shop. Westayed in the city a bit longer, lingering in shops selling rings made of silverspoons and a Starbucks filled with students. Perhaps this place isn’t bad as Ithought. After all, first impressions are only that – impressions, molded intoour minds like soft clay. True experiences, true events, harden in our memoriesand last forever.

Reviewed in 2003