Do You Have What It Takes To Study Abroad at UC Berkeley? SAF Students and Staff Say You Need These 5 Things

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The chance to study abroad at UC Berkeley isn’t just an excellent opportunity; it's a game-changer for ambitious students ready to make their mark on the world. 

But getting into Berkeley isn't easy. Every year, UC Berkeley’s admissions are inundated with excellent candidates that outpace the number of spots, with one of the most selective admissions rates in the country.

What does it take to get accepted into UC Berkeley? It's not just about having top grades and test scores. This elite American university is also looking for students who also fit in well with its community and values – something that SAF luckily knows a thing or two about.

Every year SAF helps students to simplify the study abroad admissions process and optimize their chances of reaching their dream school, like UC Berkeley. From our program specialists to SAF scholars who have actually made the journey, we asked SAF insiders for their insights on what UC Berkeley looks for in prospective students.

Here’s what we found out: 

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Be willing to try new things

UC Berkeley is renowned as one of the country's most progressive campuses, and for that reason, it prizes students who are open-minded and ready to step out of their comfort zones.

Alex de Gala, an SAF Lead Program Specialist, helps manage the study abroad journeys of 30 to 50 students from countries such as China, Korea, and Japan to UC Berkeley each semester. He says that Berkeley appreciates students who demonstrate an adventurous spirit, and are open to embracing new challenges.

“The people that I'm talking to [at UC Berkeley] emphasize wanting to give students the opportunity to try something new and put themselves in unfamiliar situations, both academically and personally,” he explains. "For instance, they encourage exploring a wide range of options beyond one's major, believing it creates more well-rounded individuals." 

With SAF's focus on facilitating for-credit study abroad experiences, de Gala says it’s also an opportunity for students to delve into subjects outside their major at Berkeley. For example, a math major can easily branch out into history, music, or learn a new language, while still earning credit at their home university. 


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Stay adaptable to new and unfamiliar settings 

Being tolerant of the unfamiliar is important, especially when you're in a place as diverse as Berkeley, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. De Gala points out, "A lot of students haven't seen the kind of cultural mix and economic differences that exist in the Bay Area. There's a stark gap between the rich and the poor here." 

He stresses the importance of not jumping to conclusions about people or places. "It can be tough to adjust, but many students end up having a more compassionate understanding of how things work here, seeing how it's different from back home."

SAF alumni Junle Zhang studied at Berkeley from January to April 2023. As a student from Nanjing University, he understands firsthand the fears some Chinese students have, especially regarding homelessness and safety. 

"Don't be afraid,” he advises. “Some people worry about homelessness as if it means the place is unsafe, but that's really not the case. Keeping an open mind and being tolerant is key to enjoying your time at Berkeley. It's all about seeing things from a new perspective."

Maintain a collaborative approach to learning

The UC Berkeley learning curve can be intense, but it’s also a deeply cooperative environment that places value on partnership-based work. 

“At Berkeley, collaboration isn’t just encouraged, it’s compulsory,” says de Gala, adding that a student's final grade is usually a blend of various elements, including class participation, homework, exams, and group projects.

"Expect to jump into discussions, tackle a lot of homework, and dive into group projects. That last part might feel like a big challenge if you're used to studying and working alone, but ultimately it's a really good experience to undergo academically.”


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Know how to ask for help when it’s needed

Equally important to collaboration is showing that you have the motivation to take charge of one's own learning. Former Berkeley student Junle Zhang attributes a significant part of his academic achievements at Berkeley to his proactive engagement with faculty, ensuring he kept his learning on track. 

"I made it a point to speak with my professors every office hour, asking questions about anything I didn’t understand – which honestly, was a lot at first!” he laughs. That diligent communication with his professors not only facilitated his understanding but also led to opportunities beyond the classroom, including personalized letters of recommendation for graduate school.

If contacting a professor seems daunting, de Gala mentions that many of Berkeley's programs will offer access to peer advisors. These are students, only a year or two ahead, ready to provide insightful support and guidance from a perspective closer to your own.

Above all, the key is to be proactive, addressing questions or concerns early on, ensuring a smooth and successful academic experience.


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Confidence is everything

The last thing it takes to get into Berkeley? Confidence. With the right grades and scores in hand, the next step is yours to take.

Junle says that while many friends dreamed of studying at Berkeley, he stood out by believing in himself and taking the crucial first step, reaching out to an SAF advisor to bring his dream to life. SAF was instrumental in his journey, providing comprehensive support from the application and visa process to arranging housing and insurance. However, it was Junle's confidence that truly propelled him forward.

“I invited so many students who wanted to study at UC Berkeley to apply with me – and they just didn’t do it,” he says. He emphasizes the value of self-belief and the courage to seize opportunities, ending with an enthusiastic nod to Berkeley's spirit: "Don't be afraid – just take that step. And always, Go Bears!"

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