BERKELEY — This five-part series presents a portrait of the UC Berkeley undergraduate student body, based on recent surveys conducted by the university. In this final installment we look at freshmen and transfer students, comparing their respective backgrounds and experiences on campus, both academic and social.
New freshmen — what's on their minds?
UC Berkeley's academic reputation and the stiff competition for admission are sources of agida for many new freshmen in the weeks prior to their move to campus. Asked to name the one thing that most concerned them about starting at Berkeley, from a list of 20 common worries — from getting along with roommates to finding affordable housing and financing their education — the top worries were "being able to excel at Berkeley the way I excelled in high school" (chosen by 28%) and "being able to maintain a high enough GPA" (14%).
Among new freshmen, the most popular intended major is business administration — a practical choice, considering that 31% expect that they and/or their parents will need to repay $20,000 in educational loans by the time they graduate from Berkeley. "Business administration is apparently the most popular major in the nation," notes David Radwin of the Office of Student Research (OSR). "Only two other UC campuses offer it, however, so there are probably some students who choose Berkeley especially to major in business."
Molecular and cell biology is the second most popular intended major; third ranked is Middle Eastern Studies (which never before made the top five), tied with engineering and engineering science. Electrical engineering and computer sciences came in fourth, political science fifth.
Among transfer students, English is the most popular intended major, followed, in order, by economics, molecular and cell biology, business administration, and mass communications. All these stats on intended major come with the caveat that many students change their minds by their junior year, when they're required to declare a major.
Transfer students in focus
Transfer students differ somewhat from their freshman-admit counterparts in terms of family background: 31% of transfers come from low-income households (where parents' combined annual income is less than $35,000, compared to 23% of incoming freshmen. And where about a quarter of freshman admits were born outside the U.S., nearly two-fifths of transfers are foreign born. (Likewise, while for 55% of new freshmen both parents were born in the United States, that's true for only 44% of transfer students.) Enrollment figures for fall 2007 show that 19% of new transfer students are underrepresented minorities (American Indian, African American, and Chicano/Latino), vs. 16% of new freshmen.
How do transfers compare to their peers in terms of how they use their time — on work, study, family life, campus activities — and to what degree they're satisfied with their social and academic experience at Berkeley? For one, be it because of a slightly higher average age (21), family or work obligations, or other factors, transfer students are less likely than freshman admits to participate in student clubs or organizations (49% for transfers vs. 71% for freshmen).
Whether or not they participate in student organizations, most new students (69% of new transfers and 76% of new freshmen) say they're satisfied with their overall social experience at Berkeley. Asked whether, knowing what they now know, they would still enroll at Berkeley, transfers students, by a very slight margin, are more likely to answer in the affirmative (88% of transfers, vs. 87% for their fellow undergrads). The large majority of both groups (87% of freshman admits and 83% of transfer students) feel they "belong" at Berkeley.
Berkeley transfer students study about 10% more hours than freshman admits — about 17 hours per week compared to 15 for freshman admits — although freshman admits spend about one more hour per week in class than transfer students. Those who enter as freshman are significantly more likely to participate in research with faculty than transfer students (40% vs. 25%).
Close to half of new students of both categories work to help support themselves, and they're increasingly likely to do so as they advance through the ranks. Transfer students often give themselves a break from work their first semester on campus — but then start working again in earnest, as they feel the financial pinch.
"Sometimes the financial aid doesn't help as much as they thought it would," notes Eva Rivas, director of the campus's Transfer, Re-entry, and Student Parent Center. "They have to do something on the side."
When transfer students do work, they spend, on average, two more hours at their jobs each week than do freshman admits. Transfers also spend more time commuting to school and work — five hours per week, compared to three for non-transfer students.
According to Debbie Ellis of the Office of Student Research, graduation rates have been improving steadily for transfers, as they have for freshman admits. "More and more transfers are graduating in two years," she says, with the two-year graduation rate now at an all-time high in stats dating back to the early 1980s.