UC-Berkeley, or Cal for short, is the flagship of the University of California system, and one of the most selective public colleges in the country. A well-respected research institution, Cal gives students access to a faculty that includes numerous MacArthur “geniuses,” Pulitzer Prize winners, and Nobel laureates, including biologist Randy Schekman who received the Nobel for medicine last year and astrophysicist George Smoot who won the 2006 award in physics.
Like many big universities, lower-level classes are large—one computer science course usually has more than 1,000 students. With scale also comes a mind-boggling array of choices for non-academic pursuits, including more than 50 sororities and fraternities and hundreds of clubs (there are more than half a dozen just devoted to specific dance styles such as tango, salsa, ballroom, and K-Pop). Sports are a big draw and the Golden Bears’ Division I sports teams tend to be very strong (the football rivalry with nearby Stanford is legendary). Berkeley also sent 45 athletes to the 2012 Olympics.
Cal grads go on to earn, on average, about $54,700 within five years, a significant premium over comparable schools. Notable alumni include novelist Maxine Hong Kingston, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.