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10 Things That Totally Suck At UC Berkeley

10 Things That Totally Suck At UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley has many perks, but like all things in life, the glass is not always full, and even if it is, it will always be half (more or less) empty. The expensive golden roses come with their own twists and ‘thorns’, and ten of them are written below. Read on for ten things that totally suck at UC Berkeley; they may not suck for everyone, and I hope they don’t, but I do wish they stop sucking soon!

1. The Student Financial Aid Office’s Hours

Also known as Cal Student Central, the Student Financial Aid Office opens Monday to Friday, from 9 am to noon and then from 1- 4 pm, with the one hour lunch break in between. However, beware my Bears, that these are not the true “hours of operation” of this clerical institution; an experienced (or unlucky) student knows that the office, in fact, in Cal reality, opens at 8 am – when the long queue of students starts forming like a snake of stellar students waiting in line to purchase their staple diet consisting of Chipotle burritos (this might be an exaggeration, but is extremely close to the truth of traffic at the office) – and closes more often than not, at only 11 am. These hours are designed to conflict with most typical class schedules.

This two hour window never suited my class schedule. Whenever I went to the office, which was thrice a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – the days I had class at Cal in the Fall Semester), I arrived as soon as I could. The first day, I was too late. The second day, I arrived thinking that, since it closes at 4 pm, arriving at 1 pm should be a comfortable time. I was dreadfully wrong; the receptionist said that they had “reached full capacity” at 11, and had stopped accepting customers since then. Oh, so students are customers.

The third day, I skipped my most important class (Calculus) and went to the office at 8 AM sharp, already aware of the line, since my questions were urgent in order to solve important financial matters relating to my account. To my dismay, they were CLOSED that day. The odds were definitely not in my favor that entire week. Did I mention I also hate calling Cal Student Central because they always hang up, despite multiple calling attempts? Rude alert.

2. Lack of Safety

Most of the homeless folk that surround the outskirts of Downtown Berkeley and one church building (the American Baptist Seminary of the West Building, that houses the Fall Program For Freshmen or FPF) are harmless, but some of them, due to a variety of reasons, attack students. Some are mentally ill, and cannot control themselves – or their foul language and tones – when they harass passers walking by, who are, COINCIDENTALLY, Cal students. Many physically attack, while others stalk, follow or endeavor to make verbal contact – creepy.

This situation is quite horrible for some unfortunate students, as said in one Reddit post:

“So in my three years here, I’ve been assaulted at a bus stop in broad daylight, have had a fire rage just a block from my apartment, heard gun shots in the night, had a homeless guy try to fight me at my work place, and just the huge number of crazy homeless folk who are ACTUALLY crazy. These are just people who aren’t safe for society and would scream and threaten you as you walk by.

In addition to all this crazy stuff happen off campus, there are homeless people who just occupy the bathroom stalls 24/7 in libraries, students who hog entire classrooms by their lonesome, and there are all the scumbag students who leave their stuff in a seat in Mainstacks as they go off somewhere for hours.

And just as icing on the cake, I accidentally left my phone in the bathroom of Mainstacks for maybe 15 minutes, only to find it stolen thereafter.”

 

3. The Stress Levels

The academic intensity and prestige that accompanies the brand-name and face value of UC Berkeley is not rosy at all. It has its own thorns, like all of life. According to University Prime Time, UC Berkeley tops and ranks first in the list of “Top 50 Colleges With The Most Stressed Out Student Bodies”. My cortisol levels heighten up by simply reading the article itself.

4. Almost Everything – And Every Test – is Free-Response

In high school, the majority of tests I took were multiple-choice, or short-answer, with a few essays scattered here and there, in between. We spent almost half of our time in Accelerated Honors and Advanced Placement classes, learning the correct process of elimination (POE) technique as well as practicing other test-taking strategies to successfully tackle MCQs (multiple-choice questions), even though essays accounted for the larger portion of our overall test scores. It was silly at the time – how the focus on essays was so little (though sometimes serious efforts to improve in this area were made). I thought AP tests prepared students for college, not spoon-feed them information that proved to never be pertinent for the actual college journey. Perhaps this is just an individual fault of mine. But, I have never written so much and taken so few scantrons during a single semester in my entire life.

5. The Semester Academic System (for some)

This may not suck for every single UC Berkeley student (including myself), but I am certain that there are some students out there who dislike, or perhaps even despise, the semester system. UC Berkeley is the only UC, along with UC Merced, that follows the semester academic system. This means that, while you have more time to get settled within the academics of the new classes (especially if it’s your first freshmen semester at Cal), since you won’t be on your toes all the time (at least not 80% of the time), you also have more content to get through cumulatively in a certain period of time.

While there are pros to this academic system, the drawbacks of the semester system include the inadequacy of time to efficiently learn the content, the increased workload (as the declaration of results in 10 weeks would double the work load of departments since semester exams imply more revaluations), fewer opportunities to experience extra-curricular activities (though, I can assure you that many students will defy this trend beyond measure; kudos to them!), and a smaller variety of classes to choose from (fewer classes taken on average than in the quarter system, but there are many ways to beat this con, such as by exceeding the unit limit for classes during a single semester). Am I recycling content here?

6. Too Much Variety

I mean, in terms of classes. There are SO many types of classes and classes themselves to choose from, that it makes choosing my schedule for next semester a whole “class” – a chore, a task, a work – in itself. Seriously, I think there should be a separate ‘course research’ class universally assigned to all students just so that they could devote some time to deciding what classes to take.

More often than not, I spend more of my school time not actually on the courses I am taking, but on DECIDING what courses I will take next semester, or what to change if I don’t like a current course(s) I’m taking during the current semester. One of the best courses available at Berkeley are deCal courses, classes run by students that are typically one to two units long. There’s a Critical Studies of Pornography deCal, a fencing deCal, a “History of Middle Earth and Knitting 101” deCal, and even a Botanical Gardens deCal where all you do is tour the Berkeley Botanical Gardens!

There are also seminars available for freshman and sophomores to choose from. These seminars provide an unparalleled opportunity for faculty members and small groups of lower-division students to explore a scholarly topic of mutual interest together, following an often spontaneous flow of dialogue and interchange in the spirit of learning for its own sake. Furthermore, there are also courses called Discovery Courses, that are taught by some of the most distinguished faculty on campus, that are deliberately designed to engage and ignite the minds of non-experts, destined to be unforgettable.

Big Ideas courses are courses that bring together two (or more!) outstanding professors, from completely different disciplines, and one BIG IDEA, putting these elements in a room full of bright Berkeley undergraduates, allowing for spirited discussion to flourish.

This sheer variety means that tons of time is designated as “research time”: time that goes in to looking up the professor’s rating on RateMyProfessor.com, their grading schemes, the best discussion section to choose, etc. Honestly, I believe that there should be a separate built-in mandatory course called “Course Decisions” for all students (excluding graduating seniors), so that they can all take their own sweet time to dedicate themselves to course research. Choosing which course to take in such a short period of time of four years – or more – is a tough homework assignment in itself. Policy changes needed, huh?

 

7. Large Lecture Sizes

The class size at UC Berkeley is just too big for me, but I knew that before coming to Cal. Of course, class sizes have been increasing for most majors, depending on the popularity of the major. Freshman chemistry may have 2000 students enrolled, while CS61A, a popular prerequisite at Cal for those going into Computer Science, had a whopping 1098 people enrolled during one demanding school year (it was 2013, I believe; don’t quote me on that). At the same time, there are also many classes that cap off at 20 students or less. The smallest class one student I read about online has ever been in contained only 11 students.

In fact, some classes exist that have fewer than 40 students, especially when it came to upper division course work. Dietetics classes are around 25 students, French classes are all limited to 20 students, and anthropology classes range anywhere from 30 to 120 students. Even for larger classes, the bigger lecture course is often divided into smaller discussion and/or lab sections that meet once a week (or more). These sections give students the chance to ask questions, receive answers, and get to know people in a small classroom setting. Not bad, but still a little something for a pessimist like me to pout and whine about.

See Also

8. Too Much Politics

Not to mention student protests. Don’t get me wrong – getting involved in politics and intellectual discussion about government policies, political figures who shape our future through legislation and local municipal policies, and other conversations of the similar sort, are all extremely valuable and healthy, in a variety of ways that would take me much too long to elaborate. Their good for the discussers, the negotiators, for society as a whole, for the brain and learning and education and democracy, and the list goes on and on…. Berkeley’s legacy in politics is something well-known to me, at least by now.

But, for me, it’s sometimes too much to handle – liberalism doesn’t suit my political tastes, not to the point that I can digest it for breakfast, supper, brunch, lunch, dinner, and every other meal of the day. All I’m saying is that this signature quality is one of the perks of Berkeley, that just might turn out to be bad for those uninterested in politics; that guy who screams “happy happy happy” on Sproul Plaza, on-campus all the time, creeps me often. Still, this may just suck for me.

9. Urbanization Paired with Overpopulation

I think the more accurate word to use would be ‘overcrowdedness.’ This combination is a double whammy. With more and more students applying each year, overcrowded housing is becoming a bigger issue by each UC application cycle annually. The RSSP – Residential Student Service Programs – has said that it may need to convert study lounges to four-person rooms and turn some double rooms into triples.

With UC Berkeley having one of the costliest room and board rates in the nation, this possibility just isn’t up to the standards, considering students pay thousands of dollars each semester to live on campus. Because this is also not the first year RSSP has resorted to converting student lounges to make more room for students — albeit temporarily — the program needs to come up with a more permanent solution to handle an increase in student occupancy (this information is due to the kind courtesy of The Daily Californian).

It’s hard to walk in Downtown Berkeley because of the natural architecture, placement and cramping of the buildings as it is, but the overcrowding caused by the housing crisis inherent in, not only the city of Berkeley but in the entire area of San Francisco and Silicon Valley itself, only makes things more worse. The urbanization and gentrification – or should I say “over-gentrification” – is sometimes too overwhelming, given the number of coffee shops, cafes, and fast food joints/restaurants encapsulating campus. No worries – there are a few healthy food options too, just in case you wish to know!

10. The Poor Wi-fi Networks and Phase I and II System of Choosing Classes

Berkeley, despite having one of the most renowned Computer Science programs of the country, still has it’s own CS problems to deal with: like highly crappy on-campus wifi-networks, known as Airbears and Airbears2. It’s honestly weird to consider how students must resort to using the CalVisitors wi-fi network, the one intended for temporary visitors and not for full-time four-year university students, just because it runs faster than the ones that require the campus passwords for students.

Meanwhile, the Phase I/II System means that students have unit limits to choose courses as well as specific dates to enroll in them, with two different time periods or “phases” to do so; the later the dates assigned, the less likely one is able to enroll in the respective class or get off the waitlist if there is one for a specific highly demanded lecture/discussion section. This system has very good purposes, effects, and intentions, but not all these consequences are pluses.

Another thing that personally sucks for me is that there is no Safeway or Costco within walking distance of campus (good in one way, though, since it means I can’t always skip lecture to go get free Costco food samples!)

 

Featured photo source: sfgate.com and huffingtonpost.com
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