Getting into UC Berkeley
August 8, 2011 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Can I get into UC Berkeley graduate school after a mediocre undergraduate career by applying myself most strenuously to my teaching credential program?

Getting into UC Berkeley has been a dream of mine for a long time. I was a weird kid in High School that wanted to live my life as a hobo (literally), until my last semester when my parents took me to visit UC Berkeley. (They tried to take me to a lot of colleges and I would always refuse to look outside the window having made up my mind to become a hobo.)

Then all of a sudden, I decided to go to UC Berkeley. Sadly, by that point my grades weren't up to par, and had no chance of recovering even though that following semester I got a 4.0. My grades were average throughout and were pretty much the result of me not giving a shit about academics. I forgot about UCB soon after and just went to UC Davis instead.

As is always the case with me, it seems, I start out strong and then slowly degrade when my stamina runs out. I started out freshman year with a 4.0 because I was fired up and then things went downhill. I skipped more classes, I played more MMORPGs, and I just lay around all day reading comic books letting my grades suffer.

I graduated with a 3.0 (Just 3.0, not 3.something) with no distinction. Everything in life was always handed to me, and I always felt there was a way out. My parents paid for my college, I rarely had to work hard for anything, and I just felt that I was unprepared for life and that I'm a bit of a late bloomer. This past year I've had to support myself and I cut myself off from my parents. I've been barely living this past year off of minimum wage working at Safeway and living with my boyfriend. I had no car, and so I had to save up for a new one. I didn't have an apartment or food, so I had to budget for it. I got accepted into an extremely bureaucratic teaching credential program and through difficult financial aid loopholes all by my own volition.

I've been working full time, and taking 8 classes (22 units) this summer at the same time, and I've received a 4.0 and produced model exceptional work. I don't know if this is simply the start of another downhill cycle or if something truly has changed, but I want it to change.

Is it possible for me to somehow shine over my meager 3.0 from my undergraduate degree by excelling in my one year teaching credential program and become a worthy candidate for UC Berkeley Graduate School? (Of course in addition to leadership activities of some sort and a personal statement perhaps detailing my transformation.)

I know it depends greatly on the degree I choose to pursue, though I don't know yet exactly which one I want to complete. I'm also wondering what else I should do to distinguish myself. I have started the cogs on a Math and Science Service Learning Club, which I may become the founder of, should I decide to put my time into it, or I could possibly become a Campus Ambassador.

I am working for the Student Administration office at my University, and have close ties with many of the counselors and activity directors (it's a small office), and so I have an opportunity to foster some connections there. Is there any advice anyone can give on what I should do with my time in order to become a UC Berkeley Candidate?
posted by Peregrin5 to Education (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of grad school?

At the PhD level it is about match. Is UCB's Dept of X's Prof A and Prof B the best place on the planet for you to study the particular phenomenon of Z?

If so, and you can convey that to them, you have a good shot.

You'll need to get at least 1000 on your GREs to be a TA.

HOWEVER, as a recent UC grad, I have to say that I would not reccommend going to a UC grad program right now. Good faculty are fleeing. Money is really tight. Class teaching loads are higher than ever.

It is not a pretty scene.
posted by k8t at 9:25 PM on August 8, 2011

It totally depends on the program - although if you had a kick-ass personal statement and strong extracurriculars and recommendations, I'm sure that could outweigh your lower grades in some degree areas. Not in all, mind you.

But...I am confused about why you're doing a teaching credential. Do you want to teach? There aren't many other good reasons to get one, especially with how expensive they are.

And is your desire to go to Berkeley just a prestige thing? That's not a great reason, you know. Most people who do a graduate degree do it because they're passionate about the subject, not the zip code. Don't waste your money on a grad degree about which you're not passionate.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:32 PM on August 8, 2011

Response by poster: I probably won't go for a PhD for a while. I'm more likely going to go for an MS in something. I simply don't know what yet. As I'm becoming a teacher, there is a lot of pressure for me to get a Masters in Education. I'm not sure I want to do that however.

Part of the reason I'm going into teaching is because I don't know yet what I want to pursue in graduate school, but I love teaching, and I love science (which is what I'm teaching), but while I enjoy metacognition, I'm not sure its something I would enjoy living and breathing everyday.

I'm more interested in engineering (both software engineering and mechanical/electric), more specifically engineering scientific technology (creating tools for research), though I didn't really have any background in this in my undergraduate degree so I'll be taking some classes at an community college probably to catch up on the physics and engineering courses I'll need. We used a lot of these tools in my undergraduate career, and that got me interested in the people that created them and how they could be improved.

I think I had pretty good GRE scores, though I don't have them at hand since I misplaced them.
posted by Peregrin5 at 9:34 PM on August 8, 2011

You should be able to get accepted if you put in the effort with your application. A lot of graduate programs have a 3.0 minimum GPA requirement.
posted by gibbsjd77 at 9:35 PM on August 8, 2011

Response by poster: @guster4lovers: I'm teaching because I can't be a poor student forever with no method of payment for education, and I'm tired of working grocery store jobs. Being a teacher is extremely intellectually stimulating, and it provides decent pay, awesome benefits, and kick-ass hours. I can be involved in an educational environment which is what I really enjoy, and I can impart the love of science (if I'm skillful enough hopefully) to students.

And it's not a prestige thing, though my reason may be just as farcical. I just love the city of Berkeley and the town and the campus. It's beautiful. I'm living in the Bay area now, but not in Berkeley. I also love educational/academic environments as I stated before. I don't particularly have an immense passion for any particular subset of a subfield which is generally what people get graduate degrees in, but I do have a curiosity and a desire to contribute to the knowledge and technology of whatever field I end up in.
posted by Peregrin5 at 9:40 PM on August 8, 2011

Best answer: Getting good grades will help of course, but what kind of coursework is this, and at what kind of institution? Typically what matters most is your grades in upper-year (senior) coursework in the department that you are applying for. So if it's a history program, strong performance in senior history courses can (sometimes) make up a for weaker overall GPA.

But there is a cart/horse problem. You have some big choices to make:

Are you doing a research and thesis-based degree like a PhD or a master's which can lead to a PhD? Or are you doing a technical course-based degree or professional degree with no research component, like an MBA? The latter are easier to get into, but they are very expensive, and usually last only a year or two, and aren't designed for entry into academia. Admissions to research-based degrees is based mostly on match, as k8t says, and your research potential, as demonstrated by prior research experience and publications, grades and test scores, statement of purpose, and all-around package, in that order.

Also, what are you studying? History? Business? Computer science? Nursing? Law? The time to find yourself is before you start daydreaming about applications. There is no such thing as UC Berkeley Graduate School. Only hundreds of departments, each of which offers a different and HIGHLY SPECIALIZED experience. Grad school is a narrowing, a focusing -- see here. What are you specializing in? You better figure this out first.

And on preview... I think you should start looking at specific departments at Berkeley and try to find programs that appeal to you, and look for professors who are doing research that appeals to you. You have the beginnings of a vision, which is great -- this is what you need, having an idea of what you want to do.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:40 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

If money is a concern, consider that MAs are rarely good investments.
posted by k8t at 9:58 PM on August 8, 2011

Response by poster: Money is a concern, but that's partly why I'm becoming a teacher. I would also probably qualify for Financial Aid of some sort. And I'm not going to be pursuing an MA. Most likely it will be an MS.

Paul: I will take a look at the programs Berkeley has to offer. But this is all in good time. I failed to mention that I am not looking to enter grad school any time soon. It will be some years before that, as I really have to deliberate. I was inquiring as to whether I had a chance to better my situation as a candidate however using my performance from my teaching credential, and perhaps doing some extra-curriculars (though I'm a bit lost as to what extra-curriculars to do). I'm only 22 right now, and as I see it, I have plenty of time to get things in order.
posted by Peregrin5 at 10:04 PM on August 8, 2011

Hoo boy. Couple things:

1. My undergrad advisor gave me some really good (incredibly true) advice when I mentioned I wanted to teach "for a while" - he said that no one "falls" into teaching. You either do it or you don't. If you don't think teaching is your end goal, you shouldn't start down that road.

2. Teaching is not as intellectually stimulating as you would think. I teach high school, and find that it's more about how to present information than it is about that information. What you're describing is grad school. Not K-12 teaching.

3. I would never describe my hours as kick-ass. Have you student taught yet? The grading load is less in science than in English, but the planning, grading, etc. time commitment is far more than just the 8-3 you see on the surface. My day is rarely shorter than 7-5. Yes, you get vacations and summer off. But you're doing it wrong if your time commitment lasts from bell to bell.

4. Move to Berkeley. Seriously. As close to campus as possible. Enjoy that scene. If you're committed to teaching, give it a go in a school as close to Berkeley as possible. Berkeley High is great. You may find that will help your idealisation of Berkeley.

I don't mean to shit on your parade, but I'm concerned that you're in the middle of a teaching credential and already looking to something totally unrelated that in and of itself is hazy and undefined, other than what the address on your mail says.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:04 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: 1. I do want to end up teaching. Just maybe not in High School my entire life.

2. I find the metacognition and the strategies of pedagogy and study very intellectually stimulating. I enjoy that as well as the content area I am teaching.

3. 7-5 to me are GREAT hours. I've been working shifts starting from 3 am and sometimes ending at 2 am. I don't feel like a human being with those hours, however those are the jobs that are available to me. I don't plan on working from bell to bell, and I put an intense amount of commitment into whatever it is I do, occupation wise.

4. Berkeley is out of my price range. I don't idealize Berkeley. I simply like the area. I have friends from Berkeley High, so I know what you're getting at, but you don't have to assume that everybody that posts anything is a naiive under-experienced greenie.

Thanks for being concerned, but if there is disillusionment in my future, I'd rather confront it myself than have someone dissuade me from taking a path I'm relatively set on treading.
posted by Peregrin5 at 10:28 PM on August 8, 2011

You are doing this ass-backwards.

Decide what you want to do. Then decide the right school; the school that has the best-fit program for you and what you want to do.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:48 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I know I want to get a Masters in something and I want to get it at UC Berkeley. That's what I want to do. But asking this question has made me think about it a lot more, and I have a clearer idea of what I want to do. Or at least a potential field I want to go into.
posted by Peregrin5 at 10:58 PM on August 8, 2011

And that field is........
posted by mr_roboto at 10:59 PM on August 8, 2011

Response by poster: Well I want to develop research equipment, technology, and software for use in scientific inquiry. I don't know what field that would be considered.
posted by Peregrin5 at 11:02 PM on August 8, 2011

Electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or biomedical engineering, most likely.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:04 PM on August 8, 2011

What's your B.S. in?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:05 PM on August 8, 2011

Response by poster: BS in Anthropology. Not really related, but I'm interested in that field. I will be getting the prereqs done.
posted by Peregrin5 at 11:21 PM on August 8, 2011

Well, the grades that matter are the grades in those prereqs. Especially your math and physics classes.

Your teaching credential program, not as much.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:31 PM on August 8, 2011

Well I want to develop research equipment, technology, and software for use in scientific inquiry. I don't know what field that would be considered.

This is still pretty vague.

An idea:

Try to find a company that does something along the lines of what you're interested in. Find some way to get involved, even at a simple level. Data entry. Be friendly with the people there doing kind of what you're interested in. Talk to them about it! I'm in a technical field and I'm more than happy to nerd out with people just dipping their toes in the water. Maybe work at a couple of different companies. Do all of this with a goal of deciding how you might be able to contribute to the world of scientific technology. You might surprise yourself. For example: A lot of technology design at the moment has to do with human factors -- creating interfaces between man and machine. Anthropology might actually come in useful, or at least give you a unique angle on these sorts of problems.

Anyway: Once you've got a more concrete sense of how this market (academic and business) works, I think you'll be a much better candidate for a high-level degree. My understanding of graduate degrees in general is that they're not for exploring new subjects and deciding what might interest you -- they're for people who have already decided and are now willing to put some serious effort into excelling in some facet of that field. (My particular Master's program was more exploratory, but I think it's an exceptional case.)

Good luck!
posted by chasing at 11:47 PM on August 8, 2011

Look, I'm sorry if I've offended you. I hope you succeed and end up with a MS from Berkeley - I really do.

I just know what it's like to be a new teacher. I work with new teachers. My best friend is starting his second year in teaching this year (he did the MUSE program at Berkeley, including the MA option). My husband is doing his credential now. I get that it's an attractive field, especially if you don't know what else to do.

But it's also a job where, if your heart isn't in it, you will will probably fail yourself, but you will certainly fail your students.

I know your question was about getting into Cal. There's no reason you couldn't get in if you've got the GRE scores and a great application. But what you're getting from us here should be an indication of something - when you apply, these are the kinds of questions you'll get asked. Why did you do a teaching credential? Why are you applying to x field when your degree is in y? Why this program? What research have we done that you are interested in? What research have you done that we'd be interested in? Why Cal? How do we know that you won't "lose stamina" in our program?

From your update, I wonder if you couldn't find a job that's some combination of education and scientific R&D. After a few years teaching, lots of companies would pick you up to help them develop lab/science curriculum.

Also, Berkeley isn't THAT expensive. There'll be plenty students looking for an extra roommate in a few weeks. And I wasn't "getting at" anything. Berkeley is a cool place to live. There's lots of stuff to do. Lots of cool people. And it feels different from anywhere else in the Bay. I live in the Bay Area, and if I didn't hate the commute through the maze with the passion of burning hellfire, I'd live there. I understand loving Berkeley, but the generic desire to get any degree with the Berkeley name on it confuses me. Sorry.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:27 AM on August 9, 2011

Best answer: Even if you had fantastic grades and GRE scores, you would need a much more concrete idea of what you wanted to do to avoid getting culled at the application or interview stages. No department is looking for someone who really wants to get a master's degree at Berkeley.

In what field are you interested in developing "research equipment, technology, and software for use in scientific inquiry?" You will probably want to be in grad school in the engineering analog of that field, or in the scientific field itself. Berkeley probably does not admit people to study for master's degrees in most natural sciences, so if you must do a master's, it will probably be in engineering.

In any case, the things you are planning will not help you get into a graduate engineering program. They are unlikely to care much about your teacher training program, your student leadership activities, or your connections with student administration.

What would help you the most are (1) great GRE scores, (2) perfect grades from now on (you should get a 4.0 in all of the prereqs), and (3) research experience. The best thing to do for research experience would be to try to get a summer job in the lab in Berkeley where you are interested in doing your thesis work. It will be easier to get such a job if you are able to work for free, or if you try after you have a 4.0 in the prereq work to show off.

Just for the record: this is a bad idea. Don't say we didn't warn you.
posted by grouse at 12:41 AM on August 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

This is a phantom right now in need of a body.
In my master's work in computer engineering a lot of people did what could be called "developing tools of scientific inquiry"; they were trying to improve on algorithms that are commonly used in computer-aided-design tools in the semiconductor industry. Many grads from this program go on to work for these companies. Cadence Design Systems and Synopsis are examples of the kind of stuff I'm talking about. These is very heavy applied science stuff and frankly you need an engineering bachelor's (or maybe physics) before you could work at the level that would be required, because you need to understand complex physical phenomena well enough to abstract and model them. It's not a question of "prereqs" but rather a four-year course sequence before you get to the required levels of calculus, physics, diff equations, circuit design, materials, programming, etc... This is what I mean by specialization. It's just one example from my own past, but most of the sciences and engineering fields have similar stories.

You need a program that allows you to skim the surface of the technical stuff while focusing on other things that are both more accessible to you, and more of interest. Possibly human-computer interaction (HCI). Look at MIT's Media Lab and you'll see cool things happening there. "Tools of science" means software these days, and instead of doing the hard research that the software is based on, you can study the software itself, and how its used, and how people could make better use of it. HCI is typically found within computer science departments, but tends to be a broad field, and would make really good use of your anthropology degree and your stated interests.

Again though the cart/horse problem. If you want to be teaching, and you don't like high school, I don't know if a master's degree in HCI or anything gets you where you want to get. There is still idealism in your goals that has to be stripped away. If you still want to get a master's but you don't know what field, you are not done thinking.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:44 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems like you're likening grad school to undergrad: pick a school, pick a possible major, but expect to explore a bunch of different avenues and get all of the details worked out once you're actually attending the school.

This is not grad school at all. Grad school is for people who have a very specific idea of what job they want to do with their lives (i.e. "study the excited states of a particular flavin" vs. "make technology in something!"). The name of the school, whether you like the campus, etc all comes secondary to whether or not that program fits your needs. The biochem program and flavin research at once school may not fit your goals while another may fit it exactly. Once you've found the grad programs where the research there is research that fits your needs then you go about applying to them. Your grad experience is going to be pretty miserable if you expect to do your exploring at the school itself (and honestly you won't be able to get in with that plan).
posted by Anonymous at 3:04 AM on August 9, 2011

Many people in this thread have PhDs and have seen dozens of people come through the programs.

We're telling you that without a specific program for a specific reason, your chance are slim at getting in.

And as schroedinger mentions, grad school means not really enjoying the campus or having a life, fwiw.
posted by k8t at 3:49 AM on August 9, 2011

Best answer: OK two final thoughts. I've implied that the technical fields are closed to you without a bachelor's in those fields. It may be possible to pick up enough to muddle through via extra coursework and you might be wondering about this. You'll face two issues. First, understand that doing graduate work requires being conversant at the frontier of knowledge in a given field, which means reading journal papers and understanding them well enough to critically evaluate them, which means really knowing your stuff, and it is HARD to get to that point in a completely new field without extensive study. Second, you may feel that you are up to the challenge, but your prospective advisers have no reason to take you on when they have their pick of applicants who come directly from the field through their undergrad and most likely have research experience in the field already, and even publications. Grad school can be very competitive, and applying to a field where it appears that you don't have the necessary skills adds a lot of risk to your application -- even more than a weak GPA. This is why people are now telling you your chances are slim at getting in.

Second, though, I want to say that I admire your determination. I get a sense you are not here to be talked into or out of anything, but that you have a goal and want to achieve it and will probably just adjust things based on the information you receive. It's not uncommon at 22 to have vague ideas about what you want to do and I wouldn't want you to be discouraged by all this advice. Hang onto that determination; it will serve you well.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone!

As you have all said, I don't have a chance without thinking this through more for perhaps a few years. As I said earlier, I don't intend to apply immediately, and that this is a goal for me in the future. I'm only working on what I can do now to show to the school that the person I was in my undergraduate career isn't the person I am now, and I plan on doing that by excelling at my teaching credential program to show them a distinct turning point in my life in which I did accept the challenges faced me and dominated them.

I will definitely continue my education after this program, especially in the field of which I'm interested in getting a Masters in and work my hardest to excel in those courses as well as gathering research experience by volunteering at labs and networking more and perhaps attempt to get a paper or two published. All the things I failed to do as an undergrad because I didn't adjust to the college experience quickly enough. I will also definitely personally clarify my goals more over these next few years before I actually apply.

To everyone who is having doubts about me being a teacher, I am passionate about teaching and nothing scares me more than that I wouldn't be adequate enough for my students to succeed in college and their future. Be assured that I will take every measure possible to become a great teacher, but I will also continue to develop myself as someone who enamored with academia and developing human knowledge rather than be satisfied with any single position I find myself in. Your answers and feedback are much appreciated!
posted by Peregrin5 at 9:38 AM on August 9, 2011

ABD dropout here.

You have a near-zero chance, given your stated goals and background, from getting into a Masters program that involves research and discovery. Should you get into such a program, it will likely have a lower ratio if reward to expense than interning for free at a design firm or joining a Burning Man camp or taking classes at a hackerspace.
posted by zippy at 9:59 AM on August 9, 2011

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