Berkeley Students: A Closer Look

New Undergraduates Are Consistently High SAT Scorers, But Come From Widely Differing Backgrounds

by Marie Felde

In all the news coverage of the affirmative action issue, most of the focus was on the campus's ethnic makeup. Rarely did anyone offer a more comprehensive look at who Berkeley's students are.

Thanks to an annual survey of new undergraduates by the Office of Student Research and an accompanying report , a far more wide-ranging look at our students emerges.

Based on the survey of 1994 new undergraduates--including freshmen and transfer students--the authors conclude "Berkeley's new undergraduates are diverse in backgrounds and interests, enthusiastic about attending Berkeley and confident about their academic abilities." They also note that "the profile of the fall 1995 undergraduates will be very similar."

In fact, the SAT scores for the two classes are just one point apart--averaging 1225 for the '94 freshmen and 1224 for the '95 freshmen, even though the fall '95 freshman class is larger by 150 students. And their mean high school GPA is identical--3.84.

Active and Politically Varied To no one's surprise, Berkeley students enter the university anticipating active participation in the goings on here. Last year, 19 percent of male and female students indicated there was a good to very good chance they'd participate in a demonstration or rally.

Nationally at highly selective public universities, 9 percent of freshman females and just 5 percent of the males said they anticipated participating in such activities.

But just because Berkeley students are active doesn't mean they are going to be on the same side of the issue.

Students here are often stereotyped as "those Berkeley radicals." But 40 percent of new undergraduates in '94 described themselves as "middle of the road."

Just 11 percent said they are very liberal and 2 percent said they are very conservative. Some 37 percent described themselves as liberal and 12 percent as conservative.

What may come as a surprise to many is how altruistic Berkeley undergraduates are. Thirty-two percent of all new undergraduates report there is a very good chance they will participate in volunteer or community service work while at Berkeley.

These numbers are higher than the average at other highly selective public universities, but the real standouts are our male students. Here, 32 percent of male undergrads expect to volunteer, compared with only 13 percent nationally.

A Hard Working Group

Meeting the cost of education isn't easy for new students. A full 46 percent of last year's freshmen and 64 percent of transfer students expected to work in their first year at Berkeley.

The survey also found that 5 percent of the freshmen said they think there's a good to very good chance they'll have to withdraw for at least one semester to earn money to finish their education. Some 18 percent of freshmen said they expect to contribute to their family's income to help pay bills or otherwise assist.

About a quarter of the students come from families earning $28,600 a year or less. The median reported parental income for 1994 freshmen was $58,000. Half the families have annual incomes between $28,600 and $90,000, and a quarter earn more than $90,000 a year.

On the Home Front

The campus may be located in Northern California, but Los Angeles County provided nearly 30 percent of all new freshmen last year. Only 25 percent came from the four big Bay Area counties--Santa Clara (9.6 percent), Alameda (6.5), San Francisco (4.8), Contra Costa (4.3).

In all, 89.3 percent came from California. Nine percent came from other states, but no one state provided more than 1 percent. Only 1.7 percent are from foreign countries.

Most new freshmen, 82 percent, came from public high schools. Among transfers, 88 percent came from California community colleges, 6 percent from four-year colleges, 4 percent from other UC campuses and 2 percent from community colleges outside the state.

In '94, most new freshmen (72 percent) came from families where at least one parent has a four-year college degree. Fifty percent have at least one parent who either has a postgraduate degree or has done work toward one.

When you look more closely, strong differences among freshmen families stand out. For example, among white freshmen only 5 percent of fathers and 8 percent of mothers never went beyond high school. But among Chicanos, 46 percent of fathers and 53 percent of mothers had no educational experience past high school.

Looking Ahead

Most new undergraduates are already looking to the future. A full 82 percent said there is a very good or good chance they will enter a good graduate or pro-fessional school; 74 percent think there is a very good or good chance they will get a good job after graduation.


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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