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Who goes here? The undergrad lowdown
Latest survey data offers a 360-degree view of the Berkeley student body - its social and study habits, political leanings, and academic inclinations

| 06 February 2008

The "studious class ... are thin and pale, their feet are cold, their heads are hot, the night is without sleep.." Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote. An apt description, perhaps, for some of Berkeley's bookish. But for a detailed, 21st-century campus overview - capturing students' family backgrounds, study habits, time use, social attitudes, even how they get their news - it pays to go straight to the source.

Thousands of Berkeley students each spring answer an extensive Web-based questionnaire known as the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) - and the results are now in from the 51 percent (11,957 out of 23,278) of spring-semester Berkeley undergrads who answered the survey's myriad queries.

Family affairs

For nearly two in five Berkeley undergrads, English is a second language; the tongues spoken back home number at least 70 - from Armenian and Catalan to Mandarin, Navajo, and Yoruba. That finding captures the vast range of student backgrounds found at Berkeley, where more than a quarter of undergrads are foreign-born, 40 percent have one or both parents born outside the U.S., and nearly a third are the first in their family to attend college.

To stay connected with home, 24 percent of students talk to their parents daily by telephone, while 81 percent speak with their parents by phone once a week or more. E-mail is the next-most-common means of staying in touch - with 32 percent e-mailing their folks at least once a week. Meanwhile, 15 percent say they visit in person with their parents weekly, while 13 percent text-message.

School matters

Berkeley undergraduates report spending, on average, about 17 hours per week in classes, class sections, and labs, and 16 hours studying outside of class (about half what faculty members typically expect from them).

Berkeley's academic reputation and the stiff competition for admission are sources of stress 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, 28 percent chose "being able to excel at Berkeley the way I excelled in high school" and 14 percent chose "being able to maintain a high enough GPA."

The most popular intended major of new freshmen is business administration (as it is for students nationwide) - a practical choice, considering that 31 percent expect that they and/or their parents will need to repay $20,000 in educational loans by the time they graduate from Berkeley. 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.

Asked "what factors were very important to you in deciding on your major," 75 percent of juniors and seniors with declared majors cited intellectual curiosity. The second-most-common reason (for 48 percent) is to prepare for a fulfilling career. Money ranked third (22 percent). Far fewer chose a major based on their parents' wishes or on easy requirements for the major (7 percent each). First- and second-generation immigrants are considerably more likely than others to major in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

Where the time goes

Eighty-three percent participate in some form of recreational sports or exercise, averaging seven hours a week (while 17 percent reported spending zero time moving their bods). Although most are raising their endorphin levels through exercise, almost half, nonetheless, could probably use more R&R: close to 47 percent report that stress has interfered with their schoolwork or academic success all the time or frequently; 43 percent say the same about sleep deprivation.

Intriguingly, transcript records appear to support the importance of sleep to academic performance, says David Radwin, an analyst with the Office of Student Research. On average, he reports, students who sleep at least seven hours per weeknight earn a GPA about a tenth of a letter grade higher than those who get just five to six hours - and nearly three-tenths of a point higher (about the difference between a B+ and a B) than students who sleep less than five hours.

Besides shuteye and studies, 38 percent of undergrads spend 11 or more hours per week socializing with friends. Recreational computer use is even higher: 44 percent spend 11 hours or more a week on instant messaging, games, shopping, and other non-academic computer-based activities.

According to a 2006 technology survey, virtually all Berkeley undergrads own a computer, and 94 percent own a cell phone. Four-fifths of Berkeley undergrads use the popular social networking site Facebook, nearly half of them daily.

Leaning left

To read the political tea leaves in our campus's small (and admittedly atypical) corner of the universe, the 2007 UCUES is a good place to start. At Berkeley, 55 percent of students who were eligible to vote say they cast a ballot in the November 2006 mid-term election. (A caveat: Research shows that surveys typically over-report voter turnout by several percentage points.) As a rough comparison, voter turnout in 2006 among 18-to-29-year-olds has been estimated at 24 percent nationally and 25 percent for California.

Berkeley undergrads lean leftward - though perhaps not as far as some may imagine. Sixty-three percent consider themselves slightly to very liberal, 22 percent are in the middle of the road, and 16 percent call themselves some flavor of conservative. Self-identified Democrats outnumber the GOP-identified by more than five to one.

Asked to identify their main source of news and public-affairs information, a solid majority (66 percent) chose the Internet, trailed at a great distance by a metropolitan daily newspaper (8 percent). Student journalists may be pleasantly surprised to learn that The Daily Californian, at 7 percent, tops all the remaining choices of news sources: national and local TV news, public radio, weekly newsmagazines, public TV, and talk radio (in order of most popular to least).

The above summary is derived from a five-part series based on this year's UCUES survey published originally on the UC Berkeley NewsCenter, at newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/survey07.