An Amer­i­can elite uni­ver­si­ty – so very dif­fer­ent?

UC Berkeley is one of the American elite universities that are famous all over the world. But what is really different in everyday life here compared to Berlin? From free gyms to lectures straight out of Silicon Valley, I'll tell you all about it!

The Haas School of Business at University College Berkeley: this is where I take my business courses. (photo: private)

A year of study at Berkeley normally costs between 10,000 and 80,000 US dollars - depending on whether you are from California or not and the degree programme you choose. This naturally limits access to education immensely and widens the gap between rich and poor. The good news for HU students: On exchange, you still only pay the regular semester fee in Berlin and thus get to enjoy one of the best universities in the world at an unbeatable price. So, there are really only advantages.

Entrepreneurial spirit and service orientation

I'll start with the academic side of things: As I'm studying business administration in Berlin, I'm taking my courses here at the Haas School of Business. Because it is one of the university's flagships and has a lot of money, Haas is often jokingly referred to by fellow students as a "private university within a public university". Haas is consistently high up in rankings for business studies and produces more start-ups than any other university in the world – even more than Harvard, Stanford or MIT! We are all familiar with companies founded by Berkeley students: Apple, eBay, Intel... the list is long.

Right from the start, I was surprised at how personalised the learning experience is at Berkeley: instead of sitting in huge lecture halls, there's a maximum of 60 other students in any of my courses. If I have questions about assignments or organisational matters, professors usually reply within a day and proactively offer consultation appointments.

Hands-on lessons from Silicon Valley

Almost all of my courses are taught by professors who have relevant practical experience - because they have founded companies themselves or gained experience in high-ranking corporate positions. This is incredibly valuable for business studies: I was able to gain a lot of practical knowledge that professors in Germany, who go through a much more academic selection process, do not have.

The content in my courses is also very practice-oriented and often includes case studies and interactive games. Last semester, for example, I had a course in negotiation management: I had to prepare for a specific role every week and then negotiate the price of a contract with my supplier or the price of a house with fellow students as the other party.

The clubs introduce themselves: "Taylor Swift Karaoke" or "Business Careers in Entertainment"? The choice is yours! (photo: private)

Extracurriculars at the university

In addition to the normal courses, there are countless other opportunities to further your education, meet new people and settle in quickly. I often attend the so-called "Dean's Speaker Series", where the Dean of the Business School invites people to talk about their experiences to curious students from all disciplines. Last semester, for example, I was very impressed when Google CFO Ruth Porat talked about her battle with cancer or Levi's CEO Chip Bergh explained how he led the struggling cult brand to new success after it had been completely out of favour for a while.

I would also recommend the so-called "clubs" as one of the best ways to get involved at UC Berkeley. Some are purely for fun, while others are competitive and pretty hardcore. Because I've been rowing almost my whole life, I thought about getting back into it here - but with the rowing club you have to go to practice five times a week at 6 a.m. - so I quickly abandoned that idea. Instead, I joined the skydiving club for a 25 dollar sign-up fee.

My club of choice: skydiving. Thumbs up! (photo: private)

Free sports facilities included!

Another part of everyday life that is essential for me, as for many others, is sports. Before I arrived, I was honestly a little worried about how easy it would be to find a gym nearby. As it turned out, however, my fears were completely unfounded - there is, if anything, an oversupply. While I paid dearly for my gym in Berlin, there are not only two university-owned gyms1 here, but also several swimming pools, football pitches, climbing gyms and - my personal favourite - more than ten tennis courts. Almost all of these sports facilities are free for students to use.

All in all, studying in Berkeley is more "all-inclusive" than in Berlin. Here, university is not just about courses and studying: it's the central hub for everything you do as a student - from sports to leisure time to career development.

(Published 8 April 2024)

  1. Pssst: HU, too, has a gym, located at Campus Nord.  

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    • Julius in Berke­ley

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      USA! I'm Julius and I'm reporting from Berkeley, California. I've been here for six months already, studying at one of the best public universities in the world. In this blog, I'll tell you what it's like to live here and listen to CEOs from Silicon Valley every week at university.