While Berkeley is nationally recognized for many reasons, its top-notch academics are probably its most notable feature. Students at Cal are proud to be getting an Ivy League education at a quarter of the cost, and they say the larger class size is worth the price difference. While every Berkeley department is ranked in the Top 10 nationally, Berkeley’s research gives it an international reputation. Class competition varies by department. Pre-med courses and prerequisites for the Haas Undergraduate Business Administration major are notoriously cutthroat, since students know how much their grades will influence their futures. The colleges of Chemistry, Environmental Design (architecture), and Engineering are generally considered more difficult that the College of Letters and Science and often involve more class time because of labs and studio sessions. The homework loads in these schools are also fairly daunting, though most students figure out how to handle their schoolwork by sophomore year. While students can definitely get competitive, most are more likely to help their classmates than sabotage them.
Nobody will notice if you miss a lecture, and many classes are podcast, so students often cash in on this option. In reading-based courses, some students do all of the reading but never attend lecture, some attend class but never read, and some find a happy medium. As long as you turn in whatever papers are assigned, you should get a decent GPA. Still, it’s clear when a student does all of the reading and goes to every class, and these students normally end up with the best grades.