Campus & community, Campus news

UC Berkeley’s push for more diversity shows in its newly admitted class

Prioritizing diversity in admissions has yielded "an amazing, academically talented and diverse class"

Aerial shot of UC Berkeley campus

UC Berkeley’s 2020-21 school year will welcome the most diverse admitted class in the campus’s recent history. (UC Berkeley photo)

The exceptionally talented students offered freshman admission to the University of California, Berkeley, for the upcoming academic year have an impressive distinction — theirs is the most ethnically diverse freshman admitted class in more than 30 years.

This is based on an increase in underrepresented minority students offered admission. Specifically, and remarkably, the campus has admitted 737 African American freshmen, 200 more than it did a year ago, for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, and that is the highest number since at least the late 1980s. Among Chicanx and Latinx freshmen, the number this year jumped by more than 1,000 students to 3,379, also the highest since at least the late 1980s.

These and other data for UC Berkeley’s newly admitted freshman and transfer classes were made public today (Thursday, July 16) as part of the UC Office of the President’s release of data from all nine UC undergraduate campuses.

New approach to admissions

For UC Berkeley, this increase in diversity is no accident. Campus leadership has prioritized increasing diversity for several years, and over the last year or so, a new undergraduate admissions director revamped the admissions office’s approach — from outreach to enrollment — to meet the goal of increasing diversity while maintaining UC Berkeley’s high academic standards.

“We started on this new class in August of last year” with outreach efforts, said Olufemi “Femi” Ogundele, assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions at UC Berkeley. “Everything shifted this year. We made a lot of changes. The cascading effects of these changes yielded the amazing, academically talented and diverse class we now have.”

Femi Ogundele

UC Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions, Olufemi “Femi” Ogundele, helped the university reach out to student communities that may have been overlooked in the past. (UC Berkeley photo)

The successful push toward greater diversity at UC Berkeley is also reflected in the new incoming classes by:

  • More Pell Grant recipients, an indicator of lower-income households. This year, there are  5,106 freshman and transfer admitted students, compared to 4,556 last year.
  • More California Dream Act Application filers, undocumented students eligible to receive state and institutional financial aid. This year, there are 258 freshman and transfer admitted students, compared to 224 last year. 
  • The campus’s largest number of scholarships awarded through its African American Initiative. This year, 44 scholarships were given, compared to 12 last year and 28 the first year. The increase was due to new private philanthropy, with key funding from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. 
  • More first generation college students, students from families in which neither parent has a four-year college degree. This fall, there will be 4,106 new first generation college freshmen, compared to 3,118 in 2019.
  • More countries represented among new freshman international students admitted to the campus. The number has increased from 74 last year to 84 this year.
  • More ethnic, as well as academic, diversity among new recipients of the Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship, the campus’s most prestigious scholarship. In the incoming class, there are 232 freshmen and transfer student recipients, and 31% are from underrepresented minorities, a significant increase from 22% in 2019.  More than 58 disciplines were represented among the scholarship recipients this year; in prior years, there was an overrepresentation of students in STEM fields.
  • Significant diversity among incoming Fiat Lux Scholarship recipients. This recruitment program aligns itself with UC Berkeley initiatives to create robust support for low-income, first generation college students with a focus on African American, Chicanx, Latinx and Native American students. Of the 89 incoming freshmen, 59% are from underrepresented minority groups, 75% are Pell Grant-eligible and 80% are first generation college students.

High academic achievement

shelves of books in a library

UC Berkeley’s incoming freshman class reflects the campus’s high academic standards, with an average unweighted GPA of 3.91 and an average SAT score of 1,415; on par with the previous year. (UC Berkeley photo)

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions made significant changes to the way it conducts outreach to prospective students by homing in on regions of the state, country and world that are less commonly seen in UC Berkeley’s applicant pool, but that would add racial, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic diversity to the campus. This outreach also was conducted in sometimes-overlooked communities in UC Berkeley’s own backyard.  

Admissions officials also solidified relationships with campus partners that also contribute to UC Berkeley’s outreach efforts, including the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, Center for Educational Partnerships, Division of Undergraduate Education, Centers for Educational Equity & Excellence, Division of Equity and Inclusion and bridges Multicultural Resource Center (a coalition of student-initiated recruitment and retention centers), in an effort to bring cohesion to outreach efforts and to make efficient use of resources. Admissions staff connected with high school, community college and community organization-based counselors to help them better understand the UC Berkeley admissions process. 

Ogundele said it was especially important for him to ensure UC Berkeley’s high academic standards were not compromised in order to achieve greater diversity. “We are showing that you can admit a diverse class that is academically excellent,” he said. “This is something I am by far the most proud of and something I am going to try to replicate year after year after year.”

The average unweighted GPA for this year’s admitted freshman class is 3.91, the same as the prior year; the average SAT score for this year’s admitted class is 1,415, compared to 1,419 last year, a statistically insignificant difference, according to Ogundele. The average score for the ACT remains at 29.

Close-up photo of Sather gate on campus

UC Berkeley will see an uptick in the number of new first generation college freshmen this fall — there will be 4,106, compared to 3,118 in 2019. (UC Berkeley photo)

Despite the record increase in offers of admission to underrepresented minorities and the indicators of greater diversity across additional measures, admissions officials noted that there is much more to do. The number of Native Americans offered admission remains low. Further, they added, offering admission is just one part of the admissions cycle — ensuring that many of these diverse students go on to enroll at UC Berkeley will be key.  

Overall, UC Berkeley admitted 14,668 students as freshmen in 2019 and 15,435 for fall 2020. The admit rate remains the same as last year, at 15%. All data for incoming freshmen that was released today is for those offered admission during the first round of offers, as well as those admitted from the waitlist.

About 70% of incoming freshmen are California residents, representing 53 of the state’s 58 counties. The rest come from 53 U.S. states and territories, and 84 countries.

Freshman applications remained relatively steady after many years of record highs. There were 87,353 applications for fall 2019 and 88,026 for fall 2020.

Transfer students

UC Berkeley admitted 4,779 incoming transfer students for 2020-2021, compared to 4,883 last year. Their average GPA, compared to the prior year, remains at 3.8. In terms of diversity, the number of underrepresented minority transfer students (African American, Chicanx, Latinx and Native American) who are newly admitted to UC Berkeley is 1,514, compared to 1,407 last year. More than 95% of the incoming transfer students are from the California Community Colleges. The number of first generation transfer students increased from 2,253 in 2019 to 2,311 in 2020.

COVID-19’s impact on the admissions cycle

Due to the global pandemic, UC Berkeley’s campus was closed to students, and courses were moved online, leaving the normally vibrant campus empty. But that didn’t impact student admissions for 2020-2021, as the university still admitted over 15,000 students. (UC Berkeley photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic required admissions officials to hold many March and April events remotely as they sought to convince newly admitted students to enroll at UC Berkeley. Instead of Cal Day, a one-day annual campus open house and festival for newly admitted students and the community, UC Berkeley hosted Cal Week, a full week of virtual panel discussions and other events to provide information to prospective students and answer their questions. More than 250 events were offered through Zoom and other online platforms, with the content made available on demand for those unable to attend live or scheduled sessions. For parents, some panel discussions were offered in Mandarin and Spanish. More than 6,000 people, most of them newly admitted students, participated in Cal Week, which ran April 18 to 24, on the weekend it began. 

Given the uncertainty about how the pandemic would impact students’ college choices this fall — such as whether they would choose to stay closer to home — admissions officials kept a larger waitlist this year than normal. But, in the end, only two small rounds of the waitlist were used, which was similar to prior admissions cycles.  

A number of students expressed interest in deferring their admission for a year; for freshmen, that number almost doubled this year. Transfer student requests for deferment had no notable increase. The campus has been reviewing such requests on a case-by-case basis and granted about 75% of freshman deferment requests.

It will be late summer before UC Berkeley officials know how many students who accepted admission offers will enroll. For now, it looks promising, with officials anticipating no more than a minor drop in anticipated new student enrollment.

Detailed UC Berkeley admissions data can be viewed here, but note that campus data includes all incoming students — those from California and out of state and those who are international. Some UC systemwide charts may have data that differ from UC Berkeley’s and, for example, include California resident counts only, be limited just to fall admissions or have a different point in time for its data collection.