Campus & community, Campus news

In a pandemic year, UC Berkeley admits another outstanding, more diverse class

A record 112,800 students applied to UC Berkeley for a spot in the fall 2021 freshman class

Berkeley football field and students forming a bear with their bodies

A record 112,800 students applied to UC Berkeley for a spot in the fall 2021 freshman class. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

One year after admitting its most diverse freshmen class in 30 years, the University of California, Berkeley, has met or exceeded last year’s success in its admission of underrepresented minority students for fall 2021.

“We have admitted a class almost identical to the record-breaking class of last year,” said Olufemi Ogundele, UC Berkeley associate vice chancellor of enrollment management and dean of undergraduate admissions. “Faced with a pandemic and a 28% increase in freshman applications, we remained focused on our values of access, excellence and diversity. We have a lot to be proud of.”

Admissions data for fall 2021, which were released today, show an increase over last year in admission offers to African American, Chicanx/Latinx and Native American students. The average GPA of all admitted freshmen remains high (3.7 unweighted and 4.12 weighted) and comparable to that of prior admitted classes.

Increasing campus diversity — such as ethnically, geographically, and in terms of students’ academic interests and socioeconomic status — has been a key goal of campus leaders for several years.

UC Berkeley admission figures were released today in coordination with University of California officials, who posted freshman and transfer admissions data for all nine UC undergraduate campuses.

A record 112,800 students applied to UC Berkeley for a spot in the fall 2021 freshman class. Each freshman application to UC Berkeley is read twice. And with so many more applications received this year, the admissions staff had to change their schedules to provide an additional week to read through them.

While the increase in applications may be due, in part, to UC Berkeley and all other UC campuses eliminating SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process, starting with fall 2021 applicants, Ogundele believes it is the result, in larger part, of campus outreach efforts that encouraged a broader and more diverse cross-section of students to apply.

Among the freshmen who applied, roughly 16,400 were offered admission, about 960 more than the prior year. However, because there was such a large increase in applicants, the percentage of applicants offered admission dropped to 14% of the applicant pool for fall 2021, down from about 17% last year. This includes students offered admission from the waitlist.

The coronavirus pandemic also caused admissions officials at UC Berkeley and across the country to be uncertain whether students would choose to stay close to home or get away from home this fall. But it appears Berkeley admissions projections were on target. So far, Ogundele said, data suggest that enrollment targets for freshmen and transfer students will be met. Enrollment estimates will be available near the start of the school year in August.

”We were so successful in our yield,” he said, referring to students who have indicated intent to enroll this fall, “that our use of the waitlist has been minimal this year, compared to prior years.”

Transfer students, additional student demographics

Among transfer students, there was an 8.7% increase in applications, from about 20,400 last year to just under 22,200 this year. For fall 2021, 22% of transfer applicants were offered admission, compared to 23% last year.

Their average GPA is comparable to prior years, about 3.6 unweighted.  About 95% of these admits attended a California community college.

Regarding underrepresented transfer students, while African American and Native American admissions numbers are below fall 2020 numbers, Latinx/Chicanx transfer student numbers increased to 1,296 from 1,215 last year.

Additional information about the new admitted class includes these data:

  • Compared to last year, UC Berkeley admitted more freshmen and transfer students from families where neither parent has a four-year college degree. The number of first-generation freshman students increased to 4,367 from 4,105 last year. For transfer students, it rose to 2,371 from 2,303 last year.
  • More freshmen students listed their identity as genderqueer/gender non-conforming —131 this year, compared to 76 last year.
  • Freshman students come from 53 of the 58 California counties; 54 U.S. states and territories; and 102 countries, including representation from 28 countries that had no UC Berkeley admits last year.
  • In the past, Berkeley Underground Scholars, students who were incarcerated or from families in which someone was incarcerated, have largely been transfer students, but this year there is a notable number of freshman admits, 94. A dozen are transfer students.
  • More students who participated in campus outreach programs for underserved kindergarten-through-community college students were offered admission —41 more freshmen compared to the previous year and almost 30 more transfer students than last year.

The pandemic year

This admissions cycle was the first cycle at UC Berkeley held completely during the pandemic. From outreach work to encourage students to apply, to efforts to admit students and to encourage them to enroll, officials relied on mostly remote events, including campus tours. But they also held drive-by events to hand out UC Berkeley swag and materials, such as pennants and brochures, to more than 400 admitted students throughout the state. Their sole in-person program was at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, where local admitted students and families gathered for a drive-in event celebrating their achievement.

Ogundele said that COVID-19’s disparate impact on communities of color and with low socioeconomic status communities could be seen in students’ essays in their applications to UC Berkeley.

“It is one thing (for them) to talk about what it did to them. What stood out to us was how committed so many of them are to act, to care for their community,” he said. “You want students that lean into community. It is inspiring.”

Many students with financial and other resource constraints showed incredible resourcefulness in their efforts to serve their communities and were great examples of the “impatient trailblazers” Ogundele said UC Berkeley seeks among its tens of thousands of applicants.

“This is not the forgotten class that missed out on prom,” he said. “They stepped up. They took action.”

One admitted student, inspired by the student’s immunocompromised mother and her need for help to get groceries during the pandemic, created an organization that shopped for those at higher risk of serious symptoms of COVID-19. Another student made masks, held fundraisers and donated proceeds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A student body president at a community college created a virtual student activities center to maintain students’ engagement throughout the pandemic. Yet another created an online local farmers market to support farmers devastated by the pandemic and to allow communities to safely purchase local produce, as they did at farmer’s markets before COVID-19 closed them down.

Additional data on the new admits

For more data on the new freshman admitted class, see the UC Berkeley admissions charts, which include information on all incoming students — from California, elsewhere and abroad. Some UC systemwide charts may have data that differ from UC Berkeley’s and, for example, may show California resident counts only. Some UC Berkeley and UC data may not match because some UC charts may be limited just to fall admissions or may reflect a different point in time for its data collection.

Admission notices were provided to freshmen on March 25 and to transfer students on April 23.