Which university is more difficult: UC Berkeley or Stanford?
Dror Maydan, studied at University of California, Berkeley
I got my BS in EECS from Cal and then proceeded to get a Ph.D. in CS at Stanford. While both were very positive experiences, the cultures at the two are very different.
When I first started at Stanford, the one sentence difference that stuck in my mind was that at Stanford the university likes the students. Let me highlight with a few stories.
My first semester at Cal, I took an honors class in math with 20 to 30 students (it’s been a while so I don’t remember exactly). The Professor had been living in the US for 20 years, yet still couldn’t speak or write English; the lesson on Hook’s law drew a lot of laughter when he wrote and pronounced Fuk’s law and couldn’t understand why everyone was laughing. Before the first midterm, he explicitly told the class that there would be no curve; an A would require 90%. Out of 15 points, the class average was 5. Since there was no curve he let the students retake the test. Despite giving us the exact same questions, the average only went up to 7. Now the kicker, he returned the results the day after the deadline for dropping the class. While half the class wanted to switch to the regular class, a rule was a rule and none could.
Upper division classes at Berkeley were nicer but more work. One class had two separate assignments that required working in the lab until 4 AM on the day following an all nighter. Tons of work but not busy work. We were building real systems and that’s what it takes to make them work.
Now let’s switch to Stanford. One day I get a parking ticket for $14. I didn’t bother to pay it. A month later I get a threatening note that because I didn’t pay on time, the fine was now going to be $13.
One of the first classes I took at Stanford gave two programming assignments the entire quarter. One was very easy and one was average, not even close to the Berkeley project. The following year, I shared an office with the TA of the Stanford class. The professor walked in and told the TA that students were evaluating his class as too hard, and the administrating told him that if he didn’t improve his evaluations, he would not get promoted from Associate to full Professor. Therefore, the professor was dropping the second assignment. I can’t imagine such a conversation in Berkeley.
So, which is harder, Berkeley no doubt. Which is better, it really depends on what you need. Both have very smart students: at the top end the students are very similar, at the bottom end there are more such students at Berkeley. Both have great professors. Berkeley will try to break you, although mostly just in the first couple of years. If you make it through the hazing, Berkeley is a wonderful place that will challenge you like no place else and prepare you for the real world. If you don’t survive the hazing, and many don’t, you will drop out.
Stanford will expose you to the best professors and the best students. You will make great connections. If you are self motivated, you will learn a lot. If you are not, you will coast through.