Berkeley Vs Stanford – Which School Is Better?

As the most populous state in the union, California has a lot of students to serve. And as one of the country’s wealthiest states, California has many excellent schools to work with those students.

One of the most famous is Stanford University. Founded in 1885, Stanford is one of the nation’s most respected private research institutions. Over the years, the school has been associated with some of the most respected leaders in a variety of fields, including former President Herbert Hoover, 74 billionaires, and winners of nearly every major award.

Thanks to the school’s $37.8 billion endowment, Stanford can devote itself to cutting-edge research. In 1959, Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the synthesis of DNA material he performed in Stanford labs. 

In 1996, Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin began a school project which would eventually become the internet giant Google.

Although a public institution, the University of California at Berkeley has an equally impressive history. Founded shortly before Stanford in 1868, Berkeley is the oldest school in the University of California system.

For some, UC Berkeley is synonymous with the counter-culture movements of the 1960s, as its campus was a home for free speech and creative expression. But that only scratches the surface of the school’s offerings.

Like Stanford, UC Berkeley has hosted discoveries that have changed the way we live. Scientists at Berkeley discovered both carbon 14 and launched the Supernova Cosmology Project, the system that allowed us to study dark matter. 

The school is the alma mater of famed business leaders and innovators, such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Mozilla founder Mitchell Baker.

Clearly, both schools have much to be proud of. But which one is better?

Berkeley Vs. Stanford – Academic Requirements for Admission

UC Berkeley
Zpwilliams, Bowles Residential Hall (UC Berkeley) (2016), CC BY-SA 4.0

Both Berkeley and Stanford are two of the most respected and popular schools in the country. And for that reason, it’s very hard to get accepted into either.

As a public school, Berkeley does have a mandate to be more accessible, especially for citizens of California. Therefore, the school requires all the basic things you would expect for a college application. You must complete an application, submit transcripts, and (if you choose) standardized test scores.

That might seem straightforward, but it’s essential to remember that Berkeley has very high expectations for its students’ grades. 

Although the school does not list a minimum grade point average requirement, the average GPA of those accepted into the school is an extremely high 3.89. To earn a GPA that high, one must score nearly all A’s in high school, with maybe one or two B’s in a non-major subject.

While Berkeley does not accept letters of recommendation, students can offset a lower GPA by writing a strong admissions essay. 

In most cases, Berkeley offers applicants several different prompts, usually about one’s character or values, and requires 350-word responses. These essays give applicants a chance to explain themselves and the ways they can improve Berkeley’s student body.

One might expect Stanford to have a far more complex application system, as it is a private institution. 

However, it requires most of the same things as Berkeley, including an application and transcripts. Like Berkeley, Stanford does not require standardized test scores in an application, but it does ask for three letters of recommendation.

As high as Berkeley’s average GPA is, Stanford is even higher, coming in at 3.96. Again, such a rate leaves little room for any grade that isn’t an A. However, Stanford uses not only application essays but also an interview, which allows students to make a case for their acceptance, even with slightly lower grades.

Berkeley Vs. Stanford – Ranking, Acceptance Rates, and More

As you might expect from those exacting requirements, neither Berkeley nor Stanford have high acceptance rates. 

Between the two, Berkeley is a bit more lenient, operating with an acceptance rate of 17.5%. That should be no surprise, as Berkeley is a public school and a member of the University of California system, which encourages transfers from California community colleges.

As a prestigious private school, Stanford has a much lower acceptance rate of 5.2%. In fact, that’s one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country, rivaled only by Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale, which accept 4.0% and 4.6% of their applicants.

With such low odds, it’s entirely reasonable to wonder why anyone would even try to apply to either school. After all, even by Berkeley’s rate, fewer than 2 out of 10 students would make the cut.

The answer to that question can be found by looking at the rankings these schools have garnered.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the most respected of the ranking outlets, UC Berkeley is the 22nd best school in the nation. 

It stands out even more on the magazine’s specialized lists. On the list of top public schools, only sister school the University of California – Los Angeles tops Berkeley. U.S News ranks Berkeley as home to the 3rd best business program in the U.S. and the 7th best school for veterans.

The same outlet gives Stanford incredibly high marks. U.S News ranks Stanford as the 6th best school in the U.S., tied with the University of Chicago. On specialized lists, Stanford falls within the top ten in several categories, including best value schools (9th), most innovative schools (7th), and best colleges for graduates (6th).

A quick glance at these rankings might suggest that Stanford outdoes UC Berkeley. But one notices something interesting when looking at the lists for best engineering programs and best computer science programs. On both of those lists, Stanford ties Berkeley for first or second place.

Deciding Whether to Attend Berkeley or Stanford

Stanford University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

With both schools ranking so close to one another, the choice of school comes down to your plans as a student. While both schools are excellent, Stanford and Berkeley have very different offerings.

At UC Berkeley, you’ll find one of the world’s best optometry schools. Berkeley Optometry boasts some of the best resources for students, such as the Meredith W. Morgan University Eye Center and the Tang Eye Center, in which students gain hands-on experience while improving the vision of its community members. 

It’s no wonder that Berkeley Optometry’s faculty and alumni list includes former American Optometric Association presidents and the American Academy of Optometry.

Those interested in meteorology can work at the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center. The central hub for all atmospheric research and academics at Berkeley, the Center offers students and faculty access to state-of-the-art technology. 

Through these offerings, students gain insight into topics such as smog effects, climate variability, and more.

As you probably know, Stanford is no slouch in the science department.

That’s particularly evident with the Stanford School of Medicine, considered by most to be among the best in the world. 

Stanford Med builds its reputation thanks in part to its association with Stanford Health Care, a level-I trauma center and 620 beds. Even better, Stanford Med boasts a compliment of teachers who have earned the world’s respect, including the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology recipient, Thomas C. Südhof.

While UC Berkeley does not have a medical school, there is a 5-year joint program with UCSF students can participate in.

On the legal side of things, there’s Stanford Law School, founded in 1893 and once featured classes taught by former President Benjamin Harrison. Today, Stanford Law regularly ranks within the top five American law schools.

Stanford Law builds its reputation not only with its remarkable faculty and alumni but also with its additions to the world of academia. The school publishes a number of top-level journals, such as the Stanford Law Review, the Stanford Journal of International Law, and the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties.

That being said, UC Berkeley is among the best law schools in the entire world, and both Stanford and Berkeley are members of the prestigious “T14” law school club

RECAP – Which Is the Better School, Berkeley or Stanford?

If California is your dream, then you will certainly be happy at either Berkeley or Stanford. Both schools have been the site of social change and important discoveries, revolutionizing art, technology, and more. And as such important schools, Stanford and Berkeley expect nothing but the best from those admitted into their programs.

Both schools use fairly standard application systems, requiring transcripts and admissions essays. 

And both schools expect to see nearly perfect As on those transcripts, with Berkeley allowing a little more room for error. However, neither school requires standardized test scores, at least for the 2022-2023 school year.

Because of their high requirements, neither school has a high admission rate. Stanford brings in a smaller percentage of students, resulting in an acceptance rate of just 5.2%, but even Berkeley’s slightly larger 17.5% is very low.

The schools can turn away so many students precisely because they enjoy extremely high rankings. While Stanford comes in slightly higher at 6th in the nation, above Berkeley’s 22nd in the nation, the two institutions find themselves tied in subjects such as computer science and engineering.

In short, both schools are among the best in the world. The decision really comes down to your own plans and preferences. No matter what school you choose, no one would ever feel embarrassed to hang a diploma on the wall, whether it comes from Stanford University or the University of California at Berkeley.