Students conversing at GradFest
2019 GradFest Photo: Kelley Cox Photography

When speaking to students at a Graduate Diversity Admissions Fair this fall, UC Berkeley’s Vice Provost for Graduate Studies Lisa García Bedolla emphasized her role in encouraging the next generation of scholars: “My job is to leave the door open a little wider for those that come after me,” she shared.  

She noted that first-generation and BIPOC applicants often undervalue themselves in the application process. “Don’t make that mistake,” she underscored. “Apply and let them say no, rather than closing the door without trying.”

The strategy appears to have worked. In a coordinated effort with academic departments, the Graduate Division has processed a record high number of applications, with the most substantial increases coming from historically underrepresented students. While overall graduate applications have increased 19 percent when compared to last year, the number of underrepresented minority (URM) doctoral applicants increased by 42 percent and URM applicants to academic master’s programs increased by 82 percent. 

This increase was likely due to a confluence of factors, according to Assistant Dean for Diversity Denzil Streete. “Almost all departments eliminated GRE testing requirements for this admissions cycle, our Office for Graduate Diversity staff and student leaders hosted virtual workshops and seminars designed to support underrepresented students’ in their application process, and we increased how we targeted and marketed our fee waiver program. This is the start of what we hope is an upward trend in increasing the number of historically underrepresented applicants who apply,” he said. “Followed by admitting, supporting, and funding them, of course,” he added.

When Dr. Streete started in July, he saw an opportunity to work with programs across UC Berkeley to coalesce what had, until that point, been a relatively decentralized admissions recruitment process. “Our departments were working in silos to recruit students. We saw an opportunity to offer greater resources by combining and coordinating our efforts.” In organizing the first-ever Graduate Diversity Admissions Fair, the staff of the Office for Graduate Diversity was able to have more than 1,800 students engage in the initial welcome session, followed by more than 50 program-specific presentations hosted by departments and programs. 

To help sustain these efforts, the Graduate Division appointed 16 Diversity and Community Fellows, who, with other graduate students, led one-on-one application hackathon sessions with prospective students, and offered ongoing support and advice during their weekly office hours to students considering graduate school at Cal. One of the fellows, Martin Kinisu, an international doctoral student in Comparative Biochemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology, shared his advice for overcoming imposter syndrome in the graduate application process. “Imposter syndrome is the mental narrative that tells us all the reasons why we cannot do something that we probably can. Understand that you are not the same as every other applicant — allow people to know you and know your situation,” he advised applicants

In addition to hosting student-facing events, the Graduate Division has been working with departments to promote the philosophy and practice of holistic review amongst the faculty, staff, and students who comprise admissions committees. Targeted messaging, a holistic admissions workshop hosted by Julie Posselt, and ongoing departmental communication leaves Vice Provost García Bedolla hopeful that the 2021 fall cohort will be the most diverse and representative yet: “Berkeley is in the business of producing knowledge to serve the greater good,” she said. “Admitting students to our graduate programs who come from a variety of backgrounds, have different learning styles, and more diverse experiences will make us better able to develop the innovations we need to solve society’s big problems.” 

View our graduate admissions data, sampled below:

Graduate Applicant Counts : Fall 2020 vs 2021

bar graph showing increase in URM applicants in master's and doctoral programs

Notes: Application data is for fall terms. For purposes of year-over-year comparison, academic programs that did not receive applications for both Fall 2020 and Fall 2021 were excluded from this analysis. Applications for self-supporting and Law programs (except JSP) are excluded from this analysis. Programs that paused their doctoral admissions for Fall 2021 (Sociology, Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, History of Art) were not included in the Fall 2020 counts.

Top Movers

Graduate programs with the most year-on-year growth in URM applications (>10) for Fall 2021.

Program ’20     ’21    Year-on-Year Growth
Computer Science MS 12 33 21 (175%)
Business Administration PhD 11 29 18 (164%)
English PhD 29 74 45 (155%)
Global Studies MA 10 23 13 (130%)
Master of City Planning MCP 36 82 46 (128%)
Optometry OD 19 43 24 (126%)
Information Mgmt & Systems PhD        13 28 15 (115%)
Mechanical Engineering MS/PhD 13 28 15 (115%)
Psychology PhD 107 230 123 (115%)
Public Policy MPP 60 121 61 (102%)


Application Fee Waivers

1,175 applicant fee waivers were granted this year, 34% more waivers than were granted last year. 

Applicant Fee Waivers Change from last year: +295 (+34%)

Source: Graduate Admissions. Data reflects the number of applicants who applied for and were granted a fee waiver for financial need.