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A Guide to the Berkeley Summer Computer Science Academy: Is It Right For You?

If you’re an ambitious high school student thinking about college and building your profile, chances are you’ve considered attending a summer program, and with good reason: a pre-college summer program is a great way to show a demonstrated interest in a subject.


Depending on your interest, there are many competitive programs available. Suppose you’re curious about computer science and might want to pursue a degree but are not entirely sold on the discipline yet and have little to no prior experience. In that case, we suggest checking out the Berkeley Summer Computer Science Academy at the University of California, Berkeley, which is aimed at both novices and the more experienced coders. Berkeley offers a unique curriculum and computer language tailored for its summer program and takes a holistic approach to computer science.


What is the Berkeley Summer Computer Science Academy?


Berkeley’s Computer Science department offers the program. It is a two-week residential program open to all high school students, which means you can apply even if you don’t have a coding background. Berkeley’s Computer Science division is one of the best in the country — and the world — (it ranks #8 in the latest Times Higher Education global rankings), meaning that attending the summer program would be a formidable addition to your CV.


Is it prestigious?


Given the program’s steep price ($5,060) and absence of scholarships, we assume the prestige associated with it is limited. That being said, Berkeley’s Computer Science department is highly sought after, with its undergraduate program ranked #1 in the U.S. The university does not offer information on the Summer Academy’s acceptance rate and the size of the cohort. However, since Berkeley admits around 16,000 students into 600+ summer programs, we could assume the cohort size to be close to 30.



What does the program curriculum include?


As a student part of the program, you will be introduced to coding, essential computer science concepts, collaborative programming (when two or more developers work on code), and problem-solving. The Academy’s unique selling point is that it’s based on the world-renowned Beauty and Joy of Computing (BJC) Curriculum, a part of the undergraduate course taught at Berkeley. BJC believes that computer programming is among the most rewarding human activities and emphasizes the fun and problem-solving aspects of coding. Program participants will learn using Snap!, a programming language designed specifically for the course, to understand the “big ideas” of computer science. Students will be divided into two groups based on prior coding experience, and topics covered will include abstraction, functions, number representation, Boolean logic and conditionals, algorithms, lists and higher order functions, recursion, and the social implications of computer science, which encourages students to think beyond binaries.


The program’s curriculum is developed by Dan Garcia, a professor at Berkeley and a national leader of the “CSforALL” movement, which brings computing to underrepresented sections of society. Students will be taught by a mix of faculty members, senior college students, and industry professionals through lectures, workshops, and special seminars (Berkeley is yet to release its list of instructors for 2024). By residing on campus, they will interact with other Berkeley students. At the end of the program, students present their individual or group coding projects at the Code Celebration event. Berkeley’s computer science faculty and course instructors review the projects and give feedback.


The curriculum also includes “college exploration workshops” to help students prepare for the various admission processes, including crafting personal essays.


Who is eligible for the program?


The Berkeley Summer Computer Science Academy is moderately competitive. To apply, you must be 16 or 17 years old by the program’s start date. Prospective students must have completed either the 10th or 11th grade by the program’s start date and intend to complete high school in the coming year. The program also requires a minimum overall B average (3.0/4.0 GPA, weighted or unweighted). The summer program is open to domestic and international students. Additionally, all international students must meet the English language requirements.


When do applications for the Summer Academy open?


Applications for the 2024 cohort open on February 1, 2024, and close on March 12, 2024. The program will run for two weeks between June 16 and June 28, 2024. If you want to cancel your spot in the program, you must do so on or before April 12, 2024.


How much does the program cost?


Program fees are $5,060, and a $25 application fee. The fee includes tuition, housing, food, excursions, basic health insurance, and on-site support. The program takes place on the UC Berkeley campus.


What must I submit with my application?


You can view the documents you need to submit here. In addition, applicants must answer the following personal insights questions:

  • What, in your academic background, prepares you to participate in this program?

  • The program seeks to create an engaged and inclusive community that is welcoming to students from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for the program?


What are the pros and cons of applying for the program?


Pros

  1. Berkeley’s Computer Science department ranks #1 in the U.S. and #8 globally. By attending the Summer Academy, you will have a unique opportunity to study at one of the world’s best computer science colleges, giving you an introduction to undergraduate coursework through this program. Admissions officers positively view student applications that demonstrate motivation and willingness to engage with a subject outside of the classroom. You can use your participation in this academy to further personal projects, independent research, or add to your overall skill set in computer science.

  2. You will learn to use a unique and approachable programming language. Coding is taught through the innovative Snap! programming language, which is accessible and uses visual aids, making it more expressable compared to other text-based programming languages.

  3. Admission into the program is not very competitive. While information on the cohort is unavailable, the program cost and specific entry requirements suggest moderate program selectivity, increasing your chances of being accepted.


Cons

  1. The program is expensive. It costs $5,060. For comparison, UCLA’s summer coding camp costs around half the amount and runs for three weeks. Berkeley does not offer any scholarship opportunities. Additionally, the residential component of the program is compulsory, so you cannot pay any less. Berkeley also recommends students purchase additional health insurance, which would add to the cost.

  2. The Summer Academy is a short-duration, non-credit program. The program runs only for two weeks, which could limit the amount you can learn. Since it’s a non-credit program, you might have to enroll in college courses where you are already familiar with the coursework.

  3. The program is not accessible for international students. Berkeley does not sponsor visas for international students who want to attend the program.


What do we think of the program?


If you’re ambitious, are interested in computer science, and can afford the program fees, then we suggest applying to the Berkeley Summer Computer Science Academy. From our understanding of the program, it will provide a holistic and comprehensive introduction to computer science and coding, and spark creativity and problem-solving. The Berkeley Computer Science department is highly reputable, and you would learn a great deal and have the unique opportunity to interact with faculty and students. Your experience here would definitely help your college application! On the flip side, it is expensive, does not run for very long, and, as an international student, visa restrictions may prevent you from attending, even if you can afford it.


If you feel the Berkeley Summer Computer Science Academy is not for you but would like to pursue other computer science programs, then check out our list of the 10 best computer science programs for high school students.


If you’re looking to build a project/research paper in the field of AI & ML, consider applying to Veritas AI! 


Veritas AI is founded by Harvard graduate students. Through the programs, you get a chance to work 1-1 with mentors from universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and more to create unique, personalized projects. In the past year, we had over 1000 students learn AI & ML with us. You can apply here!


One other option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research in computer science or other STEM subjects, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.


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