Graduating from Berkeley gave me no special skills. I’ve come to the conclusion that the two years I spent there have not benefited me as considerably as I would have liked to believe earlier. Whatever prestige I receive from its name recognition, the school has provided little advantage, not only in the job market, but in my estimation of the skills I learned while being a student there. The two most important skills I learned at Berkeley were how to think critically and how to avoid ending sentences with prepositional phrases (which I still do, ironically). You might find that surprising, but the combination of those skills has engendered greater benefits than anything else at school.
I’m ambivalent about college degrees in general. What is the point of having an English or Russian or Spanish or Religious Studies degree? Maybe I should be asking, what is the point of a humanities degree? After graduation, I’ve been doing what I love, writing. Did I need a degree to write? I don’t believe so. The only thing I believe is that the friends I made at Berkeley and the mentors I got to work with influenced me in ways I could not have imagined. The degree itself, the idea of going to “Berkeley,” is overrated, but the experience is not. Am I the only one who sees a slight distinction here?
I went to Berkeley for several reasons: I wanted to impress someone, I wanted to go to the “best school,” I wanted to be able to get a good job after graduation, and right before I chose to apply there, I wanted to go there to be an English major. None of those reasons are good reasons to do something, except maybe perhaps the desire to be an English major and to write.
The one reason having a degree from Berkeley (and particularly an English degree) is good is that when I advertise my tutoring services, I can advertise that I am a Berkeley grad. This is my biggest selling point, besides my 800 score on the old-style Verbal portion of the SAT. I don’t think that having a degree from a well-respected institution automatically gives you credit for being a good teacher, and I always try to live up to that standard.
I made good friends, and I think I became a better writer through reading the writing of those friends, and through their feedback. Compared to the writers I met at community college, the writers at Berkeley were far better, which is also ironic because we were all transfer students. In general, I think writers at community colleges will not impress anyone but themselves, with the exceptions being those writers who move on to be serious in their art.
Sadly, there were people at Berkeley who didn’t care about writing. These people took up valuable workshop space and wasted the time of those of us who had tried to do our best in order to improve our art. These people viewed workshops as “easy grades,” no more, no less. Let me put it this way: for them, writing was a form of entertainment, something they could do on occasion, not something they’d work at every day for the rest of their lives, like some of my classmates.
The same goes for people who took part in the English Undergraduate Association on campus, and some people who participated in the Berkeley Poetry and Fiction Reviews. They thought it would be “cool” and would enhance their resume.