FPF ain’t all that (but it ain’t all bad)

Mug of Imad Pasha, who just graduated from college

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Look, FPF is weird.

I thought it when I first got the email that I was a spring admit five years ago, and I think it now. So do, as far as I can tell, most of my friends who were in it. And yet, we’re now like a weird, fucked-up extended family. Like most things, the Fall Program for Freshmen has its ups and downs — but looking back my time there five years later, I can say that despite my qualms with it, FPF was the right choice for me.

If you go to the Fall Program for Freshmen website, you’ll notice that it’s marketed as an elite version of UC Berkeley, with “tailored” learning and a “strong community of peers, advisors, and instructors.” FPF claims its students have higher graduation rates than students who start on campus. They promise you’ll make friends from day one rather than be lost in a sea of anonymous freshmen.

The reality of the situation is a little different. It’s true that some of your classes will be smaller than some equivalent courses on campus. But it’s not really any easier to make friends in an 80-person lecture than a 300-person one. In my experience, there wasn’t an advantage to having an FPF adviser, since either you don’t know what you want to pursue in college yet or, if you do, the FPF adviser doesn’t have the knowledge that a campus major adviser will.

FPF tries to convince you that the extra $2,050 you pay on top of tuition goes toward a better education, but in reality, the quality of classes there are on par with, or less than, their campus counterparts. That’s not to say it’s not a useful transition system for some incoming students — but I wouldn’t call it hype.

In short, FPF isn’t, as it claims, “like being in a small liberal arts college for your first semester.” But the worst part about it, and about being a spring admit in general, is the fact that for all its slick advertising, UC Berkeley admitted you in spring to use you for an accounting trick. And ultimately, nothing — not even dropping the term “spring admit” — will change that.

What do I mean? UC Berkeley has about a 97 percent retention rate for incoming freshmen and a 94 percent retention rate for incoming transfer students. That means that during every break between fall and spring semester, give or take 383 students drop out of UC Berkeley, based on fall enrollment data. Add in the approximately 600 students who graduate each December, and you rather coincidentally get about 900 — the exact number of students UC Berkeley expects to enroll, based on sending about 2,500 spring admission offers each round.

In short, UC Berkeley delays your admission so that, come spring, you can “fill in the holes” and allow it to claim, in part for all those rankings it holds dear, perfect enrollment — not to mention allowing the school to maximize its tuition draw.

But why did they pick you? Why was it me?

It’s a question that dogged me for the better part of my undergraduate career. In a place where imposter syndrome thrives and flourishes, I felt like all my friends had Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarships while I was just the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel.

And I wasn’t totally wrong. Some might say that who gets spring admission as opposed to fall admission is mostly random — it’s not. The algorithm by which UC Berkeley admits students is both complex and largely secretive. But several publicly available reports shed light on the process, indicating that “L&S and Engineering applicants who are denied fall admission” then “compete for spring admission.”

Once you’re in that pool, readers will look at other students from your high school and determine whether you should be a “by-high-school admit.” One-third of this category, for example, is admitted despite their reader-assigned application scores having “implied denial,” because they have high school classmates with “weaker academic records” who are being admitted.

You might be wondering, then, if there’s a stigma around campus that being in FPF or arriving in spring means you “barely got in” or deserved your admission less. Honestly, there isn’t — as much as the Black Sheep will make fun of you (calling FPF the “Fall Program for Fucking Incompetence”), your peers on campus post-fall won’t even know you were in FPF. Collectively, the whole campus would rather self-deprecate over being “Stanford rejects.”

And though I didn’t really hang on to any of my friends from FPF, occasionally I’ll meet someone who lets slip they were in it, and suddenly we’ll be in a little club together. I’ll ask if they took Math 1B there, and they’ll go, “Oh! Did you have Fred!?” It’s a weird but oddly satisfying point of contact to have with someone, based on a time three to four years ago when almost everyone who went through FPF took a class with that chain-smoking, awesome math lecturer.

Ultimately, you’re deciding two things — whether to accept your offer despite it being spring admission, and, if you do, whether to participate in FPF.

To the first point: Accept. For all my pent-up feelings of inadequacy, spring admission did not in any way prevent me from getting a world-class education here — one that has now gotten me into graduate school to pursue my dreams. Getting through those feelings was a valuable lesson, and now I’ll be bleeding blue and gold for the rest of my life.

To the second point: It depends. FPF is expensive — more than $2,000 higher than the tuition for regular campus. They’ll claim it’s for the upgraded experience, but from the student perspective, the limited classes FPF offers, access to an adviser and even small class sizes might not be worth that extra money, especially when you could take community college credits anywhere for almost no money that will transfer exactly the same way.

On the other hand, the opportunity to live in the dorms as a freshman was absolutely invaluable to me. Your friends on your dorm floor won’t know or care you’re in FPF; they’ll just want to go get dinner or party with you on the weekends. If I hadn’t arrived in fall, I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends today. Arriving into the dorms in the spring, once all the hallway relationships have been forged, sounds downright terrifying to me, and I’ve already graduated.

In short, FPF ain’t shit — but UC Berkeley really is, and diving into it as soon as you can is never a bad call.

Contact Imad Pasha at [email protected]. Tweet him at @prappleizer.