The woes of the Fall Program for Freshmen

FPF Berkeley building
Yukun Zhang/File

Friday afternoon. I sit on my couch in the living room, mindlessly switching channels on the television, with the only other thought in my head being, “I wonder what mama’s cooking tonight for dinner?” It was the end of another long week filled with senioritis and not much else other than the perpetual anxiety of the future.

With my phone in one hand and the television remote in the other, I take a quick break from channel surfing to shift gears from one screen to the next. After a few minutes of scrolling through social media, my heart skips a beat at the sight of a new email notification.

“An Update to your UC Berkeley Application.”

“At first, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had been cheated.”

Following the initial cathartic reaction of seeing the confetti fall from the top of the screen (in addition to the brief minute of screaming like I had never screamed before), I read through the admission letter in its entirety. This energy and excitement, however, was diluted after looking over just one sentence, telling me I was offered admission to the school, but only on the basis of being a “January 2018” admit.

At first, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had been cheated. All the hard work and determination simply to wait an entire semester to begin school. “Maybe I’ll just use this time to find a job, make some income in the meanwhile, or start community college and get some general requirements out of the way,” I thought to myself.

This is where FPF, short for Fall Program for Freshmen, comes in. As one of the alternative first-year pathways for January 2018 admits, FPF describes itself as a “small liberal arts college within a larger research university.” With two campuses, one in Berkeley and one in San Francisco, the FPF allows January 2018 admits to work toward their degree without actually being considered regular freshmen. The offer seemed exponentially more enticing than having to wait half a year to begin school again. In retrospect, however, this was a mere illusion.

Now that I’m here attending Berkeley’s FPF campus, I won’t say it’s been the most ideal experience. While the program offers a multitude of facets that might not be available to on-campus freshmen, the disadvantages far outweigh these benefits.

The most prominent among these disadvantages is the fact that we are paying extra fees of approximately $2,050 in exchange for “smaller class sizes, increased access to one-on-one advising, and access to special workshops and events held exclusively for FPF students.” While these components are true, they are not necessarily unique to FPF.

Additionally, it brings an extra burden to low-income students who are already struggling with in-state tuition. Even more so is the fact that we’re considered extension students. While the differences between a regular campus student and an extension student are hard to discern —  and are perhaps nonexistent for others — the financial aspect of FPF shouldn’t present an additional encumbrance.

“Additionally, it brings an extra burden to low-income students who are already struggling with in-state tuition.”

Aside from its detrimental monetary components, the program also tends to result in students feeling isolated from their peers taking classes on main campus. For instance, the sheer geography of the FPF Berkeley on Hillegass Street, located four blocks south of the university, is enough to make FPF students feel a disconnection between themselves and regular students, literally and socially.

Melissa Chao, a campus freshman who lives in the Foothill residence halls, criticizes its location, stating it’s “so terrible” and “it’s a hassle.” She said it takes her 20 minutes to walk from her dorm to Hillegass Street.

As for the FPF San Francisco campus, Michelle Li, a campus freshman, describes what it’s like to commute to school everyday.

“I take the bus, and taking the bus to San Francisco is like an hour,” Li said. “(There’s) a disconnect between (us) and Berkeley campus because I don’t really see them as often.”

Li’s experiences, when it comes to transportation, are issues that are seemingly pushed aside by the FPF San Francisco campus. One would think that with the extra $2,050 dollars in FPF fees, there would be some understanding and financial assistance. These issues, however, coupled with the social disconnection that comes about as a result, are key problems with the program.

“I don’t think I’ll be prepared for a larger classroom setting. … It’ll be a lot harder to get closer to the professor.”

— Michelle Li

In terms of academics and the upcoming spring semester, Li goes on to describe how she feels about transitioning onto the main campus.

“The environment is kind of different from (main campus),” Li said. “I don’t think I’ll be prepared for a larger classroom setting. … It’ll be a lot harder to get closer to the professor.”

Unlike Li, however, Nikki Yu, another campus freshman in FPF, appreciates the smaller class sizes FPF has to offer, claiming it makes it “easier to understand” the curriculum better than if she were in larger class sizes.

Although FPF prides itself on its smaller class sizes, with the largest lectures capped at about 60 students, this is not the reality for a majority of courses that students will be taking in the spring semester. While it’s helpful for students that strive in intimate settings, it sets up a false reality that will only hurt them when next semester rolls around.

I don’t think the FPF system as it is right now is financially or socially efficient. Even though the program is valuable in terms of its smaller class sizes, the extra financial burdens it presents are not justified. Additionally, unless an FPF student is involved in extracurriculars, internships or organizations that meet on campus, there’s no better experience that could prepare them as best as being a regular UC Berkeley student.

Do I regret my decision of choosing FPF Berkeley? Partially. While I am still taking classes toward my major, and the professors — for the most part — are amazing, there are some things that could use some changing in order to allow FPF students to feel more included in the greater campus culture.

Contact Justin Dela Cruz at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @justindcruzucb.