‘Shot in the dark’ to Fiat Lux: UC Berkeley admits freshman class of 2026

Photo of UC Berkeley campus
Kimberly Fong/Staff
On March 24, UC Berkeley released its admissions decisions for the class of 2026 after having roughly 128,196 freshman admission applications.

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When she applied to UC Berkeley, Dima Alyahya of Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, never thought she would get in. Her application, she noted, felt like a “shot in the dark.”

On March 24, Alyahya — along with thousands of other freshman applicants around the world — received her decision. Surrounded by friends, she learned that the seemingly impossible had happened: She got in.

“(I) never expected it, not in a million years!” Alyahya said in an email. “I was very happy and felt like my hard work was finally rewarded.”

Alyahya is one of more than 15,000 freshmen that campus officials had previously said would be admitted in March, though campus officials were unable to verify the total number actually admitted. Some 128,196 applied for freshman admission, up from just 88,067 two years ago, according to Cal Answers data.

For weeks, the admissions process was in limbo after a court decision required campus to slash new in-person enrollment. Admissions were ultimately not affected due to the intervention of state policymakers, noted campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

Many admits welcomed their admission to UC Berkeley with joy. Among the reasons they cited for wanting to attend were prestige, academic excellence, groundbreaking research, good weather, proximity to Silicon Valley, flexibility and overall atmosphere. 

“It’s a really big epicenter for some of my academic inspirations,” said George Ingebretsen of Woodinville, Washington, referencing UC Berkeley professors Jennifer Doudna and Michael Pollan. “But I also know that it has a reputation for being a little bit cutthroat.”

Admitted students also expressed concerns about attending UC Berkeley. Emmet Kneafsey of Mill Valley cited his worry about finding a place to live amid the student housing “mess.” Anthony Scarpello of Orlando, meanwhile, was not sure if he could attend due to the cost of attendance as an out-of-state student.

The vast majority of applicants don’t get the choice of whether they attend UC Berkeley. Last year, campus denied six freshman applicants for each one it admitted.

“It was a little painful. I kind of always wanted to go there,” said Emma Doner of Los Angeles, who was denied admission to UC Berkeley but admitted to her top choice of UCLA. “Applications this year were really difficult. I didn’t take it too personally.”

Priyanka Menon of Singapore said in an email that she had no strong reaction to her denial of admission. She noted her expectations were managed by the admissions cap lawsuit, the somewhat arbitrary nature of admissions and disadvantages to international applicants. 

For out-of-state applicants like Menon, this cycle may have been more difficult than previous ones due to renewed pressure from the state to reduce out-of-state undergraduate enrollment to 18% by the 2026-27 academic year. California’s proposed budget offers the university $31 million in ongoing funding to cut 902 out-of-state students at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UCLA for the next academic year.

ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert, who is an out-of-state student, said that the move makes California a less welcoming place. The UC Office of the President did not respond to a request for comment on potential out-of-state enrollment cuts.

Despite the continuing need for students to fight for better policies, UC Berkeley has a lot to offer, Weichert noted.

“There’s just a tremendous community here, and this is a one-of-a-kind school,” Weichert said. “The bottom line is that if you want to come to Berkeley, you should come to Berkeley.”

Gabe Classon is a schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @gabeclasson.