College Process Student Voices

UC Berkeley: Things to Know About Housing Before You Go

Housing at UC Berkeley can be a source of anxiety for incoming students. For many, it will be the first time they live away from home. They may also hear nightmare roommate stories, or struggle to understand the housing system. Although these anxieties are normal, students can alleviate some of them by taking a look at the pros and cons of housing options in Berkeley to ensure they live in the best possible space for themselves!

Unit 1, a dorm building at UC Berkeley adjacent to Unit 3.

Campus Housing

Though many undergrads live in campus housing for all four years, students at UC Berkeley often do so for only one or two years, due to housing shortages at the university as well as personal preference. 

According to the school’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, only 7,000 out of over 30,000 members of the undergraduate campus community live in university housing. 95%+ of freshmen choose to live on campus for their first year, but university housing is not guaranteed for new students. However, they receive priority in housing lotteries. 

Housing/Roommate Assignments

Students should keep in mind that housing at UC Berkeley is assigned by random lottery. This means that when you are filling out your applications, you will list your preferred location and room type (i.e. double, triple, etc.), but your housing offer may be different from those preferences. Students can request a transfer to another room, but they should accept the offer they are given in the meantime to avoid losing their housing spot. 

Theme Programs

Students who want to live in campus housing have a number of options, with dorm-style and apartment living spaces available at varying distances from the campus. Students can also apply to Theme Programs within the dorms, which connect students who have shared identities or academic interests with a community. Currently, the university offers Theme Programs for the African American, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander, Chicanx and Latinx, and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as for students interested in eco-friendly living and for women in STEM.

Garden Village, an apartment complex included in the campus housing options (Credit: Siddharth Bhogra, Unsplash).

The Cost

On-campus housing ranges in cost depending on the number of roommates a student has, what dorm/apartment living space they are in, and any financial aid packages available to the student. 

Generally, based on campus estimates for an average year, students living in campus residence halls pay roughly $17,000 a year for room and board; students living in campus-run apartments pay slightly under $14,000. 

Meal plans, which are required for students in the residence halls, also contribute to housing costs. The basic meal plan offers 10 meal swipes per week and 300 “flex dollars” (which can be used at campus restaurants or convenience stores) per semester.

Off-Campus Housing

Students looking to live off-campus have a variety of options based on their wants and needs. Options range in cost and length of contracts provided, but all students interested in living near campus usually find something that suits their needs, both socially and financially!

Fraternity houses on Channing Way in Berkeley.

Fraternities and Sororities

There are over 50 fraternities and sororities at UC Berkeley, many of which offer housing options to members. Some fraternities and sororities may require or suggest that students “live-in” during their second year in the organization. Costs may vary depending on the fraternity or sorority chapter, but students living in these housing options can expect to pay about $4,500 per semester between dues, room and board, and other amenities the house has to offer, according to the campus’s LEADCenter statistics. 

If you’re interested in reading more about Greek Life at Cal, check out our article: Consider the Cost: Is Joining Greek Life Worth It?  

The Berkeley Student Cooperative Logo (Credit: Berkeley Student Cooperative).

Cooperative Living

There are 17 “Room and Board” cooperative houses and three apartment buildings incorporated into the Berkeley Student Cooperative system, which many students find appealing when looking for housing. Each co-op has a different layout, number of residents, and amenities to offer those who live there. 

Some co-ops are theme houses. The BSC offers a substance-free theme house, Afro House, Person of Color Theme House, also known as Castro, and the Oscar Wilde House, the LGBTQ+ and Queer theme house. There are also co-ops offering residence to women and graduate students specifically. 

Students living in a co-op can expect to pay about $4,000 for room and board per semester, and will also be required to work a certain number of hours per week for the co-op. This can include anything from cleaning and vacuuming to shifts involving food distribution or bookkeeping for the BSC. 

Apartments, meanwhile, are cheaper but do not include food services. Students living in the apartments are also usually older members of the BSC who have previously lived in other cooperative spaces. Apartment costs range from roughly $2,500 to nearly $5,000 a semester. Apartments also have work requirements, but fewer hours per semester are required to live there.

Other Apartment/Housing Options

Students might also find it appealing to live in their own apartment off-campus, or in a shared housing situation in the area. There are a number of apartment options available on both the south and north sides of Berkeley, and students can choose to live with any number of roommates. Apartments typically range from two to four or more bedrooms, so there are multiple options based on student preferences. Many apartments start their leases in June, so students who go home for the summer often sublet their apartments to other students staying in Berkeley. 

Students hoping to live in a house can also search local housing sites to find rented rooms—many people in Berkeley who own houses will rent or sublet individual rooms to students during the school year. 

The Campanile on UC Berkeley’s Campus (Credit: Don Shin, Unsplash).

Overall, despite the complexities of housing in Berkeley, there is a space for every single student to call home! With diligent research and planning, students will be able to choose the best option for themselves to thrive while at school.