Berkeley CS and Clarification over the New High-Demand Major Policy

How will the HD Policy affect acceptance rates into the CS program? What is the difference between Berkeley CS and EECS? What was the controversial CS admissions loophole?

Carolyn Wang
8 min readJan 17, 2024
Photo by Clément Hélardot on Unsplash

Disclaimer: I am not involved in administrative decisions regarding UC Berkeley admissions. I am just a Berkeley CS student (Class of’27) hoping to shed light and clarify confusion regarding Berkeley CS and the High-Demand major policy, which has recently changed for the Class of ’27 onwards. While I will try to update this article as we undergrads receive more insight, please consult the resources I’ve listed at the end of the article for more comprehensive information. The last time this article was updated was May 20, 2024.

Computer Science has traditionally been one of the most competitive majors, particularly at institutions like UC Berkeley, which was recently tied with Stanford, MIT, and CMU for #1 in Computer Science, according to the 2023 US News Rankings. Unfortunately, the recent change in policy over CS admissions has rendered much of the past online discussions over Berkeley CS outdated, stirring understandable confusion amongst prospective applicants. I hope to clarify some of that confusion below:

First, A Clarification: CS vs EECS @ Berkeley

UC Berkeley actually has two “computer science” majors — CS and EECS. Computer Science, the major formerly in the College of Letters & Sciences (hereby denoted as L&S) and recently moved to the new College of Data Science, Computing & Society (hereby denoted as CDSS) as of Spring 2024, consists of the CS curriculum with the breadth requirements of L&S. EECS, which stands for Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, is currently situated in the College of Engineering (hereby denoted as COE).

Note that while the CS Major is technically now in the College of CDSS, it will also be referred to as the “L&S CS Major” throughout this article for consistency. To be extra clear, while the CS major still has the same breadth requirements as L&S majors, it is no longer housed in the College of L&S anymore.

For prospective applicants, applying to the two majors, CS or EECS, is equivalent to applying to two separate majors in separate colleges on campus. Here are some differences:

(1) If you put “CS” on your college application, you’re pooled in with the applicants applying for CS and will eventually end up in L&S / CDSS. If you put “EECS” on your college application, you’re pooled in with the applicants applying for EECs and will eventually end up in COE.

(2) Students who apply to the CS major graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (BA). Students who apply to the EECS major graduate with a Bachelor of Science (BS). However, despite the difference in name, note that CS and EECs majors take the EXACT SAME Computer Science courses.

(3) The biggest difference lies in OTHER requirements that the separate majors must take. Because CS is situated in L&S/CDSS, there is an inherent liberal arts emphasis to its education philosophy. Like English majors, Math majors, Molecular & Cellular Bio majors, and Political Science majors, to name a few others in the College of L&S, CS majors must fulfill unit requirements in the following seven categories: Arts & Literature, Biological Science, Historical Studies, International Studies, Philosophy & Values, Physical Science and Social & Behavioral Science. On the other hand, EECS majors must fulfill the COE requirements, which include a greater number of technical engineering courses (i.e. EE classes), natural sciences reqs (i.e. Physics), and a fewer number of humanities/social sciences courses. Note that just because a student is a CS or EECS major, it doesn’t mean they’re limited to their specific emphases; CS students can take more EE classes / technical courses if they choose to, and EECS students can take more liberal arts coursework if they want to as well. It’s just that each college has a different set of requirements, so it’s arguably harder to shift focus when there’s already a certain number of mandatory classes in place.

(4) Due to their different requirements, CS majors generally have more flexibility, while EECs majors generally have more focus/depth within the engineering discipline. Thus, those interested in double majoring (i.e. with CogSci, Philosophy etc.) are recommended to choose the CS major.

What was the former “CS loophole/back door,” and why has the new High-Demand policy suddenly changed things?

Historically, COE students are admitted by major, while L&S students come in undeclared. Thus, prior to the Class of 2027, even students who put “CS” on their applications came into L&S undeclared, and had to compete with everyone else in order to actually declare their major of choice (by fulfilling a 3.3 GPA within Berkeley’s lower division computer science courses CS61A, CS61B, and CS70.)

Meanwhile, surges of other applicants used the “back door method,” applying to random majors in the College of L&S that had higher acceptance rates with no actual intent of staying in those majors — deciding, rather, to switch directly into CS after admittance to the university. This, historically, has caused multiple issues:

  1. These students, using this so-called “loophole,” were taking spots away from other applicants who were ACTUALLY interested in pursuing those other non-CS majors. Certain departments who expected x number of majors in their respective areas saw unfair decreases in enrollment.
  2. On the same note, the influx of CS majors, way more than the number who actually put CS on their applications, compounded the lack of resources that was already plaguing the EECS Department.
  3. Those deliberately using the loophole method were causing unfair competitiveness to those who remained genuine in their initial applications by actually putting CS. (Note that this is excluding the students who genuinely discovered a passion for CS in college and switched later on— it is speaking to the students who intentionally put random L&S majors with no intent of actually staying in them. Also note that since EECS majors come in declared, this does not affect them.)

Naturally, to account for overflowing enrollment, lack of funding, and scarce resources, UC Berkeley implemented the new “High-Demand” (HD) policy for CS (as well as multiple other majors) starting with the admitted Class of 2027. Applicants who put “Computer Science” as their first choice major and were accepted would, while still technically come in undeclared, have reserved spots in the CS major. As long as they reasonably completed their lower div major requirements (CS61A, CS61B, CS70) with a 2.0 GPA, they were guaranteed a spot in the CS major. Those who didn’t put CS as their first choice major now have a much harder process they must go through to declare CS — the details of which are explained later on in this article.

This new policy ensured that students who actually put CS on their application got a fair chance of declaring once they were admitted into the university, and prevented the “gaming of the system” strategy that was causing other departments to lose applicants and the EECS department to overflow more than it already has.

Keep in mind that the Class of 2026 and earlier still retains the old policy. For these older students who wish to declare CS, all they will need is to satisfy the 3.3 GPA cutoff in Cal’s lower div CS courses.

What Does This Mean for Acceptance Rates?

UC Berkeley Computer Science Acceptance Rates

To put it bluntly — acceptance rates for the CS major in the Classes of 2027 and 2028 dropped to a record low. As computer science Professor DeNero points out in this video (update Jan 2024 — the video has since been made private, but you can see a picture of the data in the picture above), for Fall 2023, the CS acceptance rate dropped to a record low 2.9%. Recent data shows that for Fall 2024, the CS acceptance rate dropped further to around 1.9%.

Only ~100 students in the Class of 2027 were admitted CS majors. Another ~100 or so will be allowed to switch in. To put this into perspective, there were 14,715 students admitted to the Class of 2027, and 6,707 filed an intent to register.

Currently, it is uncertain how acceptance rates will shift in the future, but both CS and EECS are likely to stay in the low single digits. The EECS major had an acceptance rate of 4.5% for the Class of 2027, and will likely stay around its usual ~5% acceptance rate. The low acceptance rates for CS also seem here to stay. In a recent post in April 2024 on the EECS 101 EdStem, faculty wrote that “the CS major has admitted fewer students for 2 years now and it will continue to do so to improve the experience of the entire program for everyone in the Department.”

What If I Want to Switch Into CS After Admittance Into UC Berkeley?

While there are no hard numbers, the general consensus amongst my peers and me in the Class of 2027 is that the chance of switching from another L&S major to CS once admitted to Berkeley is close to zero. Instead of meeting a 3.3 GPA cap, students must now go through a comprehensive, holistic evaluation that undergrads I’ve spoken to speculate may end up turning into another application process, similar to a “College Apps 2.0” or the Haas Business School’s application process, although exact details are unclear at the moment.

Most seem to agree that it’s a better idea to just apply to CS in the first place on college applications, be fine with not pursuing CS at Berkeley if an applicant chooses not to put CS on their application, or attend another school where resources are more abundant if CS really is their passion and they don’t want to apply as a CS major.

Another question applicants may have is: Can students still take CS classes, even if they’re not declared? Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, only lower division CS classes are open to most majors. Upper div courses are, for the most part, solely reserved for CS/EECS majors (with the occasional Data Science reserved seat), so it’d be difficult, if not impossible, to complete the requirements for CS/EECS without being declared.

Further Resources

As I gain more information about the CS High-Demand Policy application process, I’ll continue updating this article with what I know. But for now, here are more resources to stay updated with CS/EECS and the High-Demand Policy at UC Berkeley.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please respond in the comment section below. Otherwise, claps for this article would be appreciated, in hopes that the information I’ve shared can reach more prospective applicants.

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Carolyn Wang

CS, Stats, + PPL @ UC Berkeley. Writer, musician, triathlete, & explorer. More about me: carolynwangjy.medium.com/ae3eb5de2324