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Prizes and Honors / The University Medal

Description. A medal and $2,500 are awarded to the most distinguished graduating senior on the UC Berkeley campus. Three to five finalists each receive a Certificate of Distinction and $500. Prize awards are coordinated with the winner's financial aid package when necessary.* If you believe you meet the qualifications to apply for the University Medal, but you are not contacted by the Prizes Office by February 1, email prizes@berkeley.edu. Acceptance of the University Medal constitutes an agreement with the university to deliver the student graduation speech at commencement.

History. The University Medal was established in 1871 by Henry Huntly Haight, Governor of California (who, on March 23, 1868, signed the Organic Act establishing the university) and other friends of the university. During the early years, an optional senior class examination was offered and the student with the highest score was awarded the Medal. This was soon deemed unsatisfactory, and the selection task passed to various Academic Senate committees—ultimately the Committee on Prizes. In 1881, the first of many frustrated committees attempted to abandon the Medal altogether and instead award a number of "certificates of eminent scholarship." This was rejected by the President of the University, and the awarding of the Medal continued. In 1955, President Sproul approved the Committee on Prizes' suggestion to award "Distinguished Graduate" to selected candidates considered for the Medal. "Certificates of Distinction" were created in 1976.


The initial pool of candidates consists of the undergraduates with Berkeley grade point averages (GPAs) of at least 3.96 by the end of the semester preceding the student's graduation date. Candidates graduating in fall will be considered along with those graduating the following spring; candidates graduating in summer will be considered along with those graduating the preceding spring.

Application Process

 Those who wish to be considered will provide the following:

A personal essay.

The essay should be double-spaced with 1-inch margins, Times New Roman 12-point font, and not exceed 3 pages in length. It should highlight aspects of your character or achievements and describe UC Berkeley's influence on your intellectual, artistic, athletic, or other attainments. Please include your name in the top right-hand corner of every page in your essay. 

Two or three letters of reference- Maximum.

The best letters are from instructors, supervisors, or others who know you well and can speak in detail about your work or other activities that qualify you as a Berkeley Medalist.

A resume.

Please include in the resume any accomplishments or activities that lend distinction to your University record or that contribute to the wider community. These may include research, other creative work, prizes won, campus or non-campus service, and extracurricular involvements. You may also submit an abstract of any published work. A copy of the work itself should be submitted only if it is no more than 3 pages in length. 

An unofficial Berkeley transcript.

The prizes office will add an official trasncript to your application that includes your Fall 2020 grades. If you are a transfer student, you may also submit a transcript from your previous institution(s).

Applications must be submitted by email to Prizes@berkeley.edu by 4 pm.

Deadline: Monday March 1, 2021 - 4pm

Letters of reference should be emailed as an attachment by the recommender directly to: Prizes@berkeley.edu

Selection Process

The applications are evaluated by the Committee on Prizes. The most outstanding candidates are selected as finalists and are interviewed through Zoom. The Committee refers to guidelines initiated under University Presidents Robert Sproul and Clark Kerr. It takes into consideration the following, though it is not required that every one of these be reflected in a candidate's record for him or her to be considered:

An academically well-rounded transcript.

Independent scholarly work completed by the candidate outside of regular classwork; e.g., publications or unpublished projects judged worthy by his/her instructors.

Outstanding extracurricular contributions to the University.

Evidence of qualities of judgment, ingenuity, initiative, and broad interest.

Participation or interest in public service.

Any other evidence of "distinction" in the opinion of the Committee on Prizes.

The Medalist is an exemplar of the university's highest ideals.

Media Relations Requirements

UC Berkeley’s top graduating senior is a news story

Each year, the University Medalist is announced in the form of an in-depth profile, photos and a brief video on the UC Berkeley website, which may lead to coverage in local print and broadcast news. Here’s how it works:

If you are chosen as the University Medalist, your transcripts and application essay are shared confidentially with a writer on the campus’ Media Relations team. That writer will quickly arrange an in-depth interview with you, as well as a shorter video interview, which will be posted on the UC Berkeley website and promoted via the campus’ Facebook and Twitter platforms. It will also be sent out to local media as a press release.

It’s an intense and exciting process, but if you’re not comfortable sharing your biographical details, including your struggles and victories, with wider audiences, you may want to reconsider whether the public aspect of being UC Berkeley’s top graduating senior is for you. Here are links to previous medalist profiles so you know what to expect:

Rejection turned out great for Berkeley's top graduating senior.  

Top graduating senior champions neurodiversity

Top graduating senior in 'crazy race to the finish line'

Top graduating senior finds nirvana in pure math.

Top graduating senior dips, then soars in the face of tragic loss.

Previous Winners

Read about the 2020 University Medalist, Anna Boser.

Read about the 2020 University Medal finalists. 

See a complete list of previous winners.

*Federal financial aid regulations require that all awards received by a student cannot exceed their financial aid need as determined by a congressional formula. It is possible, therefore, that the cash award for a prize could reduce some component of a needy student’s package of financial aid awards. In these cases, the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office attempts first to reduce loan or work aid; fellowships, grants, or scholarships are only reduced as a last resort.