Prizes and Honors

The Prizes and Honors Program at UC Berkeley (prizes@berkeley.edu) is an important forum for rewarding creative expression and scholarly achievement by Berkeley’s finest students. Winners receive both recognition and a cash prize, which is coordinated with the winner’s financial aid package.

Below you will find the different categories in which you can participate. Please note that each competition has its own criteria for entering, so please be sure to read carefully.

Distinguished Honors

Honors at Berkeley are conferred upon qualified students for academic achievement or outstanding service.

The University Medal and Departmental Citations carry this distinction.

The University Medal

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 of the Medal and Award

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.

Departmental Citations

These awards are given by departments in recognition of distinguished undergraduate work.

The Departmental Citation Plan was initiated in 1955 by the Committee on Prizes with the approval and support of the Chancellor. It is open to all departments wishing to participate. An individual major program within Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies (UGIS) also may participate as if it were a department, if it has sufficiently excellent undergraduates who are unlikely to be awarded the citation from any one department. Participation is purely voluntary; any department is free to take up or drop the plan at any time. It is the responsibility of the department to select its recipient for the Departmental Citation; the Committee on Prizes acts in an advisory and supervisory capacity.

Prestigious Prize Competitions

Prize competitions are open to students of any major. Successful, even prominent, artists and poets in our society found that winning an award at Berkeley was a pivotal experience in their artistic careers.

Prizes are administered under the direction of the Academic Senate Committee on Prizes. Copies of the essays and poetry submissions chosen to receive prizes are archived at the Bancroft Library at the end of each year.

Please note that prize contest entries need to be submitted via our online submission form before 4 p.m. on the contest deadline (listed on the chart below). See the General Rules for Competitive Prizes for complete submission information. Please click on the contest names below for specific details about each prize.

For additional information and guidelines on the various contests currently offered, please visit the Competitive Prize Contests page.

Competitive Prizes Online Submission

General Rules

Please type your submission. We do not allow handwritten submissions.
Your submission will be judged blindly. Please print on only one side of the page and include the following on every page of your manuscript, in the upper-right-hand corner:

  • Name of the contest
  • The last four digits of your student identification number (SID), found on your UC Berkeley ID card
  • The total number of pages you are submitting