UC Berkeley offers two different majors for those interested in pursuing computer science: the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) degree under the College of Engineering (CoE), and the Computer Science (CS) degree under the College of Letters and Sciences (L&S). The official Berkeley site explaining the distinction is rather vague, so here I'll outline the practical differences between the two.1
L&S students must meet a GPA threshold to declare.2 Being declared is important because it allows you to directly register for popular upper-division CS classes, whereas undeclared students start on the waitlist. L&S students begin undeclared and need to either finish or be taking lower-division classes before they may petition. Because the CS major is so impacted, they must also average at least B+ in those classes to be eligible -- a high bar, as the department average is a B-.3
EECS has a much lower admission rate than L&S.
I can't find L&S admission stats, but they're likely to be similar to the 19.0% for all Berkeley admits in Fall 2014. Meanwhile the College of Engineering had an admission rate of almost half that, 9.7%.4 These figures don't tell the whole story -- rumor has it that EECS admission, specifically, hovers at around 5%.5Ronald Kwan's analysis indicates that 7.9% of EECS applicants were admitted, in contrast to 24.0% of L&S CS applicants. Once an EECS major is admitted, however, there's no second cutoff that L&S students face from the GPA threshold.
L&S take more breadth classes in the humanities; EECS take more technical breadths.6 All L&S students must take 7 breadths in 7 different fields. Meanwhile CoE students take 6 breadths in almost any of the humanities. However, in addition to the 3 technical breadths L&S CS students take, EECS students must also take 4 more : Math 53, Physics 7A and 7B, and one more science class.
EECS students can apply more AP credit than L&S CS students. EECS students can satisfy up to 2 of their breadths with AP credit; L&S students can't for any of their 7 breadths. Also, Physics 7A and 7B can be satisfied with the AP Physics C exams (Mechanics and E&M, respectively). The science requirement can also be satisfied with AP Bio or AP Chem, and AP Calculus BC suffices for Math 1A/B. Thus, the right AP classes will allow an EECS major to bypass 7 classes -- almost a year's worth of material. L&S CS students can only skip 4 (Math 1A/B and R1A/B).
EECS students must take 1 more EE class to graduate. In the past, the EE requirement for EECS majors consisted of 2 classes, EE 20 and EE 40. Meanwhile, L&S CS majors only had to take EE 42. The lower-division EE curriculum is being overhauled, but this difference will still hold true: whereas EECS majors will need to take both EE 16A and B, CS majors can graduate with just 16A.
Double majoring, minoring and transferring is easier within your college. Since double majors, minors, and transfers have the same breadth requirements, it's easier to do so within your college. If you're unsure that CS is your true calling, are a wide variety of majors to be found in L&S, from Music to Biology to Economics. CoE is much more focused on engineering disciplines. Note that it is possible to transfer into L&S if you abide by certain guidelines, but transferring into CoE is much more difficult.
L&S CS graduate with a Bachelors of Art (B.A.), EECS with a Bachelors of Science (B.S.). There's no functional distinction, save for some teasing by EECS majors like me.
I've been emphasizing the differences between EECS and L&S CS, but it's important to keep in mind that 90% of the experience is exactly the same. Students take the same CS classes from the same CS professors, and upon graduation have the same industry prospects. Both majors are great options!
Thanks to Akhil Batra, Shawn Yifei Xie, and Reddit for feedback.
This all assumes that you want to focus on CS and ignore EE, which is true for something like 70% of all EECS majors. EE classes aren't very impacted so L&S students can get into them too, but if you are the rare undergrad who wants to work with circuits and not code, EECS is the way to go. ↩
Technically students can be "prospective" in CS, which grants priority to lower-division but not upper-division classes. ↩
In the past, L&S students had to finish or be taking 7 prereqs before they could petition: CS 61 A/B/C, CS 70, Math 1A/B, Math 54. For those admitted in Fall 2015 and after, that requirement has been whittled down to just 3: CS61A/B and CS70. However, the GPA requirement has also been raised from 3.0 to 3.3. ↩
The gap is even wider if you figure that, all else being equal, knowing CoE admission is lower than the Berkeley average means that L&S admission is probably higher than average to compensate. My back of the envelope calculations indicate that 24.1% of non-CoE applicants are admitted. ↩
It is also possible to apply as Engineering Undeclared in the College of Engineering, but the acceptance rates there are apparently about as low as for EECS. ↩
I'm using "breadth" here to mean "Not an EE or CS class". ↩