UC Berkeley senior to graduate with four bachelor’s degrees

May 6, 2024

Graduating with a degree from UC Berkeley, the world’s top public university, is impressive. Two degrees is unbelievable. Three degrees is almost unheard of. Four, well, that’s in the league of its own.

Meet Vitto Resnick, a UC Berkeley senior who will achieve an extremely rare feat next week when he’ll graduate with four bachelor’s degrees in psychology, chemical biology, nutritional science–physiology and metabolism, and molecular and cell biology–neurobiology.

The Los Angeles native began his academic journey at Berkeley as a first-generation college student. His inspirational story is about drive, curiosity and commitment to reaching new heights in ways he never imagined possible. From taking 21 Advanced Placement (AP) exams in high school, to conducting important research at Berkeley, Vitto's unique path is a testament to his determination to take advantage of every educational opportunity afforded to him to find success.

"Vitto is an amazing, highly accomplished student who represents the very best of our wonderful Berkeley undergraduates,” said John Arnold, the College of Chemistry’s associate dean for undergraduate affairs. “His work highlights the exceptionally broad and comprehensive opportunities the campus community offers our students."

“We are very proud of Vitto and his achievements at UC Berkeley,” Berkeley Social Sciences Dean Raka Ray said. “His work ethic and commitment to success are reflective of our Social Sciences students, many of whom are first-generation students who fought their way to get into Berkeley and are determined to succeed.”

He spoke to Berkeley Social Sciences recently about his pursuit of four degrees and his experiences at UC Berkeley. His interview is edited for clarity.

Editor's Note: Achieving four bachelor’s degrees is a phenomenal and rare accomplishment. This article is about Vitto's incredible story and not an endorsement of pursuing multiple majors as a pathway to success at UC Berkeley and beyond. The vast majority of Cal students find success with one bachelor’s degree. 

Tell us about your background and how you ended up at UC Berkeley?

I am from LA, and I grew up as a first-generation, low-income student with a single mother, who immigrated from Ukraine. I’m thankful that my family encouraged me to seek out educational opportunities for myself, and the highly gifted magnet school program I was a part of throughout middle and high school propelled me to take 21 AP exams and community college classes while still in high school. This helped me graduate early and enroll at UC Berkeley when I was 17.

Tell us about each of your majors. Why did you decide to pursue four degrees?

I came to Berkeley as a chemical biology major in the College of Chemistry. In high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue medicine as a career and was interested in pharmaceuticals, so this felt like a natural choice. 

Because of my transfer credits from passing the AP exams, I didn’t have to take many lower division courses like Math 53, etc. But in the College of Chemistry, major requirements are staggered by semester and you have to take classes in order. I was left with one major requirement my freshman year, while needing 12+ units to be full-time. Because of this, I was able to explore my other academic interests. Because I loved AP psychology in high school, I used this opportunity to further this academic interest by taking upper division psychology classes and to eventually declare psychology as another major in the Division of Social Sciences’ Psychology Department.

Berkeley Psychology was fulfilling for me in terms of answering many questions that I had latently residing in my mind about human psychology. It also provided primary research knowledge in a digestible and relevant manner. My experience in this major was ameliorated by the supportive advisors and professors that I had the honor of meeting, and am very grateful for. My favorite psychology professors were Rich Ivry, Joni Wallis and Aaron Fisher, and Lecturer Arman Catterson. I did research in Psychology Professor Dacher Keltner's lab, but I wish I had more interaction with him after seeing some of his talks.

After taking developmental psychology and biological psychology, I became interested in neural circuitry and neurotransmitter biochemistry, leading me to add molecular and cell biology-neurobiology in the Division of Biological Sciences as a third major. This ended up being my favorite major in terms of content, my professors and graduate student instructors. I ended up doing most of my undergraduate research in neuroscience topics, and it’s what I would like to focus on when I pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. degree after Berkeley.

In preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), I realized that because of my chemical biology major, I never took Molecular and Cell Biology 102. As a result, I didn’t have any real experience with central metabolism for the MCAT, so I added a major in nutritional science – physiology and metabolism in the Rausser College of Natural Resources. I made many connections through this major, and it prompted me to study abroad in Chios, Greece with Rausser Lecturer Kristen Rasmussen and take a class on metabolic diseases, which was my favorite at UC Berkeley. 

What did you like best about your Cal experience, both socially and academically?

Socially, I was able to form friend groups in and outside of each major with some interesting overlaps. I found myself immersed in communities of people having the same religion, culture, language and interests. I was able to rely on friends when I struggled the most or when I needed input on ideas or decisions I had. They were a shoulder to lean on, friends to manically get sweet treats with, gym bros to hype me up, and classmates to spend all-nighters in UC Berkeley’s Moffitt Library with. I saw friends come and go, but some of my connections remained strong all throughout my time at Cal. I’ve made friends for life here!

Academically, in both good and bad ways, I felt challenged by the courses here. I’d spend long hours working on problem sets, checking in with my graduate instructors and emailing professors to confirm my understanding. My professors made the material digestible and interactive, and I found myself being genuinely interested in most, if not all, of the topics that I learned. 

The academic highlight of my Cal experience was doing my molecular and cell biology senior honors thesis on optogenetic therapies for retinal degeneration in Berkeley Neurobiology Professor John Flannery’s lab. My research was funded by the Haas Scholars Program, and I gained an irreplaceable experience spending time and working with my cohort. My research was also selected for the honors symposium, and I was able to present it in front of the entire department. Overall, doing a thesis has matured me as a scientist and made me feel prepared for a career in medical research.

What does graduating from UC Berkeley mean to you?

To me, it is the culmination of the many all-nighters, exams that still haunt me, and experiences that shaped the person that I will leave Berkeley as. It’s a stepping stone for me as the first person in my family to get a bachelor’s degree, and I hope to use it to pursue the next rung up the ladder of higher education. I hope to walk across the commencement stage along with my peers knowing that we did it and came out stronger people that can make a difference. 

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I will work as a researcher at the UCSF-partnered Gladstone Institutes and focus on uncovering the genetics behind Parkison’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, I would like to attend medical school. My dream med schools are UCLA and UCSF. I love public institutions, and I'd like to stay in California. Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is also where I was born. Many of my mentors and an influential plastic surgeon that I shadowed with are all UCLA alumni. After that, I want to pursue a career in a surgery specialty while also maintaining a connection with academia through clinical research.