campus encounters

"Get the first-hand scoop about colleges and universities"

UC San Diego

UC SAN DIEGO (Visited 7/18/15)

~UCSD 1UCSD is clearly doing something right: they boast a 94% freshman to sophomore retention rate, and the average time to graduation is 4.3 years. Students who are engaged in their own learning and are ok making their own way will do very well here.

UCSD library walk

LIbrary Walk; you can just see the Geisel Library in the background.

Campus is sprawling and not-quite-attractive, located only a couple miles from the beach. Architecture is mixed: old and new, concrete and wood. The Library Walk is the campus’ main artery. “During the school year, this place is packed. Clubs try to sign you up. Students are everywhere.” Geisel Library (on one end of the walk – the Med library is on the other end) is the most impressive structure we saw (I would have gotten a picture except it was pouring!). It was named for Dr. Seuss who lived in La Jolla. His widow donated many of his things to the university. Many trees on campus look like the Lorax.


A residential area

Much of the tour focused on housing. They have a 6-college system based on Oxford, and it’s supposedly the only other university with the same system. At first this seemed wrong but they didn’t explain it well: both the admissions rep at the info session and the tour guide made them sound like residential colleges at many other schools. I walked away without knowing what made them different. I went to their website to figure it out.


Another residential area

These colleges (like residential colleges at other large schools) make this 24,000 undergraduate institution seem smaller. Students rank the colleges in order of interest. “It’s like Harry Potter. You get accepted into Hogwarts and then get split into living areas later.” What makes the colleges different are the themes, philosophy, and general education requirements based on where they live. “You should consider the college’s philosophy and the architecture when deciding where to live.” The tour guide was stuck on the architecture but none of the 3 colleges walked through were all that different. We didn’t go into any rooms – or even any of the buildings – because of the supposed differences.

~UCSD 10

Engineering building

The most significant difference is the general education requirements. This gives students some control over how and what they study.

~UCSD mascot


Housing is guaranteed for 2 years for freshmen and 1 year for transfers. There are singles, doubles, and triples in most colleges. Finding off-campus housing is relatively easy with websites such as a Facebook page to help find potential roommates, apartment-shares, etc. Shuttles to popular off-campus housing areas run about every 15 minutes, and students can use public transportation on the weekends with student ID. The campus loop shuttles run about every 20 minutes.

~UCSD Residential areaAdmissions is competitive; approximately 1/3 of the 78,000+ applicants are admitted. They look at only 10th and 11th grade weighted GPA; if a high school doesn’t weight, UCSD will weight it with a cap of 8 AP or honors classes given the boost. Testing must be completed by December. This was one of the first schools I’ve heard that talked up summer programs while discussing activities. Scholarships are few and far between (only about 200).

~UCSD 6The student body is about 81% in-state. There are no quotas; the rep said that admissions generally reflected the application pool. The UC application – and test scores (“Don’t waste your money by sending them to more than one,” said the rep) – can be viewed by all UC schools to which the student applies, but be aware of any supplements required by some campuses – and yes, the $70 fee must be paid for each application!

Students are admitted to the university, not to a major. Currently, engineering is the only impacted major. Students may get accepted to UCSD but cut from engineering. “If you want engineering, aim for higher than the averages.” Switching majors is easy to do except into engineering: “Don’t make it your first choice plan,” said the rep.

~UCSD grafiti art park

Graffiti Art Park

Introductory classes can have up to 400 students. The tour guide put a positive spin on it: “It gives you something to say later in classes of 5. Otherwise, those small classes would be too intimidating.” Her largest classes did hit the 400 mark with discussion sections of 25 and labs of 40-50. Her smallest class has been 5, “but I’m in a pretty small major.” TAs rarely teach classes except in the summer, but they will have TAs for discussion sections, labs, etc. The tour guide said that the exception of this would be when “they’re the most qualified, like the woman teaching the forensic science class who had worked in the LA coroner’s office.”

There’s a Pass system for registering for classes: students are ranked according to their earned credits. Students can then register for 2 classes per “pass” – everyone can register for 2 before the first group gets their 2nd Pass and can register for 2 more.

Students who are struggling can buy lecture notes for about $30 a semester. The notes are taken by student who has already earned a B+ or better in class, and are then looked over by the professor. The guide also really pushed office hours. Professors are only required to have 1 hour a week of office hours; having attended a college where professors had 4 or 5 hours a week, this seemed light.

Some of their more unique majors include: Urban Studies and Planning, Nanotechnology and NanoEngineering, Math – Scientific Computation, Bioinformatics, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Literatures of the World.

I didn’t get a good sense of social life on campus other than getting the normal run-down of clubs and that each college holds social events. Greek life apparently isn’t huge, but the tour guide wasn’t able to answer questions other than to say that the Social Greeks are not as big as the Academic Greeks.

(c) 2015


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