campus encounters

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UC – Irvine

UC Irvine (visited 2/1-2/2)

UCI studentsUCI has a different physical and social feel from the other UCs I’ve visited so far. The 52-year old institution is becoming another flagship, ranked as the country’s 9th best public school, Best Value, and the 3rd highest in number of applications. “People in California know what a special, great opportunity this is! People abroad recognize UCI. We have more than enough international applicants to create a diverse population in terms of countries. We’re working on creating a national presence now,” said a Dean.

UCI fountain

Sadly, no ducks in the fountain right now!

Academic buildings are centrally located around a 1-mile loop in the middle of campus. This also creates beautiful park (they like to brag about their 1120 trees and shrubs!). Students play Hide-and-seek in the park during finals, and every year, they try to break new records in areas like dodgeball, pillow fights, or squirt-guns fights. On one side of the circle is the fountain with resident ducks named Harold and Maude.


UCI drumming 5

A traditional Japanese drumming group

When asked to describe UCI in one word, many said nerdy/geeky. A rep said, “I can tell which kids are ours because they laugh at the nerdy jokes…” Another said, “That’s not a bad description, but not the only one! ‘Passionate’ is also good.” Students are curious and motivated: “We don’t have to beg students to get involved.” A student said, “We do stuff on a daily basis. We find people interested in the same things and run with that!”


UCI eSports center

The eSports arena


The gaming club is one of the largest clubs; almost 2/3 of students self-identify as gamers. They opened an ESports arena in 2016 which is open noon-midnight, Monday-Saturday. It’s a cost neutral program: computers are rented at $4 an hour and there are multiple sponsorships. The program has 4 major pillars:


  • Competition: Students participate at a national level on a varsity level (and club teams, too). They have multiple top-4 teams and top-30 ranked players. Their Overwatch team is undefeated. The very top students (internationally ranked) get scholarships.

    UCI eSports broadcasting

    eSports broadcast center

  • Research, game design, and programming: Professors do neuroscience, psych, and other research here.
  • Community: provide a home for gamers instead of gaming in lecture halls or dorms.
  • Entertainment: They have a broadcast and mini-production center to teach students how to communicate about eSports.

UCI 17There’s no football team (“I wish we had one!” said a student), but basketball and water polo are great. “There is a great deal of school spirit, and no football means we have a budget to do other things. We aren’t fighting traffic on weekends.” It’s easy to get around Irvine, a planned city about 40 minutes from LA and an hour from San Diego. That means that there are also plenty of internships: “They’re out there and are well advertised.” UCI also supports students in going abroad, making it accessible with Financial Aid.

UCI Mesa tower 1

The towers at Mesa Court

Residential units must offer at least 15 programs during every 10-week quarter. For a campus this size, there’s a lot of housing available; just over 60% of undergrads live on campus with 480 more beds available in 2019. Housing is guaranteed for 2 years, and almost 80% of freshmen live on campus in 1 of 2 areas:


  • Mesa Court: most buildings have no more than about 84 kids; a couple have about 120. The new towers have 300+.
  • Middle Earth: “If y’all don’t know there
    UCI Mesa 3

    Another view of Mesa Court

    are 2 towers in Middle Earth, you need to go do some reading!” Smaller communities are developed on the floors within the Towers, including theme-housing, both academic and outside interests. Some rotate as interests change; some like Outdoor Adventures tend to be consistent. Housing:

  • Off-campus housing is often posted on FB or Craig’s List, and people will sublet their places when they go abroad or move into Greek Housing.
UCI plaza

The plaza by the student union

UCI is recognized for “serving an amazingly diverse student body – and we graduate them” (as an interesting fact, only 27% of their students self-report as Caucasian) and are ranked #1 for promoting social mobility. Info pulled from the Grad Rate and Labor Market Outcomes shows that 12.5% of the students come from bottom quartile of family income in the US ($25-30,000) which is more than the entire Ivy League combined!! By the time alumni are 30, 85% are in the top quartile!


UCI 11The institution deliberately helps students succeed with multiple faculty and peer advisors (academic, mental health, sexual health, etc). “Big universities have lots of resources, but the students need to reach out to take advantage of them.” This is a major Research-1 institution focusing on undergraduates. The graduate programs are strong but smaller than what you’ll see elsewhere. Who do faculty spend time with? Undergrads! Over 90% graduate with research experience.
The academics are top-notch and prepare students for internships and jobs. One of the deans said, “If you’re still teaching facts/surface knowledge when I can pull out my phone and find it in 10 seconds, it’s malpractice. You have to shift to active learning. What are the learning outcomes for the field?” They’re deliberate in what they do, and they offer amazing programs including:

  • Nursing: they just got a $20m donation to double the size of the program).
  • This is 1 of 3 undergraduate business UC programs (with Berkeley and Riverside).
  • They have a top-10, conservatory style Dance program with a NY Satellite program for performing arts; Broadway scouts come to campus.
  • Education is ranked #25 nationally.
  • Interdisciplinary studies: This can be difficult in larger school with distinct College boundaries. Irvine, however, is new and was designed explicitly not to do that. Disciplines haven’t disappeared, but they are committed to bring them together. Professors meet at least twice a month to plan interdisciplinary work.
  • Engineering: all students take the same Gen Ed track for the same foundation. It’s possible to double major – or more! It will take a little extra time (she knew of one who did 4 majors – 2 in Engineering, 2 outside – finished in 5 years).
  • Information and Computer Sciences are housed in a separate school from engineering so they don’t compete for money.

The students on the panel listed the following as their favorite classes:

  • My Research class: we coded a lot of things from the Bush presidency, and we got credit on the book.
  • Prison Gangs: the teacher was cool and had tons of life experiences. He was a cop. I learned things I didn’t know anything about.
  • War and Public Health: the professor is a War Photographer and is great to talk to.
  • Diversity and Student Empowerment: social justice, issues affecting different minority groups. Lots of speakers. Critical race theory – what I want to go into and how it relates to international affairs. How do we apply it in global contexts, particularly law.

UCI 15UC applicants get ranked by 2 readers; if ranked differently, a 3rd person reads the file. An applicant might get highly ranked but not admitted if there’s no room in the major. Students need to advocate for themselves and quantify accomplishments. Students MUST take essay/writing portion of the SAT/ACT and must send all scores: they look at the highest single seating. Students only need to send to 1 UC campus because they share! Subject tests are not required but recommended for some programs. International Students do not need a 3rd language but should take the AP/Subject Test in their native language if possible. Many campuses will waive language requirements if they’ve spent 3+ years in the US. The minimum TOEFL is 80, but need 90+ to be competitive (some departments want higher!).

© 2018

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