Road Trip: "Aha" Moments at University of San Diego

When one college visit follows another by a mere hour, contrasts and similarities can be stark. This was the case with my visits to UCSD and USD. The hustle, crowds, construction, obvious diversity and, of course, size of UCSD melted into calm with a somewhat refined and notably less diverse campus. I was reminded somewhat of USC by the upscale beauty of their campus. That beauty was much enhanced in Fall 2018 by the school's creation of Colachis Plaza  -- previously an underutilized road through campus. And, Aha! the lush green grassy plaza is fully utilized, checked with tables and chairs is full of students studying, eating, and chatting. 

Though the students appeared strikingly monochromic, USD makes a point to convey that 37% of their students are of color, 9% International.  Unsurprisingly, 43% of the students are Catholic. Though the university is no longer officially an Order of the Catholic Church, I definitely felt the presence of Catholicism in the frequent statues of Jesus and Mary and of crosses both inside and outside of buildings.  There are two theology course requirements, but no requirement to attend mass. 

Academically, the top five most popular majors all relate to business (Finance, Business Administration, Communications, Accounting and Marketing in that order). It is common to double major in the business school.  Importantly, and Aha! None of USD's majors are impacted (i.e.: more qualified students than space available) - another differentiator from UCSD and most all UCs.

USD's Honors Program requires an application and is by invitation to the top 10%. The university publishes the best work of their honors seniors, which contributes to a solid resume. In addition to early class registration, a unique feature of the program is team-taught classes where teachers of two disparate fields team-teach innovative courses.  Three-four courses are offered each semester and honors students are required to take two in their four years. 

As with many schools, about 70% of their students study abroad and undergraduate research opportunities are ubiquitous.  Two USD study abroad features are a mini campus of their own in Madrid and a semester at sea where students travel to 14-16 different countries taking classes on board the ship. A story of research shared by our guide is reflective not only of USD but also of smaller institutions' access to professors.  While taking a Buddhism class her professor approached her to do a research project studying the Dalit class (the Untouchables), which took her to India to conduct interviews.  It was a personally impactful opportunity and it became the topic of her successful law school application essay on diversity. 

Access to these examples of opportunity tend to be costly (approximately $70,000 total cost).  However, USD provides merit scholarships automatically to the top 35% of applicants.  An estimate of merit aid can be acquired through the school's net price calculator (required of all colleges to include on their websites).  71% of students at USD receive aid and the average financial aid award is $31,000. Included in those numbers, 31% receive non-need based aid (e.g.: merit, athletic, etc.) with an average award of $19,665 (2017).

Greek life is strong on USD's campus with a little more than a quarter of the students involved.  There are no designated fraternity or sorority houses however most choose to live together in an area called Mission Beach.  Students are required to live on campus for the first two years and can do so all for years. Students are allowed to bring a car on campus as freshmen, but it is not needed and a Zip Car service is on campus when desired. 

I found a "Professors' Op-Ed" in the university newspaper telling of the culture at USD. He refers to the "embarrassing irony" that their refurbished bookstore no longer carries books!  Instead, books are pre-ordered and only picked up at the bookstore. The professor finds it degrading to the students to assume that they would forego the opportunity to browse through the stacks of textbooks organized by classes in preference of "glittery objects on display”.  The newspaper carried a mix of national and campus news from protests over President Trump's first visit to California (in San Diego) and a walk-out for gun control to being a single mom on campus, sports, and the 33rd International Expo and Fashion Show on campus.

Consider USD if you are open to an overt presence of Catholicism, appreciate campus beauty, are comfortable with understated diversity.  If you intend to major in business, even better.