Road Trip: "Aha!" Moments at University of California, San Diego

UCSD perfectly represents the University of California system's priority on access and diversity.  Its size, both in students (28,000 undergrad; 8,000 grad) and acreage (~2,000), requires visitors to park far away and shuttle to Admissions, winding through construction and a sea of diverse faces. That said, well-organized shepherding made the inconvenience irrelevant and a game of jeopardy while waiting for the information session was a clever diversion.

One of our tour guides was 3rd among her four siblings and the first in her family to attend college.  Her decision to come to UCSD was based on the support available on campus—she felt she could succeed at UCSD.

Much of UCSD is typical of a large state institution:

  • The most popular majors are all impacted.
  • Professors' few required office hours are largely ignored—the Administration cajoles students into taking professors out for lunch by paying their way.
  • Class sizes are large: Gen Ed lectures from 100-400 and TA taught discussion sessions of 15-20 students to fill in gaps; Average classes ~60 students; Engineering classes ~80 students.  
  • Though currently most sports are Division II Aha! they will soon all be Division I.  UCSD gyms include one (a nice one) for varsity athletes that is open only in the evenings to all

But much of UCSD is not necessarily typical of a large state institution:

  • Aha! their Theatre & Dance program is rated 5th best in the nation by The Hollywood Reporter.
  • They are recognized as an excellent school for women in STEM (#1,
  • Their graduation rate is 4.2 years, the average for a UC. One reason for this is Aha! to study abroad students must submit a 4-year plan to ensure they can graduate on time.
  • Global Health is offered as an undergraduate major.
  • 35% if freshmen do volunteer work.

At UCSD the most popular majors are: Engineering #1, Biology #2, followed by Economics, Math and Physics. There are 18 research institutes on campus and undergraduate research is available to those who ask. Though they claim not to admit by major, they do recommend when applying to list your preference, even if impacted, as number one and a second major that is not impacted.  Transferring to non-impacted majors is essentially immediate, however to transfer to a capped major is more difficult dependent on the major. Your best bet for impacted majors is to bring a large number of college credits with you or be in an honors program.

Unique among the UCs, UCSD accepts students to a residential college through your college application.  The goal is to make the campus feel more comfortable.   Unlike the more common living-learning themed residences of other universities, Aha! UCSD residential colleges are based on philosophies such as independent spirit (John Muir College) or the Renaissance scholar (Reveille College). Each residential college has its own unique General Education requirements, which are not tied to an academic major but to the college's philosophy.  Housing is guaranteed for 2 years, 95% of freshmen live on campus in suite style dorms. 

Fun Facts:  The library is named after Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel).  Art installations dot the campus, one being a blue slanted house on the tip of a rock.

Consider UCSD for a solid education if a large state school is appealing and diversity of the student body, in both ethnicity and access, is important to you.