What is it Like to Attend University of California, Santa Barbara?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Mary is a 2011 graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara. She holds a degree in Zoology and currently tutors many subjects in Los Angeles including Essay Editing tutoring, SSAT prep tutoring, and Elementary Math tutoring. See what she had to say about her undergraduate experience:


VT:  Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Mary: My campus was situated near a small community where most of the students lived, so most people walked, biked, or skated to all of their classes. Pedestrians definitely outnumbered cars. There was a security service available that provided complimentary escort services if you ever felt you needed it, but generally the campus was very safe and there were very few reported incidents of violence. There was also an amazing bus service we could use for free to get all around the city, so there really was no need for a car.

VT:  How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Mary: Any time I had questions or needed extra help, I could find it. They’re there to help you succeed, and generally they love what they’re doing.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students? 

Mary: There were several dorms, and all had delicious dining commons. I lived in the only dorm situated off-campus, but we were only a mile away and it was easy to socialize within our dorm and with friends living in other dorms or in the community. We had social events frequently, and living in the dorm was definitely a wonderful experience I would recommend to everyone!

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Mary: I studied Marine Biology. Growing up in the mountains far from the ocean made the seas and the life contained within them a mystery to me, and I enjoyed learning everything I could about them. Because I attended a research university, the Sciences were definitely best represented, but there were a lot of Social Sciences as well. My school did a lot of outreach to help us stay informed and make good decisions about our majors, but more often than not you have to get out there and ask questions—there are always answers, but you have to be proactive.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Mary: Greek life was certainly a large part of my university, but I never became involved with the system. I did join several clubs, though, and I met a lot of people my freshmen year, many of whom I am still in contact with. You just have to get out there and find people you can connect with! 

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?  

Mary: I really wish I’d spent more time at the Career Center: They had a lot of information available, quizzes, and surveys to help you determine which areas you would be suitable for, as well as Career Counselling.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges?  Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Mary: There was always somewhere with tons of space when you needed it! My school had a 24-hour room in the library that was usually crowded, but there was always room for you to squeeze in next to someone. There were also 24-hour rooms in all of the dorms that you could reserve for yourself or a study group, but there was generally always an open room if you decided to just drop in. The University Center was also a great place to study. 

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Mary: My college was situated next to a small community within the larger city that housed the university. This community was 90% students and had a vibrant culture; there were restaurants, theatres, etc., and always fun things to do, including programs, lectures, concerts, etc. put on by the university. The larger city was accessible by car/bus and also featured many things to do, such as eating out, shopping, watching plays, concerts, movies, lectures, and hitting the beach. Most students split their time between our small community and the larger city, and both had tons of things to do and were very easily accessible.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Mary: The undergraduate student body at my school was roughly 18,000, with approximately 5,000 more graduate students. Because I was studying in the Science department, most of my lower-level classes were quite large (ranging from 150-600 students), which was disconcerting for me since I had attended a very small high school. However, the teachers and TA’s were always readily accessible, and my university also offered free study groups that were capped at 15-20 students. Each lecture also had a discussion group of no more than 25 students. Most lower-level classes in other departments were roughly capped at about 300 students. However, when I moved into my upper-division classes, most of my lectures were no more than 150 students, and also had the smaller 15-20 student discussion sections. Overall, I felt a bit overwhelmed at first, but the resources I needed to succeed were readily available. 

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most. 

Mary: I had never received a grade lower than an A, so I had high expectations for myself when I entered college. I struggled a lot because I was not mentally or academically prepared for the rigor of my classes, and at one point I was taking 18 units of math, chemistry, and physics and had to decide which of my classes to slack off in. As a result, I failed Organic Chemistry in order to succeed in the other classes I was better prepared for. It was a humbling and embarrassing experience, but one I learned from: Do not take on too much, and remember that this is your first try at college—no one expects you to get it all right on the first try. Above all, find something you love to do, and remember that this is supposed to be fun!


Check out Mary’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.