A Student Review of University of California, San Diego

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Shaun is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in Calculus tutoring, GRE prep tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, and more. He graduated from University of California, San Diego with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. See what he had to say about his alma mater:


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? 

Shaun: UC San Diego has a free on-campus shuttle system which is quite helpful since the campus is so large and students often have to park far from where they have their classes. The public transportation buses around the city also have access through several roads that run through the campus, so off-campus students do not need to bother driving their cars onto campus where they would need to worry about finding parking. Most major buildings have bike racks to lock your bikes to. The campus lies in the heart of La Jolla, one of the more affluent cities in greater San Diego, but not in a metropolitan area. Because of this, the campus and the surrounding areas are on the safer side compared to most campuses. Campus police are quite accessible and there are call boxes to them scattered throughout the campus. Although it has been a while, when I was there I never knew of anyone who had a safety issue. Campus police are available to help escort a student back to on-campus housing.

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

Shaun: Honestly, I did not seek any of them out very often, but when I did, I did not have an issue of accessibility. UC San Diego does have a large student body, and many of the science and math classes are several hundred in size, so the professors or TA’s do not remember you unless you make an effort to get to know them. But, they always have set office hours and I have never had a friend complain about showing up and a professor or TA not being there during the scheduled hours. 

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

Shaun: I absolutely loved it there! The great thing about the campus set-up of having six smaller “colleges” making up the university is that you do get some benefits of a smaller, private college. Each college sets up social gatherings and activities for that college, and each one has its own advisers. Some events are well-known for that college, such as Muir’s famous Watermelon Drop Contest. The dorms are on a regular renovation rotation and most have cable TV included. The room sizes are comparable to most colleges, but the dorms with a suite-style set-up are, in my personal opinion, a much nicer arrangement. 

Each college has its own cafeteria, but most also have a dining cafe with better food that you can use your meal plan in. The system simply allots you a certain amount of money to spend in the cafe per meal. Then, of course, the student center has great food options such as a Wendy’s, a Panda Express, and even a sushi bar! In terms of the location and socialization, UC San Diego is hard to beat. You are a ten-minute walk from the cliffs from where you can hike down to Blacks Beach or watch hang-gliders take off from Hang-gliders’ Port. The weather is typically in the 70’s and 80’s most of the year and there is a great Town Centre just off campus where many students hang out. Downtown La Jolla, a great beach-side locale, is a hop, skip, and jump from the campus, and the famous Torrey Pines Golf Tournament is just next door. We even have a local aquarium and a nature reserve to visit. Students are also constantly making outings to Tijuana or downtown San Diego which boasts the famous Gas Lamp District which has an amazing night life. In the heart of downtown is also Horton’s Plaza, an impressive outdoor, four-story shopping mall.

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?

Shaun: I studied Biology because I originally intended to head to medical school. I received a great deal of flak for choosing UCSD over Stanford (yes, I got in), but we have been in the top ten in the nation in the Biological Sciences for three decades and have been ranked higher than Stanford in them for most of the time. Other than that, it’s a UC. Most of the significant majors are well represented and supported here, from Engineering to Humanities to the Arts. One area that does also stand out for UCSD is their International Relations Studies. They boast an International Student Center, and Eleanor Roosevelt (one of the six colleges) has its emphasis centered around international relations.

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?

Shaun: One thing I loved about our school is that the student body, in general, is quite easy going and friendly. I had no issues making friends or getting to know people. The separate college activities definitely help. People are quite studious on campus, but you don’t hear of stories like in some sister UC schools of students sabotaging each other’s work because of the competition. The Greek life is significant and easy to become involved in, but it does not dominate the campus like in some reputed “party schools,” particularly at the neighboring San Diego State. The social scene is great, but you don’t have to search far and wide to find an adequate place to study or an effective study group when you need one. I could actually study in my own dorm room and not have to hide out in the library!

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

Shaun: Once again, I did not take advantage of these services much, but I thought our Career Center was quite upscale, even back then. The few times I sought help, I found it quite easily. As far as I could tell through heresay from friends, many reputable companies do come to recruit on campus, particularly in the Biological Sciences. UCSD has a great international reputation, so I would be shocked if reputable companies did not come seeking students from the caliber of our student body.

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

Shaun: Study areas around campus are great. I already mentioned that I could actually study in my own dorm room, and that can be a rarity on many other campuses. All the cafes and student union centers are also great areas to study, partially because of the outdoor tables allowing you to enjoy the amazing San Diego weather while you study. The dorm lounges are more social scenes, but in our suite lounge we actually did hold some study sessions. But when it comes down to it, nothing beats the library. The place is enormous with amazing architecture inside and out. Several of the underground floors have openings to the sky and outdoors that although for natural light to filter into the many areas for study. If you really want to get away and hunker down to study, this place is it – perhaps because many people love to just get their studying done outdoors since there are so many great places to do so.

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? 

Shaun: I already addressed much of this in the socialization question but, in a nutshell, there is plenty to do around town. For those that love the outdoors and outdoor activities, there are several beaches within easy access, great hiking and biking trails, a local nature reserve and also an aquarium, the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, Wild Wonders, Legoland, Sea World, and Balboa Park. For those that love clubbing and other classic night life, the Gas Lamp District is amazing; of course, there is always Tijuana. For those that love the arts, San Diego has some pretty nice theaters and some amazing museums in Balboa Park. For those that love sports, you can always become a Chargers or Padres fan, or you can join the beach locals surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, hang gliding, pier fishing, jet skiing, deep sea fishing, playing beach volleyball, etc. I could go on and on . . . 

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

Shaun: The student body is quite large. I believe that if you include the graduate school and medical school, we have around 30,000 students. Because of this, UCSD boasts a plethora of opportunities and activities throughout the campus, but you might deal with some classes that are several hundred strong. As you might have gathered from my previous answers, I was not so concerned about getting to know all of my professors or TA’s, so the class sizes did not bother me. Not all classes are large, though. I had several humanities classes that had less than thirty students. As a whole, I love the range of class sizes.

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

Shaun: Classes were excellent for the most part at UCSD, but I would have to say that one stands out to me simply because the memory is so amusing. I have always been an early riser, a morning person per se, so I decided it would be great one quarter to get all my classes out of the way early so I could enjoy my afternoons and evenings. Most classes do not start before 8:00 am, but I saw one of my classes for my major that was offered at 7 am, twice a week, an hour and a half each session. I thought it would be great since I was always awake by then, anyhow. The first day I showed up, and right when the professor opened his mouth, I knew I would not be attending class except for the midterms and final. Try to imagine the most monotone voice you’ve ever heard someone speak in, then take out any remaining inflections you can perceive, and you’ll know what this professor’s lectures sounded like. For ninety minutes starting at seven in the morning, this would be torture to almost any college student, even a morning person like me. Needless to say, I bought the ASB lecture notes for the class and studied on my own.


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