Should I Go to University of California, San Diego?

Abby earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from University of California, San Diego in 2016. She specializes in numerous subjects including science tutoring, ISEE tutoring, and algebra tutoring. Want to get a student perspective on University of California, San Diego? Read on!

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Abby: The campus is situated on the edge of La Jolla, a city in the San Diego area. Though the surrounding area is urban, the campus itself is huge and fairly secluded from the rest of the city. There aren’t too many roads that intersect through the school, which really allows the campus to feel like its own safe community, and I have never felt in danger while on campus. Despite this secluded feel, there are plenty of buses, bike paths, and parking lots around the school that make it easy to find transportation to, from, and around campus. There is also a free campus shuttle for all students. It goes to common student housing areas around campus, as well as off campus. However, plenty of students use skateboard, scooters, and bikes to get around on campus because the campus is pretty big and classes can be as far as 2 miles apart.

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

Abby: The professors and teaching assistants hold weekly office hours, which they state at the beginning of any class. If asked to, most will personally meet students that cannot make the stated hours. Their contact information is also available online, through the UCSD website. Academic advisors are also easily available. There are different sets of academic advisors for each college (UCSD has 6 colleges within the university), as well as specialized advisors, such as for study abroad, financial aid, career advice, etc. and they take appointments or walk-ins almost every day. All of these advisors are also available through an online platform for students called the VAC (virtual advising center). You can ask questions directly to your department, college, or one of the specialized advisors, and someone will reply to you within 24 hours.

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

Abby: The campus has both on-campus dorms and apartments. In both cases, students are required to purchase a dining plan, which includes “dining dollars” that can be spent at any of the university markets (a small convenience store) and dining halls (a cafeteria or restaurant style). There is at least one of each in all of the 6 colleges. Each dining hall serves some similar foods, but often also serve some unique items. For example, one has made-to-order pizzas, while another has a variety of Mexican food dishes. In addition, there are always events on campus. They can be hosted by the entire university, by a specific college, your own housing community, or even different clubs on campus. And every event is unique and different, some even seem pretty strange, but that means there is always something fun and interesting to do on campus.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported?

Abby: UCSD excels in the sciences, the arts, and engineering. There are a vast majority of science and engineering majors, but I have met many different people majoring in anything from political science to literature who still feel at home at UCSD. UC San Diego’s 6 college system is especially unique since each college has different GE requirements and some are more beneficial for specific majors. For example, I was a part of Revelle College and though it has one of the heavier science GE course loads, it was perfect for me since I am a biology major and a lot of those GEs were a minimum requirement for my major as well. I found both the biology department, Revelle college, and numerous school clubs very supportive in my biology studies. There were always events to introduce me to seminars, professors, and the latest scientific research, as well as networking events to help me meet new people and learn about the different opportunities available with a biology degree.

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?

Abby: It was super easy to make friends and meet new people. A lot of the lifelong friends I’ve made are the people I lived with—in my room, in my apartment, in my building, and even in my college. Each housing community has a Resident Assistant (RA for short) who is in charge of making a friendly community space and setting up community events (for example, movie nights, learning to cook, or arts and crafts) to help everyone meet people and find similar interests. There are many different Greek organizations on campus, and it’s a great way to meet people, but I’ve never joined one and still feel inclusive and welcome on campus. With tight restrictions and a lack of a true “Greek Row” (a specific area where many Greek houses are present), UCSD’s “Greek life” is not a big aspect of the school.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services?

Abby: The Career Center is a great asset to all students, though not many students take advantage of it. They provide walk-in appointments every day and for more, in-depth help. Longer appointments with specific advisors (with specialties such as medical school applications, interview help, resume reviewing, etc.) can be made online. They also have plenty or fliers and booklets that provide written advice and notes on any career topic. They also offer a student job portal to easily connect students to different types of jobs, both on and off campus. I’ve found many of my jobs, volunteer positions, and internships through this portal. The Career Center also sets up events such as workshops or lectures with guest speakers and recruiters from different companies. About once a quarter, they also set up a huge event with big recruiters, in every job field to the school and invite students to come, speak with them and provide resumes. I’ve used a lot of these resources personally and have always come out with more information than I had going in.

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

Abby: There is always a place to study. There are lounges in nearly all the housing communities on campus, an additional few in each college, and there are plenty in the university center, which is called “Price Center.” There are also two libraries on campus. Geisel Library, which is 8 floors and one of the largest libraries in the world, and the Biomedical Library, which is located in the attached medical school facilities. Both have separated quiet and collaborative spaces for all your studying needs (by yourself or in a study group). Around midterms and finals, these places do get more crowded than usual, but it’s not too hard to find a place to study. In addition, Geisel Library opens for 24 hours a day for the entire finals week to help students get in all the last-minute studying they need!

Describe the surrounding town.

Abby: There’s always something fun to do outside of campus. There are several different geographic areas around campus that make it easy for anyone to find something they like. There’s nearby oceanfront, where kayaking, paddle-boarding, tide-pool walking, and cave exploring are popular activities. There are also several things to do in the mountainous areas. For example, many students hike the (easier) Torrey Pines Reserve beach hike, or the (more difficult) Potato chip rock hike. You can go camping at Joshua Tree Park or visit one of the inland ranches for a day of horseback riding. There is a small town in the mountains, called Julian, which is famous for its wonderful pies, old-time aesthetic, and annual apple festival. There’s also the historical Old Town in the city, with a mix of the Mexican and colonial heritage of San Diego, complete with old-timey themed stores and people in costume. Not too far away from there are the museums, gardens, and street shows of Balboa Park. just remember that when I was at UC San Diego, I absolutely loved exploring the surrounding city. There were so many different things to do and try, all within an hour’s drive.

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

Abby: The class sizes are generally very large, especially for GE classes, such as general chemistry, English, and mathematics or common major classes, like introductory major courses for biology, political science, chemistry, etc. These classes usually have about 400 students, but I have had classes with well over 600 students, taking up 2 lecture classrooms, with the professor in one room and projecting a live feed to the other room. Outside of these lectures, all classes have several discussions, with about 30-40 students, led by teaching assistants. They help clarify concepts in lecture and answer questions students may have. This system allows for both communication with the professor (in a large class setting) with the more personal classroom setting with teaching assistants. Some classes are less popular and can have less than 50 students. I really enjoyed these classes (I took a theatre studies and cultural studies class in this setting). I personally, would prefer smaller class sizes because each student receives more interaction with the professors and teaching assistants, outside of their office hours, but the generally large class sizes have never inhibited my learning.

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

Abby: I remember I was sitting in one of my Humanities classes during my freshman year and my professor was talking about the Aeneid, a book we were reading. The epic is about a man named Aeneas who escaped the fall of Troy and traveled to Italy. In the middle of class, my professor pulled off a large piece of cloth that had been hiding something large the entire class period. It was a portable stove! He suddenly started frying some scrambled eggs in class while still lecturing. He made an analogy about the lust and love Aeneas experienced in Italy to the fiery hotness of a frying pan. Then he finished his scrambled eggs, gave some to my friend, and continued to lecture. That was one lesson I’ll never forget.


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