Should I Go To University of California, Santa Barbara?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Andrew is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in Algebra tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, Writing tutoring, and more. He graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. See what he had to say about his school:

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?

Andrew: UC Santa Barbara’s natural setting is, in my opinion, surpassed by very few campuses in the world. It’s set on limestone bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the south-facing coastline makes for mild weather year round. It’s also less than an hour’s drive from prime hiking and camping spots just north of campus in the Santa Ynez Mountains. 

The campus itself is set about 10 miles north of the center of the City of Santa Barbara in a small town environment, and is attached to the small but dense student community of Isla Vista, where a large percentage of students live. It’s right on the beach! As far as safety goes, it’s wise to take precautions at a school this big, and there are campus security officers who will escort you on campus. 

Transportation options are easy and varied. UCSB is an extremely bicycle-friendly campus, and the hordes of cyclists on the miles of campus bike paths are one of the first things you’ll notice when visiting campus. Almost everything you’ll need—groceries, entertainment, classes--is a short bike ride away, and every UCSB student can ride a Santa Barbara MTD bus for free, and you can even carry your bike onto the bus with you.

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

Andrew: Professors are generally fairly available, but are often swamped, juggling research, teaching, and other commitments. I have found the professors I interacted with to be very friendly and eager to talk to students, but there is sometimes a wait. My experience with TA’s is that they have been universally very easy to reach, and though teaching ability may vary, they’re always there to help out. My academic adviser was a very busy man, but I was able to get an appointment the few times I really needed help. As with any larger school, it helps to be the first one in the door, so plan ahead if at all possible. 

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

Andrew: UCSB’s dorms range in style, size, and arrangements. There are high-rise dormitories off campus, low-rises in the center of campus, and apartment-style suites. I lived in a small dormitory community in buildings with 40-60 students each. There are floors for all sorts of affinity groups, and there’s a niche for just about everyone. UCSB is known for its social life, and there are definitely students who struggle to maintain a healthy work/play balance. There’s no shortage of opportunities to meet people who share your interests—dorm life was a blast.  

UCSB’s dining options are about average. UCSB’s dining services are managed in-house, in contrast to many larger schools who hire a third party to manage campus dining. While this creates lots of opportunities for student employment within the dining services, UCSB’s dining options are not the most varied or flexible. Students in the dorms will get a fixed number of meals per week, which can only be used at the dining halls during meal hours. Fortunately, the quality of food is generally excellent. 

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?

Andrew: UC Santa Barbara is well known for its school of Engineering and its programs in Physics and Biological Sciences. After a year of being undeclared, I fell in love with the Environmental Studies program, focusing on Restoration Ecology, and never looked back. The Environmental Studies program at UCSB is extremely popular and highly ranked, and has a long history—it was one of the first environmental studies programs in the nation. I really enjoyed the opportunity to study not only biological sciences but also the sociological context that we need to utilize them in. The Environmental Studies program was supported by many environmental organizations on campus and off, and offered lots of opportunities for students in my major to get involved in the community and gain valuable experience.

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? 

Andrew: As a freshman, I clicked with the students in my dorm and we were basically inseparable all year. For those not as lucky, there are lots of student groups recruiting for all sorts of activities and interests, so if you come in with an open mind, they’ll come find you. There are Greek organizations, but never did I feel that I needed to be part of the Greek system to have a social life at UCSB. 

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

Andrew: The Career Center and student support services on campus are definitely growing, and it took me a while to learn how to best use all the services offered. The Career Center puts on a quarterly job fair as well as offering services like reviewing your resume and offering practice interviews. For the most part, I’ve found that many well-known biotechnology and engineering companies recruit heavily at UCSB. In addition, each department has a job board connecting students to local companies. 

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

Andrew: The Davidson Library is the main library at UCSB, and it can get really crowded during midterms and finals. I have vivid memories of walking into the 24-hour study room at 4:00 A.M. during finals week and not being able to find a table! I always loved coming to the library with a study group and staking out a South-facing table on the 8th floor of the library, where we could see the whole campus and get a gorgeous view of the Channel Islands. Isla Vista itself is not bustling with study spaces, but Downtown Santa Barbara has a good variety of cafes and coffee shops for students to set up shop in.

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? 

Andrew: Unless you live in Downtown Santa Barbara, life on campus at UCSB is almost inseparable from life in Isla Vista. Isla Vista is home to more than 10,000 students, so once you move out of the dorms, your friends will be very close by. There is a wonderful burgeoning art scene, and the housing cooperatives offer a friendly, inclusive community for those seeking an alternative to house parties and Greek life.

Downtown Santa Barbara is just a short bus ride or a scenic bike ride from campus, and it’s full of interesting history, culture, and great food. Some students will go downtown on weekends, but I would say that in my experience, there was more than enough going on near campus on the weekends to stay busy.

Oh, and the beach. Did I mention that UCSB has its own beach?

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

Andrew: The student body at UCSB is pretty large—about 25,000 students. Lower-level general education classes, like Biology, can be as large as 800 students. As you progress in your academic career, classes get smaller and generally settle in the 15-30 students per class range. Large lecture classes can feel overwhelming and impersonal, but luckily the professors and TA’s are pretty accessible. At the end of my senior year, my classes were about 20 students each. Overall it’s important to be aware of class sizes and be proactive in forming study groups to reinforce the information you need to know. 

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

Andrew: I had a lot of memorable teachers and experiences at UCSB, but there is one that I credit with jump starting not only my academic interest in environmental work but that also sparked my involvement in the community which I grew to love. That was Dr. David Cleveland’s World Agriculture, Food, and Population course, which I took the first quarter after deciding to major in Environmental Studies. He was exceedingly passionate about the subject matter, and even more passionate about putting the theory in the classroom to work in the real world. I credit his class with not only helping me break out of my shell and helping me challenge my assumptions about the world, but for putting me on my current career path.

I don’t have many regrets, except that I didn’t take as many language, art, and music classes as I wish I could have! Overall, I had an incredible time at UC Santa Barbara, and believe that succeeding here not only proves a student’s caliber academically, but also helps you learn to handle distractions better than most. I’m proud to be a Gaucho. Olé, Olé, Olé!

Check out Andrew’s tutoring profile.

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