What is it Like to Attend the University of California-San Diego?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Alec received his bachelor’s degree in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from the University of California-San Diego. He currently lives in Los Angeles and specializes in algebra tutoring, history tutoring, and AP tutoring, among other subjects. See what he had to say about his experience at the University of California-San Diego:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options. 

Alec: Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the University of California-San Diego is located in the city’s sunny northern suburb of La Jolla. The community surrounding the campus is extremely safe, although it lacks many of the features of a traditional college town. While a car is useful (as is the case across California), San Diego’s bus system is pretty well developed – a blessing because the University of California-San Diego is chronically short on parking.

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

Alec: The large size of the campus population – nearly 24,000 undergraduate students and over 5,000 graduate students – makes it difficult but not impossible to build relationships with professors. Professors in departments connected to the humanities and social science are much more accessible and enjoy spending their time teaching.

Meanwhile, making appointments with academic advisors is generally an easy process. However, requesting minutes from the meeting in writing and via email is critical because course requirements can change unexpectedly, which leaves students forced to take extra classes.

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

Alec: Living on campus was a great way to meet other students. Most first-year students are placed with either one or two roommates and are divided among six colleges – Revelle, Marshall, Muir, Warren, ERC, and Sixth. These colleges are not based on major and are instead united by general education requirements. These different colleges are essential because the university is gigantic in size, with the main campus covering more than 1,150 acres. Second-year students are given better housing and can more easily request their roommates, although they are still usually restricted to living with members of their college. While the RA’s organize many social events for students living in the dorms, these events are usually open to any student regardless of college.

Despite the camaraderie offered by living in the dorms for the first two years, the university over-prices the rent for on-campus housing and requires meal plans. The administration has increasingly been marketing living on campus for third-years and transfer students in an effort to raise more money.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? 

Alec: The University of California-San Diego is well known for its science programs (biology, chemistry, and physics in particular) and its social science departments. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution (a biology major that is the University of California-San Diego’s equivalent of a zoology program) and I minored in Political Science. Although the EBE major was tailored toward students interested in animals, classes were hard to get into due to intense competition with pre-med students. When courses were available, the pre-med students monopolized the grading pool and the time of the professors and teaching assistants.

In contrast, professors in the political science and humanities departments would go out of their way to help students learn, using class time to reinforce important concepts. Readings and essays were assigned to test critical thinking and create connections between various disciplines.

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?

Alec: The University of California-San Diego requires students to put in effort and make time outside of classes to make friends. There are hundreds of clubs and numerous opportunities to get involved with on campus. It is quite possible to have a thriving social circle, but extremely difficult to balance with classes and keep good grades. The administration treats the social life on campus as a nuisance at best and a serious threat at worst, which has led to a crackdown on the most popular events and student activities over the past decade.

Greek life at the University of California-San Diego is negligible. There are a handful of fraternities and sororities, but local law restricts the number of students living in the same home, effectively preventing frat and sorority houses. However, there are some popular frats and sororities.

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

Alec: The Career Center has many connections but is less effective than it could be. Nonetheless, many tech and biotech companies love to recruit from the University of California-San Diego.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? 

Alec: There are numerous libraries on campus, although the best known is Geisel, which is located at the heart of campus at Price Center. The seventh and eighth floor are the super quiet zones, and the entire building becomes packed 24-7 during finals week. Normally there is more than enough room to study, and the University of California-San Diego has some incredible items in its special collections.

Describe the surrounding town.

Alec: The University of California-San Diego is a short drive (15-30 minutes) from almost anywhere in San Diego, and there is always something new to do in the city. However, the upper-middle class neighborhood directly surrounding the campus has an uncomfortable relationship with the university and the college students seeking to live close to the school. As most first- and second-year students do not bring cars, going off campus is often viewed as either a chore due to its difficulty or a chance to have a vacation. But since most students are kept very busy by classes, even third- and fourth-year students rarely venture to downtown San Diego and downtown La Jolla except on rare occasions. However, the University of California-San Diego overlooks the Pacific Ocean and even owns its own stretch of beach, which is a draw for students looking to relax on a warm California day.

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

Alec: There are almost 24,000 undergraduate students and more than 5,000 graduate students at the University of California-San Diego. This makes it extremely hard to get to know people outside of your college, major, or social circle. Even students extremely active in campus politics know only a small number of students, and elections often consist of a few hundred students. Class sizes also made it difficult to learn because lectures rarely concerned the material being tested and students rarely made friends with their peers due to the competitive nature of the school. Regardless, the large size of the student body had benefits, especially the opportunity to meet new people.

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

Alec: My most enjoyable classes were my humanities classes, which were a 5-course requirement of Revelle College. The sequence consisted of literature, history, philosophy, and science that led to the development of Western civilization. My favorite professor was Stanley Chodorow, a former dean at the University of California-San Diego, as well as a former provost at the University of Pennsylvania, who taught the first and second humanities courses. Professor Chodorow helped give relevance to the lessons of the ancient Greeks, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Roman Empire, and the Middle Ages. Although the material could have been terribly dry, he helped me become a well-rounded person. I enjoyed his class so much that I used a University of California-San Diego program to go to lunch with a professor on at least occasions to talk with him and learn more.

Check out Alec’s tutoring profile.

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