From the 2006 Fiske Guide to Colleges
Applications have doubled in the past ten years at this seaside paradise. UCSD now rivals Berkeley and UCLA as the California campus of choice for top students. Six undergraduate colleges make up UCSD - Revelle College, John Muir College, Warren College, Thurgood Marshall College, Roosevelt College and Sixth College.
Set against the serene beauty of La Jolla's beaches, students catch as much relaxation time as study time. But its not all fun and games around this campus. The research star of the University of California system, UCSD's faculty rates high nationally among public institutions in science productivity.
And within each of the six undergraduate colleges, a system that offers undergraduates more intimate settings, students are honing their minds with the classics and the cutting edge in academics.
While San Diegans tend to be more mellow than the average Southern Californian, UCSD students follow suit. But beneath the bright smiles, UCSD's bubbling with intellectual energy and the healthy desire to be at the top of the UC system.
San Diego's tree-lined campus sits high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific in La Jolla. Each of the six colleges has its own flavor, but the predominant architectural theme is contemporary, with a few out-of-the-ordinary structures, including a library that looks like an inverted pyramid.
Another tinge of the post-modern is the nation's largest neon sculpture, which wraps around one of the high-rise academic buildings and consists of seven-foot-tall letters that spell out the seven virtues superimposed over the the seven vices. Construction is taking place all over the campus, with new buildings and a parking structure in the works.
UCSD's programs are not for the faint of heart. Engineering requires a B average in entry level courses for acceptance into the major. Scripps Institute of Oceanography is also excellent, due to the university's advantageous location.
Computer science and chemistry also get strong recommendations, but you really can't go wrong in any of the hard sciences.
Although the humanities and social sciences are not as solid in comparison, political science and psychology get strong backing from students.
The math department, however, is less than adequate. To address its lack of a business program, the new School of Management began accepting students in its MBA program in 2004.
Imaginative interdisciplinary offerings include computer music, urban planning, ethnic studies, and a psychology/computer science program in artificial intelligence, as well as majors devised by the students themselves.
The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences enrolled its first students in 2002. UCSD has also opened a new, 109,000-square-foot building for the Jacobs School of Engineering, called the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall, a state-of-the-art research and teaching facility.
Like most UC campuses, UCSD operates on the quarter system, which makes for a semester's worth of work crammed into ten weeks. Science students find the load intense.
"The courses here are challenging and intellectually stimulating, but there are a lot of fun classes, too," says one senior. Students have a choice of six libraries, some good for research, others better for socializing. Despite the quality of research done by the faculty, half a dozen of whom are Nobel laureates, students find that the typical scenario of research over teaching seen at most research institutions is not as common at UCSD.
"Professors here are brilliant and conduct research throughout the year, but they also have a desire to share their knowledge with their students," says a communications major.
Scripps Institute of Oceanography
UCSD's Undergraduate Colleges
UCSD's six undergraduate colleges have their own sets of general education requirements, their own personalities, and differing ideals on which they are based. Prospective freshmen apply to UCSD - the admissions requirements are identical for each college - but students must indicate their college preference.
Revelle College, the oldest, is the most rigorous and mandates that students become equally acquainted with a certain level of coursework in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, as well as fulfill a language requirement.
Thurgood Marshall College was founded to emphasize and encourage social awareness; like Revelle, it places equal weight on sciences, social sciences and humanities. However, it streses a liberal arts education based on "an examination of the human condition in a multicultural society."
Warren College has developed a highly organized internship program that gives its undergraduates more practical experience than the others do.
Eleanor Roosevelt College ("Fifth" college) devotes its curriculum to international and crosscultural studies. The newest college - imaginatively dubbed Sixth College - focuses on art, culture and technology. Its goal is to graduate multicultural students who can work collaboratively and enjoy working in their communities.
A theater major notes that UCSD's academic intensity "does not mean that all the students here are nerdy. They enjoy athletics and extracurricular activities, but academic excellence is their priority."
A short walk to the beach, however, reveals the student body's wild and crazy half: surfers and their fans, who celebrate the "kick back." Students jumping curbs on skateboards are common on this campus. Yet these beach babies are no scholastic slouches. Most of them placed in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
The average student pulls a 3.0 while at UCSD. Many students here choose to take five years to graduate in order to gain a higher GPA, and many of the scientists continue their studies after graduation. UCSD also ranks high among public colleges and universities in the percentage of graduates who go on to earn a PhD, and in the percentage of students accepted to medical school.
Only 2 percent of students are from out of state, and another 3 percent are foreign students. Minority representation is high, with 39 percent of the student body Asian American, 10 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent African American. Affirmative action programs have been abolished in the UC System, but "UCSD is still shaping its new admissions policy to maintain ethnic diversity on campus," notes the administration. Efforts include a Crosscultural Center for students, faculty, and staff that provides activities, brown bag luncheons, and programs on race relations.
Each of the university's colleges has its own housing complex, with either dorms or apartments. Most freshmen live on campus and are guaranteed housing for their first two years. "The residence halls are very nice, with all the amenities, including Ethernet hookups in every room," says a animal physiology major.
By junior year, students usually decide to take up residence in La Jolla proper or nearby Del Mar, often in beachside apartments; only 34 percent of all the students live on campus. But that can be costly: the price ends up being inversely proportional to the proximity to the beach. If you are willing to relinquish the luxury of a five-minute walk to the beach, a short commute will bring you relatively affordable housing.
The immediate surroundings of UCSD, however, are definitley not affordable. Cars are, of course, an inescapable part of Southern California life, and owning one - many people do - makes off-campus living even more pleasant. "No car equals no fun," one international studies major says. Unfortunately, trying to park on campus can be difficult, though at least one student says that "parking is not nearly as bad here as it is at other schools." Dorm residents are required tp buy a meal card, which gets them into any of the four campus cafeterias as well as the campus deli and burger joints.
The university is dry, so most of the real socializing seems to take place off-campus. "Most students hang out at the dance clubs, jazz bars, and great restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter," says a senior.
Annual festivals include the Open House, Renaissance Faire, UnOlympics, and the Reggae Festival. Another annual festival pays tribute to the hideously loud and colorful statue of the Sun God, which is the unofficial mascot for this sun-streaked student body. Ten percent of both the men and the women try to beat the blahs by joining a fraternity or sorority.
Alcoholic parties are banned in the residence halls, though students say las RAs and good fake IDs make for easy underage drinking. Although campus life is relatively tame, students rely heavily on the surrounding area - but not La Jolla - for their entertainment.
Students go to nearby Pacific Beach (PB), and downtown San Diego with the zoo, Sea World, and Balboa Park only twelve miles away. Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is great for outdoor enthusiasts. Mexico - and the $5 lobster - is a half hour drive, and the two-hour trip to Los Angeles makes for a nice weekend jaunt.
Although San Diego is the farthest thing imaginable from a rah-rah school, it is rapidly becoming a Division II powerhouse, most notably in women's sports. Women's volleyball and tennis teams have won numerous national championships, and the men's water polo and volleyball teams have also done well.
For weekend competitors, classes are available in windsurfing, surfing, sailing, scuba diving, and kayaking at the nearby Mission Bay Aquatic Center. Everyone participates in one intramural league or another, and if you're not on a team, "you're not a true UCSD student."
The RIMAC, and impressive sports facility for students, gets even the coach potatoes off their Barcaloungers.
The students at UCSD are exceptionally serious and out for an excellent education. But the pace (study, party, relax, study more) and the props (sun, sand Frisbees and flip flops) give the rigorous curriculum offered by UCSD's six colleges an inimitable flavor that undergraduates would not change. Indeed, many believe they have the best setup in higher education: "a beautiful beach-front environment that eases a life of academic rigor."