Review of SoCal College Tour, June 2015

Hi everyone! I just came back from touring five universities in Southern California: UCSD, UCLA, UCSB, USC, and USD. I decided I would write a brief “review”, if you will, of each university visited. Before I begin, allow me to clarify: none of these schools are “bad” schools- not by a long shot. All are academically rigorous, resourceful institutions that have produced brilliant alumni. Keep in mind that the following reviews are my PERSONAL OPINIONS on the colleges visited. My personal preferences will very well likely differ from yours, so take these reviews with a grain of salt 🙂

Without further ado, here are the reviews, ordered from favorite to least favorite college.

#1: UCLA

UCLA by far stood out for me among the five colleges. Perfect weather (330 days of sunshine/year), though set in a semi-rough neighborhood. The campus is more of a traditional college campus, and OH SO BEAUTIFUL. It is a large school, but smallest of all the UC’s, spanning 419 acres (compared to UCSD’s 1,200!). What really set UCLA apart from the other schools I visited was the incredible sense of school pride and community among fellow Bruins. The atmosphere was so vibrant, cheerful, and exciting. Maybe it’s because seniors were graduating the day after, but still. There are over 1,000 student organizations- a far greater number than any other school I visited. Our tour guides, April and Jack, did an amazing job informing us about what UCLA had to offer its students. Jack spared no enthusiasm when talking about the university’s superb dining. Indeed, UCLA is ranked third in the nation for quality of dining. Something I will carry with me through the rest of  my life is what happened at the end of the tour, when April and Jack explained why they both chose UCLA. Since they were graduating seniors, our tour was the very last tour both would ever give. To say it was emotional is an understatement. As Jack reflected on his four years at UCLA, he started tearing up, until eventually the tears gushed out uncontrollably. April followed in suit. I saw people in the tour group crying as well because it was all so emotional and special (my mom bawled like a baby). As I’m writing about this experience my words can’t even do justice to the magic of the moment. I turned around and saw that our tour group had doubled in size, as other tour guides, tourists, and fellow Bruins gathered around to feel the magic. It was in this very moment that I realized that I, too, wanted to become a part of this tightly- knit community of Bruins who support and care for one another, who push one another to reach their greatest potentials. At the end of the tour I gave April a BIG hug. I had only just met her a couple hours earlier, but I felt that bond, that instant connection. I knew she embodied the type of person I wanted to surround myself with- confident, loving, well-rounded and supportive. And this I can find at UCLA.

#2: UCSD

UCSD is actually the first of the five colleges I toured this week. The fact that UCSD managed to stick in my mind after visiting all the other colleges speaks for itself. The weather, at least on the day of the tour , was perfection. Even better than that of UCLA. Perfect amount of sunshine balanced out by just the right amount of cool breeze. The atmosphere was quite tranquil and relaxing. I remember smiling with contentment during the tour, a warm feeling inside me, and I could really see myself as a student here. It was finals week when we toured, so most students were busy cracking the books. The campus, as I mentioned earlier, is  a whopping 1,200 acres- approximately 3.3 Disneylands! An overwhelming number, but there is a lot of open space. And the campus itself is gorgeous. Its Geisel Library (named after Thomas Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss), sticks out in my mind. This 8-level building houses over 3.4 million books, and actually inspired the design of the snow fortress in the movie Inception.

inception snow fortress

Something else I found interesting about UCSD is its 6 College System. In short, the university is divided into 6 different “colleges”, each with different educational philosophies and location. For instance, Eleanor Roosevelt College focuses on developing a global citizen by providing students with international experience, while Ravel College aims to develop the Renaissance scholar, one who is well-rounded in their discipline.

#3: USC

I like the educational philosophy of the University of Southern California more than I like the actual campus and atmosphere. USC places a lot of emphasis on interdisciplinary studies and aims to create Renaissance scholars- that is, well rounded students. Students are encouraged to bridge the divide between completely different fields. For instance, recently a group of video game design majors teamed up with pre-med students to create a video game catered to help returning soldiers recover from PTSD. USC is a private school, so it is much smaller than large public schools like the UC’s. There are obvious benefits to the fewer number of students, such as smaller class size (average class size is 26) and more interaction between students and professors.  It’s funny because going into the SoCal college tour, I thought I would like smaller private schools more than large public schools. I was worried I would feel inundated by the large school atmosphere and less attention from professors. However, coming to USC made me realize that small private schools don’t give me the same excitement that large public schools do. I don’t mean to say that USC is boring or lacks spirit just because it’s a private school. In fact, this college has over 750 clubs and organizations. I’m simply going off of that gut feeling you get when you first step foot on campus. For both UCLA and UCSD I felt the spark, the excitement of becoming a part of the enormous student body and taking advantage of the myriad of opportunities and activities each university had to offer. I didn’t really feel that initial thrill at USC. The campus is nice, but not mind-blowing, in my opinion. From the outside, the brick wall buildings look old, but the inside is all renovated and modern. So that’s my little spiel on USC.

#4: USD

Univeristy of San Diego is a Catholic private school (doesn’t mean you have to be Catholic to attend). It was actually the first private we toured. The campus is really beautiful, with many castle-like structures that resemble Hogwarts. The weather, like that of UCSD, is perfection. However, nothing really stood out to me about the school other than the campus and amazing scenery. No spark.

#5: UCSB

UCSB was the last college we visited this week. Let me just start by saying, the people at this university are very good looking. Just a random observation. Our tour guide, Tom, was SUPER easy on the eyes as well, not that it matters 😉 Anyway, you may be wondering why this university made it to the bottom of my list. To be honest, it’s simply a matter of gut feeling and first impression. UCSB is a great school with great academics and amazing career and research opportunities. It has the greatest happiness level among college students nationwide. But when we toured UCSB, the weather was cloudy, the atmosphere depressing. I’ve heard so many people gush about the gorgeous campus, so I had very high expectations going into the tour. However, touring the campus, I was not blown away like I expected I would be. The beach view is incredible, I concede. But other than that, I felt like the campus was pretty ordinary. We walked inside one of the residential halls, where college kids live. Like I said, pretty ordinary- just a building with a row of dorm rooms, bathrooms, and rec rooms. So I felt a bit disappointed with the campus, but maybe it’s because of the gloominess of the weather that day. Aside from that, I am happy to say that, despite its reputation as a party school, UCSB takes its academics very seriously. Students really have to work for those A’s and B’s. But one more downside that turned me off is the 25% substance-free rate. That means 75% of UCSB students drink to some degree. Of course, this is just a number. And just because other people drink doesn’t mean I have to engage in such behavior. Still, the low substance-free percentage just doesn’t sit well with me, since I have no intention of drinking in college, or anytime, for that matter. What I found interesting about the UCSB tour was Tom’s little anecdote that the tour’s close. He told us that, as a junior in high school, he toured UCSB and HATED it. The school’s reputation as a party school concerned him, and he wasn’t thrilled with the campus either. But at the time, he was dating a senior, who ended up going to UCSB. Tom’s then-girlfriend convinced him to sit in on some lectures during the school year. After attending a few of these lectures and experiencing the college life first hand, Tom began to appreciate the university more. He realized that the university’s reputation as a party school did not compromise its academics. Professors are super engaged with their students and provide them with so many opportunities for research. And one more thing about Tom- he was a shy kid going into UCSB. Now, if you saw him, shy is the last word that comes to your head. As president of the tour guide program, Tom is confident and outspoken- a true leader. To conclude my rant about UCSB: this university has produced that greatest number of Nobel Prize winner alum’s.

Alright, well that concludes my SoCal college tour review! Sorry if it turned out to be lengthy… Again, I have no intention of swaying you guys in a particular direction regarding college decisions. I’m simply giving you guys my personal opinion on the colleges I visited. Really hope you guys found this interesting and informative! And I definitely encourage everyone to visit prospective colleges. By actually setting foot on campuses, I gained a better sense of what type of college setting I prefer.

Thanks for reading,

Belicia

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