The Largest Campus on the List: UCSD

I’ve had a really hard time writing this review (and have re-done it 3 times now), as it was a no-go for my daughter from the moment we stepped on campus, and I really don’t want this to come off as disrespectful to UCSD in any way. Personally, I love the area and arrived in San Diego wanting at least two of the three schools we were looking at to make her final list, including UCSD, but it just wasn’t to be. I have no doubt the school is outstanding academically, so try not to get defensive if you’re affiliated with UCSD in any way, it just wasn’t where she wanted to be, and my point here is just to explain why.

We actually stayed on UCSD’s campus the entire time we were in San Diego (3 nights). They put us up in the transfer student dorms (The Village at Torrey Pines), which in my opinion are the nicest ones we saw on campus. They’re the newest, and if you’re lucky enough to be on an upper floor, some of these rooms have outstanding views of the southern end of Torrey Pines, as well as the ocean. We were high up in our building, with a great view from our room:

The only reason I can think of why they’d house the transfer students in the best dorms is that these buildings are on the far north end of campus, which as we learned is actually a punishment if you need to cross campus on foot. Even the parking deck we were put in was a bit of a hike. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, so I’ll hold off on campus size for now.

From the start, my daughter’s opinion was that the campus made her feel sad. My wife and I both got what she meant right away, as many of the buildings are very industrial style grey concrete buildings that looked a bit old and drab. The campus itself was very concrete-heavy and didn’t seem to have enough of the larger grassy areas some of the other schools did that probably would have helped brighten up the campus. It didn’t help that the majority of the time we were on campus it was overcast, even after the morning fog burned off.

After visiting SDSU on our first day down there, we came back to UCSD and did the afternoon housing tour, which is separate from the normal campus tour (I did manage to get in a hike down to the glider port and Black’s Beach before that :)). The guide showed us freshman dorms, which were a stark difference from the upper class and transfer dorms. The one we saw seemed very plain, more like the type of dorms I remember from college. After getting a quick look at those, she took us over to a dorm reserved for 2nd year students and up, which was much nicer. One big difference, the freshman don’t get a fridge/stove/oven setup, while the other dorms do. The 2nd year dorm we saw also had a very industrial feel, with concrete walls on the inside. Along the way, she was very good about giving school stats, and information about the 6-college system they employ (more on that below), but was a bit short on actual housing information, which is the whole reason we’d taken that tour, so we left a little disappointed.

The  next morning, it was time for the campus tour of UCSD. We left the dorm room 25 minutes prior to the start of the tour, thinking we had more than enough time to stop at the little coffee shop right next to our building and still make it on time. We were wrong. It took roughly 20 minutes to walk from those dorms to the center of campus where the tour started. This campus felt much larger than any we’d visited prior to this. Honestly, it just seemed massive, which was also something my daughter didn’t like. While she’s very active and doesn’t mind walking itself, she also likes to get up no earlier than she has to on a school day, which I can relate to.

When we got to the tour office, they directed us over to a lecture hall for the admissions presentation. Again, more of the same stats, and they pushed really hard on the UC system’s GPA calculation, which only takes in to account your A-G courses taken in 10th & 11th grades. If you’re considering a UC school and not familiar with their requirements, I highly recommend you check out the above link.

The other thing she spent a good amount of time on, UCSD’s 6 college system. If you’d like to compare them, they’ve got a pretty good summary of each:

I have to be honest, I’m not a big fan. When you apply to UCSD, you’re required to rank them in order of preference, as you get assigned to one of them if you’re accepted to the school. More than one person during our time there stressed that you need to put a lot of thought in to this, because you may not get your first, second, or even third choice, and switching between them is next to impossible (less than 5% chance, we were told), and if you’re allowed to do so, you may end up adding a semester or more to your time there as you may have additional GE requirements to complete for that college. Why a 6 college system? Well, as best as I can tell, it’s designed to make the large campus seem smaller, as you spend a good portion of your time in classrooms in that college while working on your GE requirements, and assigned to dorms within that college if you live on campus. This setup is based on the residential college model used elsewhere, with your college assignment determining your GE track, and having little (if anything) to do with your major. I’ve read several student reviews of this setup since we got home, which seem mixed, but they all seem to back my initial impression that the main goal is to mask the size of the campus.

After the admissions presentation, we headed out for the walking tour. We stayed for a little less than half of this, so I don;t have much to write about here. Our next tour, USD, was scheduled for 1:30, and we were already cutting it close on time. Most of what we were hearing was a repeat from the housing tour and admissions presentation, so we decided to head for USD to ensure we were on time for it. There just didn’t seem to be a point in finishing the tour when there was no way she’d be applying. We were touring it with our friends from back home (the ones I mentioned in the UCLA review), and his son already decided he was going to apply to UCSD for the marine biology program, so they headed out with us to see USD.

Before I move on, I should point out that while several of the larger building just seem to be that grey, older industrial style, there were a few that were cool, namely the library, which looks like a space ship, and the “Fallen Star” house atop the building that houses the school of engineering:


The only piece of UCSD that we had left to see was the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (shown in the last 7 pictures below). After the USD tour that afternoon (and some lunch at a pretty good bacon-themed restaurant), we headed back over to UCSD, found a spot to park down by Scripps, and walked around that portion of campus. Honestly, we all really liked these buildings, they were more contemporary and had a “nature-y” feel to them. I’m sure that description doesn’t do them justice, but I’m having a bit of a hard time putting it in to words.

The bottom line, she just didn’t feel like it was a good fit. Again, I know this is a very good school academically, and after listening to the admissions presentation I seriously doubt she’d even get in if she were to apply. From my point of view, the last thing I want, as the person sharing the cost of the education, is for her to attend a school that she wasn’t comfortable with from the start. I do want to thank UCSD for the hospitality while we stayed there, those transfer dorms are pretty cool and the girls working in the housing office were very friendly and helpful.

UPDATE: I realized the day after I originally wrote this that I have a great example of the massive campus size. At all of the other schools we visited, we got a normal sized map of campus (folded, 8×11 size). Here, we got a bit of a shock. When we went to the housing desk for our dorms and asked for a map, she peeled off a map that was printed on a (roughly) 36″x36″ sheet of paper. Seriously. It looks like it covers more than just the ~1200 acres of the main campus, probably closer to the full 2000 acres that UCSD has:

Campus Map

On to my campus shots. The first two pictures below were taken in the shared common area of our dorm suite, with the third picture being that of the room my wife and I stayed in within that suite. There were 4 bedrooms in total in there, and the other three were set up as singles.

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The building housing the dorms we stayed in. I kinda liked this one, even though it’s still got that industrial feel to it. Being newer helps:


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Looking out from the roof of the dorms we stayed in:


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Pictures of Scripps Institution of Oceanography:

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