When I was going to Cal State Hayward back in the 80’s, the general assumption was casual drug use and close association with the hippie-commune-beach culture. Duuuuude. That and frisbees. You can take classes in discology. Really!
They are only referred to at Banana Slug U. as “discs” or “flying discs” … Frisbee is a brand name. The same goes for foot bags (most definitely NOT hackey sacks).
UCSC is a bit strange for those who have never been there, although it is quite a bit tamer than it used to be. For example, the campus is not longer clothing optional and the undergrads now get grades in addition to the narrative evals.
Casual drug use? Check.
Hippy trippy? Check.
Classes about the Dead? Check.
Massive student protests when College 8 was to be named Ronald Reagan College? Check.
On campus food co-op? Check.
On campus trailer park? Check.
Students living in tree houses up in the forest? Check.
A couple of things make UCSC different. Bear in mind that I left in '01, so some things may have changed since then:
It doesn’t look like you expect a college campus to look. At least when I was there, there wasn’t really a student union building as such, or a central plaza like Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley. It’s also in a redwood forest- the buildings are kind of hidden amongst the redwoods.
It’s divided into colleges, a la Cambridge or Oxford rather than “College of Arts and Sciences”, “College of Engineering”, etc. Undergrads live in their colleges rather than all living together in residence halls. As an astronomy grad student, I had almost no contact with the college system, so I don’t know much about it.
Academically, the biggest difference is that they give narrative evaluations instead of grades. I’m pretty sure you can opt for grades if you want to, but I didn’t know any astronomy grad students who did so (grades in grad school don’t really matter in astronomy, as long as it’s a B or better). If you’re a TA, you will have to help write narrative evaluations of students, which is kind of a pain.
The graduate student housing is insanely expensive compared to your pay with a TAship, RAship, or fellowship. You get one (small) bedroom in a 4br/2ba apartment for $776-832/month. When I was there, our take-home pay was about $1100/month :o It isn’t necessarily easy to find housing in Santa Cruz, but it’s possible to do a lot better than that for less money, or at least it was in 1998 when I was looking. Parking on campus is also very expensive (currently $756/year) and hard to find during the day.
The students are pretty liberal, but I’d say it isn’t that different from, say, Berkeley in that way. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have little difficulty finding things to eat on campus.
All in all, as far as I could tell, graduate school in astronomy there was about the same as graduate school in astronomy anywhere else, other than the cost of living being so high. All of our classes were in one building, so the layout of the campus really didn’t affect us. We weren’t in colleges, and had contact with our undergrad students only in classes like we would have anywhere else.
We did have to help write narrative evals, and got narrative evals instead of grades. But graduate student courses in astronomy most places might as well be graded pass/fail anyway, in my experience, so that didn’t really matter.
My daughter just graduated from UCSC and loved every minute of it. But since she’s not a member here, I’ll post my impressions.
“Bizarre” is way too strong a word. However, UCSC first opened its doors in the '60s, and retains much of the 60s atmosphere.
Santa Cruz is a counter-culture kind of town (even more so than a typical college town), and that adds to the character of the campus.
The university is organized differently from other UCs, and other American universities – entering students select one of 8 (or 9) colleges that they wish to join. The colleges have different core curricula, and are geographically separate, including housing. So the students of a college study and live semi-independently of each other. This fades away to some extent, once you’ve completed the core, and if you move off campus.
The campus setting is different – it’s on top of a hill overlooking the city of Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay, in a really spectacular setting. Every attempt was made to disrupt the natural setting as little as possible, so you definitely get the feeling of attending university in a nature reserve.
Athletics are virtually non-existent. I believe UCSC fields a Division III swim team, and possibly plays soccer and ultimate frisbee. The school mascot/team name is the Banana Slug (in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta wears a UCSC Banana Slug t-shirt, by the way).
Hi, I’ve been lurking for a while, but this is actually my first post.
I’m a third year EcEv Bio student at UCSC and I must say that whenever I hear mention of my dear college I get quite excited. It seems like we are very much a neglected UC, despite our many strengths.
I don’t think UCSC is “bizarre”, at least, not in a negative sense. There are still quite a few people on campus who, I suppose, can be considered “hippie-esque”, but this is dying out, and anyway, I don’t think that that qualifies labelling UCSC as being “bizarre”.
UCSC did used to give out narrative evaluations rather than grades, but this is no longer the case. Now you get both narrative evaluations as well as grades. The pass/fail option is no longer possible. I’m pretty sure that this applies to graduate students as well as undergraduates.
However, since you are a graduate student, perhaps it is worth noting that UCSC has a smaller graduate program. I believe the school was conceived with the goal of focusing on undergraduate students rather than research, although this may not be true anymore (since I’m not a grad student, I really can’t say how the graduate program is).
Probably what makes us most bizarre is, as other posters have mentioned, our unique and beautiful campus. To understand this, you have to visit first, because it is definitely not for everyone. Some people have likened our school to a summer camp (UCSC= UC Summer Camp), which is perfectly apt since the design of the campus firmly integrates it with the surrounding redwood forest. But of course, this is not “bizarre” as much as it is unique, so perhaps this is not what the Princeton Review was referring to.
Anyway, I suppose the important thing is to visit the campus since it’s really unlike any other college I’ve ever seen. Good luck on your decision.
UCSC sounds great by all your descriptions so far. How old is their science building and facilities in general? I’m applying for the Physics graduate program, condensed matter. Thanks for all the responses.
UCSC isn’t unique in the things it has. (Well, it may be unique among California colleges.) My undergraduate school, New College in Sarasota, Florida, also has narrative evaluations instead of grades. It’s also very much a hippie-weirdo-freak-commie-fag-junkie college. (Well, that’s what all the locals thought of us, anyway.) Several other colleges in the country are similar.
I think they’re in a new building. They used to be in Kerr Hall with the astronomy department, but they’ve all been moved out of Kerr Hall. The campus itself was built sometime in the '60s, IIRC, so the facilities can’t be that old.
From what I understand, most of the science buildings and facilities date to the sixties and seventies (in other words, from when UCSC first opened in the first place), but they are currently building more additions as we speak. Science Hill is getting two new buildings, and Baskin Engineering is getting a whole new wing added on (it looks very nice by the way).
From what I understand, our Physics department is pretty decent. Since we are pretty close to Palo Alto, many graduate students here go to Stanford to work with the particle accelerator there.
Yes, what I was told was that, when UCSC opened in the mid-sixties, the narrative evaluation system was The Big New Thing for many universities. It was considered more personal and was meant to provide a more well-rounded evaluation of a student’s academic success. However, this eventually started to pass, and most of the colleges who experimented with narrative evaluations began to make the switch to letter grades. I think UCSC made the switch four, five years ago and was the last California college to do so, but I may be wrong.
Congrats, Skeptico! You might want to check out this thread, which has some general advice on choosing a grad school to apply to.
Sorry I don’t have more specific advice about physics at UCSC, but I was in astronomy and we really only interacted with the physics grad students, not the professors.
I’m in the physics graduate program at UCSC. I went to UCSD for undergrad and this place is a different world. It has character. It’s beautiful (I’m always stumbling on new forest trails), it has fantastic free transportation available (students can ride anywhere in the city for free on the metro buses), it’s close to the beach…the deer are friendly…
The physics program is good, I think. UCSC has some fantastic faculty in the physics and astro departments. Their names crop up constantly in the literature. Unfortunately I don’t know much about condensed matter; I’m interested in the particle theory group. Overall, the faculty and staff are very caring and considerate, and the atmosphere is very friendly and informal.
There is a new physics building (it’s made of concrete and very ugly), and some other science buildings are getting the finishing touches put on. I think the heavy construction is basically over on science hill. Fortunately, the ugly buildings don’t matter much; they are surrounded by redwood forest. If you’re not right next to them you can’t even see them.
Financial support for physics graduates seems to be reliable–I’ve been supported by the department since I came here 2 years ago. I work as a teaching assistant for one or two classes each quarter. Now that I’ve finished taking classes I’ll probably get research money instead.
Anyway, support is there, if you need it, and don’t mind teaching.
FWIW, I love it here.
I strongly recommend visiting the campus if you can. Try to come on a day when the forest is misty, green and glistening and the banana slugs are out. It’s thrilling.
As someone who didn’t attend (I attended the CSU on the south end of the Monterey Bay) I can give my “outsider impressions”). It’s not nearly as Hippie as it’s made out to be. The students there look pretty much like college students everywhere (and i’ve been to a few universities to visit). It IS a beautiful campus, there are areas where you won’t see a single building, just the road and redwoods. I remember near the science hall is a rather deep gully that you cross by bridge (incredible spot). Each college seems separated from the other. If you like to walk or run, i’d say a trip around campus would do you well. You won’t see any neoclassical architecture like at Berkeley, it’s all modern, and 1960’s style with a woodsy feel.
One thing that makes them unique is they have the thickest transcripts i’ve ever encountered. I used to work in the Admissions office for my University and we’d get their transcripts. Pages on pages… they felt like books. I rarely saw any that were simply just grades, mostly the evaluations.
They’re not that great in athletics though… my school’s basketball team always whipped them in the sport.
Of course mine is a bit of the “hippie ideal school” as we go by asessment based learning and we also tend to take an interdisciplinary approach to learning (seriously, i’ve taken classes in Liberal Studies, Science, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and even Computers for my degree requirements (and some of those disciplines for my MAJOR SPECIFIC courses!). But let’s not talk of the myriad problems my school is still having (because i’m a touch embarassed by the bad press… but i will say i had excellent teachers and learning was great… it’s just the bureacracy blew).
Aaaaaaanyway, back to UCSC, another notable thing about UCSC is that their arboretum has probably the largest collection of Australian plants outside of Australia. They have an EXQUISITE collection of Proteas and Proteaceous plants.