Today’s reader question is from Lulu in Reno, Nevada:
Question: I’m a junior interested in going to college in California. So far my two top choices are University of California Los Angeles and University of California Santa Barbara. In your opinion, what’s the most notable differences between students at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara?
Answer: UCLA and UC Santa Barbara are both part of the University of California system, but they have distinct differences in terms of their academic programs, campus culture, and student body.
UCLA, being one of the largest universities in the country and located in a major metropolitan area, tends to attract a diverse and cosmopolitan student body from all over the world, though the majority are still from California. It is known for its strong programs in a variety of fields, including the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences. UCLA also has a strong tradition of research and is home to many world-renowned researchers and scholars. LA is a world unto itself and many UCLA students like to take advantage of all that the second largest city in the US has to offer.
UC Santa Barbara, while smaller than UCLA, is also located in a more scenic coastal setting and is known for its strong programs in the natural sciences, engineering, and environmental studies. The campus culture tends to be more laid-back and centered around student life, and the university is known for its strong sense of community and student involvement in extracurricular activities. I’d argue that it’s also quite a bit safer than UCLA, though UCLA is still in a relatively safe part of LA (everything is relative).
I find UC Santa Barbara students more “chill” than UCLA students and also more into the outdoors and slightly less pre-professionally competitive. Yet, these are both still large enough universities to be home to students representing the full spectrum of identities, backgrounds, and interests; therefore, it’s important not to stereotype too much. Ultimately, the choice between UCLA and UC Santa Barbara may come down to personal preferences, academic interests, and the intangible feeling you get while being on one campus or the other. Both universities offer a high-quality education and a supportive community for students, but each has its own unique strengths and culture that appeal to different types of students. I strongly suggest visiting both colleges before applying to get a sense for yourself of the vibe on each campus.