Help me to make the most of my upcoming college experience!
April 15, 2010 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I've been accepted to and am visiting Pitzer tomorrow, as part of their student admit day. However, I loved UC Santa Cruz, and would love to hear whatever advice you may have for me in making my decision.

I've visited the other schools that I've been accepted to, and especially liked UC Santa Cruz. As you may know, comparing UCSC to Pitzer is an apple and oranges kind of deal, but I'd love to hear anything you have to say about either campus and their programs.

I'm feeling quite conflicted because although Pitzer's academic strengths are without question, the culture at UCSC was vibrant, and the campus was beautiful. That said, I am visiting Pitzer tomorrow and was wondering if there is anything I should definitely see, any questions I should definitely ask, and if there is definitely I should definitely consider in my decision.

By the way, I haven't completely committed to a career, but I am tentatively interested in environmental studies. But, as we all know, who knows!

So, if you have any anecdotes concerning either campus, I'd love to hear them. If you went to either school (or even if you didn't), I'd love to hear what you thought of your experience (what you liked, what you didn't like, what you did in your free time, what you thought of your professors, etc.) Granted, the student body at UCSC is at least 10 times larger than that at Pitzer, but I'd love to hear how easy it was to meet people that shared your interests at either school, as well as anything else you think would help me make an informed decision.

Thank you so much.
posted by makethemost to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I went to the Claremont Colleges, took some classes at Pitzer. It's a neat place. Pitzer, you may have noticed, has the rep for being non-conformist among the 5 colleges. It also has the rep for being least academically rigorous (deserved or not), which is to say that it is still pretty rigorous. Check out the Kohoutek festival that is one of the reasons why Pitzer is awesome.

Claremont itself is a cute little town, but somewhat isolated and quaint compared to Santa Cruz. You'll need a car so you can get out of there from time to time. But the campuses have all you need, otherwise. And you'll make lots of friends, and your class sizes will be relatively small. (Except Joint Science Center - lower division science classes are larger.) There are parties on the campuses every weekend, and you can go to any of them. Almost no Greek system (some at Pomona). Very welcoming. Your profs will invite you to their houses.

I don't know much about Santa Cruz, but I love the town. It really depends on whether you want a small liberal arts college or not.

Good luck!
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:47 PM on April 15, 2010

I am not familiar with either school, but I would say to go to the school where you feel that you are most likely to fit in and be happy. If you loved UC Santa Cruz, go to Pitzer and see how you like it there. If you don't like it, don't worry about it. If you love it more than Santa Cruz, go there. If both seem equally great and you don't know what to do, go to whichever one you can go to more cheaply.

I made my decision on a school almost entirely by feel. I went to visit and loved the environment and decided that I had to go. Only occasionally have I thought that I should have possibly gone to the school where I could have attended at a significantly smaller financial cost, but I really don't regret where I went. I had a great time!
posted by that girl at 4:55 PM on April 15, 2010

I attended UC Berkeley and Santa Cruz as an undergraduate, and Claremont graduate school for my Masters. I would choose Santa Cruz since it has a top notch Environmental Studies program. Both schools you are looking at are wonderful environments, with great faculty and progressive teaching styles. Santa Cruz will cost significantly less. The classes will be larger. Many state schools are pushing their upper limits on teaching load the faculty can realistically handle. Housing at Santa Cruz can be difficult; we began in a student housing arrangement that was designed for six, the state pushed in eight, and by the time significant others moved in to save money, oh, about twelve. Pitzer classes will be smaller and much more restrained.

At Pitzer, many of your classmates will be from well-to-do backgrounds---much more variation at Cruz.

The proximity to the ocean at Santa Cruz is wonderful. At Pitzer, you will be in the "Wild East" as Reyner Banham dubbed the area east of Los Angeles. Los Angeles is about thirty miles away, so you will be in its sprawl without the cultural advantages of downtown.

If you have more specific questions, you can post them in the thread or memail me if you like. Congratulations and enjoy your higher learning!!
posted by effluvia at 5:33 PM on April 15, 2010

I'm also a recent alum of a Claremont College (Scripps). I chose it over UCLA, so I guess I was in a similar situation.

Mainly, I chose Scripps because I really liked the small-college thing. In Claremont, you don't have to be incredibly assertive or a complete superstar to cultivate relationships with your professors. You'll get to know professors (especially in your major) really well, and they'll know you well. Those personal relationships with professors are a great resource - some of them are really nice people who can give you great career/school advice, and you have people who actually know you to write letters of recommendation later on. Not that this can't happen at a large college, but I think it's much easier at a small college. (Granted, I didn't go to a giant university so I can't speak to that experience, but my sister went to UCLA and it seemed to me that her relationships with her professors were much more distant.)

Some people do find small colleges stifling rather than cozy, though. That's really a personal thing. With all the 5Cs together, you are part of a campus of about 5,000 undergraduates, so it's not miniscule, but it's definitely not a UC.

Claremont is also not the most diverse place in the world (it's not like crazy white-tastic, but some [most?] minorities are definitely underrepresented). A UC definitely has the advantage in that respect. Again, how you feel about this is a personal thing, but if a really diverse student body is important to you, definitely take a careful look around at Pitzer and see you feel about that.

I also chose Scripps because all of the students I met when I visited seemed like really awesome, passionate, motivated, intelligent people. I liked the general culture that I saw there. I can attest that there are some pretty awesome people at Pitzer, too. I'd recommend talking to a lot of current students to get an idea of the campus culture and how they felt about it.

It's also good to visit your prospective major department, or talk to students who have majors that interest you, to get an idea of whether the programs are a good fit for you. Rick Hazlett is presumably still chair of environmental studies at Pomona, and he's a pretty cool dude, so you might try to set up a meeting with him to get an idea of the kinds of opportunities that the department offers.

(I don't think that you absolutely need a car in Claremont, by the way. The colleges have ZipCar; Scripps has vehicles that students can borrow, so Pitzer might too; and you'll certainly have friends with cars. Having a car is nice, of course, but don't let a lack of a car stop you from coming to Pitzer if you like it.)
posted by mandanza at 5:44 PM on April 15, 2010

nthing the claremont college alumna in here...i went to Pomona, and took many classes at Pitzer, CMC, Scripps, and Harvey Mudd. I now live about 45 mins from UCSC

Pitzer over SC:
* Smaller classes = more meaningful undergrad education
* Kohoutek
* Taking classes at any of the 5C's
* You can surf in the morning, mountain bike at lunch, snowboard in the afternoon, and still make it to Joshua Tree by nightfall for one of the most amazing days of your life.
* That statement about well-to-do backgrounds isn't accurate. the 5Cs have amazing financial aid packages and strive to create a socially and economically-diverse student base. but it won't be nearly as diverse as SC
* Liberal arts is more about teaching you how to learn, not teaching you how to do
* a lot of people who are insanely bright
* close relationships with those who teach you and those who administrate
* amazing overseas education networks

SC over Pitzer
* Santa Cruz does not get covered in a blanket of smog 2x a year
* Large school = more diversity = more exposure to life
* more people = more social experiences to have.
* you'll end up getting shuffled into some sort of track towards a discipline, rather than a track towards something you want to work your ass off to learn.

in the end it's all about the feel. if i can make one recommendation it's spend a day assessing who you are right now, not who you want to be, before going to either. you can always transfer.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 6:14 PM on April 15, 2010

Culture? Culture in SoCal? OK, just kidding, really I was. The rest is serious like it should be.

Pitzer. For me this is a no brainer.

There is nothing wrong with large state schools. I went to one, one of the biggest in the Universe and, I think, I got a good education. But for the rest of your life you are going to be telling people who don't know squat what your alma mater is and saying U. of [state] does make a difference (I know people who went to U of Pennsylvania that have to deal with it.) and having to add an at ... makes it worse. (having an alumni network counters that to a degree but not completely.). After you name your school, you are still going to have to prove you weren't sixteen thousandth out of the thirty thousand even to those who know the quality of education and of a department at your university. I think in most people's minds it is better to be three thousand nine hundred and ninety ninth at a school of four thousand than to be one thousandth at a huge school. I know that all sounds snobbish or elitist or what not, but it is my experience, and I'm on the other side of it.

Secondly, I wish I had gone to a small liberal arts school for a more important reason than impressing people. Though I got a good education at a state school, I feel -- I know that I would have gotten a more complete one at a smaller place. It is an old fashioned idea perhaps, and one that cuts across politics, but I think college should be about getting a broad education, should teach you to think and analyze and reason, not just be about pre-career training. Small schools do the former better, because the faculty are more geared to each student; you don't get lost in the numbers.

The society of a school does matter, I don't deny it, but it matters in a lot of ways.But the school society means a lot more than the number of parties (something I knew at eighteen, but too often forgot during the next four - OK, it was five -- years). A more select student body, though perhaps less diverse, is going to challenge you and push you and pull you. This is a good -- no, it is a great -- thing, because it is only for four more years that your ability to learn is going to define your intelligence, or your value to an organization. After that it will be your ability to preform and adjust and solve real problems with undefined parameters.

If you truly feel out of place at Pitzer, than that does matter, but Claremont (I admit, I only know these schools by rep) has a lot going on. It is probable that you will find a place and a group. Really, at this point, it is better (and easier) for you to have to look for people with your taste and interest, than it is for you to have to look for people with your brain and talent, and for professors with time to meet with you.

(You didn't mention student debt, so I'll ignore that consideration in my advise.)

Go for it. Take the hard way. Try; it's better than regretting later. (and it's a lot easier to transfer down next year, than up.)

posted by Some1 at 6:42 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great points, and I'd love to see more.

I'd just like to add one more point of consideration: let's say money isn't a deciding factor at all, one way or the other.
posted by makethemost at 6:54 PM on April 15, 2010

I got my BA from UCSC in 1993 so my impressions are somewhat out of date. I majored in Lit and minored in Psych, so I can't comment on the Environmental Studies program.

I loved the campus. My first class was in summer so the campus was almost empty and the summer fog would come rolling through the redwoods at night. The buildings are scattered through a redwood forest bordering on large open fields, so you walk through the trees, over little bridges, turn a corner and there's one of the school buildings. I haven't seen another school like it. We liked to call it Uncle Charlie's Summer Camp, which seemed apt.

The downside to the spread-out campus with its meandering paths is that your classes are likely to require a bit of a hike or a short bus ride to get between them. Finding your way around is frustrating at first. There is also no real central gathering place, so it can feel a little isolated which is good or bad depending on what you like.

When I was there they'd accepted too many students (I don't remember the details) so getting into the prerequisite undergrad classes was stressful. For Psych, there were three classes you had to take before you could take anything else. The first few days each class was wall to wall students until the professor decided who was in and then a lot of people had to go find some other class to take. Hopefully things are better now! The upper division classes were generally easier to get in.

The larger lectures were huge with hundreds of students. The teacher's aids did most of the work for these classes with the professors only showing up for lectures. Many of the TAs were great, though. Still, I wouldn't call it an intimate learning environment. With the state being so broke, I would expect the class sizes to be increasing.

My favorite teachers were young and not tenured. A number of the tenured profs weren't the greatest teachers (tenure is more about publishing a lot, I'm told).

In general, the professors were very bright, very knowledgeable people. A few were amazingly bright, knowledgeable and awe inspiring. The students tended to be really pretty good too.

UCSC was (and probably still is) painfully liberal and politically correct. There was a fair amount of dope smoking, birkenstock wearing, acid dropping, protest attending, militant feminist, VW bus driving vegan types. If you can't stand that sort of thing, you should avoid UCSC.

I enjoyed going to UCSC. I believe I received a good education. I can't say if it would be good for you.

My advice is to go where your heart tells you. When you picture yourself going to either school, do you feel glad, or do you dread it? Avoid the one you're dreading, even if there are rational reasons to go there. Follow your bliss.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 8:13 PM on April 15, 2010

Another Claremont Colleges alum here (HMC 2002). As others mentioned, access to professors is a big advantage for these small undergrad-only schools.

Another big difference is the style of campus life. In Claremont, a huge majority of students live on campus all four years, and spent almost all their time on campus. It's a small town, LA is miles away, and most students don't have cars. So it's a very isolated bubble, which is good and bad. Life on campus is pampered; if you live in the dorms and eat in the cafeterias you won't need to worry about groceries or cooking or apartment-shopping or anything. The campuses and dorms are intensely social, there's always stuff to do, and it's a great place to meet lots of people and form some close friendships. But it's also harder to get away to do non-college things (not impossible, but it takes more initiative and effort).
posted by mbrubeck at 8:43 PM on April 15, 2010

UCSC really does have a great Environmental Studies program, and is also top-notch with Marine Biology and Conservation-related stuff. So if you're looking to get into that field, that would be a big consideration. If you're not that sure yet what field you're interested in though, you might want to weigh all the other variables more heavily.
posted by Dilemma at 9:31 PM on April 15, 2010

I graduated from UCSC in 2006 Film and Digital Media and am about to transition from MA to PhD at USC.

UCSC was wonderful. I wouldn't reverse my decision to go there for anything. Although, again, there have been changes since my time there, in cost, in evaluations (I did not have an undergrad GPA) and in size. And granted, I wasn't some scholastic whiz graduating high school, bent on prestige. Lifestyle has always meant a lot to me, and a balanced lifestyle is something I have maintained through my academic career.

Basically, Santa Cruz is one of the best places to live in this country. It makes those lists constantly. Great food, great culture, yeah, lots of political activism (if this makes an environmenal studies person squeamish, strike me dead) and lots of traffic in the summer.

It's more magical than you know. There's more magic there than you can experience on one visit. The undergrad life there is a kick. If you may be studying ES, there is almost no reason not to go there, in my mind.

Calremont colleges I know next to nothing about, aside from the people from them whom I've met. It sounds soooo insular. The faculty would have to be personally demonstrated to be awesome to attract me to such a geographical eddy.

Also, would you rather be an hour from SF and 30 minutes from Monterey and San Jose, or an hour from LA, and 30 minutes from more LA and some more LA? (LA is cool. I like LA. But.... SF is better okay there I said it.)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:09 PM on April 15, 2010

I'm a Pomona alum ('06) and I wouldn't trade my time in Claremont for anywhere else in the world. That said, I'm pretty introverted and nerdy. I agree that you should follow your gut instinct when you visit campus, but the Claremont schools all recently ranked among the Nation's Happiest Colleges.
posted by citywolf at 9:14 AM on April 16, 2010

It sounds like you can't lose! Congrats, and let us know what you choose.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:18 AM on April 16, 2010

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