UCR has the stereotype that everyone who went there had no choice in the matter. This was the only UC they were accepted to. Possibly, you are one of those students in that situation now. You might have been rejected from all the universities, despite having a stellar academic record. Or maybe you slacked off in high school or experienced some life crisis. You might have had lower test scores and GPA but still were eligible to go to a UC. Or maybe only a couple UCs extended an invitation to you. UCR seemed like the best choice financially or it was closest to home.
You might be coming in thinking you are going to transfer to another UC.
Let me make this clear. UCR has this strange way of growing on you. People who absolutely hate that they are attending here almost always, over time, like it and decide to stay. The people who still hate it will go onto the College Confidential boards and complain about things that have nothing to do with UCR itself (like the poverty levels of the surrounding city).
I repeat, if you think you’re going to transfer, you probably won’t.
UCR is not an easy school. At least in science and engineering, it has a level of difficulty similar to other UCs. It is a UC after all and must have the same general level of standards. Unless you are taking a very easy major, you won’t get a high enough GPA to transfer to another UC like Berkeley, San Diego, or Santa Barbara.
Before we go deeper, let me introduce myself. My name is Fiske, and I am a third year computer science major at UCR. I live on campus at the Bannockburn apartments. Keep in mind this guide is from an engineering major who lives on campus. I came to UCR, because they were the UC that offered me the most financial aid. They were also the closest to home. I came here knowing absolutely nothing about the school or a 4-year college in general. I came from a family who either went to military school or to vocational school. I know what it is like to go into something not knowing that much.
Some of you don’t have the money to visit the campus in person. How can you make a proper decision on going here if you can’t even go visit the campus? That’s one of the reasons I wrote this guide. Feel free to ask any questions that are not covered in this interview.
2.0 Reputation of UCR
UCR used to be called, by my more egotistical high school peers, “UC Rejects” or “UC Retards” when I was a freshman in high school. Nowadays, if you call the university by any of those names, most people will not take you seriously. Most people who think UCR is a second-rate university have never gone there.
Don’t let the people who got into a more “prestigious” UC fool you that UC Riverside is a second-rate UC. It is not and what they say reflects more on their ego than on the university itself. If you talk to alumni of the school, you will find out differently.
UCR has become more selective over time. Probably after another 10-15 years, UCR will have an acceptance rate around 50% instead of the current 69%. UCR, as of 2011, can now pick their students and students. This means that no longer will they be the school that students are “deferred” too. This increases the quality of students that attend UCR.
Every year, I notice the incoming freshmen are more studious and prepared. At first, your peers will often remind you of the immature peers you left in high school. But don’t worry. Unlike high school, the people who goof off and don’t take their studies seriously will be kicked out of the campus. The quality of your classmates will increase with each passing quarter.
One word that can sum up UCR is that it is underrated. If you are coming in, thinking that UC Riverside is a bad school, then you will be pleasantly surprised. You will find that UCR far surpasses the outdated “reputation” that some people still give it.
3.0 Atmosphere of the University
Most students that go to UCR are there to get some type of required vocational training. Maybe they need a master’s degree to be a teacher or they need one to become a type of nurse or doctor.
An overwhelming amount of students commute to campus (around 70% commute and only 30% live near or on campus). That means UCR lacks a large amount of students during the weekends. It lacks the college community feeling for those who do not live on campus.
Weekends on campus are dead, and if you are stuck at your apartment or dorms for the weekend you will probably get a little stir crazy. Most of your friends will return to family during the weekend and during holidays and breaks. So, unless you have friends who are stuck there like you, the weekends and breaks will feel extremely lonely.
In addition, many if not most students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. So they have to work part time in addition to going to school full time. People tend to be very busy at UCR. Don’t expect people to always want to have deep, intellectual conversations. They are often tired and want to rest.
UCR has lots of undergraduate research and does a lot of community outreach. We do the most community service out of any UC. And that says a lot since many of our students come from these disadvantaged backgrounds.
“College is what you make it” should be the motto for UCR. I would say that if you are a more independent student then UCR is just for you. To truly get the best of UCR, you have to be autonomous. You have to explore yourself and understand what you want.
College is all about growth and discovery. UCR does not tell you what to do. If you come into UCR with the attitude that the school sucks, the world owes you more, and you shouldn’t be there, you will not succeed here and probably perform poorly in your academics. With that attitude, we will be happy to weed you out, kick you out, and accept another student.
UCR more than makes up for the immature freshmen that drop out by accepting high performing community college students.
People tend not to be worried as much about getting perfect grades as other UCs. UCR wants you to academically succeed, but they care about how you are growing. Professors will decide to mentor you more on you as a person and your potential than your current grades.
I don’t have an outstanding GPA. It is only a 3.30 cumulative in computer science (and a 3.17 GPA in my major), but I still was able to get a faculty mentor. Professors understand that grades are a very limited measure of you. And professors have had the most success from undergraduate students in the 2.8-3.4 GPA range than the 3.4-4.0 GPA range. This is great if you are a bad test taker or suffer from testing anxiety (because most of your grade counts on standardized tests).
4.0 Social Atmosphere
The bulk of your socialization will come from clubs, fraternities, academic competitions, and activities. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved.
I will not sugarcoat this. The location of UCR, alongside sports, is probably the two weaknesses of UCR. UC Riverside resides in the county of Riverside or an area better known as the Inland Empire. This area has some of the highest air pollution and unemployment rates in the nation. Most of this air pollution comes from LA county, but UC Riverside is surrounded by mountains that trap this pollution there. UCR is not the school to attend if you suffer from a respiratory illness.
The area around Riverside can get very depressing, but it isn’t like the whole place is a ghetto. There is a mixture of affluence and dire poverty sitting right next to each other. This is uncommon in most cities where the poor areas are strictly separate from the richer areas. Riverside city is getting better with each passing year thanks to the efforts of the students, faculty, school, and city. But it isn’t very safe to walk in the night past 9PM unless you are in a group of at least three or more.
There are some things to do here but not immediately around campus. You have to take a bus to downtown Riverside (which is free to UCR students). The area downtown is more affluent. It has restaurants, museums, mall, theaters, and everything you would want. But it might get old over time as there are a limited number of these establishments.
UCR is in a desert-like environment. This means that extreme fluctuations in temperature are likely. You will need clothing for all types of weather (but you can leave the snow boots at home). If you stay for the optional summer quarter, expect the temperature to be 90 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Most students don’t take summer classes and the weather is gorgeous during the main academic year. Temperatures are usually between 60F to upper 80s in Fall, Winter, and Spring.
We have lots of wildlife at UCR. We have coyotes, skunks, possums, raccoons, and foxes that often wander around at night. So don’t pester them, feed them, or try to pet them like some of the freshmen do.
Oh, and if you are an engineering major, watch out for a skunk I’ve called “Betsy” that waddles around the engineering college. If you stay at the engineering college late at night, Betsy will sometimes be out on patrol, go up to the door, and not let you out.
We are not known for our sports although we are getting better. One of the most notable things is that we lack a football team. We like to say that our football team hasn’t lost a game.
Most students are indifferent to the success of the sports teams. I used to be indifferent, but I see sports as a good way to have public relations so they do play a role for a university. I can now see their importance. Still, I don’t watch any of the home games or attend them. Neither to most of our students. That being said, UC Riverside used to let our student athletes down. Our old track was heavily deteriorated. The track was full of holes and the equipment was second-rate.
It took the scrutiny of a whole nation watching the television show “Undercover Boss” for UCR to respond to the embarrassing neglect of its tracks, fields, facilities, and athletes. See, our Chancellor Time White was on the show mainly for public outreach. In less than a year, UCR fixed the track, soccer fields, and baseball fields. Now, every day, people play softball, soccer, or run on the new track. But they should have been doing this from the start.
UCR has good housing with way above average service. The staff seems to care more than at other universities. Staff often will bend over backwards to respond promptly to complaints and concerns. But you have to speak up when you feel something is not right or fair. Make sure you talk with a senior staff member with your concerns and not one of the student staff members. The student staff members are kids just like you and not likely to know anything more than you do. The more mature senior members know more so they can get more things done for you.
However, I recommend students do not live in the dormitories at all at any university. This includes UCR. The majority of students (60%) who live in the University of California dorms go on academic probation after their first quarter (they get below a 2.0 GPA). The dorms are noisy, messy, and quiet hours are not heavily endorsed. The meal plans at UCR are extremely stingy. You will probably be sleep deprived and hungry at the dorms. The shocking price tag is not worth it in the dorms.
The vast majority of RAs and other residence hall staff are way too lenient on drug offenses. UCR is not known for its drug scene, but like all colleges and universities, it does have one. It might be contrary to popular belief, but it is easier to get into the drug scene at the dorms than living in an apartment in a room by yourself. People who live in dorms are either first years or second years, and many are partying it up since it is their first time away from the scrutiny of their parents.
UCR housing does not put a lot of thought into roommate assignments like, say, UC Santa Cruz does. Given the diversity of students at UCR, you will most likely have a roommate that is the polar opposite in you in either music, sleep schedule, religion, cleanliness, and study habits. Most people experience extreme conflicts at one point and often need to be reassigned.
7.1 Types of Housing at UCR- Dormitories
Fortunately, I had the experience of living in all three dormitories so I can say something about all of them. =)
In Summer of 2009, I lived in West Lothian. During the 2009-2010 academic year I lived in AI. During the 2010-2011 academic year, I lived in East Lothian.
7.1.1 West Lothian
This is, by far, the worst dormitory. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t as nice as AI and East Lothian. West Lothian does not have any redeeming features that would make you want to live there than others. They used to have stoves in the student lounges but last I heard, housing removed these stoves. The hall stoves were the only advantage West Lothian had over others. West Lothian also does not have a computer lab. The laundry room in the basement constantly smells like stale throw up. The air conditioning is horrible, and the school sets the temperature for West Lothian (which is not that generous). This is important because UC Riverside gets very warm during the early fall quarter and late spring quarter.
In the past two years, UCR has repainted the inside and made it look slightly better, but the outside of West Lothian still looks horrible. UCR seriously needs to repaint and refurnish the outside of West Lothian too instead of making it look like the ugly bare white walled asylum. No one is really happy in West Lothian.
However, people who live in West Lothian still have access to everything that people in East Lothian have. So don’t beat yourself up too bad if you are put in there.
7.1.2 East Lothian
East Lothian is newer than West Lothian and it is the best dormitory in my experience. East Lothian has a small game room (with non-electronic games that is), two piano rooms, a small gym, a computer lab, a main lobby, a study room, a beautiful outside patio, and a barbecue outside. If you live in West Lothian, you also can access all these things that East Lothians enjoy. But you will have to walk down three long hallways to get there. It can be annoying when you are tired.
The rooms tend to be slightly smaller than West Lothian, but at East Lothian you get to control the temperature of your room!!! Yep, you get to control the temperature and not the school. I personally prefer 69 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the unbearable 80 degrees Fahrenheit of West Lothian.
7.1.3 AI Dormitory
The way I would describe AI is “majestic”. AI is the oldest dorm, but they re-did it, and it looks awesome. UCR also needs to re-do West Lothian in the same way. The rooms are bigger than East & West Lothian. AI, like East Lothian, also has a game room, a piano room, a main lobby, a small gym, and a dining hall. The AI dining hall has the best food.
Warning: Meal Plans
As of 2010-2012, the meal plans do not meet student needs at all and are stingy. Don’t worry about the freshman fifteen, the UCR meal plan will be sure to starve you to the point you get the negative freshman fifteen. If you don’t have the luxury of your parents buying you extra food and you don’t go home on the weekends, then you’ll go hungry.
If you are vegetarian, UCR doesn’t have the greatest choices. They do have vegetarian but it is very hit or miss. If you live at the dorms, you have to purchase the meal plan. The meal plan is not optional at the dormitories and the Glen More apartments.
7.2- Types of UCR Housing- Apartments
Living in the apartments is so much better. People who live at the apartments tend be upper classmen. They are more serious about their studies than the incoming freshmen. They are more considerate of their neighbors too. You won’t be pestered with all the mass chaos that goes on in the dormitories.
People won’t be forced to have the dining dollar plan and can afford to use that money instead to buy groceries. At the grocery stores around Riverside, food tends to be cheap. Apartments usually cost around $500-700 dollars a month for a room for yourself. And it usually costs $250-470 a month if you split the room with someone else.
2.0 In Summary
2.1 UCR Pluses
+Rapid responses by staff to respond to complaints and concerns.
+Student gets more individualized attention and more resources. This increases as they go into their sophomore, junior, and senior years.
+UCR can have a CSU feeling when it comes to professors. There is more emphasis on good teaching.
+Cheaper to attend than other UCs because of cheaper housing, food, and more generous financial aid.
+Anyone can get ahead so long as they apply themselves.
+Students tend to be more involved in community outreach.
+You learn the same things and are held to the same standards as other UCs.
+Friendliness and accessibility of staff and faculty.
+More individual attention paid to students by faculty and staff. UCR has lowest faculty to student ratio in the UC system.
+The campus has a lot of potential and alumni are often shocked at the constant improvements to the school’s reputation, ranking, and main campus. You will be proud as an alumni.
+Atmosphere is more cooperative than competitive.
+UCR is in the top ten most diverse campuses in the United States. This diversity makes it impossible to feel alone. And you will have plenty of opportunity to grow and learn about other people.
+Despite being a somewhat large campus, there is a “big fish in small pond” feeling. If you apply yourself, you can be well known.
+Weather is gorgeous during the main academic year (Fall-Spring quarter). Be warned, it will be hot during the beginning of Fall Quarter and late Spring Quarter.
+Our science and engineering programs are top notch.
+In engineering (at least computer science), a good balance of theory, practicality, and individualized attention. You will be ready to take on demanding engineering jobs when you earn your degree. Often, you will get job offers before leaving the school if you apply yourself.
+People tend to be more down-to-earth and practical than other UCs (a plus for me. Not so much for other people).
+There is more of an emphasis on growing as a person and reaching your full potential than getting a top percentile GPA. A modest to good GPA is often good enough so long as you are growing.
+As there are not a lot of things to do or things to distract you, you find yourself studying more.
+Only creative writing major in the UC system.
+In the “middle of everything”. San Diego, Las Vegas, Orange county, and Los Angeles are not that far away. If you have a car, there isn’t a faraway drive to go somewhere desirable.
+Dormitory food tends to be excellent at AI (and it avoids getting old).
+UCR will be opening the first public medical school in forty years in the state of California.
+Despite what people might say, UCR has slightly less crime to the same level of crime as other UCs. And UCR has less on campus crime.
2.2 UCR Minuses
-It is located in an area with way above average levels of poverty and air pollution (to be fair, other UCs also have this problem).
-UC Riverside is a bubble of prosperity and beauty but just a half a mile down the street is a different story.
-While University police are friendly to LGBT people, Riverside City police are not LGBT friendly.
-Tries too hard to be like UC Berkeley and UCLA. UCR needs to forge its own unique path.
-UCR has unbearable heat during the summer (it is uncomfortable to attend summer school here). A plus is that this is dry heat.
-Not known for our sports but, as in all areas, improving rapidly.
-Our humanities program as a whole needs to improve.
-Our faculty are well known and highly esteemed but we don’t attract Nobel laureates like other UCs do.
-Meal plans at the dormitories are stingy.
-We don’t attract as many exceptional, academic guest speakers like other UCs do (although we did have Richard Simmons at the Rec Center and April 4th we’ll have an astronaut from NASA speak).
-There isn’t as much of a network that other UCs enjoy (as UCR is smaller than most UCs and not as established since it is younger).
Should you Attend UCR?
Before coming to UCR do your research. What do you want to do as your major? Is it very important to be in a place without that much poverty? Is it important you be close to family?
This campus is not for people who want to party and live the “high life”. Nor is this campus for people who are unwilling to work extra hard to create a stronger network and resume for graduate school/jobs. If you are not willing to invest in yourself by learning new skills, you won’t be successful. You’ll be miserable. UCR isn’t as prestigious as other UCs so you can’t depend on the reputation of your school itself to land you a job. But UCR provides plenty of opportunities for students to learn and grow so you will be prepared.
I would recommend UCR to the following types of people:
-those planning to go into engineering or life sciences.
-those who want to attend UC for a fraction of the cost.
-those who don’t mind higher levels of poverty and pollution.
-those who don’t expect everything handed to them. People who are self-initiators.
-those who want more individualized attention.
-those who like warmer weather.
-those who live in southern California and want to remain close to home.
My Take on UCR
Personally, the only reasons I would not stay at UCR for graduate school are the poverty levels, heat, and pollution. Yes, these aspects are that important to me. This is also the reason I wouldn’t attend graduate school at UCLA or any other college with these problems. Heat, pollution, and above average poverty doesn’t bother a lot of people, but I’ve been living in areas like this my whole life, and I need a drastic change of scenery. And, for health reasons, I can’t be around the pollution and heat.
This is, by no means, the fault of UCR. If UCR were only located in a cooler climate, I would stay here forever and ever! I like the campus and people that much! And Riverside city will probably improve to the point that poverty won’t really be that much of an issue.
I love the school so much that if I ever became wealthy, I’d donate millions of dollars to the college of engineering. Seriously. They’ve really helped me come out of my shell and built me as a person. I don’t think I would have been given that at other UCs.
My main complaint is that UCR, the campus itself, is that it tries too hard to be like the other UCs. There is something wonderful and unique about this campus. UCR, when it was founded, wanted to one day follow in the footsteps of big brother Berkeley. A prime example of this is our mascot. Instead of a Scottish Terrier, we decided a boring, generic bear named “Scotty” would be our mascot. I hate Scotty the bear, and I want Scotty the Terrier instead. So long as UCR tries to be something it’s not, a want-to-be Berkeley, the campus will not live up to its fullest potential.
Don’t fret if this is the only UC you can come to. You will still get a good education and, if you don’t like the area, you can leave after you graduate! And if you just can't swallow the fact of you would go to UCR, then go to a community college, and try to transfer to another UC.
Let me know if incoming freshmen or questioning students have any questions (especially about the computer science major).