My daughter was admitted to UCSB. We're from out of state. My guess is that UCSB ranks somewhere just below Berkeley and UCLA but it would be good to hear what Californians think. When I was applying to college Berkeley was at the top and UCLA was somewhere in the middle but it seems that the quality/rankings/etc. have reshuffled.
I guess you could put UCSD in tier 1.5 or thereabouts; I don't think it has the same national recognition as UCB or UCLA, not sure about the academics as I haven't seen UCSD myself. As for UCSD being a party school, I don't recall ever hearing that, but I'm sure almost every school has been called bad things at one point or another.
The three tiers are pretty much what most people who follow college admissions think. I personally clump UCSB/UCD/UCI together in terms of ranking. From what I've seen at my school, outgoing social people who are smart want to attend UCSB.
I didn't mean to imply that party school was necessarily bad. I went to Dartmouth - and it was a huge party school. Playboy ranked the top party schools back then and excluded Dartmouth from the list - due to professionalism.
The three tier ranking of the UC's I believe is pretty much universally accepted by us Californians as a true potrayal of the UC Campuses at the undergraduate level. Of course, the 2nd Tier schools are currently taking significant steps (UCSB for example) to narrowing the gap between them and the 1st tier UC's.
I constantly hear of UCSD as being "that party school."
Seriously, I've read stories about this place in the 70s and 80s, and it sounds nothing like a party school. It sounds more like "Oh jeez I wish I had gone to SDSU...the party school."
But anyway, UCSD is somewhere right behind UCLA in terms of PhD program strength, but still well behind UCLA in terms of name recognition and (arguably) the quality of its undergrad program. Cal is better than both in most respects.
UCSB is an excellent school, but it suffers from "image issues"-- namely, people think it's just a party school. Some of that is truth, most is not. If you want to study physics, for example, UCSB is incredible.
in the larger scheme of things will going to a school like UCSB instead of ucla look worse when applying to graduate programs at certain colleges? or are recs experience and things of that nature more significant that where you attended?
Well, if you can pull a 3.8 GPA at UCSB, and only a 2.8 at UCLA, I think it's better to go to UCSB (barring of course the engineering school). What going to UCLA would do is it would probably level the playing field and allow a UCLA student to have a lower GPA and still be admitted to a graduate program, although if you're referring to Pre-Med, I've heard of people who would go to Irvine/SB etc. over UCLA/Cal because medical schools will look solely on your GPA, regardless of your school/undergraduate study.