UC Santa Cruz v UC Riverside

Hi I am finishing up my senior year and I’m having a hard time deciding between the two. I applied as different types of engineering majors, the BS+MS program at UCR. I am about 45 minutes from Riverside and 6 hours from Santa Cruz, but I have a car. Any insights?

Are both the same cost to you (ie., did you get Regents or something else at Riverside?)
One is coastal the other isn’t: does it matter? What about housing costs?
Were you admitted to your favorite type of engineering at both?
Is it direct admit or is there a second selection process after taking some specific courses?

Both UCR and UCSC are direct admit although to declare the major at UCSC, you do have complete the required courses before proceeding with upper division courses.

Which Engineering majors at each campus? Is a Masters an eventual goal? Have you visited either campus? Completely different locations and “vibes”.

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I can’t really help you with more than a general impression, though I picked up this thread because my son was accepted at UCR and waitlisted at UCSC and I am also very interested in the comparison.

I live less than an hour from UCSC, and my gut says it’s probably better for engineering, particularly if you mean software development and are interested in internships (I’m a software engineer, but my son is not looking for that). That said, UCR is a comparable school academically in my opinion. Oddly, if you had asked me 30 years ago, I would have said I met more computer science researchers from UCR and that UCSC was good but a little offbeat. Well, times and impressions have changed. My honest view is that if you want to do engineering and have a choice, Santa Cruz is likely to be a better option, though both are great.

It also sounds like geography makes a difference. That’s up to you, since there are reasons for staying close and for going far. Do you have a strong local impression of Riverside? It doesn’t sound like a place people are really drawn to the way they’re drawn to UCSC’s campus among the redwoods. If you find that you personally like it, though, it may be a great fit. Go with what you want, not with what people say you should want.

“Vibes” is an interesting question, and something I’d really like to get an idea of. What I can figure out already is that UCSC is an unusual campus that some people really like, and UCR is conventional by comparison, but has a lot of commuters. Also, I have yet to hear anyone express great enthusiasm for the city of Riverside itself.

But what I really want to know is what the students are like. Are they serious? Would it be a motivating environment for my son. I have no reason to think they’re not. It’s just not the first choice for a lot of people, mostly due to “intangibles.” If that’s the case, I would feel better about the choice.

That said, I was a little surprised to find how few people I know with UCR connections. Maybe it’s geographic, but I know a lot more UCSC and Davis alums.

For me it’s hands down UCSC. The UCR vibe is just too conservative for me and I think the UCSC campus is just gorgeous. Not to mention proximity to San Fran. Not sure what your criteria are though so this might not be helpful.

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Thanks. I am getting a clearer picture the more I read responses. I don’t think my son should be disappointed about UCR unless he actually is for some reason. I’m not. I’m sure it’ll be an adventure no matter where he goes. (We could also hear off the UCSC waiting list, but I don’t want to bank on it.)

UCR has a larger selection of “traditional” engineering majors than UCSC does:


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I think I finally understand where a lot of the negativity about UC Riverside is coming from. I have no doubt it’s a school with a solid academic program, and it was initially a surprise to see what people have to say about it, because I had mentally ranked it about the same as UCSC when my son applied.

The most candid explanations come from the students themselves and I would recommend anyone to read over these comments on Unigo as well as answers to other questions. I found people saying out loud what I had already picked up as subtext. (Particularly telling was the “stereotype” that the students from the Bay Area were all ones who could not get into UC Davis.)

I think this could be a great opportunity for a motivated student who is willing to accept it at face value and make the most of opportunities. If my son gets taken off the UCSC or Davis waitlists, I’ll recommend he go to one of those, but I also think UCR could be really good experience for him.

UC Riverside in my opinion; it is only growing faster and faster each year, whilst UCSC is dwindling down in ranking over the years, now tied with Merced ( This is not slander to either schools, but simply highly perspective and progression through the years). Second of all is campus, UCSC in my opinion when I went to visit looked like a prison, it is cold, cloudy, gloomy. UCR although, is kind of isolated, dry, but close to places like disneyland and la is a mere 45 minutes away. In my opinion, Riverside is the way to go.

I found this article entertaining.

“UC Ratchetside”. Nothing to do but get buff and go to raves. Unfair, but funny.

Some people like the UCSC campus a lot. It is heavily wooded and unusual for a college campus, and not to everyone’s taste. My son and I had a chance to visit UCR and I liked that campus too.

Not sure if this is a great comparison. A much shorter bus ride will take you to the Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk. It’s not Disneyland, but it’s still one of my favorite places. (Not the boardwalk and rides so much, but they’re there if you want. Walk out on the wharf for sea lions, pelicans, and a sea otter if you’re lucky.) Downtown Santa Cruz has its own unique vibe. Unfortunately, like the beach, it’s not in walking distance, though you can get pretty far on bike if you have the stamina.

It’s less than an hour and a half drive from downtown San Francisco. There’s less to do in South Bay (my neck of the woods) but it puts you close to tech companies with internships. There is a lot of hiking both in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara county. A 45 minute driving distance puts you in reach of many miles of beautiful (if sometimes chilly) beaches.

I get the comparison of UCSC with the forest moon of Endor, but I would not call it a prison.

Yeah, UCSC always reminds me of an Ewok village or summer camp. A prison is the last thing that came to mind, although it is isolated to the point that you’re pretty much stuck on campus unless you have a car or are OK with riding a bus.

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I used to live in Santa Cruz. Since I was years past college age, I had little reason to go to UCSC campus, but I did get around by bike quite a bit. I know that campus is up on a hill, but it’s not unbikeable by any means. I don’t think you really need a car, but you probably need to be fit, but no more than you should be anyway at that age.

Nor can I think why anyone wouldn’t be “OK” with a bus, particularly in a relatively safe place like Santa Cruz. I know that’s a very common suburban phobia, though. I lived in Baltimore for 6 years in grad school. I took the bus if I needed to. They weren’t great but I never felt in any danger.

I’m guessing it’s at least a 30 minute walk to get to any off-campus restaurants or shops from the residential areas of the campus. And waiting for a bus takes time, too. Sure, it’s physically possible to leave campus by foot, bike or bus, but it’s going to be enough of a hassle and take so much time that a lot of people aren’t going to go anywhere.

I agree. It is hard for me to sympathize, though, because I always used to walk a lot. My university campus was over a mile on a diagonal and my first semester I had to make that trip from my dorm to an afternoon class (usually by bike). It was not as hilly. That’s the main problem with the placement of UCSC campus. The road name “Empire Grade” kind of says it all. But seriously, if you’re not up to the challenge when you’re 18-22, when will you be?

I suspect there are more options now too, with Uber. Daily walks to downtown or the beach may not be realistic, but it seems silly for anyone to consider themselves trapped on campus. (And I don’t mean to sound judgmental. I wouldn’t except that I think students would have a better time if they were more amenable to options like walking, biking, or taking the bus. It’s only prison if you’re serving as your own jail keeper.)

to each their own I guess. San francisco can be a good place, but Los Angeles is in my eyes better, and weather is just one of those things. Ranking and progression is the biggest factor; with UCR climbing and UCSC dwindling down.

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My son got into UCR, and not UCSC so I hope it works out for him. As I said, I thought it was a nice campus.