UCSB vs UCD for non pre-med biology

I got accepted by UCSB for pre-bio and UCD for Biological sciences. (I also opted in the waitlist of UCSD and UCLA🤞) So UCSB is a little more prestigious and it is ranked higher in general, but UCD is traditionally very strong in biology and I have been told that getting research opportunity would be a lot easier in UCD. However I’m also aware that it is a bit more ‘agriculture focused’ and I’m not particularly interested in agricultural studies. I don’t plan to go for med schools in future and I really want to pursue a career in research, preferably in evolutionary bio or zoology but I’m also considering neuroscience. Which school would be better for these directions, and if I want to go for postgrad and phd afterwards?
(The environment is not that important for me, I love both cows and beaches and I don’t really care much about the party scenes:/ )

Any current students in these schools are welcomed to share their experiences^^

Congrats, they are both great.
you should visit both schools and talk to some students. There is no substitute for experiencing the campus yourself.

Good luck


UCD may have been established as a Agricultural school and yes there is still a focus on that area but the majors in the School of Biological sciences are not focused on Agriculture and are similar to the majors offered at UCSB.

If you have an interest in Neuroscience, UCSB does not offer a Neuroscience undergrad major specifically, it is either Psychological and Brain Sciences or Biopsychology.

UCD offers the Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior major in the College of Biological Sciences.

Research opportunities are available at both schools but you need to do the leg work. My son’s best friend was a NPB major at UCD and found a research position in the Neurobiology lab as an Undergrad.

Compare the major options for both schools and see which path will lead you to your ultimate goal.



You will be spending 4 years where ever you decide to attend so I agree you need to visit and talk with students at both campuses to get an idea of which campus is your best fit.


The two schools both have great college towns but the vibe and energy of the campuses are different. You definitely need to find time to visit both campuses.

UC Davis has a College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Don’t get caught up on the word “agriculture” but look at the majors in that college and see if they interest you. UC Davis has one of the top vet schools in the nation. Many pre-vet students major in animal science and animal biology which are in CAES.

NPB (Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior) is one of the most popular majors at Davis. Many of the students are pre-med but you are going to encounter that wherever you study biology. Other majors that might interest you are Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology and Cognitive Science with a Neuroscience emphasis.

UCSB converted their Psychology department to Psychological and Brain Sciences a few years ago. It has more of a psychology focus than neurobiology.

My daughter majored in NPB and worked in a lab (with very good pay) as an undergrad. Then she successfully was admitted to UCSF for their medical program in pharmacology. Most of her friends and roommates were in engineering.
She didn’t attend Davis to do ANY sort of agriculture. (But the most popular classes are tied to agriculture: “Beer making” and the hard to get into “Tractor driving”.)
She loved the campus and the collaborative spirit there. She loved the being able to go with her friends to San Francisco/Berkeley, Tahoe, Yosemite, Napa during her time off. She loved the bike culture at Davis. With 40,000 bikes on campus, everyone bikes and there is a free student-run bus service that takes you anywhere that is campus related.
You need to visit the campuses. They are both very different schools.

As a math major, I would have loved to take both these classes. Since then I have brewed quite a bit of beer, but I had to learn it on my own (with help from a friend who brews very good stuff).

IMHO “very strong in biology” is important, and “getting research opportunity” is also important. Both are going to be more important than the overall ranking of the school, particularly when comparing two very good universities.

One daughter recently graduated as a non-premed biology major. She is interested in research (particularly cancer research). Her very significant lab and research experience as an intern while she was a student helped her a LOT in terms of getting her first job. Her first internship was at an agricultural center in spite of agriculture not being her primary interest. However, doing very well in this first internship probably helped (along with very good grades) towards her getting her next few internships.

Which university is a better fit for you is also very important. Both are very good universities so I would not be concerned about any small difference in ranking.

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thanks! although as an international student it would be hard for me to visit them now. I’ll try to connect with some students.

Take a look at the course offerings in your areas of interest at each school. Which offers more of what you are most interested in?

Take a look at faculty rosters and their research at each school. Which has more research activity that is of your interest?

It probably wasn’t offered until after your daughter graduated but the science of coffee making has become very popular at Davis.


Besides academics, if you are an International student you will want to have easy access for an airport and pubic transportation to get around the campus and nearby cities.

Sacramento airport is 20 minutes away, accessible by the Yolo Bus system, Uber or the Davis Airport shuttle. Since it is an International airport, they may have some direct flights for International students. Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
The UC Davis Uni Trans bus system will take you around town.https://unitrans.ucdavis.edu/
Also an Amtrak train station in town with stops in the Bay Area (Berkeley) and San Jose.

For UCSB, the MTD buses can take you anywhere between Goleta and Carpinteria including the city of Santa Barbara.
The Santa Barbara airport is small and be accessed from UCSB but as an International student you would have to fly into Los Angeles and catch a flight to Santa Barbara.
There is also 2 Amtrak train stations in Goleta and Santa Barbara.

Just some things to consider when evaluating these schools.

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https://sacramento.aero/smf/flight-and-travel/nonstop-destinations indicates that the its non-stop international destinations are five in Mexico and one in Canada.

Thanks for the responses!

In addition to veterinary medicine/agriculture, Davis has a medical school with great biomedical research labs. If interested in Neurosciences check the neuroscience center. Many labs take undergrads.

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