UCSD vs. William & Mary for Biology

My son is completely on the fence choosing between two radically different schools that have offered admission - William & Mary and UCSD, both for biology (not pre-med - he’s more of a natural world kid). He has narrowed his choices down to these because of their bio programs and quality of research. I recognize not many people make a choice between these two, but any thoughts?

The primary ‘pros’ for UCSD (Revelle) for him are the top quality research and easy access to the city and possibly numerous internships/jobs, plus a West coast vibe (he grew up in WA); he also likes the easy commute between school and home (direct flight). The primary ‘con’ is the sheer size of the school and classes, and getting crowded out of meaningful research opps -essentially becoming a lab rat.

The primary pros for W&M are faculty-led research, small class sizes, being a known quantity to faculty - he doesn’t excel at putting himself out there. He’s also attracted to the opportunity to genuinely partner with faculty on research design, authorship, and presenting. The primary cons are that there is not a high powered internship/ job market in the area (Williamsburg) and it’s a very Virginia vibe from what we have seen in the virtual tours and Insta posts. Not a knock against VA at all (he was born there and has grandparents 25 minutes from Williamsburg) but it’s culturally different than his West coast upbringing for sure. Also a bit more difficult to get to from our WA home (two flights + car + full day).

Price is not a differentiator as they are roughly the same for OOS, no aid. He’s been to both campuses and likes them both. Doesn’t seem to care about the weather differences.

Full IB diploma, strong study habits, great writer. Not a party seeker.

Ultimately he wants to graduate in a strong position to continue on to grad school (at least that’s the plan for now).

Would love to hear from anyone who has insights into the perceived pros/cons of these schools, or this kind of choice. Much appreciated!

LOL I know a UCSD Bio graduating senior who has just accepted a PhD place at W&M :slight_smile:

Not really a con. Aside from those available at W&M, and through W&M contacts, REU’s (REU - For Students | NSF - National Science Foundation) are nationwide. Collegekid2 had amazing internships that way.

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You described the differences quite well. Having schools that are so different in size, location, vibe, etc. can sometimes make the choice easier.

You sort of hinted at it, but perhaps the biggest difference will be related to size, and that is that William & Mary will be much more residential in nature (more similar to selective private schools in that regard) with about 75% of students living on campus and the campus itself being the hub of activity. At UCSD, most freshman will live on campus, but after that most students live off campus, so the experience will be different.

William & Mary like to emphasize undergraduate teaching. You can see it rates quite high on the US News undergraduate teaching rating and also on sites like Niche where they incorporate survey data for what students say about professors (Are they accessible? Are they approachable and helpful? etc.) If this is important to your son, William & Mary will probably be better.

Good luck.

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I’ve never lived on the west coast, so I can’t compare vibes, but I do have a D19 at W&M and a D21 who is headed there (I’m also an alum). I would say that the vibe is generally academic but engaged. As in the students definitely prioritize their classes but they also get involved in many other activities on campus and in the community. Lots of studying in groups, intramurals, campus jobs, adventure trips, volunteering, etc. Students are generally not into dressing up, Greek life is relatively laid back, and drinking/partying is not central to the culture. D19 says the most common reaction to binge drinking is concern.

Does your son know about VIMS? They have a relationship with W&M and he might want to know more if marine science interests him. Also, D19 is a trip leader for the Tribe Adventure program, so if he likes hiking, climbing etc. feel free to PM me. Has he visited?

Yes, accessible professors willing to spend the time seems to be very important to him. Thanks for the great insight.

We toured in 2018 and got a good feel for the campus. He is aware of VIMS and participated in a virtual session with them last week - it was certainly impressive. He has a passion for the outdoors (Eagle Scout too) so that adventure program would likely be of big interest to him… I’ll let him know there is an outstanding offer from someone on this board to learn more about that! Thank you!

Glad you got to tour before Covid! Coincidentally, D19 and D21 were both Girl Scouts and earned their Gold Awards. Best wishes to your son with his decision!